Actually, I’ve never watched an entire episode of the A-Team!
But seriously, I do like it when I put time and effort (and geekery) into prospective travel arrangements and then everything works out as planned.
Since November 2015, I’ve been to Asia four times, for work and for leisure:
- November 2015: ORD-HKG-ICN-HKG-ORD
- March 2016: ORD-SFO-ICN-SFO-MCO-ORD
- While Chris took his mother to Paris, I went to Seoul to visit family. We then met up in Orlando for a wedding before going home.
- December 2016: ORD-HKG-ORD
- This was a mileage run to get United/Star Alliance Gold status where I was supposed to stop in PEK, but United decided to be stupid… that’s another story though. But more importantly, I got my status!
- April 2017: ORD-SFO-LAX-ICN-HND/NRT-ICN-HKG-SYD-NAN-LAX-ORD
Most of those flights have been in economy, on a variety of airlines (Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Asiana, Korean Air, Qantas, Fiji, United), with one ICN-HKG leg in business class on Cathay (thanks to Avios!) and one ICN-SFO leg in business class on Singapore (thanks to Citibank Thank You points!). I’ve tried some of the “best” economy flights out there (Asiana, Singapore, Cathay) but, at the end of the day, no matter which airline you fly, flights between the US and Asia in economy are exhausting.
So when we decided to plan another trip to Seoul, I decided that we should try to do the long-hauls in premium classes. Every now and then, Avianca’s frequent flyer miles program — LifeMiles — sells miles at a great rate. To sweeten the deal, one of my favorite blogs often offers a bonus on top of the great rate, making it a great rate even better.
How would a deal like this help me get to Asia? Avianca is part of the Star Alliance, which includes Asiana, one of two airlines that flies directly from Chicago to Seoul (the other being Korean Air). Business class award availability on Asiana is fan-freaking-tastic on LifeMiles.
But wait, there’s more! I really liked Sydney when I went there in April for work and I wanted to take Chris there. Adding Sydney to the end of the trip seemed relatively simple, since Asiana flies direct from Seoul to Sydney…
Except that while availability from Sydney to Seoul (and then on to Chicago) was plentiful, I couldn’t find much availability from Seoul to Sydney in business class on Asiana.
So I decided to search on other airlines where I had a truckload of miles: United, Alaska, and American. Using United miles, I found I could book FIRST CLASS tickets on Thai Airways from Seoul to Sydney via Bangkok. A recent review of the flight from Bangkok to Sydney sold me on this idea.
All this was academic until I actually booked the trip. So Chris and I figured out when we could go based on our work schedules. We proposed a few dates to my father, who then confirmed which dates worked for his schedule. Once we decided when to go, I pulled the trigger and confirmed the following itinerary:
- OZ235, ORD-ICN in business class (12 hours)
- This leg alone cost 75,000 LifeMiles per person
- TG657, ICN-BKK in business class (6 hours)
- TG471, BKK-SYD in first class (9 hours)
- These two legs together cost 50,000 United miles per person
- OZ602, SYD-ICN in business class (10 hours)
- OZ236, ICN-ORD in business class (12 hours)
- These two legs together cost 80,000 LifeMiles per person
Total miles spent: 310,000 LifeMiles and 100,000 United miles. We’ve never spent more miles on a single trip, but we’ve also never flown so many hours in a single trip. As a point of comparison, flights to Europe on American in business class now cost 115,000 roundtrip per person (if you can find availability) and flights to Europe from Chicago are usually about 8 hours. So on a per hour basis, this is really decent value!
I often struggle between maximizing miles (trying to get as many flights as possible while spending as little cash and/or points as possible) and maximizing comfort (flying business or first class). But I have no regrets on this redemption… at least, so far. Once we fly this itinerary, we’ll see…