Award Booking- London

I recently learned that the New York Yankees will be playing the Boston Red Sox in a special two game series in London. Naturally, I had to seize the opportunity to experience this unique event. Thanks to points and miles, I will be able to do it with a minimal cash outlay plus cross off a couple of bucket list items in the process.

While this surely won’t impress any award travel experts, I would like to share my experience and rationale with the booking process for the aid of beginners. This is just one example of what the potential of points and miles can bring you.

Outbound- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class JFK-LHR

When flying on an eastbound red eye to Europe my preference is always to book a lie-flat seat so I can get a few hours of solid sleep and not be a complete zombie on arrival. Due to the constraint of the baseball game I had to violate one of the cardinal rules of award travel. I needed to limit my flexibility. While good lie-flat award availability was not plentiful, I was initially able to find a few options on Delta/Virgin Atlantic.

The first option was a flight on Delta’s premier product, Delta One. It could be booked for either 280,000 Delta SkyMiles or 57,500 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles. While the Virgin Atlantic (VS) ticket was less miles, the problem with that ticket is the $526 in taxes and fees that came with it. Not a ideal option for an award ticket. Unfortunately, you will find this with many flights to and from London, particularly on UK based airlines.

IMG_4178

Luckily, there was a second option that required far less of a cash outlay; a flight on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class. Virgin also wanted 57,500 for this trip plus an outrageous $576. Luckily, Delta also had this flight but for 86,000 and the standard $5.60 in taxes.

IMG_4180

Overall, Virgin Atlantic booked through Delta was the best option. It would also allow access to the top rated Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in JFK Terminal 4 as well as the Revivals Lounge at London Heathrow (LHR). Additionally, all VS aircraft contain an onboard bar for Upper Class passengers. Bucket list = checked.

Since Delta was one program I currently have next to zero points in, I would have to transfer points. Fortunately thanks mostly to sign up bonuses from my Platinum (100k) and Gold (50k) cards, I had a sizable balance of Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points. MR transfer to Delta at 1:1 ratio. I transferred 172,000 points to Delta to complete the redemption and book two tickets for myself and my friend who will be joining me.

Return- British Airways Flight 1

When looking for return options back to JFK, availability was significantly better than the outbound. I’m not as picky about lie-flat seats on westbound returns. They are almost always daytime flights so a good sleep isn’t as critical. Still, business class is nice if feasible and in my searches I was pleasantly surprised when I saw award availability for British Airways Flight 1.

Any true #avgeek will know the history of BA1 which is a flight number originally held by the supersonic Concorde. The Concorde was retired from service in 2003 and the BA1 flight number went dormant. In 2009, BA1 along with flights 2, 3 & 4 were resurrected for a new premier transatlantic service from tiny London City Airport (LCY) to New York’s JFK. British Airways calls this service Club World London City. It is similar to BA’s other “Club World” business class products but operates with a very special aircraft.

Club World London City
Photo courtesy British Airways

This route is flown by a single Airbus A318 configured with 32 seats of all business class. It’s as close you can get to flying a private jet across the Atlantic. The A318 is the smallest commercial jet produced by Airbus, hence the aircraft has acquired the nickname “Baby Bus.” It is also the largest aircraft approved to operate from the short 5,000 ft runway at London City.

Seat_map_British_Airways__Airbus_A318.jpg

London City is also a unique airport itself as it is located in the Docklands of East London next to the financial and business centers. LCY is a quick 30 minute or less train ride from much of the city. It’s an airport designed with business travelers in mind. You can arrive less than an before your flight and have no trouble making it onboard.

Due to the short runway and steep takeoff needed to depart from LCY, the A318 cannot carry the full fuel load required for the trans-Atlantic flight to New York. Therefore a short technical stop for refueling is required in Shannon, Ireland (SNN). While the plane is refueled, the passengers disembark the aircraft and go through US Customs Preclearance. This allows BA1 to be treated as a domestic flight thus eliminating the need for further customs screening upon arrival at JFK.

