There are lots of different ways to maximize the value of award redemptions. Some folks look only at the cash value of the ticket were it purchased directly. Others look at the cabin of travel. Or the total distance covered. Or the number of points required.
I’ve used all of those metrics at one point or another, but my most recent redemption doesn’t hit on any of them. The goal of this particular redemption was to maximize the number of cities I could visit on a single one-way redemption. Officially the rules say a one-way award can have only a starting point and an ending point. I’ll be visiting four different cities on my current schedule.
I’m taking full advantage of the fact that a connection on an international itinerary is defined as anything less than 24 hours in the same city. Combine that with the relatively short travel distances in Europe and it turns out that there are a lot of ways to hop scotch across the continent without paying all that much extra. Here’s what my trip looks like:
Flying from Stockholm to Istanbul is a hair under 1400 miles; my routing is 1855. Not all that much longer in total travel distance but I’ll be spreading my travel out over 4 days rather than just a few hours. Stops are currently scheduled in Berlin (20 hours), Ljubljana (22), Skopje (23) and Istanbul (destination). Only one of the hops requires a connection – 30 minutes in Munich. I also get to fly some fun aircraft types and a new (to me) airline, along with new airports and countries. Not too shabby for only 12,500 points plus about $100 in taxes.
Building the award was surprisingly easy. I started by looking at flight timetables and route networks for the various Star Alliance carriers in Europe. The goal was to find mid-day flights that would allow me to get between cities while there was still a bit of daylight but also to be able to wake up each morning at a reasonable hour rather than silly early. Avoiding the early morning flights also makes it easier to actually keep the 23ish hour connections alive as the earlier flights make it harder and harder to stack the flights.
Once I had a framework for the trip I searched out the award inventory directly using ANA‘s website. Every single flight I wanted had award inventory available. With the specific flights in hand I called the reservations line at Continental. I fed the flights to the agent one at a time and when she pressed the magic "go" button it priced correctly automatically. No need to go through manual pricing or anything else for this one; we were both quite surprised at that. But it is booked and confirmed.
Now I just need to get my flight to Stockholm and home from Istanbul booked. But that should be easy, right??