Missing My Christmas Mistake Fare From Last Year

Happy Christmas to all.

This holiday seems dull compared to the airfare frenzy that we were experiencing on this day last year. Today is the anniversary of the great Etihad Christmas 2014 Mistake Fare. $187 round trip from the US to Abu Dhabi. Or go to South Africa for about $250.

So far nothing similar. Perhaps in 2016.

For those of you who have no experience with mistake fares… they are like a crazy black Friday frenzy. When you hear about one, you need to book first and ask questions later. You can almost always cancel for no cost within 24 hours.

I’ve booked mistake fares twice in my life. First was thanks to a travel alert from Travelzoo. I flew from Tallahasse to Madrid round trip for $234 on Delta. You usually can’t fly one way to Atlanta for $234. I promptly booked. By the time some friends thought about it (too much) it was gone.

Then I jumped on the Etihad mistake fare last Christmas. In the end, because of a number of changes to the routing (outlined in a previous post), I canceled and got my money back. But it was a crazy fun day bookiing that trip. And it was the start to an amazing journey. I made it to Abu Dhabi, as part of a round the world trip that included fabulous first class flights.

Do you like the idea of a crazy low cost adventure? One of the best places to get alerts for those rare mistake fares is flightdeal.com Better yet, signup for their twitter feed. Then, if you hear of a deal… act FAST. And don’t call the airline.

Why I Don’t Have the Capital One Venture Card

One of the questions I frequently get from friends who are interested in learning how to leverage credit card rewards into great travel opportunities is — what about the Capital One Venture Card?   They either have it, or think they should get it.

It’s not surprising that the question comes up so often.  Capital One has several slick and pervasive ad campaigns  (Hello Jennifer Garner and Samuel L. Jackson).

What does the card offer?

2 Venture “miles” for every dollar charged on the card.   Currently, a 40,000 “mile” bonus after spending $3000 within 3 months.   Annual fee of $59, waived the first year.

So what does that mean?  After you’ve spent you will have 46,000 Capital One “miles.  That will get you exactly $460 worth of travel, no more, no less.

If you spend a total of $10,000 on the card in the first year, you will have 60,000 Capital One “miles”  (40,000 from the sign up bonus, and 20,000 from the spend, which is credited at 2 “miles” per dollar. )  This is  equivalent to $600 in travel — no more, no less.

The strong argument in favor of this card is — as Jennifer and Samuel let you know in their very frequent ads — it’s very easy to use those “miles.”  You just book the travel you want, and then apply the “miles” as a credit to your charge statement. No fuss.  Use the miles for travel anytime.

What’s Your Goal?

As with most credit card offers, in order to fully evaluate it, you need to determine your goal.  There are times when the 2 “miles” offered by the Venture card is great.  If you are generally purchasing low cost domestic economy flights, this card is going to be a good deal for you.

But, if you are considering getting into the “points game” you are probably trying to step it up, and enjoy more distant and/or luxurious travel.   You’ve seen the bloggers who travel the world on the cheap, or trip reports from business class and first class travelers who are sipping champagne while reclining in their sky beds.  The Capital One Venture card is not going to help you achieve those goals.

Compare — Can you do better with another card?

For international travel and travel in premium cabins, you will virtually always do much better with a card that offers you points in an airline’s frequent flier program.

For example, if you have 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles, you can use those miles to fly round trip to Europe in coach class between October 15 and May 15.  That’s a ticket that is most likely worth at least $800 — and probably more, depending on where you are flying. So, in this case, you get twice the value out of your AA points.

Even for domestic coach tickets, Venture is not always your best bet.  Most airlines offer a base round trip coach domestic ticket for 25,000 miles.   This includes transcontinental flights that are usually more than $250.  So if the ticket you are thinking about buying with your Venture miles costs more that $250, you can frequently do better with another points currency.

For business class to Europe, a paid ticket would most likely cost you at least $3000  (and usually much more).  You would need 300,000 Venture miles to get that ticket  (meaning you would need to spend $150,000 on the card.)   But you can get an AA Saver award in business class to Europe for 100,000 AA miles – and you can usually get that with two credit card signups.

