Category

British Airways

Avios Search Trick / Last Minute Booking

FTU Seattle

For those of you going to FTU Seattle next weekend, I’m happy to announce that I will be there pitching my new startup during the Launchpoint competition (more on that next week). So if you see me around at FTU, feel free to say hi!

Since my cousin lives in Seattle, I was originally planning on going out there tomorrow with the idea that we would rent a car this weekend and go down to Portland since both of us have never been.

Change Of Plans

Unfortunately that Portland plan ended up falling through so I was trying to see if there was anything else I could do this weekend.

Coincidentally earlier this week, my girlfriend decided she was going to NYC this weekend. I haven’t been to the Big Apple in a while and it is my Niece’s birthday on Saturday so I decided to tag along.

Due to some procrastination on my end, it wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally tried to book a ticket to NYC…

Normally this isn’t a huge issue because there are 3 airports in NYC and 2 in Chicago (3 if you count MKE) so there are a ton of flights back and forth. However searching with Avios, this upcoming Saturday only had First availability for 22,500 points one way…

"No Economy!

“No Economy!

I next checked Southwest but from my experiences, the cheap “wanna get away” fares typically either sell out or are sky high if your departure is less than 10 days out. In this case, the cheapest flight was 19,274 points!

"A Little Too Expensive"

“A Little Too Expensive”

I was willing to shell out the $75 close-in ticketing fee on AA or United if they got me to NYC on Saturday, so I went and checked AA.com and lo and behold there were Economy saver flights to NYC!

"Surprise!"

“Surprise!”

I didn’t understand why Avios wasn’t showing these Economy flights and then realized that it was perhaps because they weren’t non-stop flights.? I’m not sure though because Avios definitely does show connections on longer flights that are cross country…

Since there weren’t any non-stop flights on AA, I figured if I could book the same AA 1-connection flights with Avios I might as well try and save $75 in close-in ticketing fees.

Avios Search Trick

So while Avios was showing no Economy flights from ORD-NYC, when I simply searched for the above AA flights like ORD-CMH and then CMH-LGA, I was able to book the flights with Avios for 4,500 points each leg.

While ORD-NYC direct would be 7,500 points, in this case I am happy to pay the extra 1,500 points to get to NYC.

"Would You Look At That!"

“Would You Look At That!”

"CMH-LGA"

“CMH-LGA”

New York – Baltimore

To get to Baltimore, we ended up just buying a MegaBus ticket for $30 one way.

While I’d certainly rather fly, these buses are nice in that they leave from downtown (so no need to trek out to the airport) and you have to get there only 30 minutes before departure since there isn’t any security.

If you factor it all together, taking the bus is probably easier and quicker than flying.

Baltimore – Seattle

To get from Baltimore to Seattle next week, I ran another Avios search.

One thing that really annoys me is that British Airways thinks Baltimore falls under Washington D.C…

There is no way to specifically search for BWI, instead it automatically defaults to WAS and shows you all Washington D.C airports!

That isn’t really useful since DCA & IAD are over 1 hour away from downtown Baltimore and BWI is 16 mins…

Regardless Avios wasn’t showing any available flights out of BWI (Washington D.C).

"See How It Says Washington D.C"

“See How It Says Washington D.C”

I quickly cross-checked AA.com just to be sure and to my surprise, there were tons of flights out of DCA.

"AA To The Rescue!"

“AA To The Rescue!”

Out of curiosity, I ran DCA – SEA search on Avios again (not BWI or WAS) and now those AA flights came up for 14,500 Avios…

"WTF!"

“WTF!”

Basically, it seems that even if British Airways is defaulting to the citysearch (like Washington D.C or New York) instead of a specific airport (BWI), it won’t always show you all the results for the city.

In this case, although British Airways thinks BWI is in Washington D.C, it didn’t show all the Washington D.C flights. However when I explicitly searched for DCA, it showed all the flights I found on AA. Same thing when I explicitly searched for IAD.

