As I wrote about yesterday, American Express will be cutting their awesome 50% premium airfare rebate down to a 35% points credit. Since my family has a large quantity of stored up American Express Membership Rewards points, we began looking at ways to spend these on premium tickets and get the 50% back before the benefit is cut.
Since tickets booked using the American Express rebate are classified as revenue tickets (basically you give AmEx your points and they buy the ticket for you), we were hoping to spend our points on an airline where we could earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. Our original plan was to book a cheap fare on Hainan from Los Angeles to Changsha (fares were running at a little over 1800 dollars, with paid business on Hainan earns elite qualifying miles at a rate of 200% of miles flown and earning redeemable miles at a rate of 325% of miles flown, thanks to our 125% MVP Gold 75k elite bonus), but these fares ended up disappearing just as we were about to book them.
We began thinking of other Alaska partners with cheap business class fares, and ended up looking into fares on Condor. Condor, the German leisure airline and subsidiary of the Thomas Cook group (but a member of the Lufthansa Miles and More program), is an Alaska partner as of a couple months ago and flies to numerous smaller cities in the United States, including my home town of San Diego. They also are known for offering cheap business class fares, with many routes having fares below 2000 dollars roundtrip.
Long story short, after much searching, we found a fare between Austin, Texas and Condor’s Frankfurt hub for $1710 roundtrip in business class. Since, when paying for tickets with Membership Rewards points, one point equals one cent, this fare would have cost 171,000 Membership Rewards points round-trip per person. Fortunately, earning Membership Rewards points is pretty easy thanks to sign-up bonuses, special AmEx offers, promotions, and everyday spend, so having enough points to pay that price wasn’t hard. Moreover, we’d get about 85,000 (equivalent to 850 dollars) points back thanks to the 50% rebate. In the end, such a ticket would only cost 85,005 points roundtrip, plus taxes and fees.
However, we encountered a serious problem when we went on AmEx’s website to book the flight. When searching for flights between Austin and Frankfurt on the relevant dates (July 6-20), Condor didn’t show up in the results. We looked into it, and it turns out not all airlines are displayed on the AmEx website as being available for redemption. So, does this mean that some airlines are just unbookable, or they just don’t show up on the website? We called AmEx to find out.
It turned out that flights on Condor were bookable. The agent never explained why they didn’t show up on the website, but I’m not complaining because 30 minutes later we had paid tickets for Condor business class between Austin and Frankfurt. Awesome!
We’re still looking into connecting flights to Austin, but right now I’ve got my eye on a sub-250 dollar fare from San Diego to Dallas-Love Field via San Francisco on Virgin America, which would earn a good amount of Alaska miles. How to get from Dallas to Austin is to be determined (though we’ll probably end up renting a car on the cheap).
The flight is operated by a 767-300ER, Condor’s principle longhaul aircraft, which features angled lie-flat seats (with 170 degrees of recline, so they come pretty close to lie-flat) in a 2-2-2 configuration. It’s not the most up-to-date product in the world, but for the price we paid I’m certainly not complaining.
After getting the tickets, we began to think of what to do in Europe. Interestingly enough, LATAM (the amalgamation of the Chilean airline LAN and the Brazilian airline TAM) operates nonstop flights between Frankfurt and Madrid using Boeing 787-9’s as a tag-on flight back to Santiago. Fares in business class on this route are an insanely cheap ~236 roundtrip. That’s only slightly more than the economy fares, and you’re getting an excellent forward-facing lie-flat product, even if you only have a little over two hours to enjoy it.
We’re waiting to see how long the 50% rebate takes to post, seeing as we hope to use the rebated points to book the LATAM flights. However, AmEx has stated as of a little over a week ago that these refunds should now take 6-10 weeks to post (this was done because, apparently, lots of people were booking tickets, waiting the few hours for the rebate to post, and then cancelling the ticket. AmEx refunded the price of the ticket, but didn’t take the rebated points back, so this was basically getting 50% more points at no extra cost… clever but unethical, IMHO). If the rebate takes to long to post, we’ll just pay the very reasonable ticket cost out of pocket, such that these amazing fares don’t go away.
I’m super excited about this trip. I’m really excited about flying Condor for the first time, as well as the miles we’ll earn for it. But, as always, the point of this trip is the destination. I’ve never been to Spain, so that should be really fun, and we might even drive over to Portugal (another country I haven’t yet visited) and visit Lisbon. This whole trip was an incredible deal, and I am very much looking forward to it.