There Are So Many Considerations Booking Award Travel, It’s Hard to Keep All of It Straight

I’ve often said that fuel surcharges on award tickets – the scourge of any notion of ‘loyalty’ – can be worth paying in certain circumstances. Sure, the loyalty program is extorting you. However it’s like buying a discounted coach ticket that doesn’t earn miles, and redeeming for a triple upgrade from coach to first class.

There was a time I’d go to great lengths to avoid paying fuel surcharges, but now that I have a young daughter:

  • I highly value a single connection and a non-stop transatlantic flight from Austin. Currently there are only three: British Airways, Lufthansa, and Norwegian. Of those only BA offers first class, and award availability on the flight is excellent.

  • Fuel surcharges are somewhat mitigated by their generous infant award policy – you pay 10% of the cost of an adult award (in miles and in fees) rather than paying 10% of the cost of a paid ticket.

park hyatt vendome crib
Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris with a crib

My wife loves Paris. I’ve never been as big a fan of big Western European cities. To make a trip work for the three of us meant:

  1. Coordinating availability of the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris on points, along with confirmed globalist suite upgrade availability, and availability of the Austin – London Heathrow non-stop on British Airways.

  2. I definitely wanted to book at least one roundtrip using British Airways Avios. I was going to pay fuel surcharges anyway, but booking via British Airways meant paying 10% of the mileage, taxes, and fees rather than 10% the relevant fare that American would charge.

  3. I had enough British Airways Avios for 1.5 roundtrips. Did I want to transfer American Express points with the current 40% transfer bonus to book the final one way, or book it via American AAdvantage?

  4. Booking roundtrip tickets wouldn’t be an option, regardless, since for a U.S.-originating itinerary you pay lower fuel surcharges booking two one way tickets on British Airways than you do booking a round trip. That’s because a roundtrip charges double the U.S. departing surcharge, but booking one ways gets you a high fuel surcharge (U.S. departure) and a lower one (Europe departure). At least, originating outside the U.K. on the return, I always wouldn’t have to pay UK luxury tax (air passenger duty).

  5. Ultimately I decided to burn American Airlines miles for one of the four one way tickets. That’s because while I have seven figure balances with both Chase and American Express that transfer to British Airways, I have an even bigger AAdvantage balance to work with and I prefer the flexibility that Membership Rewards points offer.

  6. I did need to transfer 5000 Membership Rewards points over to BA to top off my Executive Club account so I’d have enough points for the roundtrip infant award.

british airways first class bed
British Airways First Class Bed

All of this, except for confirming the Park Hyatt suite, was accomplished online. Once I’d made it that far I still needed to,

british airways concorde room cabana
British Airways Concorde Room Cabana

At the end of the day I spent just over half a million points and $2000 for two roundtrip first class British Airways tickets between Austin and Paris, plus an infant ticket, and five nights in a suite at the Park Hyatt Vendome. (The suite itself was fetching ~ US$1320 a night for the dates of our planned stay.)

That’s hardly the best award ticket I’ve booked, but it makes my wife happy. I sure had to jump through hoops to book it though.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That’s a hefty ticket in terms of miles and $$, but definitely worth it. Excellent tip re booking two one-ways rather than round-trip on BA to save $$. You might want to repeat versions of that in other posts down the line.

    Only problem with your post was your apparent lukewarm attitude toward Paris. It’s the most romantic city in the world! Enjoy it!

  2. Were you just wanting to burn BA miles or were there no available seats on AA that flew direct into CDG??
    I love London, but flying into it for a connection is an AWFUL, STRESSFUL nightmare! The refusal to put flights up on the board until the last minute is ridiculous and having to try to run down the aisle to find your gate is NUTS! I don’t shop, I’m scared to leave the screen! My husband smokes and to go out and come back through security is terrible, getting him to go is hard enough, trying to get him to go through London is nearly impossible. I can’t imagine doing it with an infant in tow. I think I’d have driven to DFW and found a direct flight if possible.

  3. @Bob would require close-in booking and an extra connection eg AUS-IAH-FRA-CDG, both less desirable traveling with my wife and very young daughter … and then there’s the INF fare I’d have to pay

  4. Sounds a lot like the points and miles trips I do, except I don’t think I have any children. There is a real sense of satisfaction when you make it all work, though.

  5. My youngest daughter is in her second year of college, so my wife and I have finally finished those family traveling years where you have so little choice on time and schedule – as well as additional costs. Always found that having family equaled higher travel cost, regardless of what my girls age was at that time. It is all more than worth it, but you’re definitely in the early part of your journey. Enjoy those special young days as they unfold for you, and after potty training it really gets nice for a while.

