Monday, August 3, 2015

Grandmother's 65th Birthday Trip

This autumn will be my paternal grandmother's 65th birthday. My father's already got some pretty ambitious plans for her, flying her in first class on Japan Airlines to South Korea to visit her siblings.

However, my grandmother has always wanted to visit Hong Kong, so we arranged to have her fly out of Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific non-stop business class back to New York.

As the plans firmed up, we finally booked her Seoul-Hong Kong flight so that she would spend 3 nights in "Asian New York City."

Of course, booking with cash would mean an expensive one way international ticket. So instead, we looked to our stash of frequent flyer miles.

For 20,000 American Airline miles, we could fly her economy on Cathay Pacific one way. For 30,000 miles, we could fly her in business class. However, we had a better currency to get the same exact award flight - British Airways Avios.

We've been big fans of using BA Avios for select short-haul flights on OneWorld carriers, including American Airlines where we flew to Puerto Rico (2013) and Chicago (2014). Because their award chart was "distance based," flying short flights presented outsized value opportunity relative to "region-based" mileage programs such as American Airlines' AAdvantage.

Outbound Flights
The flight from Seoul Incheon to Hong Kong was 1,284 miles, so a one-way economy flight would cost 10,000 Avios (vs. 20,000 AA miles). Even including cash taxes of $30/person, using Avios was a pretty great deal considering the flight would have cost $434 on Cathay. Implied redemption value came out to 4.0 cents/Avios.

It's important to note that there were also $144 flights on discount carrier Hong Kong Express. However, two concerns: (a) the flight time was inconvenient, arriving mid-afternoon and (b) low-cost Asian airlines haven't had a great safety track record recently. We'll stick with one of the world's best airlines in Cathay Pacific, thank you.

But since my grandmother prefers to travel with family, she invited her sister and brother-in-law to join her in Hong Kong. So my father booked them on the same flight as well, using another 10,000 Avios + $30 cash per person.

Return Flights
The return flight to Seoul was only required for my great-aunt and great-uncle though, since my grandmother was flying back to New York straight from Hong Kong.

However, my grandmother was booked in Cathay Pacific business class, allowing her to fully enjoy the great Hong Kong Airport lounge called The Wing. While not as impressive as the premier First Class section, the Cathay business class lounges included a wide selection of hot and cold food and drink as well as a comfortable place to sit and relax before their flights.

But my grandmother wouldn't abandon her travel companions to enjoy the lounge facilities (accessible only to business class passengers), so my father booked them in business class as well for 20,000 Avios + $23 cash taxes per person.

That same one-way 3hr 40min business class flight retailed for $1,530 per person! However, when calculating redemption values for one-way premium cabin international flights, it's unfair to look at the one-way ticket prices.

Oftentimes, one-way tickets are priced way more than "50% of a roundtrip ticket," and sometimes even just as expensive. So instead, we took 50% of the value of a round-trip ticket, which came out to be $1,365 (which was less than just the one way!).

So using the implied one-way price of $683 per person in business class, the 20,000 Avios were redeemed for 3.3 cents/point, still a great redemption! Just FYI - the same award flight using American Airlines miles would have cost 30,000 miles/person.

By using frequent flyer miles, we were able to book 5 flights for just over $130 total cash outlay. Conservatively, we saved over $2,500 on their flights.

Additionally, by using British Airways Avios instead of American Airline miles, we saved enough frequent flyer miles to put my great-aunt and great-uncle in business class on the way back home.

Besides, American Airline miles are MUCH better used for long-haul premium class flights (such as 14 hours in Japan Airlines First Class or 15 hours in Cathay Pacific Business Class), so we don't want to waste them on short-haul economy flights.

Now, to get the 3 nights of Hong Kong hotels booked...

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