Tag Archives: United Airlines

Flights Booked to a Wedding in Bangkok and Sepang 12h Piggybacked on That Trip

Just a few days ago I was day dreaming how nice it would be to go back to Southeast Asia after almost two years of being away, and I found a perfect excuse to commit to it: my FlyerTalker friend Brian is marrying a beautiful Thai girl in Bangkok a week before Sepang 12h.

Score!

This is going to be such an amazing journey I can’t find words.

This is also the first time I’ve paid for a flight to Southeast Asia, all of my previous trips, and there were plenty of them, were booked using frequent flyer miles. But with two Euro Trips this year and a trip to the Pacific next year I’ve blown through my frequent flyer / loyalty program budgets, on most airlines.

Luckily “The Flight Deal” facebook group alerted me to a reasonable deal on United Airlines to fly between Newark, NJ and Bangkok for just $684 bux. I figured getting from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur shouldn’t be too pricey but just for giggles I checked open jaw flights arriving Bangkok on this deal and leaving from KL, the price was only $27 bux difference which is less than what a low-cost airline would charge on that route, so I booked directly with United EWR-NRT-BKK and KUL-NRT-EWR for the trip back. The stop over in Tokyo introduces a new airline and a new aircraft I haven’t flown before: ANA Airlines and the Beoing 787 Dreamliner. Very cool!

great circle mapper ewr-nrt-bkk kul-nrt-ewr
original route: EWR-NRT-BKK and KUL-NRT-EWR  | map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper: http://www.gcmap.com/

UPDATE (8/16): by the time I got home from work other (cheaper) options opened up. So I cancelled my booking, since it was within the 24 hour period that a customer is able to change his/her mind, and re-booked my flight to go ANA from JFK-NRT-BKK and then Shanghai Air from KUL-PVG my first visit to Shanghai. I will have a 9 hour layover there and fly United back to Newark PVG-EWR. All in all pretty happy with the ability to visit three of Asia’s most amazing cities: Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai for $707! Of course I’ll be sure to add Singapore to the mix with one of the low-cost carriers.


great circle mapper jfk-nrt-bkk kul-pvg-ewr
new route: JFK-NRT-BKK and KUL-PVG-EWR | map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper: http://www.gcmap.com/

Now I’m left to determine what to do in Bangkok for about four days before the wedding, find my way down to Kuala Lumpur the week after, and squeeze a side trip into Singapore for a day or two. Easy!

I’m amazed with all the low-cost airline options that are now available on the route from BKK to KUL/SIN. Air Asia and Thai Air Asia fly it. Jetstar Asia, Tigerair, and Scoot from Singapore fly it. Indonesian airline Lion Air (probably operating as Malindo Air) and Thai Lion Air fly it. And the prices are reasonable from Don Mueng Airport DMK which is a new airport for me, I’ve never used it when in Bangkok. On the legacy front there’s Bangkok Air which is an option. But most interestingly Malaysian Airlines have decent flights for cheap because of their battered reputation, I just may give them a go.

So I’m just thrilled with this development, even though I have no idea how I’m going to fork out all this money especially with flights to Texas for WEC and Georgia for Petit Le Mans area already booked, as well as the Dubai 24h trip planned, and the Pacific trip booked and paid for. I’ll have to work extra hard this summer just to stay afloat.

I’ve also posted on the Miata.net forums if any of the local MX-5 owners in Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore would like to meet up. I’d be so interested in checking out and possibly test driving a right hand drive Miata.

Stay tuned for more updates on this and other trips!

thailand

I love Southeast Asia…

The Logistics Behind Planning a Trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands

Very excited to say that the 2016 Grand Prix Road Trip of a lifetime has been booked! This post is a follow up to the previous two posts I made on the subject while planning the trip, and it’s nice to see the evolution of the plan over a period of time. Have a look at the previous post at the start of the planning stage here: “the logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand,” and a follow up here when I discovered it’s cheaper to fly home from the Cook Islands via New Zealand than directly from New Zealand: “booked a flight to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.”

the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper
the trip should look something like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

The planning process went from a mock-up above to the actual route depicted below on this beautiful Great Circle Mapper image. The difference being the addition of Hawai’i stopover on the way to SYD.

