Though we already had our Christmas tickets purchased, a change in the plans thanks to Hotwire.com had us swap in our “free” (paid with miles) tickets for reasonably-priced business class tickets.
Korean’s Exclusive Sale with Hotwire
A post from GodSaveThePoints alerted me to an exclusive sale that Korean was offering on Hotwire.com and no other OTA offered the same rates. I love the idea of some exclusivity to a fare sale, though I am a little surprised that they didn’t offer it through other channels like their own website. It makes me wonder if they were going to have a fare sale anyway, but Hotwire paid for the exclusivity in order to win some of the hotel business which they had pushed pretty hard during the sales process.
For Hotwire’s part, it was a smart move to partner on the sale as well, it likely brought in a new crowd to their site. I haven’t used Hotwire in perhaps a decade at least not for my own travel. Known for hiding their travel partners to deliver savings that the carriers and hotels wouldn’t want to advertise, it is perhaps a twist of irony that the carrier of this excellent deal promoted it themselves. Hotwire switched to a combination of both hidden provider (non mileage-earning, non status-earning) to featuring normal OTA with carriers and routes fully transparent which do earn miles and status.
The fare was available for a few days as seats remained open on the routes. Some of the city pairs sold out before the sale period was over, we were fortunate to have completed the booking after days of deliberation. By the next afternoon, space was gone.
The Award Booking We Cancelled
Most Christmas and New Year’s breaks we try to make larger trips happen. This year we had booked JFK-YVR-HKG returning HKG-EWR direct on the A350 in Cathay Pacific business class. We cashed in 140,000 American Airlines Advantage miles and paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $100/each, for myself, my wife and our daughter. In total 420,000 Advantage miles and $300 which did not include positioning from Pittsburgh nor a connection to where we would ultimately choose to go in Southeast Asia. For comparison differences, the only material difference is that PIT-NYC is usually expensive both for cash and award redemption but a little far to drive after a trans-Pacific flight. Washington DC airports are far closer to Pittsburgh and easier to reach by car, especially during the winter season where weather may be unfavorable.
One key failure of this year’s route was that we would lose Christmas altogether. Our departure on Christmas Eve from New York JFK at 8:40PM, just before Santa lands on rooftops in the Big Apple, would mean that we wouldn’t arrive in Hong Kong until 7:05AM on December 26th. We wouldn’t have Christmas in 2018 at all and while I don’t think the day on the calendar is particularly important when celebrating the holiday abroad, it would be odd for the day to disappear altogether due to traveling and time zone differences.
What We Switched To
Instead of booking over the Christmas holiday, we are waiting until Valentine’s Day to depart for Bali though we won’t likely stay there the entire time. We will then return a couple of weeks later.
Looking over the route, a few options cropped up, but one of the most attractive to me was returning to the Korean A380 in business class. We have only flown Korean one other time, it was a result of Yangon, Myanmar mistake fares and our daughter has never flown the aircraft type. She was excited just seeing pictures of it.
We will likely still go somewhere over the Christmas break closer to home. We’d rather spend Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest and the Companion Pass, or perhaps try some spots in northern South America for less money or fewer points.
The True Value of Points
While I have been very open that I have left American (sometimes I still fly them out of convenience but not as a matter of priority), and that their points are less valuable than they once were, they still hold more value than this. The cost of replacing my 420,000 Advantage points and $300 spent on the trip with these tickets set me back $5100 ($1700/ticket) – after refunding the points and taxes for free, the difference was actually just $4800.
That’s a lot of money, especially for an optional trip, but the cost of 1.14¢/Advantage mile is too good to pass up even for a cynic like myself. While valuations on the carrier have sunk lower than they were traditionally, this is still an opportunity I couldn’t resist.
Then, of course, I also get to earn points for the replacements flights which will offset the cost of the trip since I otherwise wouldn’t earn anything on a redemption. Using the website, wheretocredit.com I found that the most generous airline for which I can credit the trip would also be my preferred choice: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
It looks like we should each earn about 71,000 Mileage Plan miles (213,000 in total). While they are far more valuable than American miles, assuming they hold the exact same valuation of my cheap acquisition ($.0114/per) returns a minimum of $2,428.20 in value of the earned points through Alaska. The net cost of the trip has diminished to $890/per person for business class to Bali in February. As a resident of Pittsburgh, that’s exactly when you need a trip to Bali, the snow isn’t fun anymore, it doesn’t feel like it will ever end and there’s nothing to look forward to until Easter.
Status Challenge Time?
I considered submitting us each for a status challenge on a beneficial carrier (Korean, Delta, etc.) and may still do so. The base miles, before any accelerated earnings based on class of service will net no less than 20,000 miles in about two weeks, that should satisfy most of the status challenges out there without having to fly anything else. Delta’s own is 18,750 miles and these flights may count for the challenge, the idea is simple, we should be able to use these tickets to earn status with someone within Skyteam.
Except, Alaska is again the clear choice. While I may have to rely on our readership to assist, at a minimum we should each be just a few thousand miles away from MVP status on Alaska after this trip. Alaska starts a two-year commitment to Pittsburgh-Seattle (longer if Amazon makes Pittsburgh it’s second home) in September of this year, clearing the rest of the miles on their sometimes partner American or their own flights next year should be easy.