Behind The Booking – My Upcoming Flight To India Using United Miles

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Kerala Blog Express

Next month I am heading to India for a couple of weeks to participate in a blogger trip called the Kerala Blog Express.  While I hadn’t heard a lot about Kerala before this trip, it actually looks like a really beautiful place.  Look forward to some awesome information as I tour the state and share everything back here.

The point of this post though is to cover my flight to India and how I booked it.  (I will cover the flight home at a later date.)  As many of you know, United devalued their award chart yesterday.

Since my plan was to use United miles to get to India and then American miles to get home, I was under the gun to get this flight booked. Additionally, the trip dates were only confirmed on January 30th, so as you can imagine I was getting worried. Things did work out and I did manage to book my award before the devaluation.  Here is how I did it.

I just love the Kerala Blog Express website's artwork!
I just love the Kerala Blog Express website’s artwork!

Goals

  • Travel via the Pacific – Unlike American who makes you route through Europe, United lets you get to India via the Pacific as well.
  • Have long layovers in 1 or 2 cities – United allows you to layover under 24 hours without charging extra.  This means if you can find flights that match up time wise, you can get almost an entire day in a layover city.  The key is the entire itinerary needs to be 4 segments or less on a one-way award.
  • Get to a city in India convenient for my final destination – Unfortunately none of the Star Alliance carriers fly to the city I need to be at for the start of the trip, so I have some flexibility on where to fly into.  I will then have to book a cheap one-way flight within India.
  • Book the whole itinerary in Business Class – I had enough miles, so why not?

Execution

I started my search by looking at how United’s website would route me from Las Vegas to various cities in India.  Unfortunately it would only show me results traveling via Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Additionally, the U.S. domestic segment for the options I was given was always in economy.  No go.

United's website only wanted to route me through Germany. (Note the pricing on this screenshot is the current pricing.)
United’s website only wanted to route me through Germany. (Note the pricing on this screenshot is the current pricingof 80,000 miles and the not the pre-devaluation pricing of 60,000 miles.)

The next thing I did was pull up the Star Alliance route map.  This allowed me to see where I could fly to in Asia from the West Coast. (LAX, SFO)  From there I went back to United’s website and searched for awards from LAS to some of those cities.  Among the cities that made the short list were Beijing, Bangkok & Singapore. (All places I have been before.)  I ruled out going to South Korea, Taiwan or Japan, simply because we are taking a family trip there in April.

The available Star Alliance routes from San Francisco to Asia.
The available Star Alliance routes from San Francisco to Asia.

At this point I found an award on Air China from SFO-PEK (San Francisco-Beijing).  Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly Air China, but this flight is on one of their new 777-300ER aircraft which gets decent reviews from frequent flyers.  Now that I have decided that this first leg works, it is time to move on to the next step.

Disregard the mileage amount.
LAS-SFO-PEK on United domestic first class and Air China Business Class

From here I jump to the other end of the award by looking at what Indian cities Star Alliance carriers fly into from Asia.  Here are my options:

  • Delhi – I can fly direct to Delhi from Beijing on Air China or I can connect in Bangkok on Thai Airways or Singapore on Singapore Airlines.  The downside of Delhi is that I wouldn’t have much time to explore and it is very far away from TRV, which is the airport I need to finish at.  The domestic flight from DEL-TRV was going to cost around $150.
  • Mumbai – Mumbai is closer to TRV with flights costing about $100.  To fly to Mumbai I could make the same connections in either Bangkok or Singapore.
  • Bangalore – Bangalore is the closest airport to my final destination.  One-way flights from BLR-TRV run about $50.  Not bad.  My connections options were once again Bangkok or Singapore.
Star Alliance Map
My two options to Bengalore are Singapore or Bangkok.

Since I wouldn’t have much time to explore either Delhi or Mumbai, Bangalore looked like my best option.  Next I checked my flight options from Beijing to both Bangkok and Singapore. As you may know, a few months ago United pulled Singapore Airlines award space from their website.  Now in order to find the space, you have to either call on the phone or use another airline’s search tool.  I used ANA’s website to search for availability on Singapore Airlines.  There is a little trick to get the search working, but it is worth it.

