Things have been really busy as Charley and I work towards polishing off the last items and projects we have at work and making sure things get transitioned and finalized in a way that we consider responsible. In the meantime, some of the people who know about our upcoming world travels have been asking us what kinds of reservations and bookings we’ve made so far. The answer is: plenty and very few!
We want to be able to be casual about our travels and take things as they come. We want to keep the “draft” in Draft Itinerary. That means we’d like to be able to wake up and hop a bus to a nearby town, or maybe if the mood strikes us, take a nice train ride through the countryside for a few hours. Because of this, we’ve booked very little local travel so far; we have a couple of short flights around the British Isles booked, plus a flight from London to mainland Europe at Biarritz, France.
We have, however, booked a large portion of our inter-continental flights. Even though we want to be casual within the various regions we’re traveling, we know there will be times we have to move from continent to continent. For two major reasons, most of the flights we’re using for those purposes are already booked:
- The loyalty program where I have the most in my account is the American Airlines AAdvantage program. It was the first airline loyalty program of its kind in the 90’s, and it remains one of the most rewarding ones, in terms of being able to flexibly redeem points for free flights. However, their system is changing for the worse on March 22, 2016. It’s still going to be one of the nicest programs out there, but the number of miles required to get free flights is going to increase drastically in some cases. It’s better to reserve these future flights now, before March 22, to lock in the lower prices!
- Availability is limited. One thing that always frustrates people about frequent flier programs is that sometimes when you enter the dates you want to travel, airlines will say there are no “award seats” available. Even though we, as consumers, tend to think of flights as having only 2 or 3 classes of tickets (like “economy” and “business” classes), in reality there are usually over a dozen. There are classes like “full fare economy” and “discount economy” and “economy award” tickets. Airlines guard their secrets for how they disperse these tickets, but one thing’s for sure: finding “award” tickets on the exact dates you want can take a lot of work! If I saw “award” tickets in business class or first class on the exact dates I wanted, I grabbed them!
Here’s a look at the three major long-haul flights I’ve booked for us so far:
- Mid-May: Boston to Dublin, Aer Lingus business class. The only one of these long haul flights not to be booked with American Airlines AAdvantage currency, I used British Airways currency (called “Avios”) instead. I have access to a lot of Avios because Charley and I are both avid users of the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, and Chase allows their “Ultimate Rewards” points to transfer to lots of airline and hotel partners, including British Airways. British Airways organizes the Avios cost of their free flights based on the distance between the origin and destination, and the distance from Boston to Dublin just happens to squeeze in a pretty nice bracket so that tickets cost a lot less than they would cost from/to other destinations. British Airways and Aer Lingus are airline partners, so I called the British Airways Avios desk to redeem 75,000 points and we’re on our way.Aer Lingus has also been in the process of refurbishing their cabins to offer a nicer ride for those lucky enough to be up front in business class, so I’m looking forward to what they have to show us!
- Early October: Abu Dhabi to Tokyo, Etihad first class. This flight was an outright steal for the number of miles we needed. American Airlines international award flights are priced by the regions of the world in which the origin and destination fall, and the price of a first class ticket from anywhere in the Middle East to anywhere in Japan is only 45,000 miles per ticket. That means we’ll get to spend over 10 hours in first class luxury for only 90,000 miles for the two of us. Middle Eastern airlines are famous for their attentive service for business and first class passengers, and I can’t wait to be spoiled. The plane that Etihad will be using on this flight includes a first class cabin with enclosed “suites” for each first class passenger, with a door that fully closes for privacy and serenity on the plane. Just check out this video that someone took of the same plane being used on a different route:
- Late December: Delhi to Melbourne (via Abu Dhabi), Etihad first class. After seeing as much of Asia as we can, going from east to west, it’s time to hit up Australia! Yet again, this flight was an outright steal for what we paid for it. Award flights from the Middle East to Australia in first class require only 60,000 miles per ticket under the American Airlines AAdvantage program. These tickets usually retail for prices nearing $10,000! Even better, because Abu Dhabi and Delhi are in the same region on the award chart, taking two flights to go from Delhi to Abu Dhabi and then from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne cost the same number of miles as a single flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne. After all, we’re still leaving from the same region! We’re going to have our hands full seeing Asia, so knowing that we only have to get ourselves from Tokyo to Delhi will give us more time to relax along the way, instead of having to get ourselves all the way back to Abu Dhabi.What’s more incredible is that this flight is on the crown jewel of Etihad’s fleet, the Airbus 380. Etihad has been promoting these new planes like crazy, in addition to promising the absolute highest level of luxury in the skies. (I hope they don’t mind a couple of leisure travelers like us who might not even be groomed or bathed when they show up for their flight!) If it’s even possible, their promotional video for this flight is even more tempting than the last one:
There’s still one “long haul” flight left that we haven’t booked yet. At some point, we’re going to have to get ourselves from the south Pacific (whether that’s Australia or New Zealand or Fiji is anyone’s guess) to South America. Qantas Airlines has a very nice flight from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile that we’d love to take, but Qantas is also notoriously stingy for not releasing “award” tickets on their flights. The cash price of those tickets (even in economy class) run around $2,000, so I’m really hoping we can find one. Just like all of American Airlines’s other free award flights, the price in miles for getting free seats on that route is going to go up March 22, so fingers crossed I find some award availability soon. (Then again, in a pinch, I could find an award seat for a day that we don’t intend to travel and then try to change the date later. As long as the origin and destination remain the same, American Airlines doesn’t charge a change fee on free award tickets.)