Hi Frugalistas! Despite not quite having everything organised for my trip to London and the Mediterranean in April, I’m already planning my next trip – to France and Turkey later this year.
I’m using frequent flyer points and want to sit at the pointy end of the plane, so although I was not traveling until September/October, I was keen to get my flights locked in. I had points on both my Etihad Guest and Virgin Australia Velocity program, so a bit of coordination was also required.
What I did first was look at how many points I needed for each of my desired flights: Sydney to Paris, then home Istanbul to Sydney (I was always planning on buying a ticket between France and Istanbul). I had enough in my Etihad account for a first class redemption, but needed to move some credit card rewards points to get enough Velocity points. So, while I was waiting for these to transfer I started on the outward leg with my Etihad points.
Despite giving myself a window of mid September to mid October I couldn’t find anything from Sydney to Paris in either First or Business Class. Nothing else to do then but look at other destinations and see what I could find. Obviously the best destinations to try were those that suited what I had in mind for my very rough French itinerary plan. After looking at a number of options with no success I finally found a First Class redemption to Geneva. Given my rough itinerary included destinations in the north east of France Geneva looked a good option. Five minutes and all my points, and the seat was mine.
OK, so onto the return trip. Now that I had an arrival date in Europe, and knew about how long I wanted to stay away, I had a very narrow window to get home from Istanbul. But at least I knew exactly what to look for. Now, Virgin Australia has just changed its booking system, and a lot of its points redemptions can’t be made on line and unfortunately have to be booked via their call centre.
So onto the queue for the call centre I went. No seats in First or Business Class in my time window – lots in Economy on Etihad, but that was not what I was after (my trip was a bit of a treat to myself, so Economy all the way home was not going to cut it). I could get from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi with no problems, but the Abu Dhabi to Sydney leg was the problem. Given I’d waited 20minutes to get to speak to someone I wasn’t going to give up my opportunity to get this sorted. So we started looking at other options. Could I get a flight to Brisbane or Melbourne (Etihad’s other destinations in Australia)? No, nothing in First or Business. No flights at all on Singapore Airlines, Virgin’s other partner to that part of the world.
OK, I thought, maybe I could get a flight to a half way point in Asia, then buy a ticket from there home? Success! A flight from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok in Business Class. It would require an overnight in Abu Dhabi, but at least I could get closer to home.
After an hour and a half (see why I didn’t want to give up my time on the phone?) I’d finally got myself booked through from Istanbul to Bangkok, and had points left over for another treat another time. Next step then was to look at flights from Bangkok to Sydney. I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to get a connection through to Sydney the night my flight arrived, so another night in transit would be required. This was starting to get messy, not to mention time consuming! It was also starting to look expensive if I wanted a direct flight. I was already up for a night in Abu Dhabi, then a night in Bangkok, and a 24hr trip home was looking like a 3 day marathon – not my idea of fun. I could get a direct Business Class flight for about AUD$2300, but with 2 nights accommodation, transfers and meals my trip home was probably closer to AUD$3000.
Maybe it’s better to look at not using my points to Bangkok? Checking the conditions of my ticket to Bangkok, I could cancel it for a very small points penalty. I could also get a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi, in Business Class for about $3500 that would get me home in 24hours total (which is about normal for us from Europe).
What did I do? Cancelled the Abu Dhabi to Bangkok flight redemption of course, and will book a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney direct in the near future.
So what are the lessons to be learned from this exercise?
1. Flexibility is key to booking frequent flyer point redemptions – whether it is your precise destination or departure time.
2. Supreme patience may be required to actually book your redemptions – I spent at least an hour on the Etihad website booking my outbound flights, 1 and a half hours booking my return legs, then at least another hour trying to work out how to get from Bangkok to Sydney.
3. If you understand the rules of your frequent flyer redemption ticket you can increase your flexibility and can change your mind if what you’ve booked doesn’t end up meeting your needs.
4. Sometimes a free ticket isn’t actually free and isn’t worth it if it comes with too many strings attached.
5. It can be worth your while to pay and save yourself plenty of time. And of course, sometimes time is the greatest luxury of all!
I’m no great expert on frequent flyer redemptions, so if you want to learn more check out specialist websites. Google “travel hacking” and get it from the experts.
If you’re curious as to how I come to have so many points, check out my post on how I earned 200 000 frequent flyer points in 6months here.