Hey my curious little bugs,
Right now I’m in the air on the way to Hong Kong, en route to Bali for some solo exploring and a writing retreat. The flight is 15+ hours. I have 9 hours, 50 mins left on the flight.
So far on the flight (there’s no wifi) I’ve…
-Watched a movie (Room – that little boy was an awesome actor!)
–Read a little bit of a magazine about Bachelor Ben (I’m team Lauren, previously team Caila. Don’t give me any spoilers please!)
–Had a meal (it was actually pretty good – halibut with edamame + 2 pills of activated charcoal, because… #airplanefood)
–Watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on the Elusive Creative Genius (absolutely brilliant, I took notes)
–Tried to sleep for a bit but my mind was buzzing with the desire to write. So here I am.
I’m looking forward to exploring Bali of course, (follow me on instagram to see it all), but to be honest I’ve been ESPECIALLY looking forward to the flight itself. Why?
Because I’m flying BUSINESS CLASS on Cathay Pacific. New York City to Hong Kong to Bali.
And I only paid $49.
As soon as I posted about it on instagram (from the business class lounge), a few of you guys immediately asked for details. I’m ready to dish.
If you’ve ever flown business class internationally, you know that it’s an absolute game changer. You get to completely lie down in flat-bed seats with a comforter, you get your own little cabin-type seat for privacy, and the whole experience is just luxurious. It makes flying 15+ hours enjoyable – feels like a vacation in itself, honestly – vs. squirming around trying to get comfortable in an economy seat. I flew business class to Hong Kong last year with Gabby and I was immediately scared because I knew my flight preferences had been spoiled from that moment on.
Enter “travel hacking.” (This is not something illegal, it’s simply the term for the art of getting deeply discounted travel, usually using points/miles, without having to spend more than you’d already be spending in your everyday life to make it happen).
First off I will note that I am not a travel hacking expert, I have simply learned from some of the greats.
Before I go any further I will urge you to check out the greats.
—Bryce Conway at 10xTravel – Bryce has personally got on mentoring calls with my sister and me to help us with travel hacking, and he shares incredible resources on his site. Check him out, especially his posts on Barcelona and Thailand.
—Nomadic Matt – the first travel hacking blog I ever found, he’s been in the game for awhile and has amazing insights to share.
—Chris Guillebeau – he’s traveled to every country in the world, and his travel hacking game is on point!! I really enjoy following his instagram travel updates too.
These people have greatly influenced my travel hacking abilities, along with my sister and boyfriend who continue to inspire and impress me with their courageous and impressive travel skills. You guys are seriously the best.
So here’s how it all went down for this particular flight, JFK – DPS (Denpasar, Bali), business class the whole way, with a connection through Hong Kong.
My flight details:
Purchased with American Airlines miles at 55,000 miles for one way + $49 in fees.
Flights on Cathay Pacific (JFK – HKG) and DragonAir (HKG – DPS).
These flights would have been thousands of dollars if I booked them in cash.
NOTE: I only have a one-way ticket booked, so a round-trip would be 110k miles.
How I got the flight:
It all started at the end of 2014, actually, when I first opened an American Airlines personal credit card. The sign-up bonus at the time was 50,000 miles (almost enough for this business class flight that I’m on!) which means that once I spent the spending minimum on the card (in this case $1,000 in 3 months), I automatically receive 50,000 miles on American.
I opened that card, used it as my only credit card until I spent the spending minimum, and then stopped using the card. 50k miles in my American Airlines account.
Afterwards I opened a 2nd American Airlines card, which was a business card for Healthy Crush. Same thing. 50,000 mile sign-up bonus. Same minimum spend – $1,000 in 3 months. Used it as my only credit card until I hit the minimum.
Voila, 100,000 miles on American.
At the time of my flight booking, I was about 5,000 miles short of a round-trip business class ticket to Bali, which is 110,000 miles. I had also accrued some miles just by using the cards, aside from just the bonus.
Luckily, I have SPG points in my Starwood account because I also hit the spending bonus on the SPG Amex awhile ago. SPG points transfer 1:1 to American, so I simply logged into my account and transferred 5,000 points into my American account.
So there you go, I suddenly had 110,000 miles in my AA account with no extra spending other than what I normally would have been doing, except I used my American card exclusively for a few months instead of whatever other method of payment I’d be using (debit card, other credit card, PayPal, etc).
Whenever I’m working on a specific sign-up bonus for a card, I use it exclusively and say bye to any other cards until that minimum is hit. It takes some organization to do this but it’s worth it.
It’s hilarious to me because before doing this, I used to use my debit card for everything. I would have just spent that money out of my checking account and received nothing. Instead I’m on this legit business class flight traveling to Bali. It’s mind-boggling to say the least!!!
If you want more nitty gritty details you can check out this little guide I wrote, a 101 Guide To Getting Your First Free Flight (detailed info on how I travel).
Please note that I’m not a financial advisor (at all) so if you feel unsure about opening credit cards or having multiple credit cards, please do so at your own risk and do your research first, and – IMPORTANT – make sure you can hit the spending minimum AND pay off your credit card without going outside your normal expenses to do so. Spending more than you’d normally be spending in order to hit the bonuses would defeat the entire point of working to get free flights.