So yes, you can do better.   And that’s why I don’t have this card.  It is a good card, and you can get value from it.  But it doesn’t fit in with my goals, so I prefer to use other cards.

Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam: 110,000 miles

I’ve just returned from a hot adventure (and I do mean hot) to Southeast Asia. I spent 20 days traveling to and touring Bangkok, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These destinations are unique and very affordable ($10 massages, anyone). And thanks to excellent availability of award tickets, the 20+ hours of flying time can be completely enjoyable.

The journey looked like this:

map SE asia 2015
21,458 miles round trip to SE Asia

I used American Airlines miles to book business class flights on Cathay Pacific Airlines (with one leg on Cathay’s regional airline, Dragonair). Total cost was 110,000 miles and about $90 in taxes and fees.

Avoiding the Killer 20+ Hour Coach Class Flight

Traveling to Asia from the US, especially the east coast, is a killer. It’s generally about 14-15 hours at least from the west coast. Add in connections to the east coast, and you are easily looking at 20+ hours of butt in seat time each way. I did that in coach a couple of times when I was younger. Thanks to the wonders of airline reward points, I didn’t have to even think about it this time.

American Airlines is a member of the One World airline alliance. One World includes American, British Air, Qantas, Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia, and others — including the wonderful Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific.

Cathay has an excellent business class product — one of the best business class seats in the sky.

cathay seat my
Cathay Pacific Business Class Seat Boeing 777W

 

cathay business sleeping
Sorry, handsome guy not included in your airfare.

Fly Cathay, and you can sleep your way to Asia (as I did). And American Airlines has about the best “price” for those seats.

Using AA Miles to Fly Cathay Pacific

Use your AA miles, and you will just pay 55,000 miles plus about $45 in taxes each way. (Note: price will be going up in March 2016)

Most people don’t ever think about using their AA miles on another airline. Many don’t know you can do that. (Yes, you can use your AA miles for flights on any other One World Airline, as well as some other partners). Or if they know you can use miles on other airlines, they don’t realize that seats are available — because AA doesn’t show you all the availability on its website.

If you go to the AA website and do a search for award flights from the US to Asia, mostly what you’ll see is (very limited) availability on AA’s on flights to places like Hong Kong. But if you know where to look, you will find more seats and more destinations using partner airlines like Cathay, or Japan Airlines.

Search for Awards on British Airways; Then Call AA to Book

The “secret” is to use a search engine on another One World airline that does show the availability of more of the partner airlines. Specifically, my go-to source for One World award availability is the British Airways web site. And that’s how I found my seats on this trip.

Many months ago (important), I opened up the British Airways web site, logged into my Avios account (Avios is the name of BA’s frequent flier program), and searched for Cathay Pacific awards to Bangkok (the start of my tour), and from Hanoi (the end of the tour). It took some juggling dates, but since it was far in advance, I was able to quickly locate 2 business class tickets for the journey (my sister joined me on this trip.)

Finding the awards on the British Airways site does NOT mean that I booked them there. If I had booked the seats there, the “price” would have been much higher, because Avios charges more for those kinds of awards. But, having found the seats that were available, I simply called the AA award reservations line and gave them the flight numbers I wanted. They were able to find the same seats, and confirm the booking.

Flexibility — YES, even later upgrading to FIRST Class

With AA awards, you have some flexibility. You can change the date that you are planning to travel, as long as you don’t change the place you are leaving from or the place you are going to. Other changes can incur fees.

You can also upgrade your class of service if it later becomes available, and there is no change fee — you just pay the difference in miles. For example, on this trip, a First Class seat opened up on Cathay’s trip from LAX to Hong Kong at the last minute. My sister was able to call in and upgrade her ticket.  (I tried to do the same but had glitches because I had already flown the first leg.  sigh.)

Make The Flight Part of the Fun, Instead of the Torture You Need to Endure 

Asia is an amazing adventure. The people of Southeast Asia are smiling and happy to see you, and there is great value there. Don’t let the thought of long long flights deter you from seeing someplace completely different from your world. Collect points and use them to make getting there as enjoyable as being there.

Coming soon — details about the flights and the tour.