  6. So that is jumping through hoops? Wait til you have three more of those and can only book during peak season because they are in school.
    Recently booked Edmonton to Galapagos for next summer for all six of us because my second oldest is graduating and going into marine biology. Originally tried a month ago with stopovers in Panama and Quito with Aeroplan miles. Aeroplan website can’t do 4 city multi city search, so had to call in. Transferred 375000 MR from AMEX in my wife’s accounts and 180000 Bonvoy in my accounts. After finding the near perfect flights by piecing it together online, Call them up in the morning before we are leaving for Ireland and wait on hold for near an eternity. Know that it is the last chance to book two stopover routing with Aeroplan. Finally get through and give them all of the flights and all of the information for all six of us. Agent puts it all into their system for the first person and tells me that routing is not valid, GPS is closer to Edmonton geographically than Quito, So Quito has to be the destination. Explain that there is no way to get to GPS except through Quito. Agent forces through destination as GPS and computer decides it is okay. Agent books ticket and charges fees ($350 without any surcharges, because every airport and country needs a little piece from each of the 10 flights in the itinerary). Starts working on the other five tickets. It is taking so long that now I am on the way to the airport to leave for Ireland. Call drops and with it, my hopes of getting this done, but agent calls me back right after I arrive at airport, now 2 and a half hours into the process. Says that she has booked them all, just needs me to give her the card again. Wait, something is wrong, Copa will not confirm return flight from PTY to YUL for just my ticket. Okay, I can fly separate from everyone else, now routing through Bogota and stuck in economy on Rouge from bogota to Toronto. Still, I will take it. Fees are now $450 because I have most of the flight on AC. Fine, just make it happen, maybe I can fix it later. Just about to pay for it and agent says Copa is now refusing to confirm on all six. Now no alternatives to get all six of us home, I tell her to cancel everything and I hang up, defeated.
    Can’t even look at it for three weeks, I am so frustrated. When I look at it again, Copa has pulled virtually all availability for PTY to Canada. Can’t use two stopovers anymore, so one direction or the other has to be bookable straight through. Based on website search, that leaves precisely one day that this could be booked and the first flight from Edmonton takes off at 1:10 am, less than ideal. With the deletion of one stopover, should now be bookable online, but not a chance. I can find Edmonton to Galapagos, I can find Galapagos to PTY and I can find PTY to Edmonton but not all of them together. Find that I can book online round trip with the stopover from YYZ. Now we’re getting somewhere. Find flights the day before and the day after from and to Edmonton. I now have flights at reasonable times, have my stopover in Panama, and have even managed to get my stop in Quito back in with a 23 hour, 43 minute connection. Called Aeroplan, fed her all 10 flights, and just an hour and 42 minutes later, I had 6 confirmed tickets. We overnight in Toronto amd Quito on the way down and again in Toronto on the way back, but no redeyes and only 450,000 miles for 6 people to three destinations in business class, so pretty happy. Now, to get hotels and hope that none of the 10 flights gets a schedule change in the next 9 months that messes everything up!
    And that is hoops to jump through, but eternally grateful that points and miles give me the opportunity to let my children go and see places and do things that we could never afford otherwise. These flights would have been $44,000 without points and miles, but just $2280 with points.

  7. A couple years ago I did almost the same thing for my wife’s 50th birthday. 250,000 points plus about $2,000 for for two first class BA tickets MIA-LHR. Then 4 nights at the Hyatt Regency Churchill (points), train to Paris and 3 nights at Park Hyatt Vendome (free nights from Hyatt Visa, and got an upgrade). Expensive yes, but it made my wife VERY happy, and that’s the important thing.

  8. Great Overview. It can take so long to pull it all together as I sit here in my Bangkok hotel room trying to find the best way home.

  9. Gary, you aren’t flying First with an infant? NNNOOO, please let your readers know what flights to skip. This what I call a “Casey Niestat”.

  10. @Penny – totally agreed, BA brings the Penn Station/NJ Transit experience to Heathrow!!

  11. I got myself in a rut. Got 65K with AA and 87K Avios with BA after using early this year some miles with AA on a trip to S.A. Will be traveling to BCN and will need to make the difference somehow for business or First in two months time. Don’t know how that will be accomplished.

  12. How much do you value your time? Couldn’t you have spent more time with your kid instead of being glued at the computer figuring all this up?

    Seems like a poor choice.

  13. @JohnB – we’ve flown BA and QF first already and she was a perfect angel, most in the cabin didn’t even know she was there, after SYD-DFW the lead flight attendant said she was the best behaved baby he’d had in 10 years.

  14. @gary. You’re posting at 0300 am! My attorney recently died from sleep apnea. Suggest you skip steps 1-6 and stay home with your infant. Make the self serving sacrifice and go when your daughter is able to enjoy it too. 15 hours on an airplane is cruel for an infant…say nothing of other passengers if the child is uncomfortable .

  15. @Gary

    I commend you and your wife for good parenting. Your wife must be very in tune with your daughter’s needs. Casey Niestat, not so much….

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