Last week I wrote about the impossible task of leaving Mongolia. I almost settled for a paid ticket that would’ve cost hundreds of dollars just to go to Hong Kong and Bangkok, places I’ve visited many times before. That experience, much like a heat check jump shot beyond the three point arc, made me question if I was as good a points redeemer as I have claimed to be.
Yesterday night, out of neurotic habit, I found myself searching for award availability on United, then LifeMiles, then turning to Kayak while trying to rationalize that a $718 roundtrip ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Thailand is not that bad.
The choices were get robbed of cash or get robbed on cash and points. The greatest points deal I could find was burning 7500 Avios, 20,000 LifeMiles, and 20,000 United Miles. The points bill, based on MileValue’s Leaderboard came out to:
- $127 for Avios (7500*1.97 cents)
- $300 for LifeMiles (20,000 * 1.5 cents, using pre-devaluation amount)
- $360 worth of United (20,000 * 1.81 cents)
Total Points Value out of Pocket: $787
The cash component for the points redemptions that include taxes and close in booking fee was:
- $39 for Avios
- $64 for LifeMiles
- $111.20 for United
Total Cash out of Pocket: $214.2
Total Spent: $1001.2
That’s over $1000 to fly coach! Because we all know that there are better redemptions for those mileage programs than simple routes throughout SE Asia, this is nothing short of a ripoff.
Not wanting to choose either option, I was ready to quit. Then suddenly, amazingly, everything became clear to me.
Honestly, I don’t remember why but I went to US Airways’ website grumbling about how they never should’ve left Star Alliance for American and Oneworld. Angry clicking here and there, I stumbled upon their codeshare partners page. And wouldn’t you know it, Air China, essentially the only airline out of Mongolia was on the list! Not only that, but somehow, magically, the redemption amount from Mongolia to Hong Kong was 25,000 roundtrip compared to United’s 40,000.
Wait, but that’s not all:
The redemption in business class was 30,000 roundtrip compared to United’s 80 [effing] thousand.
Wait, but that’s not all:
Excited, I did a quit dash around my apartment then went back to read more of the terms and conditions of this partnership.
And wouldn’t you know it? That’s not all:
By looking at Air China’s route map, I noticed they fly direct to Osaka Japan meaning that I could visit both Osaka and Kyoto for the first time in life instead of occupying Hong Kong for another weekend.
Could this be too good to be true?
For a brief moment, it appeared that it was. Checking the return flights from Osaka to Beijing en route to Ulaanbaatar, I was dismayed to learn that the flight from Japan landed at 11:20AM while the flight to Mongolia departed at 11:55Am.
Adrenaline flowing, I knew I could rectify this easily and found a flight that would arrive in Beijing the day before but leave early enough the next day to satisfy the 24 hour layover rule and, once again, comply with China’s visa regulations.
Moment of truth: I called US Air on the phone, gave the kind lady each of my flights one by one and was more than happy to pay the $75 close in fee and $50 call in fee.
In the end, my itinerary reads:
PVG-KIX (4 nights)
KIX-PEK (1 night)
PEK-ULN (till frozen)
All in business, all for $200 and 30,000 US Air Miles.