Bottom line is to always cross check the Avios engine with AA (or Qantas or ExpertFlyer) because BA might not be showing you all the results.

Anyways, I ran a BWI-SEA search on Southwest since BWI use to be a hub for Airtran before they merged with Southwest.

To my surprise, there was a BWI-MKE-SEA flight for 10,028 points!

"Talk About A Deal"

“Talk About A Deal”

People love to hate on Southwest but I’m not aware of any other airline that lets you book a fully cancelable ticket 5 days out with no close-in ticketing fees for 10,028 points and you can check 2 bags for free if you want…

Oh and if my girlfriend was coming with me to Seattle, because I  have a companion pass, we could both fly to Seattle for 10,028 points total (5,014 points each)!

Seattle – Chicago

I had my original Southwest ticket but since it was fully cancelable, I decided to quickly check and see if there were any better options.

On Avios, there was a much better SEA-ORD flight for 10,000 Avios so I went ahead and booked that too!

Recap

All in all, with only 2 days notice I was able to cancel all my other previous Southwest tickets, re-book ORD-NYC, BWI-SEA, SEA-ORD all in for 29,028 points! Because I used Southwest and Avios points, I was also able to avoid paying any close-in ticketing fees or cancellation fees!

The 3 main points I hope everyone takes away from this are:

1. Miles & points can save you serious money!

If I had to book this ticket out of pocket, the cheapest I could find on Kayak was $743 which isn’t terrible. However thanks to 30,000 miles & points, I only had to spend around $10 in taxes.

"Actually Not Terrible"

“Actually Not Terrible”

2. If you don’t have set plans, book with either Avios or Southwest because they are cancelable (for the most part).

Thanks to booking with BA and Southwest, I avoided all change and cancellation fees. If these flights were originally booked with United, US Airways, Delta, or American, it would have cost me $150 to make the changes / cancellations and another $75 for close in ticketing. No thanks!

2. The British Airways Avios engine isn’t 100% accurate so always double check with AA

As I showed, the British Airways award engine is goofy and doesn’t always show everything that is available. I suggest either using Expert Flyer, Qantas, or if you are lazy just use AA. At a minimum, you will see all the connecting flights that BA might not be showing you.

-Parag


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Avoiding Close-In Ticketing Fees

What Are Close-In Ticketing Fees?

This past weekend my girlfriend, who lives in Baltimore, decided to plan an impromptu trip to Chicago.

This is fairly normal for us since we are both currently in school, thus depending on what our schedules look like for the week, we will typically decide on a Monday whether or not to book a flight departing on the following Friday.

Obviously from a financial standpoint, if we were to buy a revenue ticket 4 days out, flying back and forth from Chicago to Baltimore would get EXTREMELY expensive since the price of revenue tickets typically go up the closer you get to departure.

Thankfully we both have a stockpile of miles, so as long as there is availability, booking 4 days out isn’t too big of a deal.

If you are booking an award ticket close to departure, the thing you really have to worry about it close-in ticketing fees.

The two biggest US carriers (United & American) both impose a silly “close-in ticketing fee” if you book an award ticket less than 21 days prior to departure. The close-in ticking fee normally starts at $75 a ticket!

As I have stated many times before, things like close-in ticketing fees and baggage fees are probably the reason why airlines score so low in customer satisfaction. Imagine if your bank charged you $75 because you wanted to withdraw money but didn’t give them 21 days advanced notice…

Options To Avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees

The options for avoiding close-in ticketing fees are fairly straight forward.

1) Book 21+ Days Out

Obviously, the easiest way to avoid close-in ticketing fees is to simply plan your travel 21 days out. Easier said than done!

2) Become An Elite

Typically Airlines will lessen or waive close-in ticketing fees for their Elite. For example with United, if you are 1K, you don’t pay close-in ticket fees but if you are Premier Silver (25,000 EQM flown), then instead of the normal $75, you only have to pay $50…

What a deal!