dream trip to exotic pacific cook islands australia new zealand
the trip will actually look like this, image from Great Circle Mapper

For those that didn’t read the previous planning posts I’ll explain the process of selecting the routes based on the frequent flyer programs I used. Initially my plan was to burn some Virgin America frequent flyer points I had accumulated on a redemption on Virgin Australia to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney. I’ve determined that that was a poor use of those points, so instead I’ll save them for next year to fly on Singapore Airlines A380 between NYC and Frankfurt for one of the European events. Instead, I used American AAdvantage program to book the trip. My dilemma was that I had already used up 8,000 miles in rebates from booking this year’s European trips, and that 1,750 miles would be wasted as I would only get 2,000 back with the 10% rebate that AA offers for AA credit card holders (10,000 max/year). But in the grand scheme of things I’d rather waste 1,750 AA miles which I could earn back relatively quickly (use one of the many AA video promos or dining promos that give 1,000 bonus) instead of paying money on a connecting flight between NY and LA to position myself for the Virgin Australia alternative that I had dismissed earlier. The two options with AAdvantage were to fly Qantas from JFK-LAX-SYD or Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-SYD. And while I was very much looking forward to another flight on Qantas on one of their soon to be retired Boeing 747’s, I chose the stopover in Honolulu instead. I’ve flown Hawaiian before on the way back from the Korean Grand Prix (ICN-HNL-LAX) and always wanted to step out of the Honolulu airport to see a little bit of the island, and now I’ll finally have that chance… I’ll spend the night in Honolulu arriving at 4pm and departing 12pm noon the next day.

kirribilli australia sydney
G’day Australia! Sydney Opera House from Kirribilli

The trip back home is just as convoluted as on the way over. I’ve blogged before that I booked a $21 USD flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and that was done for positioning purposes. You see, to fly from Auckland to New York requires 40,000 Mileage Plus miles to fly Air New Zealand, a United partner in the Star Alliance. Whereas it only takes 35,000 miles to do the same trip from Rarotonga to NYC. So it seems like a no-brainer, Kia Orana Rarotonga! The caveat is to fly home from the Cook Islands you actually fly via New Zealand, and a further caveat it is possible to spend the entire day in Auckland before heading home (with a 5am arrival and a 10:45pm departure). So I was absolutely sold on that deal. But since I didn’t have enough Mileage Plus miles in my own account, I asked mom for help. Signed her up for a new United credit card, spent very little time charging all the house renovation expenses on her card, and in a month I had the mileage at my disposal with enough miles left over in her account to book a round trip flight within the US. Great deal all around.

I have yet to book a flight between Australia and New Zealand mainly because the flights are quite pricey right now ($300+ with AirNZ direct or $149+ with AirNZ through a third party like Expedia). I will wait closer to the travel dates to book that leg of the trip hoping to use the remainder of my soon to expire AirNZ Airpoints. Luckily they’re spoiled for choice with connecting flights between the two countries, so if SYD-AKL doesn’t work out I can do SYD-WLG, MEL-AKL, MEL-WLG, etc.

auckland skyline new zealand nz
Kia Ora Aotearoa! Auckland Skyline from Westhaven Marina

So, compared to the previous trips I took to Oceania/Pacific with my numerous flights to Australia and New Zealand, I think this will be by far the most exotic one I’ve ever done. I’ve read great things about the Cook Islands and look forward to that being the highlight of my trip. But I’m also very excited to see my Aussie and Kiwi friends on their turf. Bathurst 12h is going to be an amazing event. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do the NZ V8 Supertourers (or just V8 Touring Cars since competing NZ V8 Supertourers and NZV8’s series merged), but I’m sure there will be a club event I could attend at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs while on the North Islands.

It’s going to be awesome!

For anyone needing help planning their next trip using a combination of frequent flyer miles and other cheap flights, please get in touch… I love a challenge.

