I love hearing how people want to use their points, and how they find their ideal flights using the points they’ve earned.
Nelson Yap, a long-time Point Hacks user, shares how he booked two First Class tickets to Florence, Italy in Singapore Airlines Suites Class – pictured above!
To me, information like this in a first-hand account is like gold. It demonstrates how others think about the research process when it comes to finding premium cabin award seats that work for a number of different requirements, and reminds us how valuable points can be.
Take it away Nelson!…
I have three passions, writing, real estate and travel. By day, I am a property journalist and editor of PropertyReviewAustralia.
By night, I am an air travel and frequent flyer points enthusiast.
After languishing in economy class travel for 20 years, a few years ago I scored an Etihad Business Class fare to Europe for $4,000 return, and that trip got me addicted to luxury travel.
However, property journalists are not remunerated like CEOs of major ASX companies and we do not get complimentary trips like travel writers. I decided to research ways to fly in luxury for less and that is when I found Point Hacks.
Here is the thing about frequent flyer points – for me it started as a cloud of confusion with thought bubbles everywhere.
However once I learned the basics, everything else fell into place.
Nelson’s experience – using points to book two tickets to Florence
Recently I had to book two return tickets to Florence, Italy in at least Business Class – but preferably First Class – for two, and on short notice.
This was for a good friend who had earned more than enough Membership Rewards points as a business owner through their American Express Platinum card, so they were keen to use their points and avoid buying a fare.
They diligently charge all their purchases on their American Express cards from groceries, their morning coffees, daily lunches, dinners, petrol, online shopping – and paying taxes by credit card with the ATO.
The American Express Platinum Charge is a transfer partner to 10 airlines, including Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Qantas.
With 80,000 Membership Rewards points bonus available on sign up, the American Express Platinum Charge Card is a great card for those who want to earn Membership Rewards points on everyday spend with lots of new and enhanced additional benefits. Read the Point Hacks guide for the full rundown.
- 80,000 Membership Rewards points, when you spend a minimum of $3,000 on eligible spend in the first 3 months of approval
- $450 travel credit annually
- Unlimited access to over 1,200 lounge across 130 countries - including Virgin Australia Domestic, Delta, Priority Pass and American Express lounges globally
- Access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts perks & discounts
- Complimentary status & memberships with a number of hotel loyalty programs including Accor Plus Membership valued at $395 per year
- Complimentary The Australian Financial Review Premium digital subscription
- Complimentary Travel Insurance cover extended to additional card members (PDS)
- Until 14 April 2019, earn 3 Membership Rewards points per $1 at restaurants in Australia, 2 points per $1 spent on travel and overseas, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else (except those in the 0.5 points category)
- From 15 April 2019, you will earn to 2.25 Membership Rewards points per $1 on all eligible purchases, except for spend with government bodies, for which you will earn 1 point per $1 spent
- Annual Fee: $1450 p.a.
- Charge card, not credit card - balance requires payment in full each month but with no pre-set spending limit - more about this
- Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18 month period are ineligible for this offer. Previous and existing bank-issued American Express companion cardholders are eligible for this offer.
Point Hacks receive a maximum of $300 per applicant for this card. More about this →
Starting the research
I started by searching Skyscanner from Melbourne to Florence to see which airlines fly to the city.
I discovered Florence does not have any direct flights outside of Europe and only a handful of airlines fly nonstop, including from Rome, Zurich and Paris. Unfortunately, Milan required an additional stop, so we had to rule it out.
Therefore I looked for award availability for Rome, Zurich and Paris.
The choices were narrowed down to:
- Qantas or Cathay Pacific
- Singapore Airlines
My preference was to book them all the way to Florence on the same award ticket, but I was also open to suggest buying a revenue ticket if that did not work out.
Rome seemed like the natural choice, however availability was scarce and airlines seem to use their older fleet on this route – unlike Milan.
First Search – Qantas Frequent Flyer / oneworld
First, I used the Qantas and British Airways website to look up availability and searched each leg.
Initially I searched Melbourne or Sydney to Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo and I found results for four seats from Melbourne to Hong Kong. However nothing was available from Hong Kong to Rome, Paris or Zurich on such a short notice.
