Note: Today’s post is hypotehtical–the miles don’t exist, but the bookings are real, and could be done today if you so choose. Post is also mostly for #201 level travelers.

Yesterday I went over applications I considered, as well as a hypothetical group of applications to complement out September CCC apps.  In doing so we “beefed up” our hypothetical balances to the following:

-106,000 AAdvantage Miles

-112,000 United Miles

-52,000-190,000 Avios

-70,002 US Airways Dividend Miles

In reality these numbers would be higher if you did any MMRs, but these will be pure signup miles for today’s post.  From 0 miles to 340,000 (or more!) in just 4-6 months is not too bad in my book.

What to Do with These miles?

Before anything the first step needs to be to craft a plan.  Without one we could very quickly spend these miles in wasteful ways.  The very first question should be: Domestic or International?  While I’ve mentioned the virtues of international travel–for some of you there’s a big country right here that you want to explore.

Today I’ll show how I would use these miles for a combination of Domestic and international travel. I’m not trying to extract the most absolute value from them–but it should show you some realistic approaches to the travel you can do from just 2 seasons’ worth of applications.

Starting with British Airways Avios

I’ve talked before about Avios–as part of the hybrid System, and also as the best program for First time Users of miles.  Avios should be used for domestic travel on AA and AS, where they save you Miles and money over using AA or AS miles. If that sounds confusing–it is.  Read the above “best program” post for some good background material on the subject. Also Short expensive flights in other countries are additionally a good use of Avios.

Let’s assume you live in DFW.  The following Map shows you different distances (avios tiers 1-4) from DFW:

The centermost circle is 650 miles, then 1151, then 2000, then 3,000. See below for generating your own such map at www.gcmap.com

That’s great if you live in DFW, but what if you live in another AA or AS city? The above map was generated on www.gcmap.com, and you can use it to see your options as well.

Just copy and paste this image address into a new browser window:

http://www.gcmap.com/map?P=&R=3000mi%40DFW%0a2000mi%40DFW%0d%0a1151mi%40DFW%0d%0a650mi%40DFW&MS=wls&MR=900&MX=540×540&PM=*

and change the Bolded DFW into your home airport (4 times).  For example for a map centered around LAX, use:

http://www.gcmap.com/map?P=&R=3000mi%40LAX%0a2000mi%40LAX%0d%0a1151mi%40LAX%0d%0a650mi%40LAX&MS=wls&MR=900&MX=540×540&PM=*

Which generates the following image when copy and pasted into a new tab/window:

Image generated at www.gcmap.com, the world’s best mapping site.

Using this map and the avios tiers you can see here the distance and Avios needed for each one way flight in this area, up to tier #4, 12,500 miles:

Avios Pricing

Using Avios strategically, I’d book something like this:

LAX-OGG, using 12,500 Avios per person.  Total 25,000 Avios. Spend a week in OGG, fly home using AA miles, OGG-LAX, then stop using the free one way trick with AA Miles.

I always start my Avios searches at www.alaskaair.com.  Doing a quick search shows me a week in May would work:

I'll only book the outgoing one way with Avios-- 12,500 per person. The return will be booked with AA miles (more on this below)
I’ll only book the outgoing one way with Avios– 12,500 per person. The return will be booked with AA miles (more on this below)

This is completely bookable at www.britishairways.com, no phone agents to rob you, or tell you incorrect information. Just a clean 12,500 Avios booking, and two one way tickets to Hawaii.

Net Miles spent: 25,000 Avios.

Next Up: AA Miles

I’ll next book the same return flight I found above–but as part of a larger one way trip, say from LAX to Europe in June or July.

Red is the free one-way, the LAX-MAD is perferred since it will result in much lower taxes. Avoid BA metal at all costs.

Heading over to AA.com to book the second portion of the flight we use the multi city search (once we’ve identified our flights either on alaskaair.com or aa.com):

AA Multi OGG-LAX-BER

The next screen shows us some great news:

Select Dates OGG_LAX_BER
Not only is our OGG-LAX Flight 0 Miles, but because it takes place during a “off peak” season to Hawaii, the rest of our trip counts as off peak as well–even thought it is happening later in the year–in July. This means our flight from Hawaii isn’t just free–it Saves us 10,000 Miles

Final pricing for a whole lot of flying is 40,000 AA Miles plus $38 in fees:

Pricing OGG-LAX-BERSo we’ve gone to Maui, come home, stopped in LAX until July, and now we’re in BER.

