Ibiza 2013: Part 1 – How I went to the 2013 Ibiza Closing Parties in First Class for $218.

Lufthansa PlaneThis is the first post in a series on my 2013 trip to the Ibiza Closing parties. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I redeemed 135,000 points for First Class flights from Miami to Ibiza on Lufthansa.

I love last minute travel.  One minute you have no plans and the next you are flying across the world to have an amazing time.  This was one of those times!

As many of you know, last year I went to the Ibiza closing parties for the first time and while I only paid $239 and flew business class, this year I wanted to do even better!  I had some friends who were going to the closing parties and had rented a bad ass condo and had invited me to stay with them.  So I just needed to get a plane ticket out there and some tickets or guestlists to the parties and I would be all set!

I have oodles of Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I got from my Chase Ink Bold card (40,000 point sign up bonus) and my Chase Sapphire Preferred card (50,000 point sign up bonus) so I was free to use any of the three alliances.  I checked Oneworld since Iberia flies right into Ibiza, but there was no availability.  I then used the same steps that I explained to you guys in my article on How to Check Star Alliance Availability on United.com and I saw a couple of business class seats but not a whole lot of routing that would make sense.  I don’t mind hopping around airports a bit as long as I fly in business or first class and have lounge access during any long layovers. I always try to fly business or first class to get the maximum value from my miles.  Here is the chart for using one way travel using United miles on Star Alliance carriers such as Lufthansa. For round trip travel it would be 60K miles for Economy class, 100K for Business class, and 135K for First Class.

United Europe AwardUnited has an interactive planner you can access here or you can access the full award chart here if you want to check other destinations.  What I did see available when I checked was some Lufthansa First Class seats!

Lufthansa First Class is one of those things I have been wanting to fly forever and the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is the stuff of legends in the travel and points world.  I found a routing that I thought would work and then I called in to try and book it since it wouldn’t let me book it online due to the complexity of the routing.  When I got the representative on the phone though, one of the segments was showing phantom availability, which happens with Lufthansa sometimes when the actual seats become mismatched from the seats showing on United.com. The representative was awesome though and she checked several alternate routings and found out a great solution that had availability.

Before I get to that, a couple of things about getting to Ibiza using Star Alliance carriers.  Since Ibiza is a small, seasonal island, there aren’t any direct flights from the US.  You typically have to fly to Madrid or Barcelona and then take a small plane from there.  But there aren’t any Star Alliance carriers that fly from Madrid or Barcelona to Ibiza!  What I found out though are there are some limited flights from Munich to Ibiza on Lufthansa on certain days.  By booking my outbound flight through Munich, I was able to take this non stop flight and save buying the flight from Madrid to Ibiza.  Getting back I wasn’t so lucky and the only thing that was available was Madrid to Frankfurt and then back across the Atlantic through Toronto.  So I would need to buy a one way flight from Ibiza to Madrid to catch my award ticket home.

So when all was said and done this is what I came up with for a total of 135,000 United miles and $218 ($118 + $75 last minute booking fee + $25 Phone booking fee).  Keep in mind that this was all booked the day before I was scheduled to leave!

MIA-IBZ-FLL-LAX

You will see that I booked this using an Open Jaw (called this because I fly into Ibiza and out of Madrid) and I flew out of Miami and back into Fort Lauderdale.  I had to do this so I could tack on a Free One Way flight to Los Angeles as I discussed in this article.  A trip around Valentine’s day to the Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach sounded like fun!

So there I was, booked again to travel to the White Isle for some of the best parties in the world.  And I was able to go First Class for the first time as well!  Wait until I write about that, it was incredible!

IMG_6905
First Class on Lufthansa. Yes, this is my seat / bed on the plane!

How to get a free one way trip when you book a round trip United Award.

In a followup to my article on How to Check Star Alliance Award Availability on United.com, today I wanted to show you how you can add a free one way trip onto every round trip award booking you make with United.  I used this trick to score a one way first class flight from Miami to Reno to go to Burning Man this year.  Here is how it works: United uses a region based system where for example anywhere in the continental U.S. (including Alaska and Canada) to anywhere in Europe is the same amount of miles required for an award. United Award Chart So a coach award ticket from New York City to Paris costs the same as one from Los Angeles to Paris: 60,000 miles round trip.  It’s the same 60K for New York to Moscow, or Los Angeles to Moscow, or even Anchorage, Alaska to Moscow!