 

Some stats on this trip, total mileage flown: 24,098 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper.  Honolulu is almost exactly half way from New York to Sydney, JFK-HNL 4,983 miles vs. HNL-SYD 5,066 miles. I will depart Auckland at 10am on a Monday morning and arrive the Cook Islands at 4pm Sunday afternoon, the day before! (giving me an extra day to spend on the island). Caveat: I will celebrate two Valentine’s Days one in Auckland and one in Rarotonga…

The logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand

2016 is going to be a great year. To start I’d like to do a couple of international events that I haven’t done in a long time. Bathurst 12h is perhaps the biggest one of them all.  But getting to Australia and New Zealand is a bit of a challenge. For one it’s on the other side of the world, and it literally takes days to get there. Which means I need more time off from work. But it’s also costly even when redeeming frequent flyer miles to pay for the trip.

The purpose of this post is to collect information on what my options are, and to seek advice from other frequent flyers to optimize my redemptions and get the best deal possible.

Virgin Australia booked through the use of Virgin America elevate points seems to be the best deal. It would take only 40,000 points and $140 tax to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) round trip. Unfortunately I would still have to find my own way to LAX from NYC, and I don’t actually have 40,000 elevate points in my account which is currently at just 26k or so. Luckily one way redemptions start at 25,000 elevate points either LAX-SYD or SYD-LAX and $90 tax.

virgin australia using virgin america points

American Airlines AAdvantage redemption is the second best choice. It would require 75,000 miles and $114.50 in tax to fly from New York City (JFK) to Sydney (SYD) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX). A bonus of redeeming miles with American as their credit card holder I would also get 10% rebate back on the mileage spend. So it would only take 67,500 miles to fly this route. I have flown Qantas on this route before a few times, using both their Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 birds, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

qantas using american airlines milesThe downside of course is that this year I have already used up 8,000 of the 10,000 rebate allowance with my two trips to Europe for Nurburgring 24h and Spa 24h. So the most I would actually get back is the remaining 2,000, which would result in 5,500 miles wasted. So I’m not too eager to redeem my AAdvantage miles on this trip. And I haven’t even gotten to the part of visiting New Zealand yet.

United Airlines Mileage Plus is also a valid option on this routing. At this point there are a lot of redemption opportunities both on UA metal and on their partners like Asiana Airlines or Air New Zealand. And best of all there is opportunity to book open jaw flights to arrive Australia and leave from New Zealand. However availability is non-existent to arrive NZ in the heart of their summer at the end of January so the only option is to fly to Australia first and leave from New Zealand after the race at Bathurst.

My ideal redemption would be to fly to Sydney (SYD) on a partner airline like Asiana with a connection in Seoul Icheon (ICN) using 40,000 UA miles and $36.40 in tax.

asiana using united miles

Or I could fly on United metal directly from Newark, NJ (EWR) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX) with a minimal connection of 45 minutes which would definitely get me to Australia in the least amount of time and money using 40,000 UA miles and $27.40 in tax.

united mileage plus redemption to australiaOn the way back I could fly United’s partner Air New Zealand from Auckland (AKL) to Newark, NJ (EWR) with a connection in LA (LAX) and I would actually plan a trip in such a way that would give me a 13 hour layover in California so I can go do stuff in Los Angeles, have an In-n-Out burger at LAX or something. It would take 40,000 UA miles and $45.90 in tax to do this.

united mileage plus redemption from new zealand

The problem of course is I don’t have 80,000 UA miles to book this trip. I don’t even have 40,000 UA miles at this point, I’ve spent most of my savings flying Singapore Airlines in 2013 to get to Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But there was a UA credit card offer that I signed up and expect to earn the 40k necessary in the next few months.

So my real dilemma is how to mix and match the miles I have to make this trip a reality.

There is also a final option, and that is to buy the trip outright. However, at this point I’m looking at at least $1,200 to $1,400 investment, possibly more as I am dealing with arriving in Australia and traveling back through New Zealand. That’s a lot of money to spend on a Motorsport event. I remember Qantas put on a sale a few years ago offering NYC-SYD for just $700 USD. But that was back in the days of V Australia creating competition between Qantas, United and Delta AirLines which had started flying to Australia. Since then, Virgin Australia and Delta codeshare on the route eliminating some of the previous cutthroat competition. I will be keeping my eye out on The Flight Deal and similar web sites between now and the end of the year to see if any new sales or mistake fares pop up.