Edit to add (12/7): I forgot to mention this, but becase we hold the AAdvantage credit card we’ll technically be refunded 4,000 miles for this booking, I’m leaving the total at 40,000, because it takes that many miles to book this. The net cost is 36,000 miles after the refund.

Net Miles spent: 25,000 Avios, 40,000 AAdvantage Miles

Getting Home: Avios and United

To get home we could fly UA or AA.  If we flew using AA miles we could do the opposite of what we just did–fly Europe-LAX, stop, then use a free one way.  Instead, I’ll use United Miles to fly us home. I had trouble finding any flights with United or AA from Berlin, or a host of other cities.  I did finally find a way home from Munich:

Return MUC-LAX

Which will cost us 30,000 UA Miles plus $113.70.  I know you’re asking: How about Berlin to Munich?  This is technically an open-jaw trip, you’re flying LAX-TXL (Berlin) and then back MUC-LAX.  I love open jaws, they allow you to see another city or country and then not have to backtrack and return to your original entry point to fly home.

Getting from Berlin to Munich you could take a train, a bus, or a flight.  If you choose to take a flight, we’ll go back to our trusty BA Avios for this. Looking for a flight in the middle of our trip we find plenty of options on July 16th:

BER-MUC
Because this flight is just 296 miles we’ll pay just 4,500 avios per person, plus $39.87. Total 9,000 avios and $79.74. This is a $107 flight per person at the time of writing this–a value of 1.5 CPM even with the $39.87 in fees.

The trip now looks like this:

Red was flown with Avios, blue using AA miles, and Green United.

Net Miles spent: 34,000 Avios, 40,000 AAdvantage Miles, 60,000 UA miles.

A Lot More Travel Left to Do.

We’ve still got plenty of miles left, in fact we have nearly enough to do the whole trip over one more time–or take 4 people instead of 2.  Our balances after booking would look like this:

Avios:18,000 (or more)

AA Miles: 66,000

UA Miles: 52,000

US Miles: 70,002 (we didn’t use any of these)

What other trips could we craft with just these miles? Plenty–and this assumes we stop earning any more miles.  With March CCC applications just around the corner, and Plenty of MMR opportunities to earn miles we need our balance would be propped back up faster than we can spend these miles.

I’ve said it before, and today’s post illustrates it, our hobby isn’t collecting miles, our hobby is traveling. Drop me a line if you’re stuck and need some help, otherwise, happy travels.


Everything below this line is Automatically inserted into this post and is not necessarily endorsed by Milenomics:

– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

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47 thoughts on “Using our Avios, AA and UA Miles for a Hawaiian & European Vacation

  1. What would be very useful would be a way to mashup your GCMAP link with the names of the cities available from BA partner non-stop flights.

  2. One thing to note is that what you are suggesting with your long stopover in LAX is probably not feasible unless you live in a major “two direction” gateway city like LAX or SFO. Not sure that’s clear, but the thought is that your plan works only because LAX is a logical stopover on an AA route from Hawaii to Europe. Would it work for a city like PHX, SLC or (my city) PDX? Not sure of that… Hope you take the challenge and prove me wrong!

    • Blue: You’re right that the stopover needs to happen in a Gateway city–basically wherever you can then leave north america for your international trip. It makes searching for flights much harder too–I Had to disqualify anything that stopped in North America in my search for LAX-TXL. However if you do live in a gateway the benefits are worth it.

      I Accept your challenge–and have good news (and bad news) for you. The plan will work for you–partially. PDX is only 2562 miles from OGG. And Alaska Flies a nonstop PDX-OGG (AS809) which, if you can find the nonstop flight, is bookable from PDX-OGG with the same 12,500 Avios as in the example. For the return you would book OGG-LAX as I have, and stop in LAX. You’ll then book LAX-PDX-LAX, I would suggest using Southwest RR Points–just 3,500 or so each way nonstop. You’d fly home to PDX, then take Southwest back to LAX and “pick up” where you left off. You could then fly back to PDX as part of your United one way home. Your routing would be:

      PDX-OGG-LAX Stop LAX-PDX-LAX (nested, booked for 7,000 Southwest RR) LAX-DUS-TXL Using AA TXL-MUN Avios MUN-EWR-PDX Using your UA (or anything else that works). The total you’d use would be 25,000 Avios, 40,000 AA, 60,000 UA, and 14,000 Southwest (2pax).