United round trip awards also have routing rules that allow a “stopover” and 2 “open jaws” which is why this trick works.  I’m not going to cover those topics today but will in a future article. Today I am going to show you a simple example that you can use next time you book a united round trip award:

Let’s say you wanted to take a romantic trip from New York to Paris for Valentine’s Day 2014.  You can get non stop flights from EWR to CDG leaving on February 11th and coming back on February 18th for 60,000 miles and $89.40.

United EWR CDG Award

If you change the itinerary to a Multi City Itinerary and add a flight 2 months after your trip from New York to Los Angeles, look what happens!

Multiple Destinations

United EWR CDG LAX Award

The price basically stays the same at 60,000 Miles and $91.90!  But it is even more flexible than that!  You can put the free one way BEFORE the trip if you want.  For example, you could start with a one way from LAX to EWR before the round trip to Paris.

United LAX EWR CDG Award

You would just need to buy a one way ticket to Los Angeles to turn this award ticket into two trips!  And the free one way ticket will be in the same class of service as the award ticket.  This means if you did the New York to Paris legs in business class then the leg from New York to Los Angeles would also be in business (or first if the plane only has two classes available)!

Just to see how far I could push this, I made a booking starting in Anchorage, Alaska going to New York then stopping, then continuing onto Moscow, Russia, stopping, then coming back to New York.  The total cost for this 19,160 mile trip: 60,000 Miles and $100! Basically the same cost as if we just did New York to Paris round trip.  Amazing.

United ANK EWR MOS Award

These are just a few examples, but you can use any of these techniques within whatever zone you wanted to travel in.  For example, you could do Hong Kong to Bangkok to Miami and back to Bangkok for only 65,000 miles and $139.  There are unlimited possibilities so try to think outside of the box and remember to never book a round trip award on United without a free one way!

How to check Star Alliance Award availability at United.com

One of my friends called me this week and had a great problem.  After getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred with a 40,000 Ultimate Reward Point sign up bonus and the limited time Chase Ink Bold with a 60,000 Point bonus, he was ready to redeem his points for a free trip but wasn’t sure how!  Today I will cover how to check Star Alliance availability and book using United.com.

First go to United.com and log in using your Mileage Plus account.  I use my Awardwallet page to autologin for me which saves some time.  In the top left corner there is a flight search section.  Here, put in whether you want one way or round trip, where you want to fly to and from, some approximate dates, and make sure you check Award Travel under Search By.

United Award SearchAs you can see I am searching for tickets from Miami to Barcelona for next summer. On the next screen you will see a calendar view as well as available flights.

United Award Calendar

As you can see from the color coded chart, availability is pretty wide open for next summer.  On the dates with the green, both economy and first / business are available.  On the dates with the yellow, only economy is available.  If the date you want isn’t available you can click on the color coded date to see which dates are available.  The default sort is by increasing travel time.  They list flights first that are all on United planes.  In this case there isn’t any low level availability on United (which is fine, because other Star Alliance flights are nicer especially in business class)

United Flights

If you scroll down, you will see Star Alliance Partner flights availability. We are looking for saver availability so we get the minimum amount of miles.

Partner FlightsI like to fly business class for any flight over 5 hours so for the purposes of this example I will choose the blue button next to the 50,000 mile and $19.10 option on a TAP Portugal flight. I go through the same process for the return flight.  The return flight has US Air and Swiss Airlines availability.  I know that Swiss Air flights are much better than US Air in business class so that is the one I would choose.

Partner Flights 2

Hitting the blue button next to the flight I want takes me to a summary screen.

united summary100,000 Miles and $87.80, not bad!  Click the blue Reserve button underneath to hold those flights for 24 hours or go ahead and purchase it if you are ready.

Advanced Tricks

Trick 1. Especially if you are looking for a specific airline, search for the individual flights that make up the journey, starting with the transatlantic flights which are typically harder to find.  For example, if you wanted to to find available flights on TAP Portugal only then a good way to go would be to search for the MIA to LIS flight first (since Lisbon is one of their hubs), then once you find availability, find the LIS to BCN flight.  You can combine this with trick 2 as well.

Trick 2. Use the nonstop search at the bottom of the search results to search for only one segment.  At the bottom of the first search results page, there is a section where you can specify to only search for non stop flights.  Using the above Lisbon example, we can search for just the MIA to LIS leg by entering that and checking the non stop only checkbox.

nonstop searchThis will bring up a calendar of just when there is award availability of the non stop flights. This will allow you to see which dates have the availability for the non stop flights that you want.

nonstop calendar There you have it!  How to search for Star Alliance Award availability using United.com.  Now plan your dream vacation now!

