Buying what could be free — US Airways off-peak award to Europe

Update (November 21, 2012):  Off-peak availability for 60k mile roundtrips in Business Class is gone.  If you didn’t get on the plane with me this year, I look forward to seeing you in 2013!

Background:  

  • I recently read (on http://milevalue.com) that the US Airways Airbus 330 is the flagship of their Business Class.
  • US Airways has something called “Off-Peak” awards — Business Class awards requiring 60,000 miles roundtrip to Europe versus the normal 100,000-350,000 — available on limited dates between January 15 and February 28, 2013.
  • US Airways just announced a 100% bonus on miles purchased (buy 1 get 1 free), cutting the normal cost ($.035/mile) in half.
  • US Airways flies the Airbus 330 from Philadelphia to Paris. I can puddlejump CVG to PHL.
  • I’m always ready to go to Paris, even in the dead of winter.

I decide to book an off-peak fare to Paris! All I need to do is figure out how to make it work.

US Airways Off-Peak Awards

Booking a Mileage Award with no Mileage:  I have history with US Airways. My “US Air” Frequent Traveler Program card shows a “member since” date of 09/85. But I now live in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to fly US Airways. I have zero miles in my account.

With these offers, however, zero miles doesn’t seem to be a problem.  I can buy the 60,000 I need for an “Off-Peak” roundtrip (as long as I’ve been a member for 12 days ?!?!?) for $1128.75 including the taxes.

Buy US Airways Bonus Miles

“Off Peak” means US Airways chooses the dates for my vacation:  Here’s the chart for January off-peak flights to Paris from Cincinnati.  Notice anything funny?  Yep.  Only one day is “Off-Peak” outbound and only two days back.  There are none  in February.  Oh, well, Paris museums are heated.  A week in Paris in January sure beats an week in Cincinnati in January.  Let’s go!

Selecting my "Off-Peak" flights

So far, the tab for the flight is $190 in fees and $ 1128.75 to buy 60,000 miles = $1318.75.  I have to know — How’s this compare to buying the ticket?

Roundtrip January tickets to Paris.

On the same “Off-Peak” days, the lowest (non-refundable) business class fare for the same flights is $5475.  I can save $4156.25!  I check some other dates during the month, but can’t get the fare below $5300 on US Airways.

Since I’m booking this flight as an award ticket, I earn no frequent flier credit for the 12,600 miles I’ll fly.  No wonder I can’t keep any miles in my account.

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Redemption — in the secular sense — Chase ultimate rewards points

Don’t waste your hard-earned rewards points learning how to use them.  Follow me as I crawl through a ticketing experience.

The background:  I wanted two round-trip Business Class tickets from Cincinnati to Barcelona in September.  Beginning in January, I hounded Delta.com looking for rewards tickets at the low end of their redemption scale (which runs from 100,000 to 325,000 Skymiles for a Business Class ticket.)  Their award calendar had mostly blue days — blue for days with high-end, 325,000 mile tickets — 650,000 for two roundtrips wasn’t going to happen.  Chasing green (low mileage) days led to flights with obscene layovers, bad connections, or revealed the disconnect between Delta’s Rewards Calendar and actual available bookings — I’d book one way and by the time I’d gotten to the return booking, it didn’t exist.  I may have screamed — several times.

The purchase:  In early July, the price for two round-trip business class fares, which had been floating around $9600, finally broke below my $5000 target, to $4869.20.  Faced with Skymiles point redemptions still stuck at the high end of Delta’s 100,000 to 325,000 range, I gave up on Skymiles and charged two tickets, redeeming 56,301 Chase Ultimate Rewards points  to reduce my out of pocket to $4193.59 [for no reason other than 56,301 points were in my account that day.]

$ 4869.20   2 Business Class tickets
– 563.01    Redeem 56,301 Ultimate Rewards points at 1 cent each for credit
– 112.60    20% redemption bonus credit for travel purchases
________
$ 4193.59    Use Chase Sapphire Rewards Visa to purchase

Did I do OK?   Under $2100 each for roundtrip business class to Europe — I was feeling pretty good about the ticket price until — no surprise — buyer’s remorse reared its ugly head.

What about the 56,301 points I had blown — redeemed for only 1.2 cents per point?  If Ultimate Rewards had let me transfer points to Delta, 56,000 wouldn’t have made a big splash in the ocean of Skymiles needed for two tickets — even had the minimum 200,000 point redemption been available.  (Keep an eye on Delta partner Air France, which sometimes holds redemption sales, opening up business tickets at 50,000 each way.)

The $4193 I spent would have bought about 120,000 Skymiles from Delta at 3.5 cents each — if Delta didn’t limit me to buying 60,000 each year.  120,000 plus the 56,000 I redeemed was still way short.

I’m real close to rationalizing my decision.  One more step:

Since I paid for the tickets, I was earning a lot of points back:

+ 12,582 to Ultimate Rewards from my Chase Sapphire (4193.59 x3 for travel)
+   880 year-end 7% Chase checking account customer bonus on earned points
+ 13,859 ticket #1 Delta Skymiles @1.5 per mile flown in Business Class
+ 13,859 ticket #2 Delta Skymiles @1.5 per mile flown in Business Class
+  1,875 Air France points (BCN to CDG leg @2.5 per mile European Business Class)
+  1,875 Air France points (BCN to CDG leg @2.5 per mile European Business Class)
_________
44,930 total miles earned back of the 56,301 redeemed

So I got back all but 11,371 of the points I redeemed to get the $675.61 credit, making the redemption worth almost 6 cents a point.

