When I was traveling in Asia last week with my sister, we were fortunate to fly out on Cathay Pacific in first class. The route from SFO to HKG was a great choice: Katherine lives in the Bay Area, and it’s one of the few where Cathay still operates a Boeing 747. Unfortunately we didn’t have any way to get home.
I kept coming up short as I looked for award space back to the U.S. Eventually the same route back opened up, with a great early afternoon departure that would give us time to take the ferry back from Macau and spend some time in The Wing first class lounge. Not only that, but it meant more time in first class on the 747. The agent even had seat 1K available in the nose!
One problem: I didn’t have quite enough miles for two first class tickets.
I couldn’t hold the seats for long; the agent told me 24 hours because we were less than two weeks before departure. (I also didn’t want to delay this anymore.) I could have downgraded my sister to business class and booked her ticket through her account, but it would have triggered a booking fee because she doesn’t have elite status. Not to mention I’d be a bad brother.
I needed just 8,000 more miles in my account to book two tickets home, and it looked like I was going to have to buy them. American Airlines wanted to charge $220 plus taxes and fees, which seemed like a huge rip off. But it really does drive home the purpose of buying miles. Topping off an account for a high-value award can be worth paying a premium. Aside from a few outliers like Club Carlson, US Airways, and Avianca, it isn’t normal to buy points and miles in the hundreds of thousands.
The biggest issue was that I didn’t know how long it would take to deposit. The purchase site is operated by Points.com, and they warn it could take 24 to 72 hours — long past my hold’s expiration.
Fortunately I had the good sense to ask the agent if there was any way to speed this along. There is.
As long as you have the confirmation number for the points purchase, American has a procedure in place to expedite the transaction. I’m not sure if they actually deposit the miles right away, but my guess is they just zero out the account and let it dip into the negative for a brief period. At least my account showed zero, and then when the miles posted the next day (a few more than I needed) it all worked out.
Because the agent was able to process it immediately, I was able to make the purchase right then on my laptop while I spoke to her on the phone from Hong Kong. She then paused to expedite the transaction before continuing to process the award.
One other plus: Because my sister did have some miles, it made more sense to share them with me rather than purchase them from American. I almost never share miles. It’s still expensive, and you’re buying miles a friend or family member already earned. It makes more sense to just ask them to book a ticket for you from their account sometime in the future. But we didn’t have the luxury of time right then, and as I said, it would have triggered a $75 booking fee to book directly through her account.
So we transferred those 8,000 miles, taking advantage of a bonus promotion that continues through June 30. (Again, I was being conservative because we weren’t sure if the 2,000 bonus miles would be part of the expedited process.) We saved money, avoided a booking fee, got to fly first class, and earned extra miles.
We were again warned of a three-day delay, but with the agent’s help we were able to book right then and received confirmation emails for our tickets within 24 hours.
I’ve never run into this before at another airline, but then I’ve never had this predicament. Certainly American Airlines doesn’t advertise it unless you ask. If anyone else knows of an airline that expedites the purchase of extra miles to complete an award, I’d appreciate if you could provide some details in a comment.