The ABC’s of Airline Alliances

This post could be seen as a natural follow up to our Frequent Flyer Miles for Beginners Page or our Getting Started Page.  I’m going to cover the basics of airline alliances and show you why they are important.

Airlines first started out as regional or national carriers, such as American Airlines or Japan Airlines.  So if you wanted to go from Miami to Tokyo, you would have had to buy two separate tickets, one on American to go across the country to Los Angeles then another on Japan Airlines to go from L.A. to Tokyo. Airlines realized that if they partnered up they could share flights and offer advantages to their customers such as checking a bag all the way through your final destination.  These partnerships eventually became widespread enough that they formed alliances of airlines that could get you all the way around the world!

The major airlines have grouped themselves into three main alliances or networks:

  1. OneWorld Alliance (which includes American Airlines, British Airways and 13 others)
  2. Star Alliance (which includes United and 26 others)
  3. Skyteam (which includes Delta and 18 others)

There are three main things you should know about the alliances.

A. When you buy a ticket on any of the alliance member airlines you can credit your miles to any others of the same alliance. 

For example, say you are looking for a ticket to from Miami to Barcelona in September.

mia-bcn

US Air has a flight for $1412 and TAP Portugal has a flight for $1265.  You like the price of the cheaper flight, but aren’t too happy about the idea of ending up with 10,000 miles in a TAP Portugal frequent flyer account since you aren’t sure you will ever fly them again.  No problem!  Since they are both members of Star Alliance, you can choose to credit the miles to your US Airways account instead by simply putting your US Airways Frequent Flyer number in the frequent flyer spot when you purchase the ticket.  This allows you to concentrate all your frequent flyer miles into one airline program so you can redeem them faster for free trips!

Another reason this is great is because these miles will count towards getting status with the airlines you credit them to.  When you have silver, gold or platinum status with an airline you can get perks like free checked bags, better seats, lounge access and even free upgrades to first class!

B. When you redeem your miles, you can redeem them for flights on any of that alliance’s members.

This means that once you get enough miles in one spot, you can redeem them for flights on any of the member airlines of the alliance.

For example, say you were approved for the US Airways Visa that gives you 30,000 miles after your first purchase.  You could take these miles and redeem them for flights on not only US Airways, but also any other Star Alliance airline such as Air New Zealand or Lufthansa.

C. Different airlines can have their own award charts.

For example,  United and US Airways are both in Star Alliance.  For a business class award seat to Northern Asia such as Japan or Hong Kong, United requires 120,000 miles. (you may have to click on the chart to read it)

United Air Chart
United Partner Award Chart

But US Airways only requires 90,000 miles for the exact same flights!

US Air Partner Award Chart
US Airways Partner Award Chart

So if your goal is to make that particular redemption, then you should credit your Star Alliance miles to US Air instead of United even when you fly United!

There are several other tricks to watch out for that I will cover in additional posts when I discuss acquiring airline status, but hopefully you now know the basics of airline alliances and how to use them.

As always, feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on Facebook or Twitter!

300 or 600 Free United Miles for a survey

unitedsurveyI will warn you that this isn’t the easiest miles you will ever get.  It is a comprehensive survey that takes about 20 minutes to complete (20 mins to tell you about my office chair, really?).  But hey, if you have a free 20 minutes you can get a free 300 United miles by clicking on this link.  You will have to sign up, click on the email they send you to verify your email, fill out a profile, and then complete one survey.

300 Miles

If you are a United credit card holder or have premier status with United, then you are eligible to get 600 Miles for the survey by clicking on this link instead.

