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In this February’s instalment of What Did You Book, Sash and Mohammad talk about what they have been up to in January, detailing their most noteworthy bookings, including any handy tips and tricks along the way.
Sash has been a homebody lately, cooked up inside like a hibernating bear on the computer, making/adjusting/removing trips for the upcoming 2024 year. He’s made countless flight and hotel bookings and will be sharing his top 3 January flight bookings and some tips that may help you book something similar.
Mohammad, on the other hand, has hardly been in the country in January. What was meant to be a lazy January ended up including an extended trip back home, along with a quick jaunt to Las Vegas and a relatively last minute trip to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahama’s courtesy of his Caesars Rewards status.
What did Sash Book?
Wow, January flew by quickly, and I may have broken a record for the number of bookings I made for travel over the coming year. In this month’s edition of What Did I Book, I’ll present what I think are the top 3 airline bookings that will be most useful to our readers.
1. Air France Business Class Promo Awards
Air France Flying Blue has been gaining popularity lately with its obscenely low fares to European destinations from North America. I’m headed to Europe with my family this summer, so I grabbed 3 business class tickets to Paris for just 37,500 miles + $377.86. Then I proceeded to cancel my Air Canada Aeroplan tickets on Air Canada flights, for which I had paid 73,000 miles + $106. I realize the taxes are higher for Flying Blue awards, but it is a no-brainer to pay half the miles and fly in a superior product.
Tip #1: Onwards flights from Paris to the rest of Europe often cost no extra or can even reduce the total number of points required. Also, don’t forget that children under 12 are discounted 25%, and a stopover in Paris can be added for no additional cost but must be booked over the phone.
Tip #2: Cancellation/change fees can be avoided if your flights experience a schedule change of even a minute. If you have a booking that you want to cancel and can wait for a schedule change (that Air France is famous for), you can get the cancellation fee waived. Note that you may have to hang up and call again.
2. JAL Business and First Class
March break is coming, which also means our family trip to Japan! I can’t tell you how excited my daughter is to visit Japan for the first time! I booked our tickets nearly a year out using British Airways Avios for 92,750 points + $447 in taxes. I had chosen to use Avios because the calendar extends further out than Alaska’s Mileage Plan and American Airlines’ Advantage, which are the preferred methods to book JAL awards, as they cost less in terms of points and taxes.
Over the past several months, I managed to move our bookings to Alaska and American. Using award alerting websites, I moved my wife to JAL First Class for 100,000 Alaska points + $5.60 taxes, and my daughter and I to JAL Business Class for 60,000 American + $5.60 taxes. Not only did I save over $1300 in taxes, but also a bunch of Avios points that can now be put to better use, like for Qatar Qsuites awards.
However, I’m not done! I’m hoping to get all of us into First Class!
Tip #1: It appears that JAL is still releasing first-class awards close to departure, and often more than 1 seat. If you plan to fly to Japan, keep a close eye on this, as I’m starting to recognize a pattern.
Tip #2. If you want to fly the new A350-1000 First or Business Class product, your best bet is to book through Asia Miles at the end of the calendar.
3. Fly to Japan on Air Canada Signature Class or United Polaris
Those who know me know I’m a big fan of making backup bookings to mitigate against plans going astray, especially when winter weather can be the catalyst for it. I’m sure many readers will argue that this is not necessary as airlines will reprotect you in the event of flight cancellations. The problem with this argument is that airlines are only responsible for getting you to your destination in the class of service paid for. Even for those who look at flights as a means to get from point A to B, would you be happy to be swapped from a good product like JAL business class on a direct flight to being reprotected on an itinerary involving 2 stopovers on an inferior airline, and likely to arrive at your destination 2-3 days later than expected? Probably not right? Here is where Air Canada Aeroplan comes in with their gracious T-2 hour cancellation policy that allows you to cancel your flight at nearly the last minute, which I often take advantage of once the wheels are up on my primary flight of choice.
I’m currently firming up some backup flights on Air Canada or United. I’ve noticed that Air Canada Aeroplan is releasing cheap close in award space for just over 70,000 points. Have a look:
I’m a fan United Polaris and could gladly fly it over Air Canada (I welcome your arguments in the comments below) and will likely go booking this route once my date opens up. It will be a nice peace of mind having this backup option.
Tip: There appears to be a pattern to the release dates. If I had to guess how long this will last, I’d say through February and early March before Sakura in Japan.
What did Mohammad Book?
Long time points hobbyists will be familiar with the annual free Atlantis Bahama’s trip that certain Caesars Rewards status holders can benefit from. A couple of years ago, Caesars Rewards had a bit of a revamp on how this benefit worked. Having just come back from my stay for benefit year 2023, I thought it would be handy to go over the booking experience and entitlements that come along with some of the status tiers.
