United’s cheapest award booking

My wife and I are going to Detroit in June to attend a wedding and so I’ve been trying to find the cheapest flights available that matched our criteria. New York to Detroit is a well-traveled route (although not by international standards) with plenty of options for flights. Since Detroit is Delta’s second-largest hub I thought I would try them but came up with flights at inopportune times for over $300 each roundtrip.

Instead, I opted to check out my award travel options on United, knowing that they fly a lot to Detroit and I have their MileagePlus Explorer Card, guaranteeing me more options of award tickets. I wound up finding a sweet spot on their award chart:Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 7.38.41 PM

That asterisk next to the 10 in the Saver award was very useful. For flights below 700 miles United allows Saver awards for 10,000 miles one-way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.45.06 PMI capitalized on this and immediately booked our flights. For a meager $22.40, we are going to Detroit for the wedding and getting free bags to boot due to award ticket rules!

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.54.45 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.55.39 PM

Using Virgin Atlantic miles to book a Delta award flight

My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco in October for a wedding of some good friends but had an issue where our miles seemed not to work as well as we would have liked them to. Originally I tried to book United flights but all the saver availability (25,000 miles roundtrip) seemed to be out for the flights that we wanted. Since I have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card (contact me for a referral) we are still able to purchase the standard award level (50,000 miles roundtrip) for these flights, however. That would have been our best option.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.07.38 PM

With this reservation, our cost/mile usage would be 1.05 cents/miles. The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents/mile so this would not be the best use of our miles.

Then I remembered a critical component of travel with miles and points: booking awards with partner airlines. I’ve written previously about using British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights because it’s so easy to do – simply use their website tool to find availability. There is something to be said, however, for simply “phoning it in.” Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.14.25 PM

I remembered that Virgin Atlantic has partner airlines in Virgin American and Delta and that roundtrip flights within the Continental US are only 25,000 miles roundtrip (plus the $5.60 September 11th fee). I called them up and found that while there was no availability for Virgin America, the Delta option was wide open. I put a hold on the flights that we wanted that will stay in place for 48 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.22.32 PMIn the meantime I transferred 50,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account into my Virgin Atlantic account and just waited. In theory it should be instantaneous and in reality it took about three minutes for the miles to show up. So, in the end I am able to book the following Delta flight with only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for my wife and me:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.56.20 PM

In this new scenario, our points/mile ratio is 1.87 cents/mile. The Points Guy values these miles at between 1.5-2.3 cents/mile so we are right on the money.

All in all, not bad for a day’s work of savings.