In part one of this report I recounted a great award booking – even though it was all in economy and on small planes – to the Canadian Maritime provinces. Part two will cover my exploitation of the bmi Diamond Club program and their quite flexible routing and award zone rules.
It all started with plans to visit Bangkok in July for a friend’s wedding. With Thai Air still operating their incredibly long LAX-BKK flight I figured it would be nice to get a change to fly that route. Plus I have never been on the Airbus A340-500 so that’s an added bonus. It turns out that Thai has had a TON of award inventory available for westbound travel but nothing available coming back east. Turns out that isn’t much of a problem for me as I’ve turned a long weekend in Thailand into a RTW ticket adventure.
By sheer coincidence a friend of mine is going to be in Capetown, South Africa the week after the wedding. And I have the points available so why not? Even better is that the award cost from Thailand to South Africa is pretty cheap with Diamond Club. Oh, and I am flying via Mumbai, flying in on Thai and out on South African Airways. South African operates the A340-200 on the route which is also new to me.
And then I needed to get home from South Africa. This is where the Diamond Club rules become VERY favorable if you’re willing (or wanting!) a bit of an adventure. Most carriers only permit North Atlantic crossings for that award. Diamond Club permits South Atlantic crossings, too. So I’m taking one. Award seats form Johannesburg to Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo are pretty readily available.
Seats from there back north are a bit harder but I found some availability with Air Canada from Santiago to Toronto. Getting from Toronto to New York City is pretty easy with a ton of frequencies and a couple airports to choose from. To get from Buenos Aires to Santiago there is really only Star Alliance routing. It just so happens to leave 40 minutes before the flight from Johannesburg arrives. So I have a 23 hour 20 minute connection in Argentina. That’ll be fun.
So I’ve made it back to New York City and I’m home. That’s the end, right? Not for me. Diamond Club considers Puerto Rico part of their South America/Caribbean zone. And award flights from South Africa to South America are less expensive than those to North America. Based on straight geography that sortof makes sense – it should be fewer total miles flown – but getting to Puerto Rico can only be done via North America with the existing partners and routes. So I have a stopover in New York (one stopover is free on the bmi award) and then, two months later, a flight in first class from Newark to San Juan. It was actually many fewer miles to take the extra flight. Plus, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to get back to Puerto Rico, possibly in daylight this time. Given that the flight down there is better than free, I see no reason to skip that bit.
And all the flights save two short ones are in business class. All but one of the lines are new and a few of the aircraft are, too. All for under 200,000 Diamond Club points. I could’ve done it as cash & points for even fewer but I’m trying to use up my stash and this is a great way to do it.
The booking process was bit more frustrating than I generally enjoy, partly because my Skype connection was flaking out but mostly because the agents at the Diamond Club call center don’t have the best grasp of geography nor of the rules of their program. They initially tried to charge me 5 separate awards rather than the three I booked and all at higher rates than I should have paid. Fortunately I was able to eventually get a supervisor to understand and put it in correctly, but that was two extra hours of annoyance on the phone that I didn’t really need. Still, at the end of the day, completely worth it for this trip. Retail value on the ticket is somewhere north of $10,000; getting it on points for the routes and dates I wanted is just phenomenal.