      I cheated a bit since in the post we have no Southwest points–but you could also use 30,000 avios to book LAX-PDX-LAX (7,500 each way) but that’s a waste of Miles, and wasting miles makes them (and me) unhappy.

      Two posts which cover some of this: PDX-Hawaii was covered in “Why are Frequent Flyer Miles so hard to use,” http://first2board.com/milenomics/why-are-frequent-flyer-miles-so-hard-to-use/
      And “Operation Twist” outlines using the nexted trip to save miles: http://first2board.com/milenomics/operation-twist-turning-avios-free-one-ways/

  3. Thanks. 3 things: 1) the solution you propose is not bad, but involves two airlines that are not in alliance and, if there is a delay or schedule change, the other flight can be in jeopardy. this recently happened to me on a flight that connected to another (with a 5 hour layover!) and I got screwed out of the 2nd ticket when the 1st was delayed. I think your plan could work better if the two airlines “worked well together”. 2) By forcing a flight to a gateway city, you burn a lot more miles—I think this effectively negates what you might gain by having a “free one way”. 3) Does your idea work for any airline besides Air Berlin?

    I guess I am nitpicking but I believe your idea presented in the post works well only for LAX residents. Anyone else would require a “shuttle”, which burns extra miles and involves connection “risk”.

    • Blue: Excellent points, I’ll take them one at a time

      1) You’re right–if there is a delay you aren’t going to be offered any protection. Book with Avios to offer yourself protection (oneworld-oneworld) if you think you’ll need it.

      2) The value of the free one way is lessened when you don’t live in a Gateway like LAX, DFW, MIA or JFK–but it still has value. OGG-LAX during off-peak saves you 10K Miles–for the LAX-TXL portion, 20k total instead of 30k (PDX-TXL let’s say). Yes you spend some of that savings getting home from LAX-PDX and back to LAX–but that is real savings, otherwise OGG-PDX will cost you 12,500 avios and PDX-???-TXL will cost you 30k AA miles. Not a true free one way–but still 12.5k BA +15k BA +20k AA = 47.5K vs. 12.5k BA +12.5k BA +30K AA = 55k total. If you lived in say Sacramento, Vegas, or somewhere even closer to LAX your savings would be an additional 6k avios.

      3)Works for any oneworld carrier (Stay away from BA to avoid fuel surcharges), and any city where you can stop in North America. Tomorrow I’ll do a completely different example (Someone requested Asia) You’re right–it works best from gateway cities, but there are instances where it can work extremely well from < 650 mile cities and even work ok for sub 1151 mile cities (Like LAX-PDX).

      • Cool. Interesting topic, and I like how you got the wheels turning in my mind for my own city.

        Looking forward to your follow-on post.

        • Another PDXer chiming in to say thank you. I had questions similar to Bluecat’s and this post and your subsequent exchange is very helpful. Sadly we tend to just plan one trip at a time but I am trying to get into a better rhythm such that we could perhaps do some free one ways. I echo the concern when flying on separate tickets and a delay means you miss the second flight. Another strategy is to plan a long layover in the connecting city; long enough to do something fun or compensate should you be delayed. Thanks for the post and I look forward to the Asia one.

          • Thanks Elane 🙂 If it was me I’d use the southwest points and use it as a chance to see Los Angeles, book a day either way, and spend some time in Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to making it up to Portland sometime next year–my wife and I want to see how it compares to Seattle and surrounding areas.

          • Do come up to Portland – but not today – it has “warmed up” from 17 to 27 degrees!!! Today’s cold aside, it is a great city and I like it more than Seattle. We’d be happy to offer you some tips and perhaps our schedule will even allow us to show you around! Do come!

