How I Got a $6,000 First Class Plane Ticket… For 30 bucks

Previously I discussed how I jumped on a massively discounted deal from Priceline.com and got a oneway ticket from New York to Milan, then Prague to Beijing for only $132 including all taxes and fees. I wasn’t sure I could outdo that… But why not try? Here’s how I grabbed my non-stop plane ticket back from China. It’s a first class ticket costing more than six thousand dollars. But I got it for 30 bucks. Stay with me. This will be worth it.

A few days before I was alerted by one of the blogs I follow and immediately jumped at the chance to grab a one way ticket through Europe and ending in Beijing, China. The next morning the deal was still mostly working, (thought for a slightly higher price) and two of my co-workers jumped on the deal as well.

Since then I’d gotten a TON of interest from people about this, “crazy points hobby” that I have. Each time that I snag a great deal or score an inexpensive trip brings a flood of questions from individuals who might have previously been wary of the practice but now have an interest in making it work for themselves. Every new example seems to pique people’s interest even more.

With this recent deal I grabbed a ticket at about 10%-20% of the price of what I would have normally spent. So now the most asked question I’m getting is, “How are you going to get back, and for how much?”

And it’s a great question. That $132 ticket was an unbelievable deal. Even if I grabbed a normally priced ticket back, I’d still be coming out ahead. But what if I didn’t have to grab a normally priced ticket? What if I could get an even better deal than my Priceline trip?

My Priceline, one way ticket was an example of just paying attention and looking for a great deal. I bought the ticket just as I would normally. No points, no miles, no rewards or redemptions.

But for the way back I decided I’d be willing to use some points to see what I was able to lock down. I decided I’d spend about a week in China, most likely close to Beijing. I wanted to be home with family for Thanksgiving on November 27th, wanted to ensure I had a buffer just in case my flight got cancelled or delayed, and absolutely did not want to travel the day before Thanksgiving, often the busiest travel day of the year.

A 14 hour flight and you almost end up arriving before you left

The best option I found was the flight above, leaving Beijing and going non-stop to Newark Airport. There were some other options on different carriers but none fit the criteria I was looking for. Also many had stopovers in Seattle, Los Angeles or even Chicago. With this type of trip, the last thing you want to be doing is traveling 10 hours only to have to stop, de-plane, and wait to board another flight. So the non-stop option was very important.

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I went through the process on United.com and gauged different flight prices. A normal economy ticket came in at just under $970. Not a bad price at all, but still, spending $1,000 is a pretty good amount to drop on a ticket. Combined with my first ticket however and the two would come to exactly $1,100. So a roundtrip plane ticket: New York – Milan (getting to Prague on my own) – Bejing – New York: for $1,100. That’s a pretty amazing deal. Just for fun, I decided to see what the premium seats were going for on this flight. I left in the same search criteria but switched over the economy seating to first class.

While some planes have separate sections for, “First”, “Business” and “Coach,” an increased number of them are calling their First Class, “First/Business” and then creating an “Economy Plus” section. It’s basically a coach or economy section but with some extra leg room. On this plane, a Boeing 777-200, the First class cabin had premium lie flat 180 degree seats. In short that means, “BEDS!” i.e. the ability to lay down fully as if you were sleeping, and then actually sleep.

There’s actually five more rows to this plane not on my screenshot. That’s a lot of people in a very cramped space.

This will be the longest flight I’ve ever taken. And it won’t even be close. Previously I did a flight to Belgium that might have been about 7 hours. This one would be about double that, at 14 hours. Yikes. The thought of sitting upright in a cramped space for 14 hours is not something I’d be looking forward to as I enjoy my trip through Italy, Czech Republic, and China. But $6,000 for a first class ticket? There’s no way I can afford to spend that. Under normal circumstances that would mean I’m forced to grab that economy ticket. After all, I’m still getting a roundtrip ticket for $1,100. I should just be happy with what I’ve got. Right?

Nope. I made the decision as I envisioned 14 hours with having to share the armrest with two other people… I was going to go for it. I was going to fly First Class. This my friends is where the true value of points and miles can be displayed. If you are not yet a believer, then you’ll be hard pressed not to be at least intrigued after reading below.

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I put my ticket purchase on hold and went through the search process on United.com, but this time filling in the radio button for, “Award Travel.” That indicates to the website that you want to redeem points instead of purchasing it outright.

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The next page showed me exactly what it would “cost” me to grab a ticket on this plane across all the different fare classes. In this case I could get a seat in economy for 35,000 reward miles in Saver or 80,000 reward miles in Standard. What’s the difference between the two?  In short, Saver Awards are much fewer in number and therefore require much fewer miles. Standard awards are available much more often, can be booked much closer to your departure date, but therefore take more miles, in this case about double. They are the same ticket however once you get on the plane. So if you can find one available, always grab the Saver Award.

35,000 miles for a seat on a non-stop flight from Beijing to New York would be a good deal. But you know what’s a better deal? 70,000 miles for a FIRST CLASS TICKET from Beijing to New York. I had to blink a couple of times just to make sure, as like I said, there are not a lot of Saver awards made available, especially in premium cabins. On this flight, United had Saver Awards available for First Class tickets. And all it would cost me would be 70,000 miles and a measly $31 in taxes. I don’t know about you, but paying $6,000 vs. paying $30 is pretty much a no-brainer.

The only question now is, how could I make this happen? Stay with me folks. This is going to be worth it.

