Off to Myanmar, and Points Unknown in Asia

Off to Myanmar, and Points Unknown in Asia
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Image courtesy: eGuide Travel
 

Trip Information

Reader Shannon wants to travel from Dallas to Myanmar to visit a childhood friend teaching students in the country for the next two years. Her schedule is flexible – anytime between now and Summer 2015 – and she’d like to visit at least one other location in the area as part of her trip. She’s looking for suggestions on where this should be.

Shannon will be able to stay with her friend in Myanmar, but wants to see not only how to arrange flights but how to best use her points to cover her stay at her second stop on the trip.

Current Program Status

Shannon has 100,000 American AAdvantage miles, 56,000 SPG points and 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

Our Take

Because Shannon has a very flexible schedule for this trip, and because she’s not sure where she’d like to include as a second destination just yet, we’re going to use this opportunity more as a general guideline to booking flights on OneWorld carriers to hard to reach places. There won’t be a final trip value and savings at the end of this one, but we think you’ll agree that there’s an awful lot of value to be had!

From Dallas to Myanmar

Given Shannon’s substantial miles balance with American, we’re going to focus on her opportunities with that airline and its OneWorld alliance partners. However, we mustn’t forget that Ultimate Rewards points transfer to several airline partners, including United, on a 1:1 basis. As you’ll see, this may prove valuable for our hop to a second destination in the region.

In theory, it takes 35,000 American miles to fly from North America to the Asia 2 region, which includes Myanmar. 55,000 miles will net a Business Class ticket, and 67,500 will have you in First Class.

I say in theory because searching for these routes is not an easy proposition! American doesn’t offer service to Myanmar, and there’s basically one sensible route across all of OneWorld that can get AAdvantage milers there. That’s flying Malaysian Airlines from Tokyo via Kuala Lumpur to Yangon International Airport (RGN) in the south of the country. Getting to Tokyo from Dallas is a breeze comparatively, with direct service on American available.

Unfortunately, though they are a OneWorld member, Malaysian Airlines flights cannot be searched from American’s website. The easiest workaround is to look for availability via British Airways. Once you hop over to BA.com using that link, click on Spending Avios and then select Book Flights with Avios. You’ll need an Executive Club account in order to search, but it’s free to create and doesn’t require an Avios balance to allow searches.

When searching, it’s best to select Business or First Class, even if you’re primarily focused on Economy availability, as BA’s award engine. Searching only Economy will not show you when Business or First Class availability might exist where Economy does not. Searching for an upper class will show that option and all others available below it.

Of course, we wouldn’t actually be using Avios to book this flight. We’re simply checking availability. Flights that show empty seats using BA’s search engine should also be available to AAdvantage flyers.

When searching, even with BA’s tool we were unable to yield any results when searching for DFW to RGN. However, we were able to find availability by searching DFW to KUL, then KUL to RGN. Here’s an example for randomly selected dates next Summer. I’ve included annotations to assist in understanding the screenshots:

To search Economy availability from DFW to KUL, you’d need to search Economy or Business, as searching First Class as I did only shows First, Business and Economy Plus. However, I personally have a hard time imagining taking such a massive flight in Coach. Because of a long layover in Tokyo, this is a trip that takes two days. Given Shannon’s present balance of 100,000 AAdvantage miles, we’d wholeheartedly endorse dropping the full 110,000 miles to fly Business Class roundtrip.

Shannon can find the extra 10,000 miles needed by taking advantage of SPG’s 1:1 Transfers with American. We’d actually recommend transferring 20,000 SPG points to American. That’s because SPG awards an extra 5,000 points’ worth of miles on transfers of at least 20,000 points. In this case, that would mean 20,000 SPG points become 25,000 AAdvantage miles, bringing Shannon’s total balance up to 125,000 AAdvantage miles.

To actually book this flight, Shannon must call American Airlines at 1.800.433.7300. There’s an unavoidable $25 telephone booking fee for this kind of flight, but compared to the many thousands of dollars the ticket would otherwise cost, this is easily worth it.

Within Asia & Flying Home

We’ve only spoken about the flight to Myanmar thus far because there’s no opportunity to take advantage of a stopover in Asia for this flight. That’s because American only allows stopovers in North American gateway cities. For example, if Shannon were to book a flight requiring her to connect through Los Angeles, she could stay in LA for free on the way, but that’s not helpful for this itinerary.

As such, we need to book a separate award ticket for travel within Asia.

The most economical way to do this using American miles is to remain within what American defines as the Asia 2 region. That includes Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Saipan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. As such, flights from Myanmar to any of the other destinations listed come in at 15,000 AAdvantage miles.

It’s also possible to fly using United partners for 12,500 miles. Their South Asia region includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. So, you gain a few possible destinations, such as Bangladesh and Macau, but lose a few like China and Guam.

The complicating factor here is that we still want to fly American home to Dallas. Doing so from areas not included in their Asia 2 region may require additional miles. Plus, transferring the 20,000 SPG points to American nets us 5,000 free miles, making the effective cost of the intra-Asia flight 10,000 miles, which is a better value than United has to offer.

In other words, simply using Shannon’s American miles and transferring over 20,000 of her SPG points can net roundtrip service in Business to and from Asia, and a relatively short hop in Economy to a second destination mid-trip. This leaves her Ultimate Rewards points untouched, ripe for use on her stay at a variety of hotels.

Wrapping Up

Using British Airways to search flight availability remains the best bet
for these intra-Asian flights, as well as for the return flight home. If American and British Airways’ award engines both fail you, Qantas provides another option to find the award space you need.

While we’re at it, simply asking American’s phone representative for assistance makes sense. Make them earn that $25, as they have the best access to complete award flight information!

On Wednesday, we’re going to look at some of the places Shannon could stay, depending on where she might like to go after visiting Myanmar. I think you’ll be shocked at what we find, in the best of ways.

Happy travels!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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