Earlier this year, I used United Airlines miles and booked a trip to the Cayman Islands with a free one-way from Los Angeles. I also booked a flight to Rio de Janeiro with American Airlines miles. Even though the flight to Rio de Janeiro was a great redemption, I decided to rework my itineraries. My plan was to turn my economy free one-way from Los Angeles on my trip to Grand Cayman into a “cheaper” business class one-way to Rio de Janeiro.
I had two reasons for wanting to make the change:
First, I don’t like the transportation portion of travel very much. I don’t mind it, but taking a long-haul flight in coach easily tires me and recovery is slower than instantaneous. While I would happily fly to get to a great destination, I do like flying business class and getting a good night’s sleep far more. In addition, the trip to Rio de Janeiro is only 3 days long. When I flew to Milan on United BusinessFirst, I slept soundly in my BusinessFirst flat-bed seat and felt completely ready go out and sightsee all over the city. For me, it really made a difference so I decided business class would be a better idea than economy for a 3 day trip to Rio de Janeiro. I managed to find business class availability from New York with a connection in Charlotte flying US Airways Envoy Suites. I was keen to try them out so I resolved to work that flight into my itinerary.
Secondly, I managed to get in on the American Airlines Elite Fast-Track Challenge Promotion earlier this year. After flying just 12,000 Elite Qualifying Miles on American Airlines, I will have American Airines AAdvantage Platinum status. For that reason, I decided to instead use Citi ThankYou Rewards points for my flight to Los Angeles. That way, I’ll earn miles as I go for the challenge. So I needed to get rid of my Los Angeles to New York leg on my flight to the Cayman Islands.
My old itinerary with United miles
Outbound leg: Los Angeles to Grand Cayman with a stop in New York from October to February.
Inbound leg: Grand Cayman to New York.
As this is a round-trip from mainland U.S. to the Caribbean, it costs 35,000 miles in total. It uses one stopover (in New York) and one open-jaw (between Los Angeles and New York). United Airlines allows one free stopover and two open-jaws on any round-trip to a different region.
I live in New York. By creating a stopover in my home city, I pay no extra miles and essentially get a free one-way trip from Los Angeles to New York.
To learn more about adding free one-way trips within North America onto international United Airlines awards, read the post:
My new itinerary with United miles
My new itineray is a bit more complex.
Outbound leg: New York to Grand Cayman in economy class.
Inbound leg: Grand Cayman to Rio de Janeiro with a stopover in New York for three weeks in business class.
This new itinerary costs 67,500 miles and covers one and a half trips.
The price for each leg can be checked via the United Airlines interactive award chart.
The price for the first outbound leg is 17,500 miles as that is the price of traveling from mainland U.S. to the Caribbean.
We similarly look up pricing on the second leg.
The second leg is priced as a segment from southern South America to the Caribbean routing through mainland U.S. The cost of this is 50,000 miles in business class. This is actually the exact same cost as just a flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro in business class. This means I am essentially getting my flight back from the Cayman Islands for free.
To learn more about constructing these types of itineraries, read:
Calling United Airlines Customer Service
With my new itinerary planned out, I called United Airlines to change the flights. Fortunately, there had been a schedule change on my flight from Los Angeles by an hour and I was hoping to use this to get a free flight change. I can explain that the new schedule doesn’t work for me and I need to change my ticket as a result. When I called, I gave the new flight information and asked for the flight to be repriced.
She priced the award at 67,500 miles. That was correct. She then commented that I would have to pay a $75 change fee and I need 32,500 more miles for the change. I explained that the $75 fee should be waived. My flight from LA was rescheduled and the new schedule does not work for me. Moreover, I do have the miles in my account. In fact, I have 70,000 miles right now. She was completely adamant that a one hour change does not entitle me to suddenly go all the way to Rio and my account balance is 200 miles so I dont even have the miles for the change…
Of course, she was right! I had completely forgotten that I had booked my flight from Samba for Miles’ mom’s account and we had cleaned out her miles. I kindly asked the agent to put the new itinerary on hold for just a day until I figure out my miles situation and get the miles together. She kindly obliged.
After transferring in the 32,500 miles, I called back the next day. I explained I have an itinerary on hold and would like to book it. The agent quickly pulled it up and informed me I would have to pay a fee of $75. No mention of additional miles withdrawal. I reiterated “so I’ll just be charged $75?” and she said yes. $75 is a small price to pay vs. 32,500 so I didn’t even bother arguing about the fee. It seems with a somewhat confusing itinerary and all these changes, it wasn’t completely clear to the agent how much it should cost. I got lucky.
My credit card was charged, my new ticket was issued and my round-trip flight to Grand Cayman and business class flight to Rio de Janeiro cost 35,000 miles total. Plus a $75 change fee. Of course, I paid this fee with my Barclaycard Arrival card so I could redeem 7,500 miles for this fee, which I earn at 2 miles per dollar spent on all regular purchases.
The round-trip to Grand Cayman in economy class alone from New York should actually cost me 35,000 miles round-trip. But I am flying back in business class and flying in business class to Rio de Janeiro on top of that. That means… my business class flight to Rio de Janeiro turned out to be completely free! Not just cheap, but actually free.
I look forward to visiting Rio de Janeiro again…
The moral of the story is that it sometimes pays off to come up with complex, confusing itineraries.
Has anyone else had an mispricing that worked out well for you?
For more posts on saving miles by combining multiple itineraries, check out these posts:
- American Airlines: From Caribbean in Winter + to Europe in Summer for 20,000 American Airlines miles TOTAL
- American Airlines: How to Add Free One-Way Trips on American Airlines Awards
- American Airlines: Adding “Better Than Free” One-Ways on American Airlines: Fly to South America for 20,000 Miles All Year!
- United Airlines: How to Add Free One-Way Trips On United Airlines Awards
- United Airlines: We just planned another trip to Grand Cayman with United miles!
- United Airlines: Saving $1000 with United Miles: Natalya’s trip to Grand Cayman and Cancun