The sure plan though is to use frequent flyer miles. So if anyone has any suggestions or best routing tricks I could implement to make this trip a reality without breaking the bank, I would love to hear form you!

I haven’t mentioned how I’d get from Australia to New Zealand or vice-versa should things materialize that way. Since I lived in Kiwi land in 2012 I have saved up 300 AirNZ dollars that have been impossible to redeem for anything of value. They are best spent on purchasing tickets with AirNZ where 1 AirNZ dollar = $1 NZD. So my plan is to use one of the many AirNZ flights across the ditch from Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL) and paying a premium for it just to use up the points. In the past I’ve purchased a flight round trip from Australia to NZ for less than $300, but now I just don’t want them to expire, so I’ll use them as necessary. While living in NZ my goal was to use those points to fly to some place exotic like Tonga, Samoa or the Cook Islands… but just like a job that never materialized there, neither did the dreams to go to a beautiful Pacific island for vacation… Boo freaking hoo!

air new zealand flight between sydney and auckland

Ironically, $300 NZD seems to be the sweet spot for booking the flight outright so many months out from my travel dates. While using Airpoints – the AirNZ currency, only a certain amount of points can be used with the rest paid in cash, which makes this trip ridiculously overpriced. Also ironic is the partnership between Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia to compete with Qantas and their low cost carrier JetStar on the route. The sub $300 round trip I mentioned before was booked on JetStar.

 

Bucket List: Island Hopper Flight UA154/UA155

If not for encouragement from the Aviation Geek community my Motorsport marshaling hobby would be very limited. But thanks to a recent post by an Uber-AvGeek Seth from NYC I now have a bug in my mind to do something crazy: an Island Hopper tour of the Pacific on United Airlines flight #154 from Hawaii to Guam via the Marshall Islands and a few states in Micronesia (and flight #155 on the way back). Seth recently shared a few posts: click here and here; as well as a bunch of photos from his awesome Boeing 737 adventure from NYC area all the way to Guam:

EWR > LAX > HNL > MAJ > KWA > KSA > PNI > TKK > GUM

And so with practically no consideration or rational reasoning behind whether this trip makes any sense whatsoever for me, I have my mind made up that I will do it! Soon…

I want to go marshal in Asia this year. I also want to go back to New Zealand. Perhaps this trip will work itself nicely into that planning. There will certainly be road blocks along the way. A major one among them is that I don’t have enough United Airlines Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles to secure this otherwise expensive flight. I’ve used up most of my UA miles in 2013 for my two round the world tickets on Singapore and Thai Air to go to the Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But miles can be earned and collected quickly.

I’m also not the biggest fan of United or the Boeing 737 aircraft. The quickest way to cross the Pacific is to fly direct, like the NYC to Hong Kong I flew on my way to Singapore, which takes about 16 hours (and goes via the North Pole instead of west via the Pacific Ocean). Seth’s experience lasted more than 47 hours factoring in the transit and layover time and the inevitable breakdown. According to Seth, a mechanic travels on the plane on this route, just in case things go wrong… but if parts are required they must be flown in with a relief crew. And when using miles I’d rather take the trip on Cathay Pacific like I did last time rather than flying United. But that’s the only option. Similarly, when it comes to single aisle aircraft I much rather prefer the Airbus A320 which feels far more comfortable to me in Economy class than a Boeing 737 does, but again that’s the only option on that route. Still I can overlook both of those personal preferences to experience something this unique that Seth says should be on the “bucket list” of any AvGeek. To me it’s more of a “fuck it, let’s do it!” list than anything else.

So what does the trip actually involve?

Let’s break it down:

island hopper ua154 hop 1

crossing the international date line, arrive a few hours later next day

island hopper ua154 hop 2

island hopper ua154 hop 3

island hopper ua154 hop 4

island hopper ua154 hop 5

island hopper ua154 hop 6

And visualize it:

island hopper ua154
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

What does it cost?