I had a great time in Europe.  Did I do the math right?

Thanksgiving in Turkey. Deal Alert! Chicago >< Istanbul $532 r/t.

*March 14, 2013 UPDATE*  Even though the deal is over, this post still contains useful information on KLM “Economy Comfort” seating and prices.

*FEBRUARY 12, 2013 UPDATE*   Istanbul is still an  under $500 bargain.  Delta from Newark fare must be purchased by February 17 and started by February 24.  Other origins possible under $760.

*NOVEMBER 15, 2012 UPDATE*   The KLM/AIR FRANCE/DELTA offer from CHICAGO (ORD), Originally scheduled to end November 6, is still available for $532.

$532 roundtrip from Chicago (ORD) to Istanbul (IST) is a fabulous bargain you can also use for travel in January, February, and March.  It’s a one-stop (to Amsterdam) flight on KLM.   (A similar deal is offered on United connecting to its non-stop from Newark.)  Book by November 8, 2012.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • the fare rules
  • how to make the flight even better
  • what we discovered on KLM’s website

The fare rule highlights:  “These fares are valid for departures January 5, 2013 through March 20, 2013. Tickets must be purchased before December 6, 2012 11:59PM EDT.”  We noted that Flying Blue members (the frequent flyer program of Air France and KLM) get miles credit, but at a reduced rate — 3400-ish for the trip.  (Booked through their partner Delta, I would get 11,041 status qualifying miles.)  The fare cannot be cancelled.  There is a $250 change fee.

How to make the flight even better:  As you go through booking on the KLM website, you have the option to select your seats.  The long leg (Chicago to Amsterdam) is on a 747-400 “Combi” that includes KLM’s “economy comfort” seating option.

I was amazed to see that these highly discounted seats can be upgraded for $123 on each of the long legs (ORD to AMS and the return).  Adding $123 and $123 to the $531.28 fare brings the ticket price to $777.28 — still quite a bargain — with 4 extra inches of legroom comfort and double the recline included!

Economy Comfort seats in Orange. Economy seats in Blue.

By upgrading to “economy comfort” you can select the only two-across seating (11 through 17 D & E) in economy class.  I’ve never flown this 747 configuration, so I checked SeatGuru.com.  Some people mentioned that the D/E row seats can be cold.  I prefer cold to hot, but be sure to get a blanket.

The shorter Amsterdam to Istanbul flight can also be upgraded — for $37 each way.  After looking at the seat map, I probably wouldn’t bother.

What I discovered on the KLM website:  I love to use it!  The site shows a very user-friendly fare chart by date for those of us who can shift schedules a day or two to save money.  The seat map was the real highlight for me.  When the seat selection window opened, it was love at first sight.  It looked like the seating might actually look on the plane. And when I selected my seat, a little person appeared.  It was magic — much more personal than airline sites that think I’m just an “x” in a box, like some tic-tac-toe thing.

Thanks to Delta airlines for providing the tic-tac-toe example — same KLM 747-Combi, same flight.  (Since the seat is marked “preferred,” could I select it if I had Medallion status?  I don’t know.  Without status, I can’t even buy the upgrade when making my reservation at Delta.com.)

Delta Seat Map of KLM 747 Combi
Delta Seat Map of the KLM 747 Combi

Summary:  If you’ve wanted to go to Turkey, maybe adding a quick flight to Athens, Greece, during your stay;  it won’t get any better.  And you can schedule a long (15 hour) layover in Amsterdam, if you’d like to spend the day there before continuing on to Istanbul.

O Deux La [O2 LA] Bar Restaurant, Nimes, France

A Treat for Lunch.  Worth Finding.

My wife and I discovered O2 LA while heading back to our car after a morning walk around Nimes. We were first attracted to the tables outside under a canopy and trees on the Place Des Esclafidous. As we looked at the posted menu and the plaza, we were graciously welcomed. Yes, it was possible to get lunch and, yes, eating at a table on the plaza was encouraged. I’ve posted photos of our lunch plates, as it’s hard to describe how pretty they were, served on slate “plates.” I enjoyed a salad with slices of local ham. My wife had the salad of the day, which was topped with warm goat cheese wrapped in a small crepe.

Some hints on finding it: on Google Maps the street-level picture of Place Des Esclafidous shows the same place with the name “Gargantua” on the awning. I think Gargantua has moved. Next time I’m there, I’ll find out the details. Just look for Place Des Esclafidous and you’ll find it.

When I searched for O2 LA on the internet, I found it listed as an “oxygen bar” and also as gay friendly. Maybe later at night the place starts to swing. I probably won’t stay up late enough to find out the details of that. All I know is that we really enjoyed our luncheon salads.

Originally posted on TripAdvisor April 6, 2012

le 5eme Peche, Collioure, France

Le 5eme Peche Collioure FranceWhile more casual than the area’s Michelin-starred restaurants, the chef’s dedication to his art shows star potential. At dinners, we have experienced top-notch ingredients prepared with care and challenging taste combinations, all beautifully plated. At lunch we were treated as a guest in the home of a great cook, even given recommendations of other delightful places. Not a place for tourists to fill up. There are larger portions for less money elsewhere in Collioure. This is a great experience for foodies.

Originally posted on TripAdvisor August 29, 2010