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Need creative ideas for using United miles to upgrade to Africa

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Oct 3rd, 2013, 07:09 PM
  #1
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Need creative ideas for using United miles to upgrade to Africa

Greetings,
I am feeling a little bummed out at the moment and wanted to ask if anyone has thoughts on how we can use our 350K carefully saved United miles to find an upgrade to get from the U.S. to Johannesburg.

I have attempted to find Star Alliance help but keep getting stuck, and have never had good luck with that avenue in the past.

I'm not sure how to best research a circuitous itinerary, e.g., U.S. > Europe > Johannesburg

Any advice would be welcome.
Thanks!
[cross-posted to travel tips]
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Oct 4th, 2013, 06:56 AM
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How many people?
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Oct 4th, 2013, 08:20 AM
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There's a useful search function on Expert Flyer, a paid service, that allows one to scan all Star Alliance carriers for mileage redemption space. However, it's quite useless unless one has dates with which to search, and from where. http://www.expertflyer.com

United requires 120,000 miles per person for business class awards to South Africa (actually, 60,000 miles per direction) and 150,000 for first class (75K). UA allows a stopover en route (e.g., Europe.)

There's often good availability into Joburg through Cairo (Egyptian Airlines is a Star member) but there is also often availability on other carriers, such as Turkish, Ethiopian, and Lufthansa.

But it depends on origination point, dates and on number of passengers, and your willingness to change planes in various locations.

But let's start with dates, where from, and number of pax. Note business class and first class award inventory tends to open up (wide) the closer to flight dates one looks, e.g. if you were flying next week it wouldn't be hard at all. The airline computers determine they're not going to sell out those seats for big bucks in the time remaining, so they open them to mileage redemptions.
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Oct 4th, 2013, 08:45 AM
  #4
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Thanks for the input. Answer is two people from Portland, OR aiming to travel for a month with flexible dates between mid-August to early October. We do have sufficient mileage.
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Oct 4th, 2013, 02:22 PM
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I would start with the United web site. I believe that is where you would have to book in order to use your miles. I read into your post that you want to upgrade with miles, not spend them for free frequent flier tickets (+ fees). Is that correct? Upgrading with miles will require you to spend at least up to an "H" fare bucket for tickets. Y/B and/or M/H fares are the only ones (in the past) that will be upgradeable with miles. Pretty much any fare will be upgradeable with MILES + a co-pay of anywhere from $500 to 1000 and up, and since you want to go to Johannesburg, it will be on the upper end of that co-pay amount. I paid 20,000 FF miles and $550 for an upgrade to Europe from Chicago, just to give you an idea.

You need to start watching soon for availability of saver award tickets to your destination. I managed to get two 1st class saver awards for the Christmas holidays 2013 from OHare to Bangkok (via Frankfurt, and flying on the Thai A380 in 1st class....THAT was a great find!!). But I started looking way back in March/April of this year, and booked in April. That is a 70,000 mile award in each direction, so 140,000 per person.

Good luck with your hunt for tickets!
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Oct 4th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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Oh, and sometimes booking two one-way awards will give you a better selection of routes!
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Oct 4th, 2013, 02:54 PM
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There are options available even now, but far fewer than you’re likely to see if you book after the first of the year, or even in the spring or early summer.

For an example of what’s available in business class if you were to book today, on August 9, drive or take the train to Seattle. Early on August 10, fly from Seattle to Toronto on Air Canada, and change at Toronto to an Air Canada flight to London, arriving the morning of the 11th.

On the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th, fly from London to Cairo on Egyptian Airlines, connecting there to another Egyptian flight to Johannesburg.

Coming back, same thing but in reverse, with or without a couple of days in Europe en route. I can only see out as far as the first week in September 2014; the schedules haven’t been released past then.

But as I said before, because your dates are so far out, all you’re seeing are seats open on just a couple of carriers, notably Egyptian. But by next summer there will probably be seats in first/business on United from PDX to Chicago, Newark, Washington or JFK, from which there will be many more transatlantic options available to you, or on Lufthansa from San Francisco, Seattle, Denver or Vancouver to Germany, then from Germany (or Turkey or the UK or…) to South Africa. Star Alliance is heavily represented on Europe < > Africa routes, so there shouldn’t be huge problems if your dates are flexible.

