You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about, so let me explain…
In this post:
I’m trying to book flights to South Africa
I’m very fortunate that I always manage to fly in first or business class on long haul flights, and it’s almost always using miles & points. Unless there’s a super cheap fare, I always resort to redeeming points, because it’s something I’m pretty good at.
That brings me to my current situation, where I’m oddly considering booking a $4,000 “revenue” business class ticket, rather than redeeming points for a capacity controlled award, because it seems like it might be a better deal.
For some background, Ford and I have a quick trip to South Africa several weeks from now, and I’ve been looking at the best way to get there. As you’d expect, getting to South Africa using points isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not planning way in advance or very close to departure. There’s almost never nonstop award space between the United States and South Africa, so you’re usually looking at two long haul flights in each direction (via Europe or the Middle East).
Now, by my standards, I’d argue that the award options currently available are great. Why yes, I’d love to fly business class from Miami to Johannesburg via New York, Milan, and Addis Ababa. And yes, I’d love a 10-hour layover in Addis Ababa, so I can see what Ethiopian Airlines’ transit hotel program is like. However, I’d also like to stay married, and I doubt Ford would share my enthusiasm for this very roundabout journey.
The program I’d probably book the award through is Air Canada Aeroplan, and the program charges 110,000 points one-way for business class between these city pairs (so that’s 220,000 points roundtrip).
So just out of curiosity, I looked at revenue fares from Miami to Johannesburg, which is leading to an interesting conundrum…
Is a revenue ticket a better deal than an award flight?
Long story short, at the moment roundtrip fares from Miami to Johannesburg seem to be running around $4,000 in business class when paying cash. I see these kinds of fares on Air France, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and more. The exact prices vary, with some being a little more, and some being a little less.
The thing is, of course I don’t want to spend $4,000 in cash when I could instead redeem points… after all, saving on airfare is the whole reason I like to collect points, and that’s a lot of cash!
But that’s also where this gets interesting. Amex has the International Airline Program, which offers discounted airfare on some premium tickets, and Amex also has the Pay with Points feature, letting you redeem points for one cent each toward the cost of a ticket. However, if you have select cards, you can get up to a 35% rebate when you book premium airfare with points (I’m eligible for this based on the cards I have).
For example, say I booked a $3,756 Virgin Atlantic business class ticket:
- I could book this for 375,560 Amex points (and that’s based on the fare already being discounted by nearly $400, thanks to the Amex International Airline Program)
- I’d then receive a 35% rebate due to the card I have with the Amex Pay with Points rebate, so I’d get 131,446 Amex points back
- That means in the end I’d pay 244,114 Amex points, and I’d be eligible to accrue points on this itinerary
As another example, a roundtrip Qatar Airways fare is a bit pricier, at $4,171:
- I could book this for 417,070 Amex points (and that fare is already discounted by around $250, thanks to the Amex International Airline Program)
- I’d then receive a 35% rebate due to the card I have with the Amex Pay with Points rebate, so I’d get 145,975 Amex points back
- That means in the end I’d pay 271,095 Amex points
- If I credited that itinerary to American AAdvantage, I’d earn a total of 56,561 AAdvantage miles as an Executive Platinum member, and those would all count as Loyalty Points
If you were to value Amex points and American miles roughly equally, that means you’d be paying the equivalent of 214,534 points, and that doesn’t factor in the value of the Loyalty Points you’re earning. I’d say that’s almost unarguably a better deal than outright redeeming for an award, not to mention you get a much more direct routing.
Why I’m not so enthused about this itinerary
There’s no denying that flying an airline like Qatar Airways would be the most comfortable and direct itinerary that I could get at such a reasonable cost. Yet I’m still hesitating with redeeming this way, despite having the points balance to book this.
Why? Well, when I board an international flight, I view it as an opportunity to review an interesting product. The reality is that I’ve reviewed the Qatar Airways premium experience to no end, as has the rest of the blogosphere. The concept of getting on a plane for so many hours in each direction and not having anything interesting to write about bores me, and doesn’t meet my general objectives with flying.
As mentioned above, though, for normal people, getting from Point A to Point B as efficiently and comfortably as possible is the goal. So maybe I’ll send Ford direct on this routing, while I’ll leave a couple of days earlier and return a couple of days later and meet him there, having made multiple stops to try new products.
Ordinarily I just instinctively book my long haul travel as award tickets, since I’m pretty good at finding the limited premium cabin award space that airlines release. Usually I don’t really consider the “pay with points” airfare options, since you can typically get outsized value with more traditional award options. And a $4,000 ticket also doesn’t typically fall in the “what an amazing deal” category.
However, for an upcoming trip to South Africa, I’m finding that a very indirect business class award will cost me at least 220,000 points roundtrip. Meanwhile for a similar number of points (after rebate) I can just book a paid business class ticket that has a direct routing using Amex points.
What would you do in this situation?