As I mentioned earlier, Blogger Hubby and I had decided to take a BIG trip and we wanted to go Business Class and we wanted to use our miles and fly for free (other than taxes).
We wanted to fly from Washington Dulles to Sydney Australia and then fly home from Auckland, New Zealand. This is called an Open Jaw ticket. I began searching about 9 1/2 months prior to our trip to find the perfect flights and found that there weren’t many flights to choose from. I was in for a shock! Apparently the “rule” is to begin looking about (and each airlines is a little different) 330 days out. There were no direct flights to Sydney from either LAX or SFO. I had no idea of how to route us to Sydney. I had asked for help and was told to try creative routing and to try to route through Asia. But how?
I was booking using United Airline miles. To do this, you simply go to the reservation page, type in where you are flying from and where you want to go, check the box at the bottom that says award travel, add your dates and then enter all this information. There are two types of award ticket – the saver award (which is capacity controlled which means fewer seats) then there are standard award )which are about double the miles but if a seat is available then you can book it). I was not about to give any miles away by booking standard – I would rather come in a few days earlier or stay a few days later. I had the somewhat luxury of flexibility.
While doing all this research, I found that one of the routings on the United Airline award booking site that I could fly was to Sydney via Seoul, South Korea. Really, I asked? It was a “little, no it was a lot out of the way”. I was, I admit, a little apprehensive about flying through South Korea, not because I don’t like South Korea but because it is so very, very close to North Korea and the government of that country scares me.
The option was to fly on Asiana Airlines which is a South Korean airline and I later found out to be one of the top 5 airlines in the world. Everyone kept telling me what a great airline and airport Incheon (South Korea) was so I bit the bullet and went ahead and booked us. This would be a very long flight from SFO to ICN – 10,700 miles. On this long haul trip on Asiana we were booked into Business Class and to this inexperienced Business Traveler, it looked like First Class. I thought I hit the lottery. We were escorted to our seats by the Asiana flight attendant. She introduced herself to us, and saw to our every needs. This flight had a 1-2-1 configuration. We had the two “pods” in the center with lie down flat seats, footrest, a light over our shoulder, a personal in flight entertainment center beyond anything I had seen before. We were given our menus to select our lunch and our wines. Our meal was served to us on linen covered trays, nice china dishes, glass stemware – it was like I was eating in a elegant restaurant. Our wine glass was always filled and they remembered which wine we were drinking. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love being pampered like this.
As this was an Open Jaw trip and since I was a little “nervous” about spending this many points and making sure that I got everything right, I called the international award desk for United and had them help me book this trip. The fee was $25 per ticket and she spent 90 minutes on the phone with me helping me get better flight times that I was able to do on my own through the internet. If you are as unsure as I was, do not hesitate to call your airline. The fee was well worth it. If by chance you should get a reservation agent that is not helpful, thank him or her, hand up and call again and you’ll get another agent who will be more helpful.
We were booked in First Class from Dulles to San Francisco on United. We had a two and a half hour layover in San Francisco and then we were going to be flying on Asiana in Busness Class and then San Francisco to Seoul on Asiana to be followed a few hours later by our flight, again on Asiana, to Sydney. Both of these flights on Asiana were booked in Business Class and we would have two overnight flights. This was a flight of almost 11,000 miles!
We still had to find a flight home from Auckland and there were no Business Class seats to be had. We went ahead and booked on Air New Zealand coach seats from Auckland to LAX and then coach from LAX to IAD. This flight weighed heavily on my mind and I was not happy about it. I had been trying to convince Blogger Hubby to stop somewhere on our way home but he had felt that we were gone long enough and we should just go home. He had also been in Japan and Korea a long time ago and did not feel very comfortable in getting around. I tried to convince him that the Asia of now was very different from the Asia of when he visited prior to our marriage.
Finally, about two months before our trip he agreed we could stop somewhere on our way home. With a long haul flight you get a free stopover (stopover is 24 hours or more; layover is less than 24 hours – important to know the difference). We debated between Bangkok and Singapore. Since Singapore’s official language was English and they were a former British colony we thought they would be a good introduction to Asia for us.
I could not get a direct flight from Auckland to Singapore and had to look around to piece this flight together. I spent time on the award web site of United finding cities I could fly into from Auckland and then look for flights from that city to Singapore. Now I understood about being creative in looking for award seats. I found a flight on Air New Zealand from Auckland to Brisbane, Australia and then from Brisbane to Singapore on Singapore Air. Once again, both flights were in Business Class. I was becoming a travel snob and until this trip had never flown anything but coach. I was anxious to try both airlines but most anxious to fly Singapore Air as I had heard so many wonderful comments on this airline. This flight was over 5,000 miles.
From Singapore we needed to get home. We ended up booking a coach flight on Singapore Air to Beijing, China. In Beijing, we again flew Business Class direct to Dulles on United Airlines. This flight was almost 10,000 miles.
What I learned through all this is that you have to be flexible. Know what flights you want, and know the flight numbers. It can be very difficult to book this yourself online so call your airline reward redemption telephone number and have them do it for you if you are unsure or want to make sure everything you did is correct. For the Auckland to Singapore segment, I had to piece it together and give the reservation agent all the flights for each segment. I first found the Auckland toFor us, United charged $25 per ticket and it was the best use of my money. They also charge when you make a change to your ticket UNLESS they make a change (and usually they do for flights booked quite a ways out) and then you get to change for free. We were not charged when we changed our flight from Auckland. Just be nice and appreciative to the person helping you on the phone.
When booking through one airline and flying on another, you need to get your record locator number so you can call up the airline (in this case Asiana, Singapore and Air New Zealand) to reserve your seats. Do not skip this step – it is very important. I called as soon as we booked and then I also called a month before the trip to confirm with the other airlines. I didn’t want anything to happen at the last minute. I wanted to be prepared as best as I could. Some people have reported problems with other airlines not having their reservations so I made sure as best as I could that it wouldn’t happen to me.
So that is our flights in a nutshell. The lessons to take from this is to look for indirect flights if you can’t find a direct one; piece together the segments, always get your record locator for each of the other airlines you are flying and finally, confirm, confirm and confirm!