SFO - TXl via UA
March 6, 2014 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way I can put 92,000 United Mileage Plus miles toward a trip from San Francisco to Germany (preferably Berlin but Frankfurt is okay)? The trip is this June.

Yes, I waited to long to try to use my United miles to get to Europe this summer. There are three of us traveling together from SFO to Germany (Berlin or Frankfurt) in mid-June. The dates are not all that flexible but basically the last 2 weeks of the month. Looking online, there are no seats available for frequent flyers at this time on United's web site.

I have 92,000 Mileage Plus miles moldering away in my account. Is there anything I can use these miles for that will reduce the cost of the trip? Obviously, it wouldn't have been enough to cover all of us anyway but it would have been nice to get one of the tickets with miles.

Fares are running about $1600 RT right now so anything we can do to chip away at that will be worth it.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Availability will be terrible to Europe then, but good luck.

The key is to try other airports from USA. Try Chicago, New York, DC, Charlotte. Do you find availability there? If you can get one flight with points and pay for the other than use the remainder of the points to get to that 'gateway' city, you will save money. Also, try flying to other European cities like London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Paris.

Another option -92,000 may get you business class/first class tickets to Europe.

Did you try using biz? You can rotate out to try (the amazing) experience?

This will help you immensely. This will also talk about how you can use free stopovers to your advantage.
posted by sandmanwv at 1:37 PM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Call United Milage Plus folks. They may be able to suggest a way you can use your points. Perhaps on hotels, or a vacation package, or some other travel related expense. They may suggest flying into a particular airport, and then taking a train to Berlin.

Also, are you flexible about which airport you'll leave out of? I'm sure SFO is most likely, but perhaps they can get you on a flight from OAK to LGA, then out on Lufthansa (yeah, this is REALLY one of those thing only a customer service person or a shit-ton of time thinking up scenarios can help with.)

It looks like the entire month of June, except for the 8th is blacked out. At least someone at United could confirm that for you. Perhaps you can do the outbound flights on the 8th, and pay for the return flights. Using remaining points for a night or two at a hotel.

According to United, the lower point hotels are the Ramada Plaza Berlin or the Courtyard, at about 20K points per night.

If push comes to shove, you can upgrade to business class making the flight actually enjoyable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:42 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used Flight Fox to book a flight from NYC to Seattle and they saved me about $100. They have a service where you pay $49 to speak with a "travel expert" who will book an international flight, using your miles in the best way possible. When I did it, they basically chatted with me for about 10-15m, did some research and presented a few sample itineraries, chatted with me again for 10m, I picked an itinerary, and they sent me a link where I could go and purchase the flight. Your mileage might vary (heh) but I found it very helpful and they had a guarantee that they could beat my price.
posted by yaymukund at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, here's a blog the describes a way to search all Star Alliance partner airlines: Frequent flyer hack: Finding award travel on Star Alliance partner airlines. Check that out, and maybe search around for other Star Alliance FF hacks. I don't know how United's FF program well but I've found these kinds of blogs very useful in the past.

Weirdly, sometimes it's actually cheaper to use your miles on a partner airline than on the airline where you have the miles. Like, I have a bunch of British Airways miles but I never, ever use them on BA, usually on Aer Lingus. Obviously this means I fly into Dublin instead of Heathrow, but I've been able to adapt my itinerary to that more than once. So I'd recommend poking around these frequent flyer blogs and forums, they have some crazy hacks (that usually involve signing up for frequent flyer accounts you'll never use) that can help you find the good flights. I also search for flights on the Qantas site, because they have a better search.

Obviously it helps if you're able to travel midweek instead of on Friday or Sunday or whatever.
posted by mskyle at 1:49 PM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Back when I had frequent flyer miles, I preferred my Hilton points to Continental. The quality of room/points was excellent. I'd just take all my Continental points, transfer to Amtrak, then transfer again to Hilton. I believe the Star Alliance allows a similar shell game.
posted by politikitty at 2:02 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I poked around on the website. You may have some luck booking a saver award trip from ORD-LHR (Chicago to London Heathrow) starting around June 24th. Depending on availability, you may even be able to return from Frankfurt.

This may make sense if the opportunity cost of other uses of your miles is very low, and you can cheaply get from SFO to ORD, and then from LHR to FRA.

This also involves splitting your party. Even given ideal availability, your miles aren't going to move a party of three between the mainland US and Europe. Roundtrip saver awards between the US and Europe are 60k miles, so that's enough for one of you to fly. The roundtrip saver award rate for business class is 115k, so you're a bit short there....
posted by QuantumMeruit at 3:21 PM on March 6, 2014

Yes, you can definitely use UA miles to cover this, in economy, for 60,000 miles roundtrip (or maybe, as someone noted above, you might have enough to fly one-way business or first). I just booked a one-way from Paris to Los Angeles this July for 30K UA miles - it was a little bit of a pain but worth it.

First, search on the United site for "award travel" for your dates. Make sure you are logged in to your MileagePlus account when you do this, as sometimes that can help availability. You may see that there aren't any awards available at the 30K level for your dates. However, there are some workarounds.

Keep in mind that award flights on Star Alliance partners are all priced at the "saver" level - that is, 30K miles for a one-way economy ticket. Tickets on United planes will often be priced at the higher Standard level of 65K. You're lucky because you're looking to fly in/out of Germany, and Lufthansa is often one of the Star Alliance airlines with a lot of award space.

As someone also mentioned above, if you don't see award space for your specific cities, play around with some other combos. When I booked my ticket, I first searched for Paris to LA and there was no availability. But then I played around a bit and saw that there was availability on Paris to Toronto, and also availability on Toronto to LA. I called United and asked them if I could create one 30K economy award ticket out of those two itineraries - the award space on the Paris to Toronto flight (via Munich on Lufthansa) and then the Toronto to LA flight (on Air Canada) and they said yes. So I did end up needing to book over the phone (which is a $25 fee per ticket, plus whatever taxes), but it was well worth it.
posted by emily37 at 6:20 PM on March 6, 2014

Ah, I just saw that you have three passengers. That does change things a bit - but what I would do would be to try to piece together three one-way tickets for 30K miles each using the methods discussed above, and then try to book a one-way going the other way on Icelandair or one of the cheaper carriers (I see the lowest one-way SFO to TXL for around $800 in June).

I forgot to mention above that expertflyer.com is great for finding award availability, as is the link to the ANA website that someone posted above.
posted by emily37 at 6:28 PM on March 6, 2014

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