 

A few months back I picked up the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card. When I got the card the offer was 30,000 miles, which is what the current offer stands at. About a month ago however, Chase upped their promotion to 50,000 miles if you spent $3,000 in the first 3 months instead of just $1,000. (I’ve been told you can still get the 50,000 mile offer if you physically apply in a Chase branch.)

It never hurts to ask, so I called into Chase and asked if they’d put me in for the 50,000 promo if I agreed to spend the extra $2,000. They agreed and  gave me the extra 20,000 miles. The card has an annual fee but it’s waived the first year. So these 50,000 miles were completely free, costing me only the inquiry on my credit report. Along with this card, I’d flown United flights in the past and used shopping portals to add additional United miles. All together I had about 60,000 United bonus miles in my account. So I was about 10,000 miles/points short of the 70,000 I needed.

But this is why having a stake in different points programs is so important, especially those with points transferrable to different programs. Also a few months back, I’d grabbed the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The current bonus is 40,000 points and the fee is waived the first year. So again this is quite a lot of points that you’re getting, absolutely for free. What’s unique about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is that instead of specifically earning miles for a program like United or Delta or American, you can transfer the points earned with this card to 11 different partners, among airlines, hotels and even Amtrak. One of the partners is United Airlines.

Ultimate-Rewards-Singapore

The program just added Singapore Airlines as a partner as well.

The process is simple. I login to my Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, select the partner I want to transfer points to, and make the transfer. It’s a 1:1 ratio, so 10,000 Ultimate Rewards Points equals 10,000 United miles.

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Depending on which program you select, the transfer can take a day or two. I was expecting to have to wait a business day or two, but in this case the process was almost instantaneous. just 10 minutes later they were in the account. I transferred over 10,000 points and I now had the 70,000 miles needed in my United account. It was time to complete the deal.

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I shot back over to United.com and selected the Saver Award. Still available, I completed the purchase.

A $6,000 first class non-stop plane ticket from China… for 30 bucks? That’s the type of story you tell the grandkids. There was no way I couldn’t pull the trigger on this one.

So I did.

Five minutes later, I had my confirmation. A first class ticket from Beijing to New York, priced at $6,041, in my hand for just $31 dollars and rewards points. The points I’d earned came at absolutely no cost. That means I’d just gotten a first class ticket for a 14 hour flight from China and saved $6,000 on what the ticket would have cost me out of pocket. I don’t drink champagne, but I might just have to accept the complimentary glasses they’ll provide me, if even just to look at it and celebrate.

As I’ve said many times, it does NOT have to be expensive to travel. Pretty much everyone says they want to travel, at least once in a while, but is turned off by how expensive they think it is. If you’re daydreaming about that vacation you want to take but just don’t have the money for, put a plan together and see how you can make it happen. Trust me. You can make it happen.

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38 Comments

  1. Ang
    May 30, 2014 / 9:45 am

    Hi there! Found your blog from MMS! Great deal! I got in on this too, but I am going to NRT instead (BUD to NRT). Are you planning to get a visa for Beijing? I wonder if the 72 hour free transit visa works here. I was tempted to do Beijing too since I’ve never been to China, but like you, I want to be home for Thanksgiving and I didn’t want to pay X amount for a visa for only a few days so I opted for NRT.

    Also, I would X out your united confirmation/eticker number in case there are any malicious people online that might want to mess with your reservation. I think a reader on One Mile at a Time messed with his bookings a while back.

    • Steve Bierfeldt
      May 30, 2014 / 10:24 am

      Congratulations Ang! I looked at NRT as well. I think so for Beijing yes, as I understand it the 72 hour visa doesn’t work. Plus I decided to stay in China for a week. Great advice on the ticket. You’re right, I fixed it. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Camin Vall
    May 30, 2014 / 11:29 am

    Isn’t it a little misleading to say it only cost $30? The opportunity cost of say 70,000 ultimate reward points would be around $700 in statement credit. 70,000 United miles could (on the low end) 1.5 round trips btw New York to San Fancisco. Value of about $500+

    Just my two cents.

    It was a awesome deal overrall.

  3. J.
    May 30, 2014 / 12:28 pm

    I’m going for Thanksgiving on that deal. I didn’t do quite so well as you cause I’m traveling with husband and 3 kids, but I was also in the market for RTW and saving 150,000 AA miles X 5 to do RTW could never happen. (+ I guess you can’t do it anymore due to recent changes) I haven’t been “home” for Thanksgiving in 20 years so I don’t really care about that. LOL Have FUN!!

    • Steve Bierfeldt
      May 30, 2014 / 1:04 pm

      Great to hear J. Glad you got in on the deal!

  4. Soosie
    May 30, 2014 / 12:35 pm

    Great info! I found your site from MMS. Is it possible for you to put the date your article is posted near the title? I didn’t know if it was a recent or old.

    • Steve Bierfeldt
      May 30, 2014 / 1:05 pm

      Thanks Soosie! The date posts from the main page, though looks like it may not show if you link directly to the post. I’ll check it out!

  5. Jaosn
    May 31, 2014 / 2:22 am

    good writing, like your blog.
    I really wish I can travel at that time,
    As a student, whenever I have time, there won’t be such deal.
    I have 110K UA miles, but haven’t find a chance to use it.

    By the way, if you need any advice in Beijing, let me know. I am from China,so I know a lot,lol. I stayed in Shanghai before I came to the US.

  6. Jason
    May 31, 2014 / 7:09 pm

    I found your site from MMS and I really love it! subscribed and bookmarked it, now you have a new fan (me!) 🙂
    Love the blog, positive and informative contents…..keep it going strong! We will support you!

    • Steve Bierfeldt
      May 31, 2014 / 8:17 pm

      Thanks!

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