Dilemma Solved: How I Burned 330K British Airways Miles in Two Hours

Just a few days ago I speculated that I would likely save my British Airways miles rather than burn them on trips I really did not need to take purely for the sake of flying. Brad rightfully questioned my decision in the comments section, but I still did not see a compelling need to fly down to Easter Island on LAN or book a flight in Cathay Pacific first class to Bali just for the experience. But then I slept on it...

By yesterday morning, doubts were swirling in my mind. Sure, next year may not be the most ideal time to return to South America or Asia, but with the mileage price of the same itinerary set to double or even triple the following day, perhaps no time is a bad time to go. So I began to scramble.

The first trip was the easiest one--a simple one-way from the west coast to Hong Kong after Thanksgiving that will set me up to fly from Hong Kong to Frankfurt via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines (taking advantage of this deal from March). I really wanted first class, but settled for business class because that was the only class of service available.

Next came a tough decision--two tickets to Asia in Cathay First for my uncle and me or two trips to Asia in Cathay Business for my uncle and I and a trip to Easter Island in LAN business class for me. I ultimately chose business class on Cathay due to a lack of availability in first class on my preferred dates and because Cathay's business class product looks more than sufficient for the 14hr journey from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Sure, I still maintain that first class redemptions give you the most bang for your buck, but I think we will be quite comfortable in business class. From China we will pick up flights to the Maldives on a separate (and annoyingly pricey Delta award) ticket.

Finally, I hastily assembled a trip to Easter Island in LAN Business to take place during my law school spring break in March. If I had more time, I would have tried to squeeze in side-trip to Mendoza (for a great stay at the Park Hyatt Mendoza) and Buenos Aires (for a great stay at the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires) and maybe Ecuador and Venezuela (two of the last three countries I have not been to in South America), but after fighting with agents for hours to book complex itineraries and over the definition of "natural routings" all week, there was simply insufficient time to fully plan my own trip. I am sure I will make it to Quito and Caracas on another journey...

The poorly-designed BA Executive Club website was not responding, so I had to pick up the phone and call British Airways. By then, it was midnight CET, meaning I had two hours to get these tickets booked plus one more for a client. I kept getting the "all our circuits are full" message but after about 20 redials I finally got put in the hold queue to speak to an Executive Club reservations agent. It took 32 minutes on hold, but I finally reached an agent.

Thankfully the agent was nice, though a bit of a scatterbrain. Her system was not working either, but somehow she was able to get the Cathay reservation as I stood by enjoying numerous rounds of BA's classical music jingle while waiting on hold. Next came the harder part--my South America trip had to be booked with miles from my mother's account.

If you have booked a trip through British Airways before, you know they are very keen on the UK Data Protection Act. That meant they could not talk to me to book the ticket--they had to speak to my mother. The problem: my mother was 5,000 miles away. Thankfully, I was able to conference in my mother and she gave the go-ahead for the booking. But then we ran into another problem.

Ben reported space not showing up on BA's website, but I found the exact opposite: the space I was seeing, in this case SCL-LIM-LAX flights in LAN Business on my preferred date, was not visible to the agents. The agent even tried a direct sell and it rejected the booking. The odd thing was that Qantas also showed the flights as available, which makes me think this time it may have been a LAN availability issue rather than a BA problem. I had to settle for a return to Miami, which is fine--I have never been to Miami before and now will likely get a chance to fly from Miami to Los Angeles on American Airlines (in my over one million miles of flying, I have never flown in a premium cabin on American Airlines and I intend to change that next year).

By now it was 01:35 CET, just 25 minutes before the Executive Club would close, and I still had one more ticket to book. I knew if I hung up and tried to call again there would be a good chance I would never get through in time. That forced me to improvise.

I told the agent I had a friend who wanted to speak to her about booking a ticket to Peru and threw my voice to sound like a hick Southerner. It worked--I could tell the agent had no clue she was talking to the same person and she was able to (relatively) quickly confirm the final reservation. We signed off at 01:50 CET with all the trips booked. What a day!

When it came down to it, the thought of a $70 cancellation fee in case I cannot make any of the trips seemed like a much better bargain than not booking anything at all then looking back with regret when my 400K BA miles would only get me one trip to South Asia in first class instead of three.

My BA account balance is down to five digits. While I had planned to burn some of those miles for Qantas, BA, and Royal Jordanian trips, there are always American Airlines AAdvantage redemptions for that.


Ben November 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm

"threw my voice to sound like a hick Southerner " rofl :) wow that some mad improv skills there man!

bluto November 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm

pretty funny story at the end

Brad November 17, 2011 at 05:42 am

congrats Matthew!!

Helixcardinal November 17, 2011 at 08:57 am

Why didn't you book the ticket for your paying client before your own?

@Helixcardinal: Fair question--I did not want to go into details, but I was finalizing the itinerary through a Gmail chat with the client as I was on the phone with BA.

RDimperio November 17, 2011 at 09:27 am

Don't know why you needed to use your miles. BA said 97% of the award flights would be the same or cheaper! Glad you saw the light. I was surprised by your earlier post but now this makes sense my hick southerner friend.

jeff November 17, 2011 at 03:31 pm

great that you jumped in at the last minute! i can assure that CX business is indeed more than adequate. i've flown hkg-jfk roundtrip multiple times in CX business and have found it to be great every time, though i still can't decide if i prefer their old or new business class seats.

Jim November 22, 2011 at 03:45 pm

"for my uncle and ME"

Thanks. Fixed.

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