A random date search in November yields $1400+

island hopper ua154 price

Or when booked as award flight using United Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles (randomly selected based on availability in January):

island hopper ua154 award miles

Not cheap either way, considering $1,400+ can easily get you NYC to just about anywhere in Asia, round trip! Similarly, 25,000 miles will get you a Domestic round trip flight from NYC to anywhere in the Continental US and some parts of Canada.

Seth also mentioned that it’s possible to book NYC to Guam award ticket forcing flight UA154 for about 35,000 miles with a stop in LA and Honolulu like he did on his trip, but availability on those flights is extremely rare. And so it’s a challenge… which seems quite exciting from any angle I look at it, and that makes me want to do it even more. A trip like this makes any other “Island Hopper” flight, like those in the Caribbean on little puddle jumper planes look exactly like that… little puddle jumping endeavor.

island hopper from nyc to la to guam
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

So stay tuned…

Frequent Flyer Miles

There isn’t a dollar that I spend that doesn’t earn me some frequent flyer miles. What’s my obsession with airline miles/points? It is my means of transportation to events far and wide to volunteer. Most people I tell have a hard time believing the fact that the last time I paid for a flight to Australia was the very first time I flew there on a working holiday. I don’t think I have ever paid outright for a flight to Asia, and over the past few years I’ve been to Singapore a number of times, typically in the luxury of the Singapore Airlines A380 to boot.

How is that possible?

Doesn’t it usually take thousands of miles to fly? And for an infrequent flyer it takes forever to earn those miles while paying for flights. Sure it does. But you don’t need to fly to earn miles. I’ve been a FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com evangelist for ages but most people I preach this information to simply don’t believe me. Let me say it again, you don’t need to fly to earn miles, especially if you live in the US. I take advantage of just about any promotion out there to earn miles. No matter how many miles I earn, it will all be useful at some point in time. No amount is too small or too big.

Currently, and probably for a very limited time, there is a generous promotion from American Airlines and Cadillac celebrating their partnership in offering service, giving you 7,500 FREE AAdvantage miles just for test driving a Cadillac of your choice. There are three Cadillac dealerships within 10 minute drive from my home, so you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll head over to one in a jiffy!

aa caddy

Here’s the link: http://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/aad-cadillac-offer.jsp

Such offers are rare though. But you must keep a look out and take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Obviously, you must not wait for a killer offer to come around because they are very unpredictable. You may however participate in various promotions on things you buy and do everyday to earn miles. One such example is Dining. In the past few months I’ve accumulated nearly 20,000 miles from several dining programs by taking advantage of their promotions. This included spending some money, but like I said it is for stuff that I buy anyway, so why not get some extra miles while doing it. I am of course speaking of the AAdvantage Dining promotion of 10,000 for 10 dines at $40+ apiece. Not the cheapest thing out there, but considering you earn miles for the money you spend on food anyway, between 3 and 5 miles per $1, you actually earn enough miles from the promotion to fly one-way anywhere in the continental US that American or USAir flies. That’s a ridiculously good deal. I’ve also used a similar promo to get United Airlines miles and am currently working on getting 7,500 Delta miles.

Remember you can double and triple dip on the mileage you earn. For example, I often book a car rental using a promo code from an airline or AAA to get a discount. Pay for the car with my Delta or American Airlines credit card to earn their miles, and credit the mileage earned for the car rental itself to a third airline, like Southwest for example which has one of the more generous earning capabilities with the car rentals. Considering that you can use a significantly smaller number of Rapid Rewards points to redeem free flights on Southwest, it makes perfect sense to do this. Using airline shopping portals is a great avenue of earning more miles for things you buy anyway. Recently I got more miles for purchases at auto-parts stores to do some maintenance on my personal vehicles, for buying parts than I earned for actually flying a short hop on that airline. It is amazingly generous.

The most generous airline frequent flyer miles/points earning potential is signing up for the airline credit card. This is mostly available for people living in the US. And many factors dictate if you qualify like your credit score. But when you can, definitely go for the generous sign up bonuses. It could mean the difference between paying $1,000+ for a flight to Singapore and flying for $60 (where you only pay a portion of the tax by redeeming miles).

Do it, do it… do it!  And if you need help, get in touch, I’m happy to share information about what I’ve learned so far…. Good luck!

Top photo credit: American Airlines – AA.com