(Note it’s also possible to route to JNB via Sao Paulo, Brazil, and award space is often quite good on that route, but getting space from the US to Brazil is often problematic. It can actually be faster than via Europe, however.)
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Oct 5th, 2013, 08:45 AM
  #8
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Thanks for the ideas. I will certainly start by checking the mileage United requires for two business class seats and go for it if we have enough. Apparently since September is high season in Southern Africa, it becomes quite a scramble as the 330-331 day period opens.

Guess 'll put Mileage Plus on speed dial
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Oct 5th, 2013, 05:40 PM
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I'd also like to chime in with some advice Gardyloo gave me that I took to heart - if you find something you could live with book it now and then keep an eye open for something better and change at a later date. I think any long flight such as to JNB in business or first is going to be better than economy.

DH and I are going to JNB in June, 2014. I was able to book saver business class award tickets on Turkish Airlines to Munich (MUC) where we plan on doing a stopover for 3 nights then on to JNB after the stopover. That route is not even showing available right now. From JNB back I did go ahead with the saver business class on Egypt Air (which continues to show availability) and I'm periodically checking to see if anything else opens up for the return leg.

What I did was a bunch of one-way searches based on gateway airports and then looked at what I could get from our town (PHX) to the gateway airport. I found the most availability was from JFK so that's the gateway city going and coming we're using right now. Our dates were pretty set so you've got the advantage with the flexible schedule. After some searching, you'll realize which are the frequent routes. Several of them go through Frankfurt which right now you can't get to/from JNB on anything but economy as everything is "Mixed cabin".

Now if you don't want to do the footwork yourself, you can use bookyouraward.com This company is recommended by Wendy Perrin and CondeNast. They charge $150 per ticket if they up with the itinerary you want. They have a good reputation but by the time I had done so much of my own searching I was able to get our tickets without utilizing them - but frankly I was willing.

By-the-way on the Sao Paulo route - you would need to get a visa $160 per person even to be in transit. I researched that one and decided it wasn't worth the cost (or hassle) to us as we only wanted a short stop over.

I'll post back if I see anything really changing
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Oct 5th, 2013, 08:01 PM
  #10
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Interesting information. Much appreciated. Thanks.

I have never investigated the one-way-leg aspect. Since those l-o-n-g flights are such killers, I have been thinking more and more about a few-day stopover. Not sure how the total mile requirements would shake out.

Obviously more research is in order!
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Oct 6th, 2013, 08:03 AM
  #11
 
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I have never investigated the one-way-leg aspect. Since those l-o-n-g flights are such killers, I have been thinking more and more about a few-day stopover.

United's rules for using Star Alliance carriers on awards are here: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/cont...airawards.aspx Click on the "air travel award rules" for the whole magilla. Down the list, you'll see,

Two open jaws are permitted per roundtrip award. For example, you can fly from Newark to London and return from Paris to Washington Dulles. A stopover is permitted on roundtrip award travel only. One stopover is permitted, unless otherwise noted. Additional mileage may be required for Saver Awards within the mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada.

Not sure how the total mile requirements would shake out.


Here's the award chart - http://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps...ardTravel.aspx Click on North America as your departure and southern Africa as your destination and you'll see it requires 120,000 miles round trip per person in business class, 150,000 miles in first class, i.e. 240,000 or 300,000 miles for two. This would be inclusive of any stopover, be it five days or six months.

Apparently since September is high season in Southern Africa, it becomes quite a scramble as the 330-331 day period opens.

Please see my response above. You are highly unlikely to see widespread availability right when the schedule (330 days for most, 350 or 360 days for others) opens. You can try, but you need to recognize that the airlines use very sophisticated computer programs to decide when and if to release seats into award inventory, and they do so on no fixed schedule. It all depends on statistics they collect on seat sales (for money) vs. capacity - flight by flight, day by day. Some airlines, such as Egyptian, will release seats for awards early because they know they're not going to sell out, period, while others will hold back to the last possible minute, based on data that says there's a good chance someone will pay for those seats with thousands of dollars.

The only thing you can do is be patient and, as patandhank says, consider booking something that works and then keep a watch out for improvements as better schedules or more desirable carriers come available. Yes, you may need to pay a change fee, but realistically, what's $150 in the context of a "free" (it isn't, really) plane ticket worth $10,000?
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Oct 6th, 2013, 10:01 AM
  #12
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Gardyloo, (Spell-check insisted I meant "Hardy loo"
Thanks for the wealth of information and advice.
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