Caesars & Atlantis: The Basics
Caesars Rewards is a casino loyalty program for Caesar’s properties and like most loyalty programs, offers various levels of elite status based on how much spend members accrue either on gaming or consumption at participating properties. The different status levels begin at Gold and progress to Platinum, Diamond, Diamond Plus, Diamond Elite and 7- Stars.
As part of the eligible benefits for the various elite tiers, members can get a free stay at Atlantis in the Bahama’s every year. Starting at the Platinum and Diamond level, certain months are eligible for a free stay whereas Diamond Plus members and above can enjoy a complimentary stay at any time of the year. For all tiers, the benefits differ across various months which I presume is meant to represent historically peak/off-peak times at the resort.
Caesar’s Rewards benefit year runs on a Jan 31st cycle, meaning you have until Jan 31st of every year to redeem any of your eligible benefits for the previous year. Having qualified for Caesars 7-Stars late in 2023, I managed to book my trip for the very end of January. Below shows an example of the packages members are eligible for at the Diamond and 7-Star tiers.
Full details for 2024 can be found on the landing page for this partnership between Atlantis and Caesars.
Earning Caesars Status
While I hope to cover the the Caesars Rewards program in detail in a future post, I did want to quickly highlight an easy path to Caesars Diamond status without actually engaging with the program is via a subscription to the FoundersCard. For an annual fee of USD $595 + $95, though you are able to find referral codes or promotional rates from time to time. FoundersCards members will receive instant Caesars Diamond status and will be able to redeem for a complimentary trip to Atlantis right away.
Caesars & Atlantis: Booking Process
The overall booking experience was not to bad. While it would be great if all of this could be online, you do need to call to book. The number to call and secure your package is listed on the landing page detailed above. The number is for the Atlantis Casino’s marketing department, so do be mindful of working hours as the line is not staffed 24/7.
If you are a newly minted Diamond member, or if you have recently progressed to a higher tier, then keep in mind that it might not be visible to the phone agent at the time you are calling in. I myself experienced this as when I provided my details to them, they did not see that I had any status. Apparently this is surprisingly common and requires them to send off an email to Caesars Rewards to confirm – usually requires you to call back within a 24-48 hour window.
I called back in within a week to check up and the agent was quickly able to verify that my 7 Star status was showing. Not only did it show to them that my 7 Star status was cleared but rather puzzlingly it showed me as having 7 Star at the 500K Tier, despite having barely qualified at the 150K level. Not being one to argue with, I went ahead and provided the details of the dates I wanted to visit as well as the tower of my choosing.
January is one of the months that is considered off-peak, so the benefits were quite attractive and summarized below:
As you’ll see above, I was able to book two rooms as part of my package, though the second room was subject to daily taxes and resort fees which comes to approximately USD ~$90 per day. Between the two towers I had as options, I had initially intended on booking at The Cove but owing to the last minute nature, two rooms were not available for the duration of my dates, thus I had to end up going for the Reef. Both of the towers are the two of Atlantis’ newest developments, having been opened in 2006 and 2007. The Reef actually ended up being a great choice as it definitely appeared more family friendly though was the only one of the 5 towers at the resort that does not participate in the Marriott Bonvoy partnership, which could allow you to potentially earn BV points on incidental spend charged to your room..
Not mentioned above was a $350 airline allowance that the primary member is entitled to, which I only knew about because I had called at a later date to re-confirm the benefits. This benefit along with the $500 free slot play was painlessly loaded onto a players card issued at the Casino. The airline allowance you could actually cash out right away, whilst the free slot play required you to play through amount one time.
Everything else listed in the chart above was as advertised (except for the VIP check-in) and made the quick escape to the Bahamas a remarkably good deal. While still an expensive destination on the whole, the combined $750 in resorts credits, waiver of taxes/fees on the primary room, accommodation at the Reef Towers, $500 free slot play and $350 in airline allowance made a huge dent in what the trip would have otherwise cost.
Atlantis Paradise Island: Good Deal?
Unquestionably yes. While the value proposition at the Diamond level is not as attractive, it will still appeal to most people, especially ones with kids. In my situation with 7 Star status, and also being mistakenly bumped up a tier higher – it was too good of a deal to let it go by. Add to that, I had been meaning to return to Atlantis as my one and only time prior to this several year ago was on a hectic work retreat where I hadn’t really been able to enjoy the resorts amenities. I’ll almost certainly be cashing in on this benefit for the upcoming benefit year as well!
Our January instalment of “What Did You Book?” showcased Sash’s Top 3 flight awards and Mohmmad’s complimentary trip to Atlantis courtesy of the Caesars Rewards program. Sash cherry-picked 3 fight bookings that he thinks would be most valuable for readers: cheap business class flights to Europe through Air France Flying Blue, tips to secure JAL business and first class, and last-minute cheap awards to Japan through Air Canada Aeroplan, whilst Mohammad gave us a quick overview of a very popular Caesars Rewards benefit which allowed him to secure a quick getaway in the middle of the Canadian winter.