In my previous post about scuba diving with sharks in Palau, I gave an example award flight you could take through the South Pacific using United miles.
A reader then asked: (I am paraphrasing their words)
Can you please walk us through how you booked the United island hopping itinerary? How did you do it? How does it work and what is the routing?
In this post I will go through a sample award booking to Palau that utilizes a stop-over and a long connection to create a creative and interesting trip through the South Pacific!
This is just one example of the many different award itineraries that are possible to Palau.
I think this particular routing is interesting because it allows you to scuba dive in Palau, spend a few days in Yap, and spend a beach morning in Honolulu. All for the price of a single round-trip award flight.
However, this itinerary is certainly not perfect. There are long connections in Seoul and Guam and the side-trip to Honolulu will be rushed. These trade-offs will be worth it for some people and not worth it for others.
But that is the beauty of using airline miles, you have the flexibility to create the exact right award to fit your own needs!
Step 1: Use Airline Route Mapper to visualize routing options
I start almost all of my award bookings by looking at Airline Route Mapper.
Airline Route Mapper is my favorite tool for visualizing different routing options. By clicking on an airport in Airline Route Mapper, you can quickly see all of the airlines that fly from there and all of the destinations they fly to.
Since we are using United miles for this booking, I will click on the drop-down box at the top to select “Star Alliance” to only show Star Alliance flights. Then I click on Palau’s airport on the map to see which airlines fly there.
By doing this, I can see that on Star Alliance I can get to Palau on United Airlines from Guam or Asiana Airlines from Seoul.
I also see that there is a flight from Palau to the very interesting island of Yap. This opens up an interesting stop-over opportunity that we can take advantage of later.
Step 2: Figure out a creative and interesting routing
After looking at all of my different options in Airline Route Mapper, I see an interesting routing that I can take to Palau:
Los Angeles – Honolulu – Guam – Yap – Palau
By making Yap a stop-over on my itinerary, I can spend a few days there diving and exploring the island before continuing on to Palau.
United only allows 1 stop-over on award bookings, but I can force a long connection between two flights to spend time in another city on this itinerary.
(I took this to an extreme in the Whirlwind Asia award flight I booked for next year!)
For example, I can force a 17 hour connection in Honolulu to allow me to spend one night in Honolulu and still have a few hours on the beach the next morning before catching my next flight to Guam.
That type of rushed visit is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is an interesting option to keep in mind!
Step 3: Find award availability on “bottleneck” flights
Now that I have figured out my routing, I will focus on finding award space on the most important “bottleneck” flights.
I think of “bottleneck” flights as the flight segments in an itinerary with the worst award availability, the lowest frequency of connections, or the most time constraints.
“Bottleneck” flights are so important because if I do not find award space on these crucial segments, then the rest of the itinerary quickly falls apart.
When booking awards, I always try to identify what the “bottleneck” flights will be in my routing. I then focus on finding award seats on these “bottleneck” flights first.
For example, let’s say we are booking a flight to Europe that goes Los Angeles – London – Munich – Budapest. The “bottleneck” flight would be Los Angeles – London since it is much harder to find award space on this route than on the intra-European flights. That means that it makes sense to search for the Los Angeles – London flight first and then plan the rest of the itinerary around that.
On this particular trip, the “bottleneck” flights are Guam – Yap and Yap – Palau.
United only flies these routes twice a week, so I will have to plan the rest of my itinerary based on those dates.
With these “bottlenecks” in mind, I found an outbound flight from Los Angeles – Honolulu – Guam – Yap that will give me a long connection in Honolulu and allow me to land in Yap just after midnight on November 13th.
I will then fly from Yap to Palau on November 16th, giving me a 4 day stop-over in Yap to dive with manta rays and explore the island!
Now I have my outbound flight all figured out:
Los Angeles – Honolulu (long connection) – Guam – Yap (stopover) – Palau.
Step 4: Figure out my return flight
After skipping through the South Pacific on a complex routing in my outbound flight, I want to find a simple return flight back to Los Angeles with as few connections as possible.
The best way to do this is on Asiana Airlines, connecting through Seoul:
While there is a long 6.5 hour wait in Seoul, flying on Asiana allows us to minimize the amount of connections on our return flight.
Step 5: Put it all together using United’s “Multiple Destination” search
Now that I have found both my outbound and return flights, I will book the award using United’s “Multiple Destinations” search option.
The trick to booking complex itineraries on United’s web site is to reduce the itinerary to as few “Destinations” as possible.
We need to do this because United’s web site tends to crash once you put more than 3 “Destinations” into the search engine.
For this trip to Palau, I will put the following into the United search engine:
Destination 1: Los Angeles – Yap on 11/10/2013
Destination 2: Yap – Palau on 11/16/2013
Destination 3: Palau – Los Angeles on 11/22/2013
I will also change the “Number of Flights to Display” option to show 50 flights to make sure that the United web site displays the Los Angeles – Honolulu – Guam flight with the long 17 hour connection that I found before.
However, sometimes United’s web site will still give error messages no matter what I try.
In those situations, I try to find as many flight segments as I can. Then I put those segments on hold (see MileValue’s excellent post on holding United awards) and then call a United phone representative to finish the booking.
The finished award flight
Now I just select all of the flights that I had picked out before!
Here is my finished itinerary:
Los Angeles – Honolulu – Guam – Yap – Palau – Seoul – Los Angeles.
This award is interesting because it allows me to scuba dive with sharks in Palau, take a 4 day stop-over to dive with manta rays in Yap, and spend a quick morning checking out the beaches of Honolulu.
There are also some undesirable long connections in Seoul and Guam, but the adventures available in the rest of the trip probably make these tradeoffs worth it!
This award booking would cost 70,000 United miles and $34.10 in taxes in Economy class!
Not a bad price to pay for a pretty interesting trip!
A reader asked me how to book a complex United award to Palau. In this post I created a sample itinerary from Los Angeles that allows you to go to Palau, take a stop-over in Yap, and have some quick beach time in Honolulu. I talked about using Airline Route Mapper to visualize your route and why it is important to identify the “bottleneck” routes in your itinerary.
Can this itinerary be improved? Are there more interesting South Pacific islands I could have gone to? Can I reduce the connection times with a slightly different routing?
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