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As promised, I want to continue to share my plans and tips regarding getting to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Individual event tickets went on sale in February, and I was able to lock in some events I am pretty excited about. Once upon a time I had a hotel reserved on points, but that got canceled due to the “International Olympic Committee” regulations, or something like that. I was compensated in points for that cancellation, but that does leave me still without a hotel.
I will do another post about hotels in the future, but the summary is that hotels will likely be the hardest part. As far as I can tell none of the traditional chain hotels are accepting regular reservations on cash or points for the Olympics at this time. There are many more hotels that will be completed throughout the course of 2013 as there is tons of construction still going on. I expect that rooms that were not sold via package deals or needed for official Olympic purposes will be released for regular booking at some point late in 2013, but that is a guess, not a fact. I’m not too concerned at this point, but I do know that hotels will be harder to come by than they were for me in London…and they are a key piece of getting your visa.
However, hotels are a post for another day. Today I want to point out that we are just about to the airline booking window for the Olympics with many airlines. For example, I am seeing good availability in economy and business on some Turkish flights into Istanbul from the US in early February. Turkish Airlines is in the Star Alliance and you can book flights using United miles. The Olympic events start on February 6th and the Opening Ceremony is February 7th.
Of course, the booking calendar for the return flights is not yet open, so that will mean you have a decision to make. Do you go ahead and lock in the available outbound flights as one-ways (if permitted by your award program of choice), or do you roll the dice and wait until your return date is also available and book as a round trip? This is important as with many programs, like United, you can do many more “fancy” things with your itinerary when booking as a round trip as opposed to a one-way. For example, with a round trip award ticket booked via United I would have the ability to build in up to one stopover and two open-jaws. Stopover means you stay in one city along the way for a while. Open-jaw means flying into one city and out of another.
This would also allow you to build in the infamous “free one-way” award on United that Milevalue discusses in detail on the linked post. However, if you book two one-ways instead of a round trip then you are missing out on a chance to really maximize the award. So, an option is to book the outbound as a one-way now, and then try to call in and get it changed to add the return segment at a later time. One of the big reasons I went for elite status with United last year is so that I can make changes like that for free. If you don’t have status, then that sort of change will likely cost you some in fees. It might still be worth it to some, depending on what you are getting by paying the change fee.
Even if you just book as two one-ways, it really isn’t a bad thing in this case as this is the Olympics. This is a time where some of the normal “rules” surrounding using miles and points don’t totally apply. Just securing the flight you want on miles is a big victory. Don’t get too upset if it isn’t maximized to the nth degree.
Once you start playing with flights a bit you may quickly realize that flying all the way into Sochi on miles may not be possible. I have been focusing primarily on Star Alliance and flying Turkish Airlines. They do offer flights from Istanbul to Sochi, but they only operate on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. To make things more exciting the flight from Istanbul to Sochi leaves just after midnight and arrives around 3AM in Russia. Fun?! Technically it can be booked on United miles and an award from say Houston to Istanbul to Sochi doesn’t cost any more miles than a flight from just Houston to Istanbul. But…right now I see no availability on the Istanbul to Sochi segment for any date even close to the Olympics. The last date I see is around Christmas 2013. Availability may get better later, or it may not. It is also very possible that the flight schedule will increase as we get closer to the Olympics. Again, you have the option of waiting until your “perfect” award itinerary is available, or pulling the trigger now and amending it later or just booking the final segment separately with either cash or miles.
If you want to fly in or out via a different city like Moscow, then there are some different options. To throw in some OneWorld options, you can use Avios to fly from Moscow to Sochi on S7 for just 7,500 Avios one-way plus some minimal taxes. February is also “off peak” time to Europe via American Airlines, so if you are willing to fly economy, it is just 20,000 miles each way to Russia (though the booking window is not quite open yet via American).
Personally, I am a pretty lame gambler, so I am locking in one-ways to a nearby major city, and then will consider adding onward flights to Sochi if available later and/or converting the tickets to a round trip in the future, if possible. This won’t be the best course of action for everyone, but it is the best one for me right now. Whatever your course of action is going to be, just be aware that depending on when you want to go, the booking window for flights is either open, or very close to opening.
How is the planning process going for everyone else who is looking to cheer their country on in Russia next year?