There was availability on oneworld partners Finnair and airBerlin, but we had to hop around Europe, flying Hong Kong to Helsinki with Finnair, followed by Air Berlin from Helsinki to Berlin, Berlin to Stuttgart and Stuttgart to Florence.
In terms of cost as well as sanity, this was a bad option. On a distance based award chart when using Qantas Points you waste valuable points on these short hops.
Next Search – Middle Eastern Carriers
I used the Etihad Guest website to look and again did not find availability.
I created an Emirates Skywards account to look up availability and found flights to Rome and Paris, but they would have to buy a revenue ticket to Florence.
- A return Business Flex award at 352,000 Skyward miles + $1,300 in fuel surcharges per person (Normally the Saver award costs 256,000 miles). The total = 704,000 Skyward miles + approx $2,600 fuel surcharges for two.
However you can save 48,000 points per person if you priced the ticket as two one-way awards, it cost 304,000 Skyward miles + $1,300 fuel surcharges. The total = 608,000 Skyward miles + approx $2,600 fuel surcharges for two – saving 96,000 points.
However, Emirates flies their old configuration Boeing 772 between Dubai and Rome, not the A380, which is not so desirable.
So I looked up Paris and along with Business Flex, First Class was also available.
- First Flex Plus cost 480,000 Skyward miles + $1,300 fuel surcharges per person. (Normally the Flex First requires 384,000 miles)
Third Search – Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles
Next I used a Singapore Airlines Krisflyer account to look for Melbourne – Paris/Zurich. Due to the short notice, there was only the more expensive advantage award types available.
- Krisflyer Advantage awards would have cost: Business Class 150,000 (Saver 95,000) and First 260,000 (Saver 132,500).
- All up a Business Advantage award cost 300,000 miles + $1,016 fuel surcharges per person. The total would have been 600,000 miles + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two.
- In First Class, an Advantage award cost 520,000 miles + $1,016 fuel surcharges per person. The total = 1,040,000 miles + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two.
I had the option of calling up Singapore Airlines and ticketing all the way to Florence with Star Alliance partner Lufthansa or Swiss Air. However, I would have to forego the 15% online discount, which in this case was 156,000 miles – equivalent to a First Class Saver Award to Europe/USA.
I found a return ticket with Air France for $350 per person from Paris to Florence and decided 156,000 miles was more valuable to keep and spent the $350.
The options to choose from
So the choices for Melbourne to Paris/Rome/Zurich were:
- Emirates Business Class = 608,000 Skyward miles + approx $2,600 fuel surcharges for two.
- Singapore Airlines Business Class = 600,000 miles + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two. With the 15% online discount, it was 510,000 miles.
- Singapore Airlines First Class = 1,040,000 miles + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two. With the 15% online discount, it was 884,000 miles.
The points needed
Emirates and Singapore are both transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards.
- Emirates transfer rate is 4 Membership Rewards = 3 Skywards, basically 1 Membership Reward = 0.75 Skyward.
- Singapore Airlines transfer rate is 1 Membership Rewards point = 1 Krisflyer.
For this redemption, the points required were:
- Emirates Business Class, 608,000 Skyward miles = 810,000 AMEX MR + approx $2,600 fuel surcharges for two.
- Singapore Airlines Business Class 510,000 Krisflyer miles = 510,000 Membership Rewards + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two.
- Singapore Airlines First Class 884,000 Krisflyer miles = 884,000 Membership Rewards + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two.
I ended up recommending Singapore Airlines First Class, because the points required was equivalent to Emirates Business and the fuel surcharges were lower.
The retail price for Emirates Business Class tickets for two was $17,708.
The retail price for Singapore Airlines Business Class for two was $18,524.
The retail price for Singapore Airlines First Class for two was $28,000, but I booked it for 884,000 Membership Rewards points + $2,032 fuel surcharges for two.
Conclusion – what could have been done better
It’s not ideal to book on such a short notice, because a First Saver award with Singapore Airlines would have cost 530,000 Krisflyer miles for two – with the online 15% discount, 451,000 Krisflyer miles, not far off half the cost of the Advantage award they ended up paying for – if it had been available.
Having said that, we still saved $26,000 by using points earned with spend on their American Express card to book this flight – a great deal and a good example of saving up points from spend to use for high value redemptions.