Should I go from Seattle to San Francisco via Tampa or Europe?

There’s a dangerous battle of marginal value going on for us mileage nuts, and I’m facing a situation that’s the perfect example.

A couple of days ago I made a post entitled “The toughest 7,500 AAdvantage miles I never spent.” I’m going to Seattle soon, and I’ve decided to return from Seattle to Tampa via Vancouver and New York. I’ve booked Seattle to Vancouver using 4,500 British Airways Avios for travel on Alaska, and then redeemed 25,000 American AAdvantage miles for business class on Cathay Pacific from Vancouver to New York, with a connection to Tampa on American. While at the end of the day I prefer to use miles for longhaul travel, I consider this to be a good value since it allows me to try Cathay Pacific’s new fully flat business class product on a shorter flight from Vancouver to New York.

But while I consider it to be a good use of miles, there’s most definitely a better use of miles. American allows free stopovers at the transoceanic gateways on award tickets. For example, for 50,000 AAdvantage miles I could book business class from Vancouver to New York to anywhere in Europe, with a stopover in New York for as long as I wanted. In other words I’d simply have to book a separate ticket from New York to Tampa (which would cost me just 7,500 British Airways Avios), but then I’d basically have a one-way business class ticket to use from New York to Europe in the future. Given that it’s a premium of only 25,000 miles, it seems like a no brainer to me.

But then it kind of got me thinking further, which can be a dangerous thing. For this trip I’ll be in Seattle for a couple of days, and then have to be in San Francisco three days later. I know, that’s poorly planned on my part, though it’s not something I can change at this point. So I could fly from Seattle to Tampa, spend a couple of days at home, and then book a rather expensive one-way ticket from Tampa back to San Francisco, where my upgrade likely wouldn’t clear as it’s during a very busy travel period.

The other limitation here is that it looks like I’ll be moving towards the end of next month, so there won’t be any international travel for me for a while then. I’m hoping to take a quick trip to Asia on China Southern’s brand new Airbus 380 sometime in October, but other than that I’ll be “grounded.”

So that got me thinking, if I have three days between Seattle and San Francisco, why not take a quick trip to Europe, spend a night in a fun city, and try out some new airlines? My mileage strategy is always to avoid having more than enough miles for two international first class tickets to anywhere in an account, since miles are always subject to devaluation. Some people think of miles as a retirement fund, and I just don’t think that’s smart since they’re constantly being devalued and you’re not earning any interest. I have more American miles than I’d ideally like to (not that having too many miles is really a problem), because I’m sure there will be a mileage devaluation sometime in the next year.

So instead of “saving” that one-way ticket from New York to Europe, which may be of limited value if I live on the west coast since I still have to position myself, I thought about just going all the way to Europe.

I was thinking of doing first class on the outbound, flying Cathay Pacific first class from Vancouver to New York. That would allow me to review what is hands down the most “luxurious” domestic flight there is. Then I’d fly British Airways first class from New York to London, and then connect onwards to somewhere else in Europe. I’ve never flown British Airways first class so I could review their new first class, the New York JFK Concorde Room, the London Heathrow Arrivals Lounge, the London Heathrow Concorde Room, and the London Heathrow Cabanas/Elemis Spa. While there are fuel surcharges, they’re not too bad, at just under $300 for the one-way. At 62,500 miles it hardly seems like that much of a waste when I’d otherwise spend 25,000 miles for the one-way domestic flight, and given that I’d have to book a one-way from Tampa to San Francisco.

Then on the return I was looking at burning 50,000 American AAdvantage miles for business class on some OneWorld airline, with the hopes of tacking on a one-way to Hawaii in Hawaiian Airlines first class for a future date (the challenge is finding a transatlantic OneWorld airline that publishes a fare to Hawaii, has business class award space, and flies to a Hawaiian Airlines gateway city).

Anyway, I need to decide on this today, so what do you guys think? Have I utterly gone off the deep end? Would you find the review interesting? Should I just go home instead? I realize it’s not the best use of miles and I realize spending a day in Europe is hardly “maximizing” miles, though on the other hand I won’t have the chance to travel a whole lot in the coming couple of months and I’m in the fortunate position to have reviewing airlines be at least part of my job so it doesn’t seem totally outlandish to me…

Would love to hear what you guys think, even if it’s just “do it” or “you’re nuts.”

Update: To simplify this a bit further, options are:

a) 4,500 British Airways Avios for Seattle to Vancouver, 50,000 American AAdvantage miles for business class Vancouver to New York to Europe (with the New York to Europe portion saved for a future date), and 7,500 British Airways Avios for coach from New York to Tampa. I’d also have to purchase a ticket from Tampa to San Francisco.


b) 62,500 American AAdvantage miles for Seattle to Vancouver to New York to Europe in Cathay Pacific and British Airways first class, and then 50,000 American AAdvantage miles for business class from Europe back to San Francisco (likely on Iberia or Air Berlin), with a flight from the west coast to Hawaii in Hawaiian Airlines first class saved for future use.

