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This is how I used Alaska Miles to snag Qantas First to Australia, Cathay Biz to Hong Kong, and Cathay First back to the States for 2 people.
I recently visited Australia and absolutely loved it. The weather, culture, people, food, beaches, it’s all pretty incred. I’d long thought of how I would fly if I could construct the ideal itinerary. What I REALLY wanted to do was fly there in Qantas First, and fly back through Hong Kong with a stopover, spend a few days in Hong Kong, and finish the trip off with a grand finale: Cathay First Class into the States. I’m a BIG believer in visualization ( I have another post coming on that), but I’d seen myself taking these flights for quite some time, as in where I wanted to sit, toasting Krug. etc, etc.
Then the trip needed to happen. I started scouring Alaska for inventory and sure enough, 2 First Class seats opened up on Qantas. We snagged them with Alaska Miles. Suddenly, the first part of the trip I’d envisioned was set into motion. In all honesty, there was a part of me that knew the rest would fall perfectly into place. I could just feel it, and it was a similar feeling to when I did the $125k trip around the world for my mom’s bday.
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
Knowing how airlines release seats is one of the cornerstones of landing your dream flights.
- I’ve studied how Cathay releases inventory to partners for a long time. 14, 10, 3, 1. That’s the pattern.
I needed to plan to swoop into the ideal seats while we were on the trip, but I always advise a back up plan. I like to put bumpers on my trips, meaning I book a worse case scenario with low change cost. If the avail just doesn’t happen, you still have a good way home, just not the absolute best. Since I’m Alaska MVPG75 I knew that we could change our tickets fee free. I also knew we’d be adjusting our routing as inventory was made available.
We ideally wanted to fly direct from Brisbane to Hong Kong in business, stopover 3 nights, and then fly direct from Hong Kong to LA in First. Securing this for two people was going to be very tricky. We were flexible in our stopover, so I used this to our advantage.
8 weeks out I started checking every day.
About 6 weeks prior to departure, Cathay inventory opened up from Sydney to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to San Francisco – all in business class with a 2 night stopover in Hong Kong. Not our ideal itinerary, but as a worst case scenario, it was pretty awesome. There are also a ton of flights between SFO and LAX on Alaska metal so we wouldn’t have a problem getting home.
Our bumper routing would look like this: BNE-SYD-HKG-SFO-LAX
We would have to buy one way flights to Sydney, get a hotel for the night, but worst case…we had biz all the way back. I tracked the hotel cost and one way flight prices as I continued to track the options we really wanted, but held off buying anything.
Lately I’ve also noticed a new trend. If there is a lot of open seating in your desired cabin, and there isn’t any space available to one of their partners, check using Asia Miles. What I found with our first leg from Australia to Hong Kong was that 1 seat from BNE to HKG appeared avail to Asia Miles, then 2 seats, and about a week/week and half later ( roughly 3 weeks prior to departure) both seats were available to Alaska.
I was able to re-book our Sydney to Hong Kong flight to Brisbane to Hong Kong aboard their new A350. This saved us having to route to Sydney, get a hotel, and be up super early. It also put us on a new plane, the new biz seat, and direct routing.
Now our routing looked like this: BNE-HKG-SFO-LAX
Securing that first leg was amazing, and it meant I could focus on streamlining our flights home. The top priority for me was landing First Class between HKG and LAX as my girlfriend had never experienced it, but we wanted to be on the same flight and fly direct. I thought, worst case maybe we can switch from the San Fran routing to a direct flight into LAX, and if just one seat opens up in first I could put her in it.
Sure enough, about 2.5 weeks prior to the flight, right after we’d arrived in Australia, 2 seats in business class opened up on a direct flight from HKG to LAX. I called and rebooked us.
Still we had just 2 nights in Hong Kong, but this positioned us well if a single seat opened up in First. Typically, Cathay releases seats one at a time, and even if 2 are available on BA, they may not be avail to Alaska.
Now our routing looked like BNE-HKG-LAX all in business
Magically, 10 days out, 2 seats opened up on 2 different flights from Hong Kong to LA in FIRST CLASS. What’s even more astonishing is that they were for flights permitting us a 3 night stopover. Exactly what we had originally wanted. I called in to Alaska to change the flight once again, hoping, focusing, willing both seats to be avail to Alaska. Not a bad place to find the space…
Sure enough…they were all avail to Alaska. How bout them apples!
Our final itinerary
Outbound: LAX-MEL in Qantas First, MEL to SYD in Qantas Business.
Inbound: BNE-HKG-LAX. BNE-HKG in Business. 3 night stopover. HKG to LAX in First
Over $40k in value. How many miles did this all cost?
- The Qantas flights from LAX to MEL to SYD were 70k a person +$42.
- The Cathay flights from BNE-HKG-LAX were 80k +$135
150k total per person, and roughly $180 in surcharges. Helluva deal if you ask me.
Affiliate link via Card Ratings
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great starter card that earns Premium Ultimate Rewards that can be transferred into over a dozen partners many of which are US based.
60k Points after $4k spend in 3 months
Transferrable Chase Ultimate Rewards
If you carry this card alongside Chase’s cashback cards like the Chase Freedom Flex℠and Chase Freedom Unlimited® or the business versions: Ink Business Cash , Ink Business Unlimited you can combine the points into Preferred account and transfer into hotel and airline partners
Annual fee is quite low at $95 a year + you get a 10% anniversary bonus on points + $50 hotel credit in Chase travel.
- 3x on dining
- including eligible delivery services for takeout
- 3x on select streaming services
- 3x on online grocery purchases
- (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
- 5x on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards – Chase Travel Portal
- $50 Annual Credit on hotel stays purchased via Ultimate Rewards/Chase Travel
- The begins immediately for new cardmembers and after your account anniversary for existing cardmembers
- 10% Anniversary Bonus
- Every year you keep the card, your total spend will yield a 10% points bonus. If you spend $10k in a year, you’ll get 1k bonus points
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® continues to redeem at 1.25c in the Chase Travel Portal and the slew of other benefits remain in tact including primary rental car insurance, purchase protections, etc.
- Points are transferrable to 13 Ultimate Rewards partners
- Redeem in the Chase Travel center for 1.25 cents per point
- No foreign transaction fees
- Suite of Travel and Purchase Coverage
- Primary rental car coverage is my favorite
We keep an up to date spreadsheet that lists the best ever offers: You can find that spreadsheet here.
Historically 80k is a very, very good offer and hit in both 2022 and 2023. In 2021, we saw the offer hit an all time high of 100k. Who knows if that will ever come back.
Cards that earn flexible points and should be used on the bulk of your purchases.
Cards that earn fixed points in the currency of the airline/hotel and can not be transferred at attractive rates. These cards yield benefits that make it worth keeping, but not necessarily worth putting a lot of your everyday spend on.