Those of you who have been viewing the website regularly have probably noticed that we have switched continents again. In fact, I am writing this post in hot and sunny Windhoek, Namibia. About 12 days ago we were packing our bags in tropical El Nido, Palawan which is tucked away in a remote corner of the Philippines. Since then we have passed through Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa. Quite a bit of flying for 12 days!
The crazy routing was mainly due to a bargain redemption that I spotted on the United award chart a couple months ago. One-way awards from Japan to Southern Africa (that is, most of the continent south of the equator) are 40/50/60k miles in coach/business/first respectively. 60,000 miles for an intercontinental first class redemption is a good value but this one in particular is spectacular due to the overall distance traveled and the very generous routing allowance.
United’s Mileage Plus awards are now governed by a “maximum permitted mileage” (MPM) rule that limits how far you can fly on a given award. The MPM is based on the given origin/destination city pair you are traveling between – basically, they look it up in a big table. For Osaka to Windhoek, the MPM allotment is a whopping 15,880 miles – to put that in perspective, the straight-line distance is a mere 8,627 miles!
With a huge cushion of routing allotment to work with, I set to work finding a good set of flights on our desired travel dates. Lufthansa had some nice availability on their Osaka-Frankfurt flight and, as an added bonus, there was a rumor floating about that it would be operated by 747′s featuring their new seat+bed first class product. Even without the new seats, Lufthansa First is a fantastic product that I was eager to try again.
The next challenge was finding award availbility on the Europe to Africa portion of the trip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a flight that lined up well with our inbound flight from Osaka. Award space on the long-hauls to the southern tip of the continent is pretty scarce. In the end, I found space with Swiss on a flight but it was four full days after our inbound flight from Osaka. This would be a deal-breaker for some, but it was still usable with a little bit of work.
United one-way awards don’t allow stopovers so it wasn’t possible to scheduled a stopover in one city for a few days without paying for two award tickets. What their rules DO allow are an unlimited number of connections provided you still observe the MPM restriction. Connections are defined as stops of less than 24 hours in a given city. The Star Alliance has an incredibly dense mesh of routes across the European continent so it feasible to bounce from city to city to pad out the schedule. So that is just what we did!
The routing I pieced together gave us 23 hours in Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow plus nearly a full day in Zurich and an overnight in Vienna. What’s amazing is that we still had 2,880 miles left in our MPM allottment. If I had really tried, I probably could have fit Portugal, Norway and Turkey all on the same ticket!
Actually getting United to ticket this five-airline, eight-segment, 13,303 mile routing was a challenge in and of itself. At first, the agent expressed complete disbelief that such a redemption was possible. Foruntately, she was open-minded and was willing to go through the rules with me. Eventually, she took down the routing I had come up with and called the rate desk to see if they would authorize the booking. This took quite some time but she gave me updates every few minutes. She let on that the rate desk was very unhappy with the routing but that it was indeed within the bounds of all their published rules. When it was all said and done the tickets came to 60,000 miles plus $220 in taxes per person. Not a bad deal since even the cheapest economy ticket from Osaka to Windhoek was over $1800!
Positioning ourselves in Japan was fairly easy. We used Zest Air (“Asia’s most refreshing airline”) to get from Palawan to Manila and then continued with Cebu Pacific to Macau. After a day in Macau and two nights in nearby Hong Kong, we flew Cathay Pacific to Osaka on award tickets issued by American Airlines (a friend owed me some miles!). So all in all, Philippines to Namibia the slightly long way!