I always advise readers and clients to avoid redeeming miles and points for domestic travel UNLESS they are traveling during an extremely busy period or last minute. Both situations lead to very high ticket prices which make the domestic redemption play palatable. Of course, very discounted redemptions on Southwest, JetBlue, and short haul using Avios also make sense.
Anyway, I have a friend who booked a very last minute bachelor party in Vegas. The pricing from NYC was $500+ on JetBlue, $489 on Virgin America, $478 on Southwest, and between $475-$650 on AA/DL/UA. That’s one-way! It made sense as this was very late in the game and almost all of the direct flights were sold out. The majority of remaining options required 1 or 2 connections. No saver awards were available on American or United and Delta’s one-way economy pricing was outrageous.
I decided to play with United’s award booking engine to see where I could go at the saver level from Vegas. I found that a flight to DCA was available that required a double connection in San Francisco. I then searched for flights to New York, finding none available at the saver level from DCA. However, IAD did have one flight that required a connection in Raleigh. I used the multi-city search option which allowed me to piece together the two at 6.3K miles each or 12.5K total (yes, that math doesn’t work perfectly). Here’s an example of 6.3K pricing using a different award search:
The final itinerary included 5 filghts and looked painful, though it did impressively include 737-9, 747-4, A319, A320, and 737-8 aircraft:
I had no intention of taking these flights, I simply wanted to create an itinerary complex enough to confuse the call center agents. I was also hoping that the DCA / IAD connection would be a point of sympathy (3 hours is legal to get from one airport to the other…but it could be tight with traffic ;-)) Worse case, I would use the 24 hour risk free cancellation policy to refund my miles at no cost.
On the first call the agent looked at the itinerary and thought it was crazy. She legitimately felt bad for me and went to work seeing what she could do, though she did mention that only 2 hours was needed for the DCA/IAD connection. She was able to remove the Chicago connection and get me straight from SFO to IAD. However, the itinerary would only reprice at 25K and neither she or her supervisor were able to restore my 12.5K pricing. They presented two options, I could take the new itinerary for 25K or they’d put the old flights back in and not charge me the additional 12.5K. I went with option two…hoping something might go wrong. Sure enough, you can see in the graphic below that they triggered an itinerary change notification.
I went back out to the website and clicked to change my flights. I noticed that the standard 25K options were pricing at 0 additional miles with a refund of $5.60. However, the only day with a direct flight home was a day too early. Regardless, I decided to change the flight in order to get myself into the standard award fare bucket (I was still within the 24 hour free change period if flights opened on the day I wanted to actually travel). The system returned an error message when I clicked to confirm, but then I received an email with my new itinerary:
Sure enough, later that night a 25K standard award opened up on the night I wanted to travel. I called back in and asked to make a change since I was within the 24 hour change period. Score, no additional miles required! The exact flight I wanted for 12.5K miles and $5.60 (including my refund). It was a lot of work, but I saved about $500 and did not have to redeem a domestic award at the standard level (that really would have hurt). Fun times in United award booking land…
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