Date: January 9 – January 28, 2019
Route: YYZ – YVR – LAX – TPE – HKG | HKG – BKK – HND – YVR – YYZ
Booking Class: Business
Total Cost: $189.96 + 150,000 Aeroplan miles
I always take a big-ish trip around January of each year. This is because most banks mandates contractors and consultants to take a total of 10 business days off during the holidays in a bid to save money and give the shareholder’s annual report that little extra bump. It’s not like a lot is happening around then anyway and the bank is not in the business of paying workers to watch YouTube and going home at 3pm (at least that’s what they think).
Whatever the reason, I’m actually glad for the time off and an excuse to go a trip without feeling guilty for missing work.
If you read my Aeroplan booking guide, you will know I wanted to do a round the word trip – using Aeroplan to fly from Toronto to Hong Kong then over Europe and the Atlantic back to Toronto, but several things came up and my friends wanted to do a Japan trip together so it just ended up being a conventional Asia round trip instead.
My original planned routing round the world.
Planning for this trip began sometime around June – not a particularly great time for award availability. I would have rather begin planning almost a year out, when the most award seats are available but trust me when I say it’s difficult to coordinate holidays between multiple friends who all live in separate parts of the world.
Routing for the most part was not too hard to figure out. I wanted to fly EVA air because I’ve read rave reviews about them, and on the return I had to do a stopover in Tokyo. On the return leg I wanted to fly ANA as their fuel surcharge was increasing soon and also got very good reviews.
There was just 2 decisions to make – business class on the BR9 flight from Vancouver to Tapei was fully booked (more details below). I can book premium economy for now and try to upgrade it at closer to departure, or I can plan another route. However, because I had MPM to spare, I decided on a connection in Los Angeles and taking BR15 instead.
Something new I learnt when planning this was that flight times for Vancouver to Taipei is much shorter than LA to Taipei even though Vancouver looks much further to Taipei!
Outbound route from Toronto to Hong Kong
The second decision was how to get from Hong Kong to Tokyo. I could definitely fly direct, but I decided to have some fun and do a little more flying. After half a day at work playing around with different airline routes, MPM and timings, I settled on Bangkok. This would be a short turnaround at BKK and a redeye flight to Tokyo.
Why? Just because I can 🙂
Return route from Hong Kong to Toronto
Putting it all together, both routes are just a few hundred miles under the YYZ-HKG MPM of 10,957. I also used up both of my stopovers on Vancouver and Tokyo; and I will have a 12 hour layover in Taipei to see the city (apparently the airport runs free tours for passengers). In addition, I will get to sample lie flat seats on Air Canada, EVA air, Thai airways and ANA.
Not a terrible redemption in terms of value, right?
This was a super, super frustrating process. This was probably the hardest trip out of all the flights I’ve ever booked – I ran into many issues but I’ll keep it brief and just summarize the main points.
For some reason, not all flights that shows up on Aeroplan/United’s online search engine was available to the agents when I dialed in. After about a week fiddling with routes, researching what to do in each destination and finding flights that give the right times, I originally came up with a route YVR-TPE-BKK-HKG on the outbound. I call in and the agent says the YVR-TPE EVA Air flight had no business availability. Well, wtf – it clearly shows up on UA and even Aeroplan’s own website had it.
No matter how well planned the route is, one single segment with no availability will bring it all crashing down – so it’s back to square one, the drawing board.
Another day or two finding alternatives and routings, I came up with the final route. Note that UA’s site clearly shows all flights has J availability. However, when I call again a few of the short hauls only had economy available.
At this point I was tired and award availability was disappearing before my very eyes so I went ahead and booked. I was pretty sure that the flights actually had J availability and it was just a glitch on Aeroplan’s end. Case in point, I managed to get all the economy flights upgraded to business for free a couple weeks after the initial booking.
And the final icing glitch on this booking. Aeroplan’s own website shows this YVR-LAX-TPE routing but when booking over the phone, the agent said the system doesn’t let her book because of a minimum connection time (MCT) violation. When I told her the website itself shows this, she manually requested it from the ticketing department and it got approved, but now every time I get a segment upgraded (the agent has to re-issue the entire ticket) I have to explain to the agent that this connection is valid.
A couple takeaway and lessons to be learnt here:
1. If you ever run into the problem of ghost availability yourself, you can ask the agent to do a “direct sell“. This is when the agent directly request the particular flight from a partner airline instead of relying on the availability search system.
This is hit or miss because not all agents know what you are talking about and/or are willing – my agent certainly had no idea what I was on about. You will need to hang up and call again until you get a agent who is willing to go above and beyond for you.
If UA and Aeroplan’s search shows a flight with business class availability, chances are that it is actually available. If it’s a short haul flight where the risks or demand aren’t going to be that big, go ahead and book economy then get it upgraded later.
2. I originally wanted a overnight flight from Vancouver back to Toronto, but again ran into ghost availability for business class. The agent suggested a 4pm flight that had business class available and I took it without thinking about it too much.
Then when I got the ticket, I realized the 4pm flight was a regional jet A321 aircraft – where the “business class” seats are not that much different from economy!
This is in comparison with the night flight I originally wanted, with the 777-300 aircraft which have the reverse herringbone pod seats. And to make it worse, the next day when I called in to upgrade the seats I found that my preferred flight was available all along…
Moral of this story: if an agent suggests an alternative, always check the aircraft of that flight to make sure you are not downgrading yourself in terms of the hard product!
Out of Pocket Costs
The total cost of this ticket is $373.06 + $33.9 for the phone booking fee, giving a total cost of $406.96. $186.4 of that is in Carrier Surcharge – coming from the 3 Air Canada flights and from the ANA & Thai Airways flights.
While I obviously rather not to pay any surcharge at all, sub $200 isn’t too bad and if I wanted to visit Vancouver I HAD to fly Air Canada; there’s no other way. Could I have paid less? Definitely – I could have skipped the Bangkok turnaround and flew air china or EVA air back, but I wanted to fly a Japanese airline, so I can live with that extra $80 or so in fees.
I also had about 54,250 TD points lying around for my TD first class travel bonus and I decided to redeem it here using the Book your Travel option at 250 pts = $1 rate.
This gave me another $217 off, bringing my final expense to be $189.96.
This route also costs 150k Aeroplan miles as Hong Kong is my destination (Asia 1).
Earning these miles were all over the place – coming from the CIBC Aerogold business card (30k offer in branch), a couple churns of the old TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite (25k each) and the Amex personal gold card (25k each); and 20-30k miles from past revenue flights. None of these cards have annual fees and I didn’t need to rely on Plastiq to meet the MS, so the 150k miles really were free!
Leg by leg, the flights costs the following on google flights. Adding up it altogether, the total cost is $17,247.
Deducting the $189.96 out of pocket expenses and dividing by the 150k miles needed, this gives me a CPM of 11.37 cents.
Toronto – Vancouver | Business | 777-300 | 3 day stopover
Vancouver – Los Angeles | Business | A321 | 1.5 hr layover
Los Angeles – Taipei | Business | 777-300 | 12 hr layover
Taipei – Hong Kong | Business | A330 | Destination (7 days)
Hong Kong – Bangkok | Business | A330 | 2.5 hr layover
Bangkok – Tokyo | Business | 777-300 | 5 day stopover
Tokyo – Vancouver | Business | 787-900 | 2.5 hr layover
Vancouver – Toronto | Business | A321 | back home!