  4. The LAX-OGG flight you show can’t be booked with Avios on that date. You can only use the lowest Saver rates (AS has multiple “Saver” rates). For that route, it’s 20K (and thus 22.5K Saver won’t work). Lowest Saver space is very limited unless you book far in advance.

    You can confirm by using AA’s website and you’ll find that there aren’t any AS flights available on the days you chose.

    Best way to check is to search AS website for 20K awards (use the useful Calendar search option) and then double check on AA to confirm. Next May, there’s only one day (May 28) showing 20K Saver availability from LAX-OGG that can thus be booked with Avios.

  5. Oh, never mind. I thought you were booking AS from LAX-OGG. Obviously, you can book with Avios on AA at Saver rates…

    Brain freeze…

  6. How come if I do like LIH->SJC in April and then SJC->BCN May 18th, the flight for May 18th doesn’t show up as available even though if I do a 1 way on May 18th, it is there.

    • Brandon: The reason is that the flight on the 18th stops in LAX first, then leaves North America. This disqualifies it for the free one way in SJC–and stops it from showing. Only flights from SFO-LHR (Co-terminal with SJC) will work for you, as the flights on the 19th and 20th are. Unfortunately those are on BA Metal, and you’ll pay for that. Basics to remember are that your international flight has to leave North America from your home airport, and that means your first flight needs to be to another country–not within the US or North America.

  7. I live in SDF and often wonder if starting trips like this from CVG or IND would benefit me more? Looking to book to PLS next May & so I’d love to know your thoughts on how I should approach starting my trips. Both are about 1.5-2 hrs drive at most but if benefit is marginal(or non existent) I’ll start from here at home.

    • Devon,

      Not much difference starting from CVG, IND or SDF. Your options off the top of my head are: SDF-MIA for 7500 avios then MIA-PLS for 4500 Avios (total 24,000 r/t per person). Not a bad deal. Another idea would be to put together an ANA award–flying SDF-CLT-PLS, and back. The total would then be only 2804 flown miles, leaving you 1200 miles (600 each way) as part of an ANA 4,000 mile award. That’s enough to go to IAD, CLE, ORD, PHL and back as part of the same 22,000 ANA miles per person (transfer from MR). Your free one way wouldn’t be as spectacular as Hawaii but every little bit helps. Unsure of the routing and such for that ANA, again this is off the top of my head.

      best of luck.

      • That really helps, thanks! Still learning all the lingo so when you say ANA award, does that mean any partners of ANA(like booking United award SDF-CLT-PLS plus one other since I have/can transfer UA points) or would I need actual ANA miles?(currently don’t have a MR card but it’s on my next churn which is probably too late to book trip). If must be ANA, any other transfer options I’m not aware of?

        • Devon, I meant real ANA miles–booked through their program. You can fly partners like United though. I agree, probably too late to do it–but keep it in mind for the future. The Avios option is a good second choice

  8. I’d be interested to see an example using business class. I don’t mind flying coach most of the time, but some of those flights are awful long to be in coach 🙂

    I know that the AA business class awards are 50K and don’t give a savings for off-peak, but just curious how you would structure something like that.

    • Dan,

      It would work exactly the same. LAX-OGG with avios, OGG-LAX in Business/First (zero miles, free one way) stop in LAX, then LAX-TXL via DUS for 50k. Return using United Miles for 50k per person Business Class. Our Hypothetical balances had enough miles to do it but: 1) Dates were stingier, much stingier and 2) I wanted a broader appeal to those who fly coach as well as business or first. I’m with you–I’d fly it in business, but I’ve done it in coach before as well…

      With the off peak award it also represents the lowest miles for the most travel. I think it is important to look at how much travel *can* be done for just so few miles. We really didn’t even use our September credit card signup miles in full, only 34k Avios, 40k AA and 60k UA (5k more than our September total). That’s Hawaii, 2 cities (at least) in Europe and home for 3 credit card applications.

  9. Hey, Newbie here. I was hoping you could give me a dumbs guide to why the OGG-LAX segment doesn’t use any miles. Thanks, sorry for the hassle.

    • Jordan, no problem. AA awards allow you to stop in your north america gateway city and pick up the trip from there
      This is useful when you’ve flown a long way and just want to catch up on some rest for a day. When you live in that gateway city (or close to it) you can stop at home and continue to your “final destination” later.