Filed Under: Awards, Travel
  1. @ Phil — Hah, fair question! I earn probably 500,000 miles a year through credit cards, another ~200,000 miles per year through credit card spend (I spend nowhere close to that amount, though maximize category bonuses as much as I can), another ~600,000 miles on American (through a combination of revenue flying and BankDirect where I accrue mileage as interest), and then lots more miles/points through hotel stays and various promotions. At the end of the year I’ll try to do a summary of all the points I earned/burned this year.

  2. My head is spinning just thinking about it, but that is why you are the master.

    You HAVE to put it all down in simple terms for us layman:

    i.e. SEA-YVR-NYC for 25K/JFK-LHR-NCE for 62,500 blah blah so we can see how we could emulate you!

    I say go for broke, although if need a transatlantic trip, why not do one during that M-F Thanksgiving week when you can fly biz on AA in I and rack up bonus miles?

  3. If you’re going to use miles to fly BA, why not use Avios? You’re going to pay YQ anyways, and AA are so much more advantageous than BA.
    Why not do an Asia 2 to CMB? YVR-JFK-HKG-SIN-CMB in CX F? Then come back UA via Europe if you do want to go to Europe?
    You can try ANA new F 😉

  4. @ Michael — Hah, you’re right, let me update the post and simplify it a bit.

    The reason I can’t go over Thanksgiving (as tempting as it is) is because my dad’s birthday falls over it. Grrr!

  5. @ Jeff — Because using Avios it would cost 37,500 miles for YVR to JFK, 60,000 miles for JFK to LHR, and 15,000 Avios for LHR to XYZ. So that’s 112,500 Avios vs. 62,500 American miles, not to mention American’s fuel surcharges are a bit lower.

  6. Isn’t AS an AA partner? Why did you need the extra Avios for the SEA-YVR segment. Could you have not routed your SEA-XYZ segment via YYZ, JFK, LHR on the same ticket?

  7. @ Harvs — I definitely can for option B, though I *believe* I can’t for option A, since I’d be traveling within the USA via Canada, which I believe isn’t legal. Though it could be since there’s a connecting flight to Europe that doesn’t apply, even if it’s months later. I’ll give it a shot!

  8. @ JohnBom — Berchtesgaden is a long drive for just one night, especially with what I assume will be crazy Oktoberfest traffic! Which raises the question, where in Europe should I go for just one night?

  9. How about SEA-YVR-LHR on BA? That way you can review BA’s YVR-LHR F product for me so I know what we’re in for next May for my wife’s 50th 🙂

  10. @ Todd — Hah, I feel like I’d be leaving a lot on the table by giving up the Concorde Room JFK, Cathay Pacific first class from YVR to JFK, and guaranteed new first class out of JFK.

  11. If you can stand it,and feel it’s necessary to your business plan, I’d go with option b. However, business considerations aside, I’d just spend more time in Seattle, getting to know the city better should it become your future home, or spend that time in San Francisco, giving the Bay Area further consideration as to future domicile.

  12. Another vote for doing it.
    Go to Berlin, it is a fun city.
    Or Spain, I also like Madrid and Barcelona. Denmark, Copenhagen is nice too but quite expensive which won’t matter too much for 1 night.

  13. I did 2 x 1 night trips to the UK this summer. Did have a reason to go but always nice to spend an evening in London.

  14. I would do option b. Just do it. Lucky to have an option of travelling single and not to worry of racking up miles for other family members 🙂

  15. Thanks for the simplified update because I got lost in the second paragraph 🙂
    However I have a question. It seems that you manage to burn miles for award tickets faster than a human being can earn with all sign-up and spending bonuses for credit cards and miles for butt in seat all together. I’m Executive Platinum with AA and 1K with United because I fly a lot to Asia for business and with all credit cards I manage to get about 500-600K miles every year. Thats enough for few upgrades (btw. I never got Global Premier upgrade from United!) and few holiday flights for myself and sometimes a family member, but I don’t see having miles that I can spend without thinking if it’s a good “investment”.
    So my question is: “Where the hell, Lucky, you get all the award miles?”

  16. Just thinking back a few posts… If the Bay Area and Seattle are still on the table as possible move options, why not split the three days between them to check out areas you might want to live? It might help give some perspective on what it’s like to live in those areas versus the usual visiting spots. Not as glamorous but thought I would toss the idea out there.

  17. @ Steelsnow — And that’s kind of the other thought I have. However, I’m pretty familiar with Seattle and know the area well, so am going just to look at a few specific units I’ve found online, and for now am avoiding moving to San Francisco due to the cost of living. But it’s still something I’m considering… thanks!

  18. Just want to say that I think you are crazy. I vote for staying home on the couch in your PJs eating some Ben and Jerrys for a few days.

  19. Have you found availability on your dates on Air Berlin or Iberia into LAX? I would love to read your review of IB longhaul service. I flew them on a longhaul A346 earlier this month MAD-LHR and really enjoyed the seat and service.

