Booking International Flights – My Decision Making Process
My buddy and I are going on a trip to Amsterdam and Brussels in the spring of 2019. We have been talking about the trip for a while now so when I finally went to book it I was pretty excited. Delta has direct flights to Amsterdam out of Detroit so I knew they were the preferred way to fly. My friend is a Diamond with Delta so that is who he wanted to fly as well. After settling on the best airline all that was left was finding the cheapest award prices. Hopefully showing you my decision making process when booking international flights will help you out some in the future.
Finding Saver Space
My first goal was to find saver space. We wanted to fly lie flat business class out and Economy Comfort Plus on the way back. I would rather get rest on the overnight flight since I am less in need of a bed on a day time flight for the return. With my friend’s status he could book an economy seat for the return and get upgraded to Economy Comfort immediately. That would save him 15,000 miles or so.
The easiest way to find saver space was to search on Delta’s site and change it to a 5 week search. I searched one ways instead of roundtrip flights so I wouldn’t miss out on any saver space. I also searched for two tickets even though we would be booking ours separately to ensure we would both get the same pricing.
Since we were booking pretty far out, we were not specific with our dates, and it was a direct flight finding saver space was fairly easy. I found a Delta One outgoing flight for 86,000 Skymiles and the return in economy comfort for 50,000 Skymiles.
Having that as a baseline I wanted to see if I could do better. Delta has a lot of great partnerships that I could leverage to book the flights at a lower cost. I did a guide of how to use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta flights and save huge so Virgin was my first stop.
I had around 10,000 miles left over in my Virgin Atlantic account from the Bank of America card so it was a better option for me than Flying Blue right off the bat. The problem was that I was unable to get economy comfort to show up on the VA site.
I did find the outbound lie flat seat for 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and $5.60. That would be a savings of 36,000 miles compared to Delta’s price, not too shabby. I would need to transfer 40,000 miles from a transferable currency (less if there was a transfer bonus) but not bad at all.
The problem was that the site did not show any economy comfort seats. It looks like Virgin Atlantic doesn’t let you book mixed cabin trips (online at least) unless you book two one way flights. Booking two one ways would lead to much higher taxes and fees since the award wouldn’t originate and end in the US.
I decided to move onto Flying Blue and see what that would turn up. The economy comfort flight did not appear and the business class ticket was 67,000 miles one way. A non starter compared to Virgin Atlantic’s 50,000 mile price tag.
Korean Air can offer some amazing value on Delta at 80,000 miles for a business class roundtrip flight to Europe. They do come with hefty taxes and fees at around $400 though. The problem is they don’t allow one way bookings online and they charge the higher mileage for mixed award flights.
I was unable to find economy comfort space here either. If I was able to find first class space both ways this would have been a great option (besides the huge fuel surcharges). With Chase losing Korean Air as a Ultimate Rewards partner it makes booking their awards more difficult though.
Korean Air and Flying Blue were out. My decision was between Delta and Virgin Atlantic. I was thinking of booking Virgin Atlantic out for 50,000 miles and $5.60 for a lie flat seat. I could then book Delta for the return at 50,000 miles for the economy comfort seat. The issue was that since it wasn’t a round trip flight the taxes and fees would go from $48.71 to $241.
I hate that taxes change for one way flights but they do so that left me with another decision. Do I pay $200 more to save 36,000 miles? That seems like a pretty easy decision but I would still need to transfer 40,000 miles from Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards to book the flight on Virgin Atlantic. I would have preferred to use Citi ThankYou points but I had recently depleted my stash which should be replenished soon though.
I had a stash of Delta miles already, which I acquired cheaply, and I find them somewhat easy to accrue. When you put all of this together I decided to go with booking the flight with Delta Skymiles. I saved $200 and kept 40,000 miles in my transferable currencies for another, more lucrative, opportunity. I did end up spending 36,000 miles more than I needed to because of it though.
Sometimes it isn’t always about which avenue offers the cheapest price in miles. Sometimes it depends on which miles you are talking about and which ones you have more of. You need to factor all of these things in before making a decision.
If I had 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles still sitting in my account I would have booked two one ways easily. If there were two first class saver awards available I would have booked with Korean Air or Virgin Atlantic miles.
But since I had a mixed flight itinerary, a healthy stash of Skymiles, and because Delta had the cheapest fuel surcharges and taxes I decided to book with them. I still ended up with a redemption of 2.13 cents per Skymile which is above average.
I will keep an eye open in case round trip business class space becomes available in the future. I would just pay the cancellation fee to rebook.