      In the OGG-LAX-TXL example think of the trip as OGG to TXL. You exploit the stopover by forcing the flights OGG-LAX-DUS-TXL allowing you to stop in LAX because that is your north American gateway city.

      For Kore detail see: http://first2board.com/milenomics/free-one-way-awards-depth-look/

  10. I thought I would see if anyone here can suggest some ways to get my son from NYC to PDX because he just learned that he actually can come home during the Xmas break. The good news is he’ll come home. The bad news is that, given the late notice, it will cost a lot in either money or miles.

    If he can get himself from NYC to PDX, his company will pick up the tab to get him to the next city he’ll need to be in. So we are in the market for a one way from any NY airport to PDX. Sadly, he can’t leave until 12/21 and one way tickets are running over $500.

    Even though doing it with miles will “cost” a lot too, maybe it is better to do that… But how? I have about 177,000 UR points, and 49,000+ Delta, 45,000+ American and 66,000+ United miles that I could “donate” to the cause. What’s the best way to do this?

    Thanks for any help. $500+ one way is a lot, esp. for a 26 year old, so I’d really like to help make this happen, ideally without sacrificing too much of my money or too many of my miles! Thanks again!

    • Elaine:

      As of writing this, there was still 1 seat at the “wanna get away” price on southwest, Dec 22 EWR-MDW-PDX for just 14,880 Southwest points! That would take 15,000 UR points transferred into Southwest. Three options on Dec 23, and Dec 21 but those are 24,000 Southwest points. I’d fly Southwest if it was me, but if he’s Southwest averse:

      Or, do you have the United Credit card? If so, log into United.com, do a one way search NYC-PDX and you’ll see that every flight has a 25,000 mile one way available. 25k sounds like a lot, but so does $500 😉 Without the credit card you’ll see “sold out” on all these flights, with the card make sure you log in to see last seat availability at full 25k levels.

      Hope he makes it home!

      • Thanks so much! I do have the United card and like that the best because when I looked yesterday there was a non stop from Newark to PDX. Given the recent events at DFW – flying in winter is always a bit of a risk – I’d rather see him on a nonstop with no connections. All I saw without signing in was award seats in First which I was actually contemplating, so this is much better! Thank you, thank you!

        • Also great to really now know what it means when the United card brags you can get “any seat, any time” if you are willing to pay the standard award miles. Of course I read that when I got the card but did not process it then – and did not remember it when I went looking on United last night without signing in. You are right – the more bookings you do, the better you get at it. Thanks again for your help and speedy replies plus the twitter head’s up. I am most grateful!

  11. Great Post. I live close to DFW. What other oneways can I do from there beside Hawaii? Also, can I do two one-way in two different places Booking 2 Main one-ways with AA?
    Thanks in advance.

    • FF: any nonstop flown on AA or any other oneworld partner from DFW within the 3,000 mile circle is a candidate. Not every one will work–but DFW has hundreds of options for this. You could do for example:

      DFW-MBJ with Avios, then MBJ-DFW-ICN with aa miles, MBJ-DFW being free. then on the return you could do ICN-DFW stop then DFW-Somewhere else, for free with AA miles. The problem is you then have to get home from there 😉 but the return could be with avios as wel.

  12. I’m looking to do something similar to this, but home is MSP. I have the SW Companion Pass, so positioning isn’t too tough but what I wouldn’t want to do is have my stopover be in LAX since then my positioning takes me a ways away from Europe. Could I have Midway or Atlanta (nonstops on SW from MSP) be my stopover?
    Also, I’ve never booked an Avios award ticket, but I get this error “Unfortunately our systems are not responding, so we are unable to process your request at the moment.
    We apologise for this inconvenience and suggest you try again later” when I click on ‘Search and Book Reward Flight.’ Am I missing something?

    • MLH: you’ll likely want to look at ORD for your stopover city with the positioning from MSP either with avios MSP-ORD or WN MSP-MDW (then making your way to ORD, not as convenient). A Second benefit of using Avios are that you’re protected against a mis-connect should one happen.

      I just did a test booking on BA.com and it is up for me…but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have trouble earlier. Update me with your findings.