  20. @ David — Sadly I don’t have time to get a Russian visa, and I doubt I could justify that I’m in “transit” if I’m more or less doing a direct turn.

  21. @ BrewerSEA — I’ve found space on Air Berlin, though they don’t publish fares to Hawaii. See space on Iberia to JFK, though then I couldn’t have a stopover on the west coast before continuing to Hawaii since it would no longer be my transoceanic gateway.

  22. I’d say save the European trip for another day, despite wanting to see a review of another airline. Even if you move to the west coast, since you travel so much, I’d say save the ticket for later since you have so many choices and opportunities to route your way to JFK and then tag on a trip to Europe. Get more fun for your mile when you spend a few days there rather than overnight, IMO.

    And Iberia? Most of the reports I’ve read by others say the staff are indifferent and rude and the food really awful…

  23. I vote for spending the 3 days somewhere on the west coast and saving the miles for another trip when you can actually enjoy the destination.

    It sounds like you’ve got a lot of schedule flexibility so I’m sure you can find a week somewhere to use those miles more effectively.

  24. This may be a dumb question, but how can you leave an open Europe date when booking the award ticket? Are you just picking a random date and city to Europe as your final destination, using your stopover in New York, and then making an award change later on when you actually decide on when and where in Europe you would want to go to?

  25. It troubles me to read your blog sometimes. I would have never thought a guy like you, with all of your wisdom and advice, would waste as much money as you do sometimes! Jeez louise! How much did you spend on that W bed, only to NEVER USE IT?!?! Hahah. In all seriousness, I have no idea why this is even a question. While the new CX J is great (as I told you earlier), it’s not F – haha, that’s an understatement. Plus, who would complain with a night in Europe? Personally, I’d do Barcelona or Rome, but I guess that’s up to you 🙂

  26. @Lucky PS. I hate to see a friend in trouble. If you need some immediate assistance unloading some of those AAdvantage miles, I can think of a nice place for them. Hint: It’s in the account of a guy who’s name rhymes with Shmari, and the account doesn’t quite have your requisite/max two int’l F ticket miles requirement. Let me know how I can help – I’m always here! 😉

  27. @ Dan W — To the best of my knowledge you can change the dates after departure but not destination.

    @ ari — Hah!

  28. So if you go to Europe, come to Berlin. I’ll even offer to pick you up and show you the city!

    One more thing: it really makes me jealous that we do not have similar credit card offers here in Germany. I only get miles from flying, and a little on spend with my Lufthansa card. 🙁

  29. Can I vote for “you’re nuts” AND “just do it”? Yes, go to Europe for 3 days! Some questions though: will the constant time zone changes really not bother you? And how does the “flight from the west coast to Hawaii in Hawaiian Airlines first class saved for future use” work? Is there a time limit by which you have to use it?

  30. I thought I read somewhere that your BA’s 2 for 1 voucher will expire at the end of this year and if so, won’t you be booking BA First and experience Concord room, etc. sometime soon anyways?

  31. Do it Lucky and spend your 1 day in Amsterdam or The Hague. I’ll throw in a free Diet Coke to make the offer even more enticing. Amsterdam is a great city to spend a day in as transportation is quick and easy. Lots to do, easy stop over from London means you’ll make the most of your trip, have a good time and not have all the extra hassle of getting to and from London! DO IT!

  32. My brain can’t compute. My brain knows I will now spend the next ___ minutes figuring this out and filing this knowledge for use at a later time.

  33. I’m 64, married and run a business. I’ve managed to amass a slew of miles which I use well. But if I were young and single, they’d probably all be gone!

    DO IT!

  34. You asked this yesterday so I know my input won’t help your decision, but I did have a question.

    For the “saved for later date” legs of your trips, presumably you have to have a stated date at time of booking. What sort of fees are involved for changing that date if a non-elite like myself were to use it?

    I may be going to alaska and had considered the vancouver to jfk cathay pacific flight, I’m interested to know how much extra value I’d get out of adding the later reserved leg from NY to europe.

    And, btw, if it were soley for reviewing products, I’d chose option B. However, if I was looking for more enjoyable use I’d stick with option A.

  35. @ Joe — There would be no fee to change dates as long as the routing stays the same. Just keep in mind the entire ticket has to be used within a year of the date of issue.

    The major restriction to keep in mind is that the transoceanic carrier has to publish a routing between your origin and destination. If you’re starting in Alaska there’s a chance many airlines don’t publish a routing from there, so you may be stuck booking two awards.

  36. You’ve properly framed the question so the answer is Obvious….B.
    I’d do Cathay F to Nyc and walk back to PNW.
    For you, since the TRs are your business ….B.
    I eagerly await your TR.
    Also if you need a companion TO LHR…My goal other than shower at 35,000 is the Concorde Room.
    Thanks again for your work in general and speedy response to questions.

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