The ANA search tool says "OK" which means there is availability on that site.
The ANA search tool says “OK” which means there is availability on that flight.

Since I was looking to maximize my layover in Beijing, I needed an afternoon departure.  It turned out that Air China has a 3:25pm flight to Singapore.  Singapore Airlines has a 4:40pm flight which works better, but there isn’t any award space. (If it opens up, then I will change to that later flight.)

With the middle leg lining up, I used the ANA search tool to make sure there was availability from Singapore to Bangalore and there was. (See Above.)  Since you can’t make Singapore Airlines bookings online, I had to call in to book, but they did waive the normal telephone booking fee.

My final routing including the final domestic Indian flight.
My final routing including the final domestic Indian flight.

My itinerary ended up being LAS-SFO-PEK-SIN-BLR.  I have 22 hour layovers in both Beijing and Singapore so that I will have time to get out and explore a little.  While there were many ways to route through Europe, I knew I would have that option going back, so I am glad this itinerary worked out.  While I would prefer the Beijing-Singapore leg to be on Singapore Airlines, I am generally happy with this booking.

The final cost of my flight. (Note: It is now 80,000 miles under the new chart.)
The final cost of my flight. (Note: It is now 80,000 miles under the new chart.)

Conclusion

This entire award in Business Class cost me 60,000 United miles plus $29.40.  Today under the new chart, the same award is 80,000 miles.  I’m glad that I was able to get the booking in under the gun and glad that I will get to visit Beijing for the first time in five years and Singapore which is one of my favorite cities.

The purpose of this post is to perhaps show you a little about what goes into a booking.  I could have taken a more direct route to India, but getting some time in both layover cities is beneficial to me.  If I had been booking a round-trip ticket, then United would have allowed a stopover as well.  Unfortunately this was a last minute unplanned trip, so I didn’t have enough miles lying around to book both ways on United.

While this post may have been complicated to follow, the process of searching was rather methodical.  The more I do it, the better I get, although it is not always easy to get flights to line up, especially when you are trying to schedule long layover for sightseeing.

 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Great report!

    I would like to book tickets for 2 adults from HYD (India) to Chicago in biz class for parents sometime this year. Was contemplating about the routes with UA or AA. Any obvious routes? Have 145k chase UR points and soon will have 75k AA miles. Please advice.

    • With AA miles you are only allowed to route via Europe or fly direct to the U.S. from India. In Business class you would be looking at 135,000 miles roundtrip or 67,500 miles each way. To get from HYD to Chicago you could take Qatar Airways to Doha and then fly direct Doha to Chicago if there is space. You could also fly Jet Airways from HYD to BOM or DEL and then connect on Qatar to Doha or Etihad to Abu Dhabi and then back to the U.S. You also have the option of flying British Airways to LHR and then either AA or BA back to the U.S. but you will have high full surcharges. (Note Jet Airways and Etihad are AA partners but not part of the OneWorld network.)

      On United this award is 160,000 miles roundtrip or 80,000 miles each way. You can however route them via Asia OR Europe. There are so many possibilities with Star Alliance connecting from other cities in India like BLR, BOM or DEL. I suggest you check out the Star Alliance route map. The only direct flight on Star Alliance from HYD appears to be to/from BKK on Thai. From BKK you could fly to the west coast via Tokyo and then onto Chicago. Like I said to route through Europe they would first have to pay for a regional flight to locate to one of the other cities then they could fly a number of carriers to Europe and then onto Chicago.

      I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions & thanks for visiting the site Anita!

  2. Shawn –

    Thanks for the detailed reply. Appreciate your time! Yes, UA has more options but has some weird routing that could be difficult for my parents. I would save UA miles with such routes for my own journeys.

    On the other hand, redeeming AA miles is an option but currently I don’t have many miles and it might take a while to earn them. Any other solution? Can I club redeeming UA and AA miles in one itinerary for a 1-way ticket? I see that to redeem AA miles, I search Etihad site for award availability and call AA. Is this the process? Thanks.

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