United Mileage Plus

My Fairly Awesome India Award Ticket


Greetings from San Francisco, specifically from Philz’s Coffee Shop where I am currently enjoying the best Mint Mojito Iced Coffee I have ever had!

I just arrived in San Francisco last night after a relaxing weekend at the Andaz West Hollywood in LA. In a few hours, I will be heading to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport to start the Domestic Leg of the Star Mega DO 4!

If you haven’t done so already, I STRONGLY SUGGEST following StarMegaDO on Facebook and Twitter. If you are on Twitter, use hashtag #SMD4 to keep track of all the conversations!

There are going to be some HUGE surprises that you do not want to miss out on. 

My India Award Ticket

As I said last week, after hours of searching I finally booked an Award Ticket to India.

Not to toot my own horn, but given the complete lack of any availability to Asia in December, I am fairly happy with what I managed to snag!

Similar to when I went to France a few months ago, when I saw that there wasn’t any direct availability on United from Chicago to Bombay, I used the Segment By Segment trick to piece together an itinerary.

This tactic is also extremely useful if you are trying to fly specific Routes, Airlines, or Planes.

In my case, to get to Bombay, when searching on you typically get routed through Chicago -> Newark -> Bombay or Chicago -> Frankfurt -> Bombay.

When I went to India last year, I did both of those routes in Business Class. Although they were enjoyable, half the fun going to India is the flights, so I wanted to try some new Products and Routes this time.


My new obsession is the 747-8. For those of you not familiar with the Plane, it is basically a newer 747 with an extended hump. The neat thing is that for Lufthansa’s 747-8, they have finally upgraded their “Dentist Chair” Business Class product (which they still have in the A380s), with real Lie-Flat Business Class seats!

The Lufthansa 747-8 flies from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, so I was seeing if I could go via Chicago -> Washington -> Frankfurt -> Bombay, but unfortunately nothing was available.

After the 747-8, the next plane I wanted to fly is United’s new 787 Dreamliner. One of the routes United’s Dreamliner operates on is Chicago to Houston, so I did a quick search on and to my utmost surprise there was Business Class Saver Availability!

Then for an even bigger surprise, from Houston to Frankfurt there was Lufthansa A380 Business Class Saver Availability! I flew Lufthansa’s A380 in Economy last year on the SMD3 and it was awesome, so I can only imagine flying it in Business Class.

All in all, my leg going to India looks like this:


For the return I currently have it booked in Business Class as Bombay -> Newark -> Chicago. Although I have flown this route before and I like it because the Bombay to Newark leg is 16 hours non-stop, I am going to try and see if I can come back via Asia on either Thai, Asiana, or ANA.

Free One Way

Thanks to MileValue, I know to always add on a Free One Way to any International United Award Tickets. At first I didn’t know what to add on for this trip, but then I remembered that Frequent Traveler University is happening in Washington D.C on April 26 – 28, 2013. So I went ahead and booked a Free One Way for that.

First Class

If you notice on the IAD – FRA leg, there is a long 4 hour layover in Frankfurt. Normally I hate layovers but in this case I went out of my way to add in a layover with the intent of dropping in Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal.

Basically I am a One Mile At A Time groupie and live vicariously through his Trip Reports. Since Frankfurt is Lufthansa’s Hub, for First Class Passengers, Lufthansa has built an entire Terminal for them. Lucky has done countless Trip Reports from the First Class Terminal and basically it looks amazing! They will even drive you in a private car to your Airplane!

To fly First Class, it is only an additional 20,000 United Miles each way. Unfortunately because the limited amount of First Class Seats on a Plane, Lufthansa only releases First Class Seats a few days before Departure when they know they won’t be able to sell them.

So my plan hopefully is to fly Lufthansa First Class to India, once they release First Class Award Space. A380 First Class from IAH – FRA I know is a long shot, but the 747 First Class from FRA – BOM I am guessing should be fine.

If for some reason Lufthansa doesn’t release First Class Award Space, then I will “suck it up” and fly Business Class to India and try to do First Class on the Return.


For this entire Chicago -> Houston -> Frankfurt -> Bombay -> Newark -> Chicago -> Washington D.C trip in Business Class only cost me 120,000 United Miles and $103 in taxes!

To purchase this ticket out of pocket would have cost around $9,000!

If the fact that I am getting a $9,000 ticket for basically free is not amazing enough, as part of my trip I will also get to fly in Business Class on both the brand new 787 Dreamliner and equally awesome A380!

While 120,000 Miles sounds like a staggering amount of miles, anyone who does some Long Range Planning can easily achieve a “dream” ticket like this.

Not only am I flying Business Class to India, but both my Parents are also flying Business Class to India on Award Tickets.

We “earned” enough United Miles for 3 Business Class Tickets by each signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000 Point offer (now 40,000 Points) as well as the United MileagePlus Explorer 50,000 Mile offer (now 25,000 Miles). We also each had around 20,000 United Miles laying around from actually flying on United.

Even if you could care less about flying Business Class and would be happy in Economy, I did a quick search on for the dates we are going to India and the cheapest Economy Ticket I could find was on American Airlines for $2,000!