      • I did a little research on ORD to MDW, could take a taxi or shuttle. I’ll leave that decision for later. I can at least position out to LAX for the LAX-OGG/HNL with the WN CP.

        I wonder if the BA issue is on my mind, I’ve actually never been able to get a flight to show up on BA.com. Even when I try to look up revenue flights it has always told me “Error. British Airways does not have traffic rights to operate directly between these two cities.” Is there something I missing to get flights to show up?

          • I’ll have to try when I get home and can use Firefox because with my IE I don’t see that screen/option, and the directions on TPG/MMS/TIF all result in the same ‘Unfortunately our systems are not responding, so we are unable to process your request at the moment. We apologise for this inconvenience and suggest you try again later’ error after clicking on Book With Avios. Thanks for trying!

            • MLH, Only other thing I can think is to try it as “InPrivate Browsing” On IE. (Tools->InPrivate Browsing). I’ve had issues with Ba.com and they’ve been related to bad cookies, going to private browsing allows you to test that theory at least.

          • I still can’t find that drop down you showed, nowhere can I find Payment type.
            I also can’t get anything but that error when trying to Book With Avios, despite trying with Firefox and Chrome. I even tried switching my location to the UK to see if that did anything.
            Do I need to have Avios in my account to be able to search?

          • FINALLY figured it out. Despite having a BA.com login I was not a member of the Executive Club. Once I signed up for that and got an account number, I was able to search for flights.

            • MLH, Ahhhh…Glad you figured it out. I appreciate you coming back and updating with your progress. I’ll keep this in mind should others have similar troubles. Now onto the fun part–booking 🙂

          • Do you have any experience cancelling an award flight with Avios? DealsWeLike reports that you can do so and possibly only pay $2.50, although there are reports in the comments of having to pay $40/person. We haven’t nailed down the dates of our honeymoon, but there isn’t much availability LAX to LIH/OGG/HNL in August.

            • MLH: The “official” charge is $40. DealsWeLike has reported that AA flights cancel for just $2.50. I have an AA booking with Avios I’m working on right now, and will let you know the charge on it to cancel.

    • Brandon: PPT-LAX-DUS with a stop in LAX as one AA award? no. There are limits to how these techniques work. You’ll need your free one way to be a “North American” city. There is also a little known rule that there needs to be a published fare between origin and destination (PPT and DUS) so you’ll likely break that rule as well. And even if there were, this would have to be a through trip, no stopping in LAX with a single AA award.

      If you didn’t fly a segment you could call AA and keep pushing it back (as long as there was availability). Push it back as far as possible, and then if there was a schedule change I’d then and ask to cancel the unused segment, for a refund of miles.

  13. Was it special/unusual that you were able to find the 20K Economy MileSaver OffPeak to Europe? I’ve tried KOA – ORD (stop) in Aug then ORD – CDG/BER/FCO in Oct to try getting the off-peak but the only thing i’ve seen is BusinessFirst Saver.

    • MLH: I definitely “cherry-picked” it. Summer to Europe is pretty thin. I originally started looking at FCO/MAD/CDG as well, and gave up since there it looked like 0 seats. I moved the trip to Berlin because it had space–but no return meant I had to use United to get back–and Avios in-between. I kept most of that out of an already long post.

      The booking I did was an example of extreme flexibility; I was not tied to a date or a location, just a continent (Europe). Often times these “academic” booking exercises aren’t very realistic for reasons such as that. For a more realistic (and more frustrating) example of a real world booking see my first Costa Rica post. :

      I would suggest using Qantas or British Airways sites to double check that space, but expect to have to change your city, and possibly fill in with avios (while building in a few days at your first EU city). Best of luck.

  14. Just stopped by to say I that I just booked a Hawaii trip with Avios, and to thank you, since this post really showed me the way.

    It now strikes me as amusing – where it once was very intimidating – that I researched a Hawaii trip on the Alaska and AA websites, after which I booked it by phone with British Airlines after converting UR points to BA Avios. And I’ll get reimbursed for the taxes since I used my Arrivals card to cover them.

    Very cool indeed. And extremely sweet to see all the hours I spent learning the ropes here and elsewhere come to such lovely, tropical fruition.

    Thanks, Sam!

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