BA1 Map
Courtesy GCMap.com

The #avgeek in me was giddy with excitement over the possibility of taking this one-of-a-kind flight. Our friend awardhacker.com showed several redemption options were available to make it happen.

BA1 Options.png

Since I had drained my MR balance for the outbound flight, transferring points to Cathay Pacific (CX) was not possible at this time. I do have a considerable amount of Chase UR points  which I could transfer directly to British Airways but I always like to keep my transferable points as flexible as possible so I decided to use my AA miles. My friend who is joining me on this adventure also has a healthy balance of AA miles so that would be the best option for him as well and allowed us to easily split the cost for this part of the journey.

As with any award flights in London, BA1 is subject to obscene taxes and fees even despite booking through AA. Since this is a bucket list flight, I came to terms with the $500+ taxes and fees. I also paid with my Amex Platinum so I will get 5 MR points per dollar for the expense.

2018-12-22-00_25_58-Review-and-pay-Check-flights-and-pay-for-your-trip-American-Airlines.png

The nice benefit of my Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red card, as well as most AA co-branded cards is a 10% rebate on redeemed miles. With the rebate, the net cost was 51,750 AA miles.

BA1 Redemption.pngEven with the $560 in taxes and fees, this is not a bad deal for a flight that has a cash fare of $8,000.

Hotel

With the most critical parts of the journey, the inbound and outbound flights booked, the next task was finding a hotel. Luckily my travel companion has a pile of Hilton points which we used to book a Double Tree next to the Tower of London. This location offers convenient access to most sites along the Thames, London Stadium and LCY. It was booked for 3 nights at 60,000 points per night.

Photo by Hilton
Double Tree Locations
Image courtesy Hilton

With my friend’s Diamond status, we will get free breakfast and access to the executive lounge which are also nice benefits to save some cash.

Positioning Flights- BUF-JFK

While I was able to find award availability to London directly out of JFK, I no longer live near this major international hub. Therefore, I needed to book a cheap flight from BUF to JFK. Even if there is a marginal cost, positioning flights like this often make sense rather than frustratingly trying  to find award availability from a smaller airport. Google Flights came to the rescue to help me track prices and identify the most opportune time to book this additional flight.

Positioning Flight BUF-JFK
Google Flights Price History

When comparing prices I found that there was not a big difference between Basic economy and first class. Which even on a CRJ-900 regional jet, first class offers a significantly better experience vs basic economy so I went with that one.

Positioning Flight BUF-JFK Delta.png

My cash ticket will be offset by $100 of gift cards purchased with my Amex Gold airline fee credit plus a $50 statement credit on my new Delta Gold Amex so my net cost will be $22.

Positioning Flight Math
Award travel math is my favorite kind of math

Positioning Flight- JFK-BUF

Last task was to book the final return home. Google Flights once again leads me in the right direction to several non-stop options.

Positioning Flight JFK-BUF.png

I liked the 6:30PM on JetBlue since it gives ample after arrival from SNN to check out the Alaska Airlines lounge in Terminal 7. As long as they have capacity I will I have access to this lounge to as a Priority Pass member. I could have booked the JetBlue ticket through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and it would have cost 13,600 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. This time I decided to save my UR and pay the cash price. I booked with my Amex Platiumum to earn 5X MR points.

In Summary

Needless to say, I’m fairly excited for this little trip and the opportunity to check off a few bucket list items; namely visit the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK, drink at an inflight bar and fly the one-of-a-kind BA1. This adventure would not have been feasible without points and miles. For 86,000 Amex MR + 51,750 AA miles + $570, I’m able to experience business class flights which would have set me back almost $15,000 if I paid cash.2018-12-25 22_21_11-Flights Cash Price

For those keeping score at home that would be an average 8 cents per point valuation when compared to the cash price while taking the fees and opportunity cost of the miles that would have been earned into account.

Valuation Chart.png

I also look forward to sharing my experiences with the trip in future posts. Come July check back for reviews of my flights and lounge experiences.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s