My good buddy Michael always tells me he wishes travel bloggers would tell how they booked their trips and what they cost. This one’s for you Michael.
As a reminder, here are the posts from the trip report:
How I booked everything
American Airlines Flagship Dining Room DFW
Etihad First & Business Class Lounge LHR
Etihad A380 First Class Apartments LHR-AUH (Video)
St. Regis Abu Dhabi
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH (Video)
Qatar A380 First Class DOH-BKK
Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge (Video)
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class HKG-LAX
I booked this entire trip with AAdvantage miles. The availability showed up at the last minute and I had to work with a phone agent for about 20 minutes but all in all it was easier than I thought to book.
As a reminder, the American AAdvantage award chart is priced from zone-to-zone, not destination-to-destination. Meaning I can take multiple flights in each zone in order to reach my destination. There were four distinct elements to this trip
- DFW-LHR – North America to Europe
- LHR-AUH – Europe to Middle East/India
- AUH-DOH-BKK-HKG – Middle East/India to Asia 2
- HKG-LAX-DFW – Asia 2 to North America
The reason I chose the routings I did was to try out Etihad and Qatar Airways in F. The changes to the award chart are coming soon and I wanted to fly these products while they were still cheap. There were a few areas of concern I had about the routing as well in trying to minimize taxes and British Airways’s obnoxious fuel surcharges. Let’s break it down piece-by-piece, how I searched for availability and what it cost.
DFW-LHR in American Economy – North America to Europe – 45000 miles AAnytime Award
This one was easy to find. I simply went to AA.com was able to search for availability like normal, just paying special attention to make sure I didn’t end up on BA 193 from DFW-LHR.
My hope here was to find a Milesaaver flight from DFW-LHR for 20000 miles, since we’re currently off-peak season. I also wanted to fly on an American jet to avoid BA’s horrible fuel surcharges. American is currently in a shadow devaluation where low-level award availability is being significantly cut back across the Atlantic (and eradicated across the Pacific), much of it moved to the British Airways flights so American and BA can split the “fuel surcharges”, and such was the case here. The bad news was there was no Milesaaver availability available so I ended up having to pay 45000 miles for an AAnytime award, which was really annoying. But, no matter, I was at least able to secure a window seat in American’s 777-300ER Main Cabin Extra, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, at least until they start running 10-abreast seating in Main Cabin Extra when Premium Economy arrives next year.
LHR-AUH in Etihad First Class Apartments – Europe to Middle East/India – 40000 miles First Class Award
You cannot search for Etihad availability on AA.com. I put together a video on how to search for it on Etihad’s site.
This is why paying 45000 miles to fly across the Atlantic in coach seemed ridiculous. My flight from London nonstop to Abu Dhabi in First Class actually cost 5000 miles less! The key point here was making sure that this portion of the journey was ticketed as a layover and not originating in London. The UK government has instituted a “Oh, you have enough money to pay for premium cabins, go ahead and give us some money then” tax called the APD. If I originated in London my taxes would’ve been somewhere around $400-500 on this award ticket, but I made sure the agent booked it as a layover from my DFW-LHR flight and was therefore able to avoid the APD, since it isn’t charged to thru passengers. The only mistake I made here was not asking the agent to make Abu Dhabi my destination, since it was just a really long layover I didn’t qualify for the Etihad Chauffeur for my ride to the St. Regis, which was annoying.
AUH-DOH-BKK-HKG in mainly Qatar Airways First Class – Middle East/India to Asia 2 – 45000 miles First Class Award
Availability on these legs was fairly easy to search for, but not on AA’s site. I went to the British Airways Executive Club site and was able to search for the availability I needed. When searching at ba.com I encourage you to search for your longest segment first (in this case DOH-BKK) and then do separate searches for the accompanying legs.
Yet again making my coach flight look ridiculous, to fly First Class from AUH-DOH, First Class DOH-BKK, and Business Class BKK-HKG cost me 45000 miles, the same as it took for my economy flight DFW-LHR! Oh well, I gave up trying to make sense of it. Now, the longest flight of this journey was obviously Doha-Bangkok, but the zone-to-zone aspect of American’s award chart allowed me to tag on the AUH-DOH and BKK-HKG legs for no additional miles.
HKG-LAX-DFW in (mainly) Cathay Pacific First Class – Asia 2 to North America – 67500 miles First Class Award
Similar to the above, you cannot search for Cathay Pacific award availability on AA.com. I used BA.com just like I did for the section above. I searched for HKG-LAX availability on Cathay Pacific first and then used AA.com to find the flight I wanted home (since I wanted a short layover in LAX to have lunch with a buddy).
This one was easy. Cathay Pacific is known for releasing First Class award space close-in to the date of the flight so it was easy to find the availability I needed. Once I got to LAX there were numerous options to get me home in American’s marginal domestic First Class.
My total cost was 197500 AAdvantage miles and, due to my avoidance of British Airways jets and being a thru passenger at LHR, only $144 in taxes! It blew through a huge chunk of my AAdvantage miles but that was actually good because I had too many in the first place, plus it’s made for a fun week on the blog (my traffic was increased 1000%!).
I knew all the flights before I ever called American to make the reservation
It’s really important on something like this to feed the reservation agent the exact flights you want once you’ve verified availability. Partner award availability changes by the second and I didn’t want to miss out on a flight while waiting for the reservation agent to search for flights. I performed five searches on three websites: DFW-LHR on aa.com, LHR-AUH on etihad.com, AUH-DOH-BKK-HKG on ba.com, HKG-LAX on ba.com, and LAX-DFW on aa.com. That got me the flight numbers I needed and the reservation agent was instantly able to see availability once they keyed in the information into their system. The only wait on the phone was the agent calling to verify some of the seats, which was fine. All in all it took about 20 minutes on the phone and I was ready to go!