Can I get some advice on booking an AU->USA trip using Citi Rewards and purchased miles?

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Hi everyone,

I am planning a trip to the USA (MEL-LAX-JFK/NY) late next year (mid Nov to Mid Dec) for my family of 4 ((all adult fares) and am needing some urgent help/advice about how I can get business class tickets through using my earned miles and buying miles.

I have about 300k rewards points in Citi’s Signature Reward program at the moment, but am about to change this card to the Prestige in lieu of upcoming changes in March. If I don’t use the current points, I will have earned more points by late June and my balance should be around 550k.

I am a member of the American AAdvantage / Lifemiles / Krisflyer / Qantas and Velocity FF programs but I have low balances in all of these programs and I’m prepared to buy miles (there is currently a good promotion for American AA Miles ending in early Jan) but every time I try to research  or work out what I can do with my miles/and buying points my mind gets so clogged I end up closing all of the tabs on my PC and taking a very deep breath!

Does anyone know if it’s possible to get my family across to NY via LA (stopover) from MEL business class without it costing me the earth?

Cheers Jim

 

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Thanks heaps Keith and Michael,

Keith, your suggestion re Fiji Airways sounds interesting but how do I work out how much this is going to cost me in miles and cash on top of the above AA points purchase costs? I would love to think that I won’t have to fork out much more, as US$4787 is already AUD$6742! For 4 people the Etihad deal also sounds very expensive as it will require 1 million points return. Can I ask a couple of questions Keith?

  1. With 465,000 Star Alliance points and the willingness to pay another $500-$600 p/p for a business class fare MEL/SYD to NY, is my plan realistic at all?
  2. If I wait until late June and bank my Star Alliance points (estimated total around 550k to 600k Citi Rewards points as at 30 June 16) will this drastically impact my ability to get tickets vis a vis availability (regardless of what option I take)
  3. Do these points offerings allow stopovers in LA on the way to NY? We would like to stop in California for 2 weeks on the way to NY and hire a car.

Michael, you suggested the Singapore option but there’s no way I can earn the 300k before March 18. I earn points when I work and spend in Italy managing and running tours (hence the value of the Citi cards), and I arrive in April and come back to Australia in June. I have a couple of questions.

  1. Can I ask what LM is Michael? Is it Life Miles?
  2. Are the costs of the SIN/CX/JL etc Asian routing options you mentioned all based on a MEL departure?
  3. I have now joined Alaska Miles should I wait to see if they have any good offers to get the CX and JL options as they sound pretty cheap at (I assume CX is Cathay – is JL Japan Airlines?)
  4. Re your suggestion to seek out someone who can help me for a small fee, I looked up Points Pros but they aren’t around until after January the 4th. Is there an Australian organisation who may be able to help for a fee. Is it realistic that they can help me in time before the January 4th AA deadline arrives?

In a nutshell I currently have 300k Citi Rewards that I need to convert to miles somewhere before March 16th (another 250k Citi Rewards will be available under the new Prestige Card rules by around late June), and access to 265k AA Advantage miles if I pay US$4,787 at a cost of 1.81 US cents per mile before the deadline on January 4th. Overall I would be happy to pay around $2000 to $2500 per person to fly Business to NY and LA. I need to move fast on this as I only have until January the 4th to purchase the AA miles if I choose to do so.

I’m sorry to bother you both again and I so much appreciate your advice. But I am really keen to do something here and I feel quite powerless on my own. MAybe one day when I can wrap my head around these issues and I have done this a few times I may be able to help others too!

cheers

Jim

  • I will try to answer your questions one by one.

    Fiji airway the cost will be the same as Qantas or any other transpacific flights, ie. 62.5K one way in J (or 80K one way after Mar 22). Not much tax wise, should be about ~$100 each.

    1. What do you mean by 465K star alliance points? There is no such thing as star alliance points, one world points…etc, but the points are issued by each airlines with their own program rules, and depending on which alliance the airline is with, it can redeem all partner airlines in that alliance. It’s like you can buy an ipad with US dollars, AUD, Euro..etc, but there is no such thing as apple dollar (or is there?). But I assume you are talking about Krisflyer(KF) points converted from Citirewards based on the information you gave that you will have 550-600k citipoints by Jun? If that’s the case, bear in mind your Citipoints won’t be 465K KF points by then, but more like 300K.

    2. The award availability is usually best at 11-12 months out or 2 weeks prior to departure. At 6 months out, unfortunately is usually the hardest to find, especially if you need 4 seats.

    3. KF allows stop over enroute. But as SQ do not fly between LAX and JFK, you will need to look into their Star Alliance awards, which will cost you 195k return. So it is possible to fly ANA or Asiana SYD-LAX, then LAX-JFK with United, then back from JFK on either ANA, Asiana or Singapore. But this you will need 780k KF points. KF will allow you to top up points with cash as long as you have at least 50% of the miles needed (ie. 390k), but it will be quite expensive at US$0.04 per mile. Also remember you will only have 300k KF miles by Jun.

    AA and LM do not allow stop overs. But you can consider just redeem 2 one ways. AA, KF, LM (yes, it’s lifemiles) all allow you to redeem one way at half the cost. So you can fly to LAX, spend your 2 weeks there, then buy a one way ticket to NYC (or drive!), and come back from JFK.

    OK, now to answer my part of question:
    1. see above.

