How I booked $13,000 plane tickets to the other side of the globe for free.
Danielle and I got engaged in December 2013, and immediately set about answering some of the more important questions about our future life together. Honeymoon location was on the top of our list.
Our first idea was to head to Europe, but timing and weather patterns got in the way; a honeymoon in the cold of late-November seemed less-than ideal. I was keen on planting myself on a beach, and Hawaii seemed as good as any, but that seemed too plain for people as exciting as us.
Early on, Danielle started pushing the idea of Thailand. I dismissed the idea outright. I was well-travelled, and Southeast Asia was very very low on my interest list; the thought of sitting on an airplane for 15+ hours following our wedding seemed like hell. Sure, Phuket looked beautiful, but couldn’t she pick somewhere a little less exotic?
Despite my hesitations, or perhaps in spite of them, I decided to take a secret look at United’s award flight search tool. The majority of my points at the time were Chase Ultimate Rewards, which are easily transferable to United. Why not take a look? I thought. If we were to go to Thailand, how might we get there?
What I uncovered sparked my interest.
Little more than a month prior to our honeymoon, Asiana Airlines was launching A380 service between Los Angeles and Seoul. Phuket meant I could fly on the airplane of my dreams! Suddenly the idea didn’t seem nearly so outlandish after all.
Some background: my fascination with travel and airplanes is long and complex, but the one thing that has consistantly tickled my interest is big planes. Massive ones. The bigger the better.
I had never before been on an A380, Airbus’ massive, double-decker airplane, still relatively new to the market, but I wanted to. I craved it. I just had no clue how and when I would.
Here was my chance! We could fly to Phuket via Seoul, grab a seat on an A380, in first class at that. And Asiana has a beautiful first class, with fully enclosed suites, meticulous attention the service, and more. I was sold.
Phuket it was. Danielle got her country and I got my plane. That’s teamwork!
I transferred the needed miles over to my United account from Ultimate Rewards and booked the tickets there. Now, how would we get back?
No premium seats were available on Asiana heading in the reverse direction (#firstworldproblems, I know). There was always the possibility that something would open up over time – this was still 11 months before the big trip – but I was hoping we could do better.
The fact was, while we would be leaving from LAX, we needed to return to DFW, over Thanksgiving Weekend, so if it was possible to fly nonstop from an international location to Dallas, that would be ideal. And, low and behold, Korean Air – another jewel of top-rate Asian airlines – had a nonstop from Seoul to DFW. We could leave Phuket Saturday night, take a red eye to Seoul and go from there straight to Dallas, landing in Texas two hours before we took off in Asia!
Korean Air is renown for releasing a TON of first class seats, so availability was good on our departure date. I transferred enough miles from Ultimate Rewards into our two accounts (Korean Air only lets you purchase award tickets for someone else if you are blood related or already legally married, which we were not) and put the seats on hold.
Actually booking awards with Korean Air is a little more complicated than with most airlines, as it requires filling out a physical form and faxing it in to their offices, then giving credit card information over the phone.
Regardless, all the pieces came together and worked. Eleven months later, we were happily married and on our way!
Travelling first class on Asiana meant access to the Star Alliance First Class Lounge at LAX’s Tom Bradley International terminal. The lounge is small, but fancy.
Onboard the A380, I felt like a kid in a candy store. The suites were massive and fully enclosed with sliding doors.
After takeoff, inflight service began. The food was delicious, with traditional caviar and Korea’s national dish, bibimbap. The service was impeccable. Never did more than three seconds pass between hitting your call button and having someone there to help.
On the return, we flew an older Korean Air 777-200, with large suites open to the cabin.
The route (ICN-DFW) is far from flagship, and the service reflected this reality. To be clear, we were comfortable and ate well, but this First Class was not anything to the same standard as what we experienced on Asiana. I hope to give Korean another chance on one of its A380 routes sometime in the future.
In miles, the flights cost a total of 225,000 points each, for tickets that retail for more than $13,000, giving us a redemption value of almost $.06/point. There was an additional cost of about $160 in taxes and fees, but other than that these once-in-a-lifetime flights were entirely free and set an incredible mood for the start of our honeymoon!
The trip was absolutely perfect, of course (I had just married my best friend and favorite person, I was set for life!) but that’s not the point of this blog. The experience was my first taste of the full potential of the most aspirational of points uses, and it left me craving for more!
This was just the start of an interest-turned-hobby-turned-obsession, with only bigger and better opportunities ahead. Stay tuned.
Coming up on #PointedOut, the ultimate use of points, but first, side perks along the way.