Enjoy the free miles and I like to think of it as 0.5% of the way to a free Ibiza ticket! 🙂

 

Eurotrip 2013: Part 1 – How I am taking my Dad to Ireland, Scotland, and Wimbledon in London in Business Class for $137!

wimbledon court

This is the first post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

My Dad loves tennis.  Like really loves it.  Like he Tivos two different tennis matches while he watches a third.  He watches the tennis channel.  Back around Christmas time, I was trying to come up with an over the top gift for him and I was trying to think of a trip we could take together.  As I watched him watch recorded tennis matches, I thought about how he had never been to Wimbledon in London, which I consider to be the most epic tennis tournament each year. He is also an avid golfer and I knew that some of the best and oldest courses in the world were in Scotland including the famous St. Andrews. He is also a history and genealogy buff and I knew that my ancestors the Butlers lived in Kilkenny Castle in Ireland for 600 years.  On a selfish note, I had been to London several times, but had always wanted to visit Ireland and Scotland.

kilkenny castle

So my plan was hatched: For Christmas, I would give him a trip to Ireland, Scotland and Wimbledon!  Since Wimbledon was in the last part of June / early July, I had time to get the flights in business class.  I knew that I could use my 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points I received from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card as an annual bonus along with some of the 264,000 points I got by shopping with Sears to go round trip to Europe for 100,000 miles on United (and other Star Alliance carriers). I checked some flight times and printed out a sample itinerary which I presented to him on Christmas day.  I was waiting to book it just in case there was a problem with the dates or anything.

He was thrilled but I didn’t end up trying to book it until mid March.  Once I started looking using United’s Award Seat system the frequent flyer tickets quickly started disappearing daily! Since I was leaving from Miami and him from Nashville, I knew we would probably have to meet from one of the gateway cities such as New York or Charlotte for the trip across the pond.  I found some flights on US air, but when I researched their business class seats on the plane available, I saw that they were not the fully flat which makes it hard to get any good rest (you end up feeling like you slept in a lazy boy chair).  I searched many alternate routes and ended up finding some business seats on Brussels Airlines on the way there and on Lufthansa on the way back.

The main trip was for 7 nights in Ireland, 4 nights in Scotland and 4 nights in London.  This would allow us enough time to tour the Irish countryside, see the ring of Kerry and the castle where the Butlers lived, play a couple of rounds of golf at some famous Irish and Scottish courses and fully experience Wimbledon in London.  I was able to include an overnight in New York, an all day layover in Brussels, an overnight in Frankfurt, and a free one way in first class to San Diego in the winter.  These are sort of complicated topics so I will write additional articles about them, but I ended up quite pleased with how the trip worked out.

BNA-DUB

And the cost for this amazing trip?  100,000 united miles and $137! I used my Business Gold Rewards from American Express to pay for the $137 since I get triple miles on airfare charges.  I have a feeling the memories we are going to create will be priceless!  And we just so happen to leave the day after Father’s Day so it will be even more special. Why don’t you get started today so you can surprise someone you love with something amazing!  I can help!

1000 Free United Miles with BCKSTGR.com signup.

The free miles keep on coming!  This is more involved than the 500 free American Miles yesterday, but for twice as many miles it is worth it to me.  Bckstgr.com is a new web site that gives you miles for using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.  Think 75 miles when you check in at a certain bar or restaurant etc.  I typically don’t like services like this since they sometimes ask for access to too much of your information, but for 1000 miles, I will share it for a few days.  Once the miles post to my United account, I will probably remove the social connections unless I actually find the service useful and worth the ongoing miles.

They are offering 400 miles just for signing up and then 200 miles each for the Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare connections. You need to use Internet Explorer to sign up and add your connections because Chrome and Firefox won’t work. Here is what you need to do.

  1. If you don’t have a free United MileagePlus account, click here to sign up first.
  2. Go to BCKSTGR.com and click on Register Now.
  3. Enter your MileagePlus account number and PIN.
  4. Enter your email and a password for your BCKSTGR account and hit Sign-Up.
  5. It will then take you to your My Account Profile section and there will be three checkboxes on the right hand side for Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.
  6. Click on each one of those accounts one at a time, and it will take you to a page where you can link each of those accounts with your BCKSTGR accounts.

Once you have done all 3, sit back and wait for your 1000 miles to post.  People have reported that they do post pretty quickly so hopefully we won’t have to wait so long. My 400 points posted right away, but the others may take up to 24 hours it says. United miles can be some of the most useful miles and I used 100,000 of them to go to Ibiza and Amsterdam for a month a few months ago.

As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions about this process.

How I am going to the Ibiza closing parties and the Amsterdam Dance Event in business class for $239!

This article is the first in a series on my month long trip to Ibiza for the closing parties and Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Dance Event.

