Asiana a380 Seoul to Los Angeles
Visiting Thailand and the island of Koh Samui
Back in 2013 United Airlines announced a major devaluation of their frequent flier award program. It was a sad day for me because I loved their program and it was generous. For example you could fly in first class to South Asia via Europe from anywhere in the US for 75k miles one way, now 130k on partner airlines. Also if you booked a roundtrip (double the points) you could include a stopover of any length anywhere along the way plus and open jaw. In plain English this means you could fly from LA to Singapore stopover in Paris for as long as you want and then continue to Singapore. Then when you fly home you could fly from say Thailand and go back to the U.S. via Europe again. Also you could make a total of 10 connections and on those connections stay up to 23 hours 59 minutes in each connection city. There’s no other airline that let you do this as far as I know.
So back in middle 2013, they announce not only the increase in mileage to book a ticket but also a separate chart for partner airlines in the Star Alliance, effectively making many trips cost double what they used to. Also they cut down on the amount of connections you could make and are now limiting it to four in any direction. Sadly UA was just making their mileage program similar to other airlines programs, it’s just hard to swallow this kind of devaluation. So with that pending devaluation, I had till January 31st, 2014 to book something and something spectacular. No reason to waste my miles flying to New York or LA, when you could really maximize your miles.
So I proceeded to look for places in SE Asia, Africa and Oceana that would be fun to go and also had award space too book in first class, plus it had to be for only one week. Being our 10th anniversary I wanted to do something special, and since it was an adult only trip, I had lots of flexibility. Ultimately I decided I wanted to fly around the world and that forced us to book two separate awards. United doesn’t allow crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic on the same award. I finally settled on Koh Samui, mainly because it looked to have an amazing Conrad Hotel there, and the island looked quiet and peaceful. Yes I am a hotel snob too. So with the help of the United website, the ANA (All Nippon Airlines award tool) and Expertflyer I was able to cobble together and acceptable itinerary. United has a decent award tool, but it doesn’t show all partner airlines, plus it doesn’t necessarily show all options. I find when I search for my desired option, it won’t come up so I have to pick an intermediary point. An example would be I want to fly to Bangkok from SFO, so I start with that simple option and I get a slew of choices but notice that it even gives me two that cross either the Pacific or Atlantic. But if I didn’t find my desired option then I might try flying out of Dallas, New York or Toronto since that will give me other possible options, and then work backwards. As always the hardest segment to find is the long haul one across the ocean. It’s also helpful to search partner hubs too. So I might try SFO to Narita (Japan), ANA’s hub and United’s too. Also since UA won’t always show all partner flights (they block Singapore), I find ANA will show the same and other options too. So having access to their website which is free is also a plus. You must create a frequent flier account and then search for a direct ANA flight combo first, but once you do that you can then search for partner flights too. Lastly Expertflier might give even a third set up options.
In my case I finally settled on UA SFO-London; Lufthansa London-Munich; Thai Munich-Bangkok and also onwards to Koh Samui. Since this will never show up as a natural option on any of the basic searches I mentioned above I had to search segment by segment and then call UA to book. Their site could not make this one work, w/out charging me for two awards one to Europe and one to Asia from Europe. This was not my ideal itinerary, but at the time it was the only option, and I knew that with 11 months from booking to traveling and schedule changes I might find a better option, plus if I did find a better one, I could call in and change. UA was kind enough to let people edit existing award itineraries and not charge the new redemption rate, if it was booked prior. Fast forward six months and sure enough there was a schedule change and we now misconnected in Munich by over four hours, in fact our connecting flight no longer existed. So I did some research again found a better itinerary and called UA to resolve. I found that if we could fly direct to Frankfurt we could catch the Thai Airways a380 in first class. But there was no award space to Frankfurt direct from SFO, and if I was going to make a change I didn’t want to fly to London first. So when I called UA I asked if they would open up two first class award seats on their direct flight. They can do this, but don’t always. In my case they did and we were now set. They modified out trip and put us on the direct to Frankfurt and then the direct to Bangkok on the a380, which had award space available already. Score one for me!
As for the return I had booked Thai from Koh Samui to Bangkok onwards to Seoul; then Asiana to LA and lastly United to SFO. I picked that route because I always wanted to try Asiana in first class and they only offer that to LA not SFO. Otherwise it was just plain hard to find any other first class product across the Pacific. As luck would have it mid-July or August, Asiana announced that they would be moving this route from the 744 to the a380 as well, so we were in for a real treat two a380’s on the trip. Yippee.
Lastly as is my obsession, I continued to look for other options, primarily Lufthansa first class. They apparently offer a really outstanding product but limit first class award space to partner airlines till 14 days prior to departure. And to that point not all routes will have that space open. There have been times they have had space open more than 14 days out but it’s not that common. So with 14 days out I would look 2-3x per day on all the North American routes. Yes I can get OCD about things. Then finally with 36 hours to go I finally found to seats on the same flight to Frankfurt. I had seen many routes with one seat, but we did want to fly together. So with a quick 10 minute call I was able to dump our SFO-Frankfurt segment on UA and move to SFO-Seattle on UA and then Lufthansa to Frankfurt. My persistence paid out.
Here’s our final routing:
SFO-Seattle (UA Coach)
Seattle-Frankfurt (Lufthansa First)
Frankfurt-Bangkok (Thai First)
Bangkok-Koh Samui and return (Thai Business)
Bangkok-Seoul (Asiana Business)
Seoul-LAX (Asiana First)
LAX-SFO (United Coach)