Maximizing Frequent Flyer Awards in Asia

Update: Unfortunately United has devalued their award chart since I wrote this post and the awards mentioned are no longer available. The only lesson is earn and burn your miles, after all the only guarantee is that they will devalue!

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

In a previous thread I explained how we built our upcoming itinerary on frequent flyer tickets but I wanted to highlight a one of the awards a little more carefully.United's "South Asia" to "South Asia"  return is  currently a great value at 35,000 miles in Business, and 25,000  in economy. You don't want to use it for short hops or routes where you could utilize low cost carriers like Air Asia, but it's a great addition to an itinerary as it opens up almost anywhere in  Asia for a very reasonable number of miles. Unfortunately this award is soon to die an ignoble death and to be reborn on the new 'Partner award chart" at United costing twice the miles in Feb 2014.
One of the great advantages of this award  is that you can currently combine a double open jaw and a stopover. This allows for some truly fabulous routings giving you three separate flights. So what is a double open jaw and a stopover? Essentially it's a one way combined with a traditional  open jaw, all for the cost of a return award. 

Here are the three legs we originally booked;

  • Dhaka to Bangkok nonstop on Thai Airlines. Therefore Bangkok  is the stopover and the first open jaw. From here we'll use Air Asia for a short, cheap hop Bangkok to Mandalay.
  • Our next award  flight is from Rangoon (Burma) to Denpasar in Bali, via Singapore on Singapore Airlines. 
  • The final flight takes us from Denpasar, via Singapore to Kuala Lumpur again on Singapore Airlines. Denpasar is the destination, Bangkok the stopover and Kuala Lumpur the second open jaw. 

When you deal with this type of complicated ticketing United's website is great for checking availability, but often gives you an error message when you try to book online. I'd recommend using the phone, if the agent doesn't know what you're talking about when you mutter, "double open jaw with a stopover" hang up and start again Not everyone knows in detail how these rules can be worked. Initially we had wanted to fly Denpasar to Penang on our final leg. However, the only Star Alliance carrier to fly this route is Thai Airways through Bangkok and one important caveat with this kind of ticket is that you can't transit back through  your stop over city, which in our case was of course Bangkok. 

If you want to find the definite source on this topic  head over to the following thread on Flyertalk, which will explain more than you ever needed to know about maximizing stopovers and double open jaws.

You could go far further afield as  United defines the "South Asia" region as all of the following; Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau,  Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Essentially you need to pay attention to the  airlines' definition of the regions as it's not what you might assume. It's a little disconcerting as we normally think of "South Asia" as defining the Indian subcontinent but United categorizes South East Asia as "South Asia" and India and Pakistan as "Central Asia" along with all the stans. Yes, this means they've finally reclassified Turkmenistan which  we visited on Lufthansa when  they classified it as Europe!

Yes, it's all a carbon footprint dystopia, but it can add enormous flexibility and possibility to your itinerary planning. For me awards like this are fun and a vital travel tool.

P.S. I wrote this to post while we were traveling but as the song says, "life happens while you are busy making other plans." So there we were in Abu Dhabi with these fabulous tickets and a change of plan, I really hadn't anticipated how much flexibility and possibility we would need!  We cancelled our trip to Dhaka because of violence around the elections and that meant we needed to call United to change the itinerary. While it was a fuss getting hold of them, I sometimes forget the true value of a frequent flyer tickets is that you can change it. A couple of calls later, two $50 close in booking fees paid and we had changed the first leg to Colombo, Sri Lanka to Bangkok. The rest of the itinerary remained the same and we will be getting full value out of these miles!

More later on Sri Lanka, Bangkok and Burma but for now I'll be catching up on blogposts on Rome while we travel.