Thrill of Booking Award Tickets - Stretching It Further
Last week I showed you some of the awesome itineraries I booked with airline miles, the rules, and even some step-by-step instructions. After that, we walked through my latest ticket - how I was getting to visit Oslo, Bergen, Rome, and Barcelona all for the price of a simple round-trip ticket. To recap - a round-trip award ticket from US to Europe costs 60,000 miles in Economy or 100,000 miles in Business class. Instead, I got this awesome itinerary in Business class for the same 100,000 miles:
I was killing two birds with one stone here - attending Chris Guillebeau's End of the World party in Oslo and then traveling with my parents through the Mediterranean. At first, I thought I would have to do these separately, so it was good to be able to fit both of them onto the same itinerary. Still, I could do better!
And then I had another crazy idea - what if I could get the third bird with the same stone while I was at it?
I had a blast at the last travel blogger conference (TBEX) in Girona so I was thinking about attending one hosted by Tourism Toronto at the beginning of June. Since it was just a few days after our return leg, it got me thinking - what if I could tack that on as well?
Right now, here is what my ticket looked like in terms of the rules:
Using the rules that allow to essentially have three destinations on an itinerary with an open jaw between the two of them, I had stops in Bergen, Rome, and Barcelona as well as a day long (under 24 hours) connection in Oslo. Sure there were other connections in Chicago, Toronto, Dusseldorf, Munich and Zurich on the way but they were just plain plane changes (pun intended).
Instead, I conceived the following:
I would give up Rome on this itinerary (meaning that I would have to fly from Rome to Barcelona on my own to join my parents), but would get myself a few days in Toronto to attend TBEX! A good trade-off considering the tickets between Rome and Barcelona being under $100 while going from Tulsa to Toronto and back on a separate itinerary would have been at least three times as much!
Now I just had to change my ticket, which turned into another adventure of its own!
Barcelona to Toronto
Sure, I could get from Barcelona to Toronto, but I wanted to add another stop (or two) on the way to check out some cities I have not been to for free.
Initially, I got excited for the possibility of catching a flight from Barcelona to Lisbon, spending almost 24 hours in Lisbon, then flying to Porto, spending a day there and then finally catching a TAP Portugal flight across the pond.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the flights to line up so as to not to break the "less than 24 hours" rule so eventually I had to drop the idea of visiting Porto. A day in Lisbon was still a go, followed by TAP Portugal A330-200 flight to Newark - a much better Business class product than United 757, not to mention that I never flew TAP so it would be nice to check them out! From Newark, it was Air Canada connection to Toronto followed by Toronto - Chicago - Tulsa legs a few days after TBEX:
[Not] Getting It Done
So the exciting part of searching for the flights and different possibilities was over. It was time to call United to make the changes (it was too complex to manage it online). So I called United Online Desk, whom I booked the original ticket with.
Once again I had to spoon feed the Indian agent the flight details as they pondered if something like that was even possible. After that, it was an hour and forty minute wait while they were trying to make the Computer take the changes. A supervisor and "technical team" got involved as well, but in the end, the Almighty Computer would not have any of that so they told me I could not do this.
Some would probably just give up at this point. But I knew the rules! I tried to explain them what I showed you already - that instead of my destinations being Bergen, Rome, and Barcelona, they were now Bergen, Barcelona, and Toronto. But that's Indian call center - computer can't do - me can't do!
[Partially] Getting It Done
Next, I called the United Awards Desk and was immediately told that I should be talking to Online Desk since the original ticket was booked with them. I patiently explained that I just
wasted spent an hour and a half trying to do just that.
So we repeated the
mating dance: spoon feeding the flights, getting a suppervisor involved, another (I assume) "technical team". It was deja vu all over again! But at least the agent and the supervisor acknowledged that I was right and it was a valid itinerary. To override the Almighty Computer, the supervisor offered to "hardcode" the price in at 100,000 miles, but then I would not be able to make ANY changes to this itinerary whatsoever.
That was not good enough for me (as I knew I will be stretching it even further!) so they were finally able to determine that for some reason Barcelona - Lisbon segment was causing the issues. Without it, they could have it ticketed for me.
So two more hours on the phone got me the trip to TBEX on the same itinerary for free!
Finally Getting It Done!
But this meant that I had to spend extra money to get from Barcelona to Lisbon on my own. I did not like that - I knew I should be able to tack on that leg onto my itinerary.
It was late in the evening by this point and I was pretty frustrated so I decided to go against the rules and call United GlobalDesk. These guys deal exclusively with round-the-world tickets and staffed with the most knowledgeable agents (I worked with them last year during my round-the-world trip).
I started out by almost pleading: "I know this is not a round-the-world itinerary I am calling you about, but I have already spent over three and a half hours on the phone with India and Awards Desk trying to add a leg that I should be able to add but they were not able to do so. Could you please take a look at it for me?"
The agent agreed to take a look (yey!) and after pulling up my itinerary and hearing I wanted to add Barcelona - Lisbon segment, he immediately came to the same conclusion - it's a simple round-trip with an open jaw and I should be able to add that flight as long as I am in Lisbon for less than 24 hours.
Dear God, YES!!!!!!!!
I finally felt like I was talking to someone speaking my language! And I did not even have to walk him through it, he just looked at the itinerary and immediately "got the picture"!
After a brief hold, he came back telling me that he added the Barcelona - Lisbon segment to my trip.
Total time on the phone with GobalDesk? Under six minutes! I LOVE THESE GUYS!!!!
Stretching It Further
So now I had three things covered - Oslo, parents trip, and TBEX. I even had two extra stops on my itinerary for free - Bergen and Lisbon. All of that for the same amount of miles that a round-trip award would cost. I couldn't ask for more, right?
I think you probably know the answer to that and you will be right. I smelled the blood. I wanted more now!
So far I had used up 11 flight segments out of 16 theoretically allowed. I could not tack on anything before Barcelona as I would be spending time with my parents there. I actually tried to see if I could go to Casablanca, Marrakech, Algiers, Tenerife, Porto Santo and a few other islands west of the continent after Barcelona and before Lisbon, but I couldn't get the time between flights in and out to be under 24 hours.
So I shifted focus to Scandinavia.
Strangely, I could not find availability on direct flights between Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki and connections would put me over my flight segment limit (not to mention only leave me with less than half a day in each city).
Instead, I settled down on more hopping around Norway (plus Stockholm):
I was able to time my flights very well, with 22 - 23 hours in each city. I made another call to the Award Desk and a very helpful agent added these on (after another thirty minutes on hold). So I was able to really stretch my award ticket to the limits:
To recap: I am now visiting the End of the World party in Norway, traveling with my parents through the Mediterranean, then going to TBEX Toronto as well as stopping for a day in Tromso, Trondheim, Stockholm, and Lisbon - all on the same ticket in Business class for 100,000 miles and $272.10!
It was way past midnight at this point and time for me to call it a day. After all, with 14 flights in total and the fact that I was starting the trip with a 26 hour journey to Oslo, including four layovers on the way, to be followed by some late night partying and a mad dash through three more cities before finally getting to Bergen. That was about as much as I was willing to stretch it!
But then again - you know me! With my crazy passion for aviation, I went one step beyond. Forget stretching - it was time to break the rules outright!
[message type="custom" width="50%" start_color="#fffff7" end_color="#9fc8f4" border="#999999"]Check out other posts in the Award Booking series:
- Part 0: Free Eurotrip For My Parents
- Part 1: Why I Do It
- Part 2: The Rules
- Part 3: How To Book
- Part 4: My Latest Itinerary
- Part 5: Stretching It Further (this post)
- Part 6: Breaking the Rules