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PMB is excited to present a new monthly series, “What Did You Book?,” by us: Sash and Mohammad. Each month, we’ll feature a travel booking each of us made, its reasoning, and valuable tips and tricks. The first month will showcase Emirates First and Etihad Guest Miles sweet spots and booking strategies. We hope you’ll find it as enjoyable to read as we hope it will be to write.
Why are we doing this?
We share a common passion for reading about other people’s travel bookings and the intricate details of how they made those bookings. Every flight or hotel booking often has a nuance to learn that can be potentially applied to our future travel plans. This could be a sweet spot or something negative to be aware of – or perhaps even a fun trip idea that catches our eye and leaves us ‘Wanderlusting.’ Whatever it is, we agree that they often influence our travel experience for the better.
In this new “What did you book” series, we’ll share what we’ve been up to during the month – summarizing either a particular travel booking that each of us recently made that had some unique characteristics to it or perhaps talking through some bookings made in advance of a complex trip we’ve been tinkering with. We’re hoping that through sharing and reflecting on our travel plans, we can solicit feedback and ideas from PMB’s readers and, in some small way, perhaps encourage or inspire one or two of you to book something similar.
What did Sash Book?
I’m constantly making bookings, many of which are for speculative flights/hotels that may never happen. This is because my vacation dates are often not firm 10-12 months out, or I’m booking flights to some primary set of flights as a backup. And, sometimes, I can’t decide what product to fly or hotels to stay at, so I’ll book multiple and figure it out later. When there is availability, I firmly believe in the book now, think later mindset. Many award programs have no cancellation fees or minimal, making speculative bookings an enticing strategy to apply. In my experience, speculative bookings are the optimal method to secure highly coveted aspirational airline seats or hotels.
I chose to share an Emirates First Class booking I made recently from Brussels –> Dubai –> Toronto using my Emirates Skywards miles.
Why is this booking so special? For many reasons:
- It combines the fully enclosed game changer first-class suite with the A380 first-class with an onboard shower and bar.
- The Brussels to Dubai flight and a stopover in Dubai were added for just an additional 5,250 Skywards points.
- Award space for one person is generally quite good.
- High taxes = more award availability
Let’s face it, flying Emirates on Skywards is expensive, both in terms of taxes and points. There is no trick to reducing taxes on a specific route; however, there is a way to make your taxes (and points) go further by adding a connection in Dubai to almost anywhere. The example I’ll present is a booking I recently made on Emirates First Class, wherein I added a First class segment for just an extra 5,250 Skywards and AED 1,665 in taxes! I added a Brussels to Dubai leg to an existing Dubai to Toronto leg. Having two first-class flights for nearly the cost of 1 softens the blow to an otherwise expensive one-leg flight. Here’s the Cost Breakdown:
Brussels – Dubai (Add On)
AED 1,665.00 +
Total Cost: 168,750 Miles + AED 4,745 (~$1300 USD)
How to book this?
Step 1: Search for award space on both flights:
Notice that booking each flight separately would cost a whopping 265,500 (163,500 + 102,000 ) points! This is not the price to pay!
Step 2: Book the first flight online; in this case, I booked the long-haul Dubai to Toronto leg:
Step 3: Call Emirates or chat with them over their Live Chat and explain your intent to add the 2nd flight. The agent will quote you a price of an additional 5,250 miles + AED ~1665 in taxes. For this specific example, To complete the booking, the agent will call you to confirm the booking change and for you to provide your credit card details to pay the additional taxes. Note that you can add a stopover in Dubai if desired.
It’s important to note that Emirates Skywards First Class redemptions are a Flex Plus fare. As such, changes and cancellations are free, and the ticket is fully refundable up to AND past the scheduled departure time. I know this because I recently cancelled a flight after it departed and received a full refund.
There you have it, a way to optimize your Emirates Skywards award redemption. Adding an extra leg works on any segment to/from Dubai. Happy Booking!
What did Mohammad Book?
July has been a whirlwind of a month for me – I had less time to think about future aspirational/leisure travel – and was more focused on securing some last-minute necessary flights for my family. In this instance, I was looking to fly two adults from Islamabad, Pakistan, first to the UAE, followed by a flight to Canada in time for an important family function.
For the past few years, the leg between ISB & AUH often had good award seat availability on Etihad using Aeroplan. Taxes originating in AUH was very reasonable; however, originating in ISB usually came with hefty surcharges and departure taxes. In recent months, these surcharges have become even more obscene (applied only on premium cabin award redemptions) – however, for this trip, I was prepared to swallow it. Unfortunately – as I recently wrote in my post “How to Book Etihad First Class” – Etihad premium cabin space has disappeared from Aeroplan recently. Compounding the issue was that travel in the peak summer period also meant that economy space on this leg had dried up for most of the month, leaving me with no options through Aeroplan a few days before departure (I was looking at booking at T-4/5 days).
I spent a couple of days scouring through all the other options, such as Qatar Airways, Oman Air, Gulf Air, and Emirates. Still, aside from a few highly inconvenient one-stop itineraries (on what is usually a ~3-hour flight), my searches came up pretty empty.
With departure dates not far away, I had started considering cash fares in the Economy cabin. Around this time, I was also coincidently helping a UAE-based friend look for business-class flights to fly to North America. Being UAE based, he had a large amount of Etihad miles built up, so naturally, I had been looking for opportunities to use the Etihad Guest program. During repeated searches across a couple of days, I noticed that the Abu Dhabi to Chicago’s leg sporadically showed saver-level award space becoming available close-in. It wasn’t the case with all markets that I checked; however, it encouraged me to check for this on the ISB-AUH travel booking I was trying to make, and sure enough, after a few days of repeated searching – the exact date I wanted finally had two seats made available.
Etihad Guest is not known for their generous award charts; however, there are still some decent value redemptions at the saver level. On this route, Etihad saver level space charges just over 30,000 Guest Miles for this award + ~ CAD 371 in taxes – costing the same as what American Airlines charges for this flight and just 5,000 more points than Aeroplan would charge (assuming they had availability). As AA miles are much more complex, using Etihad Guest Miles (transfer partners with Amex US & Canada, Citi Thank You and Capital One) is the more attractive alternative. Another benefit of booking via Etihad Guest is the amount of award space members can access – with the actual program having better availability than what is shown with partners.
Making this find even more satisfying was that my sister already had 28,000 Etihad Guest miles collecting dust in her account that she had earned from previous travels. By transferring 32,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to my account, I created a Family Membership account, allowing us to pool our points together for redemption.
Once the accounts were linked into a Family Membership and the Amex points transferred, I proceeded to book through the Etihad Guest website however ran into a booking glitch. The website would stall once you selected the flight and filled in the resulting log-in screen. The website has had this issue for several weeks, and booking tickets required a call to the call center.
Putting the nuisance of calling in to book the ticket aside, I was reasonably happy with the booking I could secure. Operating within some strict constraints, I could not only find an alternative way to ensure the most convenient connection for my parents during the year’s busiest time but also learned that Etihad Guest does release some additional award space closer-in on some markets. The cherry on top was that we could use the orphaned Etihad Miles effectively.
The new monthly series “What Did You Book” will showcase what Sash and Mohammad have been up to in the world of travel and the noteworthy travel bookings they have made recently. This month, Sash presented how to make Emirates Skywards miles go further when booking Emirates First Class, while Mohammad ended up with a convenient redemption using some orphan miles while at the same time scoring some valuable peak season seats using Etihad Guest Miles.
There is often always a little something extra that can be learned when planning the next adventure on points and miles. We hope you found this month’s information valuable.
See you again next month!