3) Fly On Airlines That Don’t Charge Close-In Ticketing Fees

Thankfully for customers, there are still a few airlines that surprisingly haven’t imposed any close-in ticketing fees on award redemptions.

They might not be airlines you fly often but doing so can save you $75 if it is less than 21 days to departure.

Links below go to each airline’s respective fee chart.

Outside of not charging close-in ticketing fees, what is great about this list is that every single airline is a member of one of the big rewards programs like Ultimate Rewards, AMEX Membership Rewards, or SPG!

So while you may not have any Southwest or British Airways points, with a few clicks, you can quickly transfer in some points from Ultimate Rewards!

Best Airline For Close-In Ticketing

While it is great that all of the above airlines don’t charge close-in ticketing fees, there definitely is a hierarchy of which airlines are the best for ticketing a close-in award.

While Southwest is normally extremely reliable for having cheap point options, the prices normally shoot up close to departure since the award pricing is variable and tied to the actual price of the ticket.

For example, if I wanted to go to Baltimore this weekend, on Southwest a one-way ticket it would be 30,047 points! If I was going round-trip, it would be over 60,000 points!

"30,047 Points!"

“30,047 Points!”

I can’t comment on Virgin or Jet Blue because I have never flown either and have no idea how their frequent flyer programs work but I do know they have a much smaller footprint than Southwest, Alaska, and British Airways, so they might not fly from your home airport or where you need to go.

In the case of Delta, while they don’t charge close-in ticketing fees, there is a reason why they are called SkyPesos. So while you may save $75 in fees, Delta might try and charge you 100,000 miles for an round-trip domestic economy flight…

While Alaska is pretty good thanks to their wide partner network with AA & Delta,  my favorite airline for close-in awards has to be British Airways!

There are a few reasons why British Airways Avios are great for close-in domestic awards:

  • Transfer From Ultimate Rewards
  • No Close-In Ticketing Fee
  • Distance Based Awards
  • Redeem For Flights On American Airlines
  • “Free” Cancelations

While saving money on close-in ticketing and being able to transfer from Ultimate Rewards is great, the real gem of British Airways is the distance based award chart.

For example, for me to get a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Baltimore this weekend on American Airlines, redeeming Avios it would only cost 9,000 Avios (4,500 Avios each way)!

While this is certainly great for me when I need to get to the East Coast, if you are redeeming Avios for transcontinental flights, the price will be closer to 25,000 roundtrip.

“Talk About A Steal!”

Had I redeemed American Airline miles for the exact same seat on the exact same American Airlines flight, it would have cost me 25,000 miles AND $80 in fees!

Customer Details

“25,000 For The Same Flight!”

Similar deal with United where it would have cost me 20,000 miles and $80!

United Airlinesasdf1

“United”

To put it in perspective, had I actually bought the exact same Avios award flight as a revenue ticket, it would  have cost $668!

"Talk About Expensive"

“Talk About Expensive”

Recap

Close-in ticketing fees are unfortunately just one of those things that will never go away, much like checked bag fees.

Given that there is no oversight of frequent flyer programs, these type of made up fees like “close-in ticketing” will most likely only continue to rise in the future.

That being said, if you are a savvy consumer there are certainly ways to avoid having to pay the silly $75 close-in ticketing fee. All you need to have is a diverse portfolio of miles that you can transfer and also be flexible in who you are willing to fly.

As demonstrated above, if are booking less than 21 days out and you know where to look, you can save serious money and miles by simply redeeming from one airline program like British Airways over American Airlines, all while booking the exact same seat!

That being said, while no one likes to pay made up airline fees like close-in ticketing, unfortunately there are certain times where it makes sense to pay it. For example, this past December when I went to Asia, there was no availability 21+ days out, so we had no choice but to wait until 10 days out to book our ticket because no award seats were open.

Was it annoying to have to pay $75 because the airlines were blocking award inventory? Yes but in the end we were flying in business class on a ticket that easily would have cost $15,000+, so $75 was a small price to pay.

-Parag

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