While having to drop $2,000 on an Economy ticket is not ideal, it is manageable. However if you are a family of 4, those 4 Economy tickets would set you back a staggering $8,000!

Although there is a minimal amount of work involved in signing up for a Travel Credit Card and earning miles, at the end of the day, those few hours of work not only saved my Family $6,000 in out of pocket expenses but also allowed all 3 of us to fly in Business Class for around $100 in taxes. Pretty unreal if you ask me!

I cannot stress this enough! If you take the time to plan ahead, it is extremely easy to travel around the world in luxury for 1/100th of the actual cost!


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Always Double Check Your Award For Potential Upgrades

My Friend and I are going to LA today compliments of United and our Free Ones Ways from our France trip.

Our France Flights were booked in Business Class, so technically our Chicago to Los Angeles flights should have also been in Business.

Unfortunately at the time I booked the tickets, there was only 1 Business Class (I) seat, so I scooped it up and had the other ticket booked in Economy (X).

I’ve been checking every few days to see if any additional Business Class Saver Award Seats would open up, but there has been nothing until last night!

This is kind of ironic because now it is showing that there are no more Economy Saver Awards.

Thank god that Business Class Availability finally opened up or it could have turned into that Seinfeld episode where there is only 1 First Class seat. Let me just say, “I Can’t Go Back To Coach”!

Anyways once I saw Business Class Saver Award Availability, I called up United and explained that we were technically booked in Business but because of lack of availability, they had put 1 of our seats in Economy, so would they mind switching it back to Business.

Normally because it is less than 21 days to Departure, United will try and charge you a $75 Change Fee, however this Agent did not even mention it and changed it free of charge.

The point of this is that as I had talked about last week, many times United’s Award Search will show Mixed Cabin inventory, where 1 leg is in Business and the other leg is in Economy. This isn’t a huge deal, BUT United will charge you the full amount of Miles for Business even if some legs are in Economy.

I just booked my India ticket (more on that tomorrow) and the main leg from Bombay to Newark is in BusinessFirst but then from Newark to Chicago it is in Economy.

Normally people might avoid booking Mixed Cabin flights because 1 leg is in Economy, however as you can see, United tends to open up Business Class Award Availability closer to Departure when they know they can’t sell it.

So for my India trip, I am simply going to wait until a few days to Departure and hopefully get bumped to Business on the Domestic Leg.

Additionally, this same approach can be used for people who are booked in Business and want to book First Class Saver Award.


2 Things To Always Check For When Booking United Awards

As I had talked about way back in August, I used United’s Segment by Segment Trick to book 2 Business Class tickets to India for my Parents on Qatar Airlines.

Well unfortunately my Parents schedule changed, so they wanted me to change the flights for them. This isn’t an issue because it is still 21 days prior to departure, so you can change the time of the flights, you just can’t change the departure or arrival airport without a fee.

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but with only 1 month or so until departure, there is little to no availability. Therefore I again tried the Segment by Segment Trick and started searching all the other major Airports for any available flights.

Unfortunately in the process of changing my Parents tickets, I learned 2 important things about booking United Awards the hard way.

1. Always Check For Mixed Cabins

In the process of looking for availability, I started looking for routes out of JFK and found a flight on Brussels Airlines and Lufthansa.

Surprised that there was availability, I almost went ahead and booked it. Luckily by chance I clicked on “Mixed Cabin”, which showed that the leg from JFK – BRU was actually in Economy!

If you click on “Mixed Cabin” (Red Arrow below), it will expand and show you the Cabin Class.

Similarly if you go ahead and select the flight, it will show Cabin Class on the next page. As you can see below, almost half the flight is in Economy, yet you are still charged for a full Business Class Saver ticket!

It is even worse when you try flying almost any Asian Airline like Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines.

In the example below, you can fly First Class on Lufthansa to Frankfurt but as soon as you switch to the Singapore flight, you are in ECONOMY! Imagine paying 70,000 Miles for a One Way First Class, and then getting on the Singapore plane and having to sit in Economy for 12 hours!

If you ever book an Award Ticket on United and you see a “Mixed Cabin” alert, make sure you DOUBLE CHECK IT!

2. Search With Correct Amount Of Passengers

Another “fun” mistake I made was not searching with the correct amount of passengers. 

Typically I only book tickets for myself, or I will book them for a friend, but the miles are in my friend’s account, so I wouldn’t need to search for 2 passengers.

Unfortunately United (unlike British Airways), doesn’t tell you how many seats are still available for Award Tickets.

In the case of my Parents tickets, I was only searching for 1 passenger since the itineraries are booked separately. After finding availability, I went ahead and changed my Mom’s ticket, only to find out when I went to change my Dad’s ticket that there weren’t any more seats left on my Mom’s flight!

To make matters worse, my Parents were originally flying Qatar, which is not a partner with United anymore! So once the ticket was changed, there is no way to go back and get the old flight.

Needless to say, if you are booking tickets for multiple people, regardless if the miles are in 1 account or not, always make sure you search with the correct amount of passengers.


Hopefully other people avoid making these silly mistakes. This has turned into a huge headache because I cannot find any decent availability but experience is the best teacher, so I know now going forward to always make sure 2 Award Seats are available before making any changes.