Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bringing Family Together with Miles

About one year ago, my parents took me to South Korea to visit my father's side of the extended family (flights in business class and hotel paid for using United miles and Starwood points, of course). There I met some of my grandmother's sisters.

According to the internet, her sisters are my "third cousins, twice removed" or "great-aunts." I'm only 22 months old, so I'll go with "great-aunts."

My favorite great aunt (3rd person from the left in the photo) was so nice to us and took great care of me for the few days I was able to spend with her family. So I informed my grandmother that I'd like her sister to come visit me in the United States so that I could return her hospitality.

Luckily for us, a round trip flight from Asia to North America costs 65,000 United miles and about $47 dollars for taxes. Assuming you earned all the miles for free (which we did), my family only needed to come out of pocket for $47 for a flight that would normally retail at $1,900.

My great aunt doesn't speak great English, so having her flight connect somewhere would be a complication we weren't prepared for. So we had to search only for direct flights from Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) to New York City.

Step 1 -
The two international airports in our area are John F Kennedy (JFK) and Newark Liberty International (EWR). After a quick search on each airport's Wikipedia page, we saw that the only direct fights from Seoul were on Asiana Airlines flying into JFK.

As you may know, Asiana is in the Star Alliance with United Airlines, so you can use your United miles to book Asiana flights.

Step 2 -
Next, we went to and started an Award Flight Search. If you're not sure how to do that, click on the following links:
We were hoping to fly my great aunt in September to celebrate my grandmother's birthday, but unfortunately, there were no direct flights on miles for September or October, except for business and first class seats. But those premium seats cost 120,000 and 140,000 miles round trip, respectively, so that was a bit out of our miles price range.

We did find a non-stop flight in economy for early November though with a return flight 3 weeks later. Perfect!

But my grandmother's United account only had 29,738 miles, and she needed 65,000 for an economy ticket. Booking award seats is very time sensitive, because that award seat could be gone within a few hours if she didn't book it right away.

Step 3 - Rewards
Fortunately, thanks to my father, my grandmother also had a bunch of Chase Ultimate Rewards points from signing up for a bunch of Chase credit cards over the past two years (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus).

So we logged into her Chase UR account and transferred 36,000 UR points to her United MileagePlus account (since you have to transfer in increments of 1,000 points at a time). If you're not sure how to do that, click on this other Extra Pack of Peanut's website link ("How to Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points").

Step 4 - Back to
Now after logging back into her United MileagePlus account, she saw the new total of 65,738 United miles. Love those instant transfers! But keep in mind, not all Chase UR travel partners have instant transfers. See Million Mile Secrets' "Experiment" post about transferring Chase UR miles to all their partners to see how long it would complete.

Armed with 65k United miles in her account, she booked the direct flights she wanted for my great-aunt and input all the important info (full legal English name, date of birth, passport number, passport expiration date) and submitted. We paid for the $47 in taxes using our United-branded credit card (to earn 3x United miles) and in a few moments, we had a United Airlines confirmation code and ticket number for the Asiana Airlines flight.

Step 5 - Call Asiana Airlines
As I wrote just before, my grandmother now had a United confirmation number and United ticket number. However, we needed to make sure that Asiana had the ticket booked in their Asiana systems.

There have been several accounts (including my own in 2012) where you'd book a partner flight on United but the airline partner wouldn't know about it and travelers would actually show up to the airport without a ticket! In this case, because the flight is operated by Asiana ("flying on Asiana metal"), it's Asiana that needs to actually ticket the reservation, not United.

United's confirmation code is just their internal way to find your reservation. But Asiana has their own confirmation code for their internal systems.

To find the partner confirmation code on United's website, just click on your Reservation and then find the "View additional confirmation numbers" link at the top to find the partner airline code.

Then call up the operating airline (Asiana in this case) and give the representative the partner confirmation code so they can confirm that "the reservation is ticketed."

It's very important that you confirm that it's "ticketed," and not just that the reservation exists. I've personally shown up to the airport with my lap child reservation on Asiana (from, but didn't have an actual ticket to board the flight. Expedia charged us for two adult tickets, but not the lap child ticket, meaning my seat wasn't ticketed. So, my father had to pay on the spot for my ticket. Thankfully, my lap child ticket only ended up only being $80 for a San Francisco-Seoul flight.

Step 6 - Wait For November

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