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How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

Chicagoland
posts: 16,706
How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

My DH and I want to use AAdvantage miles to upgrade to first class ORD-DFW-OGG and rentur, departing early January 2014 and returning early March 2014.

The airline is just now accepting bookings for January 6 (no later) -- which is OK for us. However I can't book a return in March until mid-April. By that time there will be no 'upgrades' available for the outbound flight.

I see two possibilities, both involving change fees of $150 pp:

1) Book a one-way outbound now and see if AA will let me change the ticket to round-trip once the March dates open up.

2) Book a round-trip with a fake return date and change the return date when the March dates open up. (Depart Jan. 1; return Jan. 5.)

Advice?

Dallas, Texas
posts: 98
reviews: 17
1. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

I believe you can book one ways withh AA miles now. If so, book the outbound now, and the return as those flight become available.

(one way being half the miles of a round trip)

Edited: 11:07 pm, February 10, 2013
Seattle, Washington
Destination Expert
for Seattle
posts: 3,570
2. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

>> I believe you can book one ways withh AA miles now. If so, book the outbound now, and the return as those flight become available. <<

This applies only to straight mileage redemption (aka "award") trips; the OP is asking about upgrading paid tickets.

Changing a "fake" return date will expose you to the change fee AT LEAST. There's also a chance that the underlying fare will have gone up in the meantime, or that your original fare bucket has sold out, requiring both the $150 change fee AND paying a higher base fare. This has happened to me more than once.

>> However I can't book a return in March until mid-April. By that time there will be no 'upgrades' available for the outbound flight. <<

This isn't the way it works. Seats are released into "award" or upgrade buckets on a dynamic basis, not all at once, and seldom are too many released early in the booking window. The airline will move seats into upgrade categories based on very complicated "yield management" algorithms that measure existing v. expected sales of first class seats (for money) and many other factors. This happens on no set schedule, so you just get wait-listed and hope for the best.

By waiting until the return window opens, you're not necessarily giving up a chance for upgrades on the outbound portions; they can (and often are) released quite late in the game, when the computer models are saying that there will still be unsold seats in FC at flight date.

Chicagoland
posts: 16,706
3. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

Thanks to you both. We've been using miles to upgrade to Maui on AA for decades without this pressure. As more Boomers retire and want to 'do as we do', there are fewer and fewer ungrade seats.

ibgardyloo does have my question right. I'm not 'buying' tix with miles; I'm buying coach and applying miles to get first class upgrades. (30K miles + $350 cash + coach fare. Are there other options -- other than buying first?)

Roundtrip now (Jan. 3 - Jan. 5 for my fake dates) is $1371. That's two hundred more than we paid for 2013. I know I wold incur $150 pp to change to the March 3 date I want. That's still cheaper than paying for a first class seat, and presumably I'd KNOW I had first both ways. My fare would be $1520 + the miles and $350 fee. I know the fare CAN change.

The only way I see to get a first class seat on a 767 to Maui is this route. They have ONE flight a day DFW-OGG and back: Flights #6 and #7. AA has dropped the 767 nonstop ORD-HNL. All other flights involve a 757 on the long leg. THIS one even has a crummy MD80 ORD-DFW; still our best option.

And...it will probably all change again next week after the merger! Gah!

I got conflicting stories from two different AA reps about booking the one-way now and converting to a round-trip later. One said I'd have to buy another one-way. One said they'd apply the one-way fare paid to the round-trip, tacking on a couple hundred. I'd still have the change fee.

Seattle, Washington
Destination Expert
for Seattle
posts: 3,570
4. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

Yes, the 767 is a better first class experience than the 757, but coach in either really sucks for that long a flight.

Just a suggestion to investigate, but what about just buying a revenue ticket on Alaska in first class? Round trip ORD--OGG is around $1800 in first, vs. something like 3 grand on AA. That's probably less than the AA coach fare plus the 2 co-pays, never mind the miles; in fact if you put the flights on your AA account, you'll earn at least 12,000 AA miles (counting first class 50% bonus) plus any elite bonus for which you'd qualify. (AS and AA both count each others' flights like their own with respect to their FF plans.)