  1. How I am going to the Ibiza closing parties and Amsterdam Dance Event in business class for $239
  2. Ibiza Here I come!
  3. Arrival in Ibiza – SIM cards, hotels and my first night of clubbing
  4. Ibiza Closing Parties: Luciano & Friends, Hot Natured, Marco Carola Music On
  5. Ibiza Closing Parties: Vagabundos at Pacha, Circo Loco at DC-10, Cocoon Heroes Closing at Amnesia
  6. Ibiza Closing Parties: Ovum Closing at Space, Cafe Del Mar, and r:piar:r Closing at Privilege
  7. Ibiza Closing Parties: Space Closing Party and Circo Loco Closing Party

It started simply enough, with a Facebook message four days ago from my best friend Andres:

“dude lets go to the ibiza closing parties!!! smile….wat u think about that?? and after that u can come for the Amsterdam dance event in october here in netherlands….awakenings festivals and more!!! like wmc but in amsterdam!!”

The reason I love points and miles is because 1) I love to travel and 2) It gives you flexibility to plan last minute vacations that would otherwise be priced out of reach.  While I spend a ton of time on this site discussing ways to accumulate massive amounts of points (such as the Easy Quarter Million, my 189,000+ point Sears shopping Spree, and 100,000 Club Carlson Points Bonanza), the main reason I do this is to spend the points on free travel! My Ultimate Rewards balance had gotten to well over 500,000 points due in part to the Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus of 50,000 (now 40,000) and the Chase Ink Bold sign up bonus of 50,000.  This meant I could plan a trip without making too big of a dent in my war chest.  In addition, since points tend to devalue over time, it is a good idea to use them before the programs nerf the rewards.

My first stop was the great Frequent Flyer Redemption Options of the Wandering Aramean .  This page allows you to input city pairs and find out which programs require the fewest miles.  When I entered MIA to IBZ, I saw totals of 80,000 to 215,000 for business class.

Another of the reasons I love the frequent flyer game is it allows you to travel in style in business class instead of cramped in coach for long flights.  As a general rule, I try to fly anything over 3 hours in business class if possible.  While JAL had the best rate at 80,000 (for Oneworld partner flights), there wasn’t much availability on the dates I needed.  And ANA had the same 80,000 rate and had good availability, but they charge high fuel surcharges for European carrier redemptions. Since the award availability was there on Star Alliance (which ANA is part of), I looked to United Airlines which is also part of Star Alliance.  Even better, they are an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and don’t charge any fuel surcharges. Score!

An additional benefit of United is they offer one free stopover and two open jaws on roundtrip tickets.  If this sounds like Greek to you, you are not alone! But what that means is you can stop along your route once for as long as you like, then continue to your final destination (a “stopover”).  An open jaw means you could land in one city and take off in another (example, fly to London, then take the chunnel over to Paris, then fly back home from there).  In my case, I wanted to go to both Ibiza and Amsterdam, so the free stopover would work perfectly!  Amsterdam would be my final destination and Ibiza would be my stopover since it is “sort of” on the way in a normal routing.  I actually booked the whole thing through Barcelona instead because Ibiza wasn’t showing availability and will pick up a cheap $100 flight from Barcelona to Ibiza.  And I could do this whole trip for 100,000 MileagePlus miles in business class!

I’m going to do a separate article about how to book stopovers on United, but the end results of my work was:

So for 100,000 miles and $239, I would be booked!  You can see that this business class flight would have cost $12,918 if I had paid cash for it!(not that I would ever pay that much)  That gives me a cash/point value of 12 cents per mile!  Awesome!  I had to call in to get them to change the last flight to a flight an hour later that had business class availability. For some reason, it wasn’t showing up online when I booked the whole itinerary, but it showed up when I tried to book a one way flight from EWR to FLL on those dates.

But as you can see, I only had 1026 miles in my United account. Ultimate Rewards to the rescue!  I logged onto my Chase Ink Bold account, and transferred 99,000 points over to United Mileageplus that were available more or less immediately.

I was then able to book the whole thing.  I did have to pay $75 more than I could have since I was booking less than 21 days from  the date of departure(included in the $239). I used my Amex Business Gold Rewards card to get 3X Membership Rewards points on airfare, so I will be 717 miles closer to my next trip!

There are really too many big names to list that will be both in Ibiza and Amsterdam, such as Ricardo Villalobos, Loco Dice, Luciano, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and many more.  But if you want the full list check out this link for Ibiza and this link for Amsterdam.

And as always I will blog and post pics and videos of the trip for your reading pleasure. Well, that’s it for now, off to plan some hotels!