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Here's a tip that's going to make your business travel budget go a lot further – and ensure you continue to fly in style.
It's a way to fly Qantas business class from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo for only $2,000 return.
Also on the menu: a $2,000 business class round-trip from Sydney to Shanghai, Beijing or Bangkok.
This isn’t some shonky scam: it’s all above-board and well within the rules. It's just that you'll be taking advantage of a 'travel hack' by purchasing frequent flyer miles from American Airlines' AAdvantage scheme, then using those points to secure your business class seat.
The cost of purchasing the points you’d need to book a flight is roughly half the price of actually buying a ticket on the same flight.
Take Sydney-Hong Kong as an example.
Book a business class flight at retail cost and you’d be paying between $4,260 and $7,460 for a return trip in mid-October 2017 (depending on the specific dates you travel and the type of fare you select).
Or, you could book the same journey for 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles – which you can currently purchase for around A$2,370 (US$1,885) as part of AA’s latest ‘buying miles’ promotion, or when bought in larger quantities, can reduce the price per trip to just A$1,810!
You’ll be asked to pay a small amount when you redeem those miles to cover any taxes and other fees applicable to your journey, which vary from flight to flight, but commonly clock in at $50-$200 on these routes.
Assuming you’re hit with $200 in co-payments, that takes your total booking cost to A$2,570 if buying enough miles for one trip, or to $2,010 if buying points for multiple trips.
Compared to the commercial ticket prices above, that’s a saving of $1,690 to $5,450 compared to the normal asking price.
This trick also works for other Oneworld member airlines including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Malaysia Airlines – and on other routes such as Australia to North America, the Middle East or Europe, but availability on these flights can be tough, so we’re sticking with Asia.
Before you dive in, here’s what you need to know about buying American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book discounted business class flights, and how to check whether you’ll be able to use those miles on any given flight before you buy them.
Buying AA miles for low-cost business class flights: the basics
Firstly, we should flag that to buy AAdvantage miles outright, you’ll need to have been an AA member for at least 30 days before making your purchase – and that AA’s current ‘buying miles’ offer ends on August 1 2017 (Sydney time).
That means if you’ve followed Australian Business Traveller’s previous advice and have already joined the AAdvantage program, you’re in pole position to take advantage of this deal: but if not, you’ll still benefit by joining AAdvantage for free now, as you’ll be ready to pounce when AA releases its next offer.
Assuming you’re eligible, AA’s current offer provides a fixed number of bonus points when buying specific numbers of miles, with a 10% discount on the usual purchase price thrown in as well.
For instance, you could fetch 80,000 AA miles – enough for one return business class jaunt to Asia – by purchasing 65,000 base miles, receiving 15,000 bonus miles on top and unlocking a discount of 10%, making the final purchase price US$1,885 (A$2,371) for 80,000 miles.
Or, for two return trips (being 160,000 miles), you could buy 115,000 base miles, receive 45,000 bonus miles on top and pay US$3,312 (A$4,175) overall, including the current 10% discount, lowering the cost per trip to A$2,088:
AA limits the number of base miles you can buy every year to 150,000, but also offers the best bonus when buying that full slog – so for three return trips (requiring 240,000 miles), the most economical option is to buy 250,000 miles instead: being 150,000 base miles + 100,000 bonus miles.
For that, you’d part with US$4,311 (A$5,432), taking your cost per return business class trip to just A$1,810!
Miles can be bought via the American Airlines website (and yes, they take AMEX), and will usually appear in your AAdvantage account within eight hours of purchase, ready to spend on flights at the pointy end.
Spending your AA miles to unlock low-cost business class flights
Given how cheap these return business class flights can be, there’s a catch – and a very important one at that.
Because you’re now using frequent flyer points to book your journey rather than purchasing a normal ticket, you’ll only be able to spend those points on flights which have frequent flyer rewards available.
That’s fine if you plan ahead or are flexible with your travel dates, but it’s an important distinction to make, because some flights may have no frequent flyer rewards available at all, or those which were released have already been snapped up by other travellers.
Fortunately, there’s a way to check whether any given flight has frequent flyer rewards available before you buy your miles – allowing you confirm whether you’ll be able to use those miles to secure a suitable flight.
Start by visiting the ‘find flights’ page on AAdvantage website, login to your mileage account if prompted, and then search for the flight you want to book.
We’ll search for Sydney-Hong Kong on April 18 2018 for one passenger – simple enough – switching the ‘class’ option from ‘main cabin’ to ‘business’ for business class, and swapping out ‘American Airlines’ for ‘all airlines’ at the bottom of the search page:
The next screen displays a week-by-week search. Dates which have ‘40K’ in the corresponding box have at least one business class reward option available (being 40,000 miles one-way), while those which have empty boxes or a lower number of miles (such as 30K) do not have business class rewards available:
We’ll stick with April 18, and can see that Qantas is offering reward bookings on both its QF127 (Boeing 747) and QF117 (Airbus A330) flights that day:
Clicking on our desired flight, we’re given another chance to confirm the details, and can also see that the cash amount payable in addition to the miles needed is US$71.50 (A$90.60).
This confirms that miles can be used to book this flight – and firms-up co-payment amount required – so from here, you could proceed to enter in the passenger details and complete the booking, or if you haven’t yet purchased miles, could now do so with the confidence that those miles can be spent.
The trick above works for checking availability on Qantas, British Airways, Airberlin, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Finnair, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia and Royal Jordanian, but for other AA partners like Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and JAL, you’d need to call to check availability (and to book).
Finally, as with most bookings made using frequent flyer points, you won’t earn points or status credits when taking these discounted business class flights: another notable difference to buying a regular business class ticket.
You can still attach your frequent flyer details to the reservation to enjoy any additional benefits of your frequent flyer status – such as Qantas First Lounge access for Qantas Platinum members booked to fly with a Oneworld airline – you just won’t earn status credits towards your membership.