Alaska's first class service is really quite good. Granted, they use narrow-body planes, but IMO their FC seats are as comfortable as AA's (but not as much legroom as on the 767s) but you get IFE, which you won't on the AA MD80s. But a couple inches less legroom vs. a thousand bucks in saved airfare? Duh.

Edited: 1:32 pm, February 11, 2013
Dallas, Texas
posts: 98
reviews: 17
5. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

Sorry, I misunderstood.

FWIW, we have booked that flight before. To get the first class, MileSAAver award (75k miles pp/round trip), I remember booking literally the day the flights come out (at least if you wanted to fly on the weekends).

I've never bought coach and used miles to upgrade - I'll have to look into that in the future. Thanks!

Chicagoland
posts: 16,706
6. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

dallastexas76 -- We don't accumulate a lot of miles, so buying coach and upgrading with miles has been our better option. We get miles for the charge on AAdvantage CC and miles for the miles flown. Rinse. Repeat.

However, now it's getting hard to find upgrade seats -- more Boomers retiring every day who want to go to Hawaii 'on miles'.

igardyloo -- I did look up the Alaska option, but my goal is a short, comfortable trip. The Alaska option leaves me in Seattle for half a day between flights.

It's really hard to search for short and comfortable when all the sites are geared to *cheapest fare*. I guess others just bite the bullet and PAY for first class tix! (My own Scots genes rebel.)

Illinois
posts: 10,062
reviews: 16
7. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

IME (admittedly limited) in upgrading with miles you have to call them and they put you on a list. My upgrade has never come through until shortly before the trip, so I would think that buying as soon as tix are available for your return would get you somewhere near the top of the list, but maybe not for Hawaii. The one we got upgraded on was to Manchester UK (and over New Years) so maybe for Hawaii you'd need to get on the list sooner.

Seattle, Washington
Destination Expert
for Seattle
posts: 3,570
8. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

>> My fare would be $1520 + the miles and $350 fee. <<

So in other words, $1870 out of pocket plus 30,000 miles.

I generally value miles at 2c per mile, so for me that would make the cost of the whole trip $2470. (Others use different metrics; in my case I won't redeem miles if the value per mile is less than 3.5c, but others may disagree.)

One alternative might be to just buy a one-way flight on AA in January, using the DFW 767, and use 15,000 miles and $175 to upgrade that. Right now for early January I'm seeing $678 for the base fare, so after the $175 copay you're $853 out of pocket, plus the 15K miles.

Then, returning, buy a paid FC one way ticket on Alaska. Flying through Portland, the fare is $769 and you have only a 2 hour layover in Portland. The AA alternative via DFW is $1169 in first, and takes about an hour less overall.

So the "AA out, Alaska return" option totals $1622 and 15,000 miles; the "AA out and AA first class return" option totals $2022 and 15,000 miles, and the "AA coach plus change plus upgrades" option ends up costing $1870 plus 30,000 miles.

Just so you can see some alternatives.

>> And...it will probably all change again next week after the merger! Gah! <<

I doubt if any merger will be complete before 2015, so you're safe.

Chicagoland
posts: 16,706
9. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

Sorry so slow to get back here. I had to wait to set my brain back to zero. LOL

I'm trying to follow you on the MILES for FARE outbound -- plus 'whatever' on the return. I can't value our miles in dollars, since this is the only use we have for them: Maui and back in winter. Any one-way on AA is over $1K, so that doesn't seem to make sense. I need to look more carefully at Alaska's first class seating!

Today (Tues.) AA shows $1212 roundtrip for 01/03 (when we intend to depart) with return 01/07 (fake return). Changing that to our intended 03/03 return will cost $150 (plus/minus any difference in fares when I do it in April).

Thanks for helping! I'm getting too old to parse this all out, and I never was good at math! (That 'girl' thing.)

10. Re: How to use miles to upgrade when return date is months away?

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