Best way to book around the world award tickets on UA?
So, I've gotten good at ACCRUING miles, but am a complete newbie to getting the best bang for the buck with them. I am a 1K based out of Denver, and am hoping to do about 12 months of 'around the world' traveling with my wife starting this summer. I figure I should probably start making reservations, soon, before award seats fill up (if they haven't already).
I'm sitting on about 500,000 miles, and we're hoping to hit up Asia, Africa, and then Europe before flying back to Denver. I'd just like to get as far as we can for free before we've got to ante up and pay for tickets. General thoughts are Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, S. Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe (undecided exactly where), Germany, France, England, and then Spain. Of course, this is still pretty vague (like "China", haha, but hey -- have to start planning somewhere).
Anything anyone can recommend to get us started? (I noticed on UA's website that there isn't an option to do multicity travel with award points.) Thanks!
Location: SFO/HKG/SIN - United 1K MM / SPG Lifetime Platinum
On ual.com the only award tickets you can see are those on United metal. Even searching for award tickets on United metal can be a painstaking process. The best way to find award tickets is to call United and also have a knowledge of their *A partners.
As for the best awards I'd say go for SQ F, NH F, LH F, SA F, or TG F.
Obviously it would be wise to look for the premium routes on the above carriers to best take advantage of what they have to offer.
SQ: Something via SIN and on the Megatop (744). I know there is the new 77W product but getting that on award at the moment is near non-existent. Another must is a visit to the SKL in SIN.
NH: New style config routes. Currently on Narita-Europe/UK and North America Routes.
LH: A route that will allow you to experience the LH F Terminal in FRA and the services associated with the LH F Terminal.
I called UA and the agent told me the 200k award was for a maximum of 35k miles on Star Alliance in coach. All regular blackouts and award restrictions apply. She said they counted miles point to point, meaning a direct flight from SEA to LGA through ORD would be calculated SEA-ORD + ORD-LGA.
Does 35k miles seem weird to anyone? When you buy RTW *A they come in 29, 34, and 39k increments... The agent originally said 29k miles, but then after reading from her screen she said 35k...
It would seem booking an award ticket using *A would be real tough, especially because the calendar only stretches out 330 days. So you'd want to book that first segment a year out, and then you couldn't book the rest until a year before each segment. I'm trying to plan out a year long RTW, which woudl seem like a ton of work to keep calling UA back to change dates...
Programs: UA 3MM, AF/KL Lifetime Plat, BA Gold, AA+US=1MM, IC RA/Plat, Hyatt Platinum, Marriott Gold, et aliae
35K ain't that bad!
35K ain't that bad for your "backbone" RTW ticket. If you fly around the world on the equator, that's about 24,900 miles. So 35K gives you an extra 10K worth of "deviations" from this routing.
But if you plan to travel for a full year, you may go beyond the 35K. In some cases, this will be for segments where *A does not have a good connection, so you'd be traveling on separate tixx anyway.
But what you may want to do is to look at the price of a cheap long-haul. For example if you find a good price for a DEN-HKG fare you could then save the 6000 or so miles, and use them up for various country-to-country trips that would likely add up to more $$$. Or you could redeem for the 35K RTW award, and additionally redeem for a trip to Asia to get you started.
It is a shame you don't have 600K miles, because that's where traveling Business instead of Coach is certainly worth the 50% extra miles. My suggestion is to run up the meter to 600K, perhaps by starting with paid tickets before you redeem for the RTW. Sounds like you have 6 months to get there :-)
Finally, another option you could do if you really want to do lots of travel is to redeem miles for an RTW award (if you can stretch your miles to 600K, in business), and then buy a SEPARATE, paid RTW (perhaps *A but perhaps ST or OW to give you more choices), that would give you an additional 29K miles. This would give you 64K total miles to use. Your coach RTW can be bought from *A, or you can look for bucket shops that sell it cheaper, and you should price it starting in Asia or starting in Europe, as that should affect the fare. Use your Busines RTW for your long-hauls where it matters, and use your 29K for the remainder.
I'm a big fan of RTWs but they do require you to have a good understanding of alliances, hubs, and the like. And reading the fine print. While the fine print seems daunting at first (minimum number, maximum number of stopovers, date changes vs. routing changes, no change on initial transatlantic/transpacific outbound, etc.), you get used to them. While there are a few blackout dates and you need to find inventory in certain fare classes (the list of which differs on EACH carrier), it's fairly easy once you get the hang of it, and you can make changes along the way. Problem with changes is that if you have a paper ticket (and you're likely to get sucked into a paper ticket if you include certain wacky countries on your itinerary), that you need to go to an airport or CTO and have it reissued (or restickered if it's only date changes), which is often a hassle.
When I go through periods of frenetic travel, I often buy more than one RTW ticket; example one on OW, one on *A that's eastbound, one on *A that's westbound and one on ST, starting on different continents ... and you keep these tickets open for a while (never take the final leg, so at any point, you have one active RTW where you're in Europe, another where you're in Asia, another where you're in the Americas. Requires a lot of keeping track of which itinerary you're on, but it's kind of like having an "airpass" for almost unlimited mileage, changeable, wherever you are.
I did a sample RTW with the 35k miles and it works out pretty well if I leave off Oceania and it allows me to start in SEA (instead of New Zealand, which was my plan when I was going to buy a RTW ticket).
I could use my AS miles to make a cheap jump from HKG to SYD & AKL on CX to include Oceania and there are plenty of budget flights in Europe to make it so we really just need to get to a central point there, like FRA.
It would be tough for me to get to 600k miles to hit biz class. I do enjoy the difference, but extra miles might be better acquired on my SPG Amex for some nice hotels on this trip...