    2. For LM, AA, Alaska and KF, they are zoned based awards, meaning the whole Australia is considered as one region, and USA is another region. So whether you depart from MEL, SYD or even PER, and arrive in either LAX or JFK (or Chicago, San Francisco…..) and have many connections, the cost will be the same. So the miles I quoted, it’s the same from MEL or SYD. However, Velocity, Asia Miles and Qantas are distance based. The longer you travel, the more connection you have, will cost more. So departing from MEL may cost more than SYD. As VA doesn’t go to MEL now, the price I quoted was from SYD.

    3. Yes, CX is Cathay, and JL is JAL. But you can’t redeem JL with Alaska miles as they are not partners.

    4. Yes, there is an Australian based agent, and a long time PH community member. Steve Hui of iFlyflat (I think the website is http://www.iflyflat.com, just goole if I got it wrong). But I think he is surfing somewhere in the Carribean at the moment…….

    With the purchasing of AA miles, make sure you do some research before you commit yourself to >$6000. To get an award seat of 4 in business is very tough to come by and with a pending devaluation coming up in Mar 22 with AA, you will need more miles to redeem on the seats you want if you can’t find any availability by Mar 22. AUS to USA will be 80k one way in J, so you will need 640k AA points rt for 4, ie. ~ $12000 USD including tax, or $~16,500 AUD, which is more than $4000 pp (that’s assuming you can find 4 seats across the Pacific) If you need to route through Asia, you will need 2 awards and it will cost you 110K with CX, 100K with JL one way, that’s 880K and 800k rt for 4 respectively! Or USD$15928 and USD$14480 plus tax (A$21847 and A$19860)!!!! At that price you might as well buy revenue ticket which will guarantee you to fly on the date you want and all 4 of you can travel together.

    So I would strongly suggest that you check on the availability now to have an idea what it is like before you shell out the money. If you can’t redeem then you are stuck with hundreds of thousands of miles that will just depreciate. Remember, be flexible with dates, and be ready to split up, then you will have better chances.

    • Jim
    • 12 months ago

    Hi Michael re the star alliance I was actually thinking of the combined AA and KF miles but I have now noticed that AA is part of Asia Miles and not star alliance! I actually know Steve Hui and have emailed him briefly re my sitaution. He’s a lovely bloke but he offers a different service to the point pros from what I can see and using him wouldn’t be cost effective for me at this stage for this trip. It looks like it simply may not be possible for me to go through with this given my circumstances considering
    1. Even though it’s 11-12 months away which is a good time re availability, I don’t seem to have enough points (potential points) to organise a NOV-DEC US trip before the 4th of Jan.
    2. When I have more points in June it sounds like it is the worst time for using them re availability
    and 3. I can’t leave this trip until 2 weeks before we leave.

    Cheers
    Jim

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Hi Jim:

I’ll add a bit of my opinion as I’m star alliance fan so I can look from another angle from what Keith has suggested. (As Keith said, you got lots of options!)

Transpacific will be tough, especially for a family of 4. You might need to split up. Virgin used to be very generous but now they only release one seat each time and only on Tue, Wed and Thurs roughly 300 days out. It costs 94k velocity or 141k Citipoints.

But if you are willing to route through Asia then one of a clear option is fly Singapore airlines. It costs about 85k KF miles one way in J to either LAX or JFK (=127.5k citipoints before Mar 18, make sure you transfer the points over before!) so you have just about enough for 1 rt or 2 one ways. To fly a family of 4 you will need to earn another 300k citipoints before Mar 18 at the latest (preferably sooner, as if you need 4 seats to LAX and JFK, both highly sought after routes, you will need to book ASAP!)

Buying miles may be your best option. But AA has a small problem that it won’t allow you to route through Asia so CX and JL may not be an option unless you are willing to pay 2 awards. Alaska miles will allow you to fly CX via HKG to LAX and JFK for only 60k each (~$1220 USD with the most recent promotion), but unfortunately you don’t have Alaska account.

LM may be a good option as it will allow you to route through Asia but you may need to position yourself to Sydney. Asiana and ANA both offer good award availability to LAX and back from JFK, for 80k LM one way (~$1056 USD from the most recent promotion).

I can see you already getting confused and taking a big breathe now. Unfortunately, to enjoy premium cabin at cheap price requires a bit of work. If it’s too confusing there are some professional award booking services that will be happy to do the hard work for you at a small fee. You might want to take a look at those if you find it a bit too much! But let me assure you, at the end of the day, it’s worth it!

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Hey Jim,

Lots of options for you, don’t worry! The hardest part for you isn’t getting the points it seems, it’s going to be finding the seats as Australia -> West Coast US is one of the hardest routes to find space on.

The first opportunity that strikes me is looking to redeem your points with Etihad to/from New York. You could pick up a return in Business Class for 250,000 Velocity points (0r 125,000 one way), plus not too extortionate taxes – but obviously this is via Abu Dhabi, rather than LA.

Maybe you could do that one way, on the way or on the way back, with your Citi Rewards points transferred to Velocity. Etihad has fairly good availability in Business Class when looking for two people, if you can potentially split your travelling party up.

Otherwise, getting to/from West Coast US and Australia is tough.

Let’s rule Qantas Business Class out – as rare as hens teeth for multiple travellers. You might find Premium Economy though.

One option could be to look for flights via Nadi with Fiji Airways using purchased AA miles – availability there is likely to be better than with Qantas directly.

Otherwise you could look at flying the long way through Asia with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles – either via Hong Kong with Cathay, or Tokyo with Japan Airlines. These could also be an option with purchased AA miles.

Asia Miles could handle all of the above other than Fiji Airways, and can be transferred from your Citi Prestige once you make that change.

Hope those ideas help. Happy to keep workshopping this with you here.

Keith

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