I know credit cards can be a tricky subject so if you do decide to embark on something like this, keep a spreadsheet. Make sure you keep track of when you opened the card, what the spending minimum is and what date you have to hit it, and how many miles you’ll receive, and as soon as you’re done hitting the minimum, pay off your balance to zero and discontinue using it (unless you want to keep using it for your everyday card, which I do with my Chase Sapphire and SPG Amex).
Ok, moving on. Now that I had acquired enough miles to make this trip happen, let’s talk about the logistics of making it happen — which I learned is an art form in itself.
The challenge: American doesn’t list their award travel to Asia on their site (Does anyone know why this is the case? It seems insane to me). So you have to call the airline directly.
It looks a little something like this.
Hi, I need to go from JFK to DPS, sometime between March 6th and March 10th, ideally March 8th, business class…can you give me my options?
*me already cringing because I just want to see a list of my options and choose myself*
Flight agent starts listing a few possible routes as I type them on my laptop, but none of them are on the actual dates I want to go, and the availability seems slim. I keep asking about different days, different routes, the conversation lasts forever and I am getting quite fidgety.
I feel a lack of control. What if they are missing something? Are they really telling me every single leg of the trip they can possibly put me on? Are there really no business class flights on the exact date I want to travel?
I will note here that the agents on American were SUPER nice and helpful, I just don’t like sitting on the phone talking about options. I like to see things. I knew I must investigate further.
Any seasoned travel hacker will already know this, but it turns out the British Airways site DOES list all of the award travel options on their site. Because they’re a partner with American (One World Alliance), usually these flights will be bookable through American — but the key is you have to look them up on the British Airways site first and get the flight numbers you want.
So I signed up for an Avios account (British Airways miles) and searched NYC – DPS on business class for the dates that I wanted. I saw more options but still not an itinerary that was ideal to me. I have the gift and curse of being very particular (only about certain things, though — one of those things happens to be flights).
Not gonna lie, I made color-coded spreadsheet of every single flight leg that was showing as available on the British Airways site for the date range I wanted.
Because nothing ideal was showing up, I decided to search each leg of the trip separately to see if I would get more options that I could put together as a full itinerary.
I searched JFK-Hong Kong first, and found a flight that was leaving on my absolute ideal day (March 8th) at an ideal time of day (1:55pm) and had a bunch of business class award seats available — plus, it was on Cathay Pacific which I’d heard awesome thing about. Jackpot. I took note of that exact flight number and decided to work around that.
Then I searched HKG-DPS on the British Airways site and checked to see if there were business class flights available there for March 9th/10th – basically any flight that had a departure time after the previous flight I had noted arrived into Hong Kong.
Yes. There it was. There was a beautiful flight staring back at me on Dragon Air (another partner in the One World alliance), that would give me a 1 night layover in Hong Kong before heading onto Bali. That’s ideal for me, because I like breaking up a long travel day anyway. And who doesn’t wanna spend a night in Hong Kong? Exactly.
So I wrote down that flight number too.
Just to reiterate, this itinerary was NOT showing as available when I had called American previously, OR when I had searched JFK to DPS without searching each leg separately. I had to do some serious legwork.
I called up American again, this time with confidence and swagger. (Ok, swagger may be pushing it, but let’s just say I was feeling very well-researched).
“Hi, I’d like to book a business class flight on miles, from NYC to Denpasar Bali, connecting through Hong Kong, and I have the exact flight numbers I want. Can I just give those to you?”
Ok, Cathay Pacific flight 831, departs on March 8th, and DragonAir flight 360, departs on March 10th.
“That itinerary is available. It will be 55,000 miles and $49. Should I go ahead and deduct the miles from your AAdvantage account?”
“Done. Your flight is booked and you’ll receive an email with your itinerary.” Literally a 1 minute call.
Maybe you find this whole process to be too much work, and that I’m a total freak for going to this much effort, but it pays off because here I am having an AWESOME TIME on the perfect business class flight and it’s the exact dates, times and routing I wanted. A Virgo gal’s dream come true!!!
PLEASE NOTE — THIS IS IMPORTANT.
As of March 22, 2016, American will be undergoing a devaluation of their mileage plan. This means that all award flights will cost more miles. The 55k flight I’m on now will cost 70k.
This means I need to book my return flight before March 22nd (I had planned to leave it open in case I just wanted to stay, but the mile devaluation changes things).
This also means that if you have AAdvantage miles to spare, it would be wise to book the trip by March 21st. You’ll still be able to take advantage of all of the tactics I mentioned here, of course, even after that date, but flights will cost more miles. So get on it travel junkies!
There you go! That’s how I got my flight.
Again – some resources to check out if you want more:
I wrote a 101 guide on how I got my first-ever free flights here, with a bit more detail. (I will only be sharing this as a solo download for a teensy amount of time before it gets added into a bigger package).
Solo travel is so crazy and fun. I’ve been bugging out from the moment I stepped into the business class lounge and my boyfriend tells me to channel all of my bug-out moments into instagram so I can diffuse that energy and turn it into something I can share with you guys, which is a completely brilliant plan, so if you see a little bug emoji in any of my captions you’ll know what’s up.
I love this stuff. I literally have socks on right now that the flight gave me (so awesome) and I’m about to go watch Far From The Madding Crowd for the 2nd time (Bathsheba is one of my inspirations, especially when she says, “my intention is to astonish you all.” So good).
Peace out cub scouts! Let me know if you have any questions or travel hacking tips to share.
I’ll update you from Bali on instagram, of course.