Those that know me in real life and those of you that have been reading every post from the blog, know that I have been planning a crazy luxurious trip around the world (literally) for December. I must admit that it has been a time consuming, sometimes soul-crushing experience. I’ve realized that the time of year I have chosen and the destinations I’ve chosen are amongst the most difficult to find availability, especially if you want to do it all in one program.
Initially, I had hoped to get to the South Pacific using Alaska Miles and its Partner Airlines. I’ve done quite a bit of research and written a fairly comprehensive series on Booking Alaska Partner Awards so I was confident that I could leverage that knowledge for an easy award redemption, however, that was not the case. Not by a long shot. That’s where the Frankenflight was born.
What Is A Frankenflight?
Well, I won’t claim to have invented the term, rather Matt McLean of A Whistle and A Light introduced me and others to the concept at the last PointsU in Toronto. Ari Charleston from AwardMagic expanded on the idea and gave some examples of how to construct these type of awards. Both Matt and Ari are masters of complex itineraries so if you are having troubles wrapping your head around the concept, they can certainly help … for a fee of course.
If you’re into learning on your own, read on.
The term Frankenflight refers to a hodgepodge mixing of award bookings in order to make your award work. For example, on this next big trip, I have used Alaska Miles, American Airlines Miles, and British Airways Avios. Additionally, I have leveraged SPG/Marriott points and various other tricks to make this all work. I will probably end up using some of my PetroPoints to book revenue fares for legs that I can’t find availability on … and that’s just the flights! I won’t go into details about the hotels in this post but suffice it to say, I’ll be using hotel points for my stays as well.
Why Create a Frankenflight In the First Place?
Creating a flight redemption that spans across many airlines and programs isn’t an ideal situation by any means, however, if you are trying to visit more than one region, you may be forced into the situation. In my particular situation, I simply could not find any availability on flights back to North America, so I was forced to think outside the box. I couldn’t simply stay within my comfort zone of booking mini-RTW trips on Aeroplan or Booking Alaska Partner Awards so I had to venture out and learn about American Airlines redemptions in order to make this all work.
6 Airlines, 3/4 Programs Used
When I look back and think about all the time I spent looking for these flights, I shudder a little but in the end, I’m super happy with the routing and the excellent airlines we will get to fly. Besides, it was an excellent learning experience.
Of note, the Cathay HKG-AKL flight is on the new A350, the LAN Airlines AKL-SYD flight is a Fifth Freedom Flight AND on a 787, the Etihad flights (SYD-AUH and AUH-JFK) are on A380s (hello shower in the sky!) and the Cathay JFK-YVR flight is another Fifth Freedom Flight.
I am still trying to find availability on an award flight to get us from Cairns (CNS) to Sydney (SYD) as well as from Vancouver (YVR) to Calgary (YYC). If I cannot find award seats in the next month or so, I will end up booking the tickets as lowly economy revenue tickets 🙁
Fortunately, all my long haul flights are booked in Business or First and with the CNS-SYD spanning 2:55 and the YVR-YYC leg clocking in at a whopping 1:20, I wouldn’t be that upset if I had to fly those legs in Economy. I’m fairly happy with the result given how difficult it was to find the flights in the first place.
Is This A Good Use of Points/Miles?
Yes and no.
When I do my CPM calculations, I get very good value from Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and American Airlines AAdvantage but absolutely dismal returns on my BA Avios miles.
For my intra-Australia flights on Qantas, all flights are in Business Class but I can only extract 4.03¢/mile but having earned the vast majority of those points with credit card sign-ups at littel to no cost, I don’t feel so bad but I was truly expecting a better return.
Overall my CPM for the entire trip is at 9.78¢/mile. It’s certainly not my best redemption ever but it is certainly in the acceptable range.
How Do I Set Myself Up So I Can Book Frankenflights?
From the beginning of the blog, I have always preached diversity in your points holdings. It’s much like a financial portfolio in that you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket because you never know what could happen … perhaps your program becomes unusable or perhaps there’s a large devaluation. Having diversity simply gives you more options.
I’ve always talked about Membership Rewards as an excellent way to have diversity while only having to worry about collecting one currency and I still wholeheartedly support that option. However, as each day passes, I become more and more smitten by SPG points, and while it is true that earning SPG points is harder than most other points programs, the flexibility of the program is second to none. Without SPG points, I would have never been able to get back from Australia and now I’m going it in style on Etihad’s A380!
I go into much more detail about Membership Rewards and SPG points in my credit card reviews. Take a look and see if these cards make sense for you.
American Express SPG Personal – 20,000 SPG Points after $1,500 spend – $120 Annual Fee
American Expres SPG Business – 20,000 SPG Points after $1,500 spend – $150 Annual Fee
American Express Gold Personal – 25,000 Membership Rewards after $1,500 spend – No Annual Fee for the First Year
American Express Gold Business – 30,000 Membership Rewards after $5,000 spend – No Annual Fee for the First Year
American Express Platinum Personal – 60,000 Membership Rewards after $3,000 spend – $699 Annual Fee (get that to $299 – info in the review)
American Express Platinum Business – 75,000 Membership Rewards after $5,000 spend – $399 Annual Fee
As a note, I will never push a credit card on you … I want you to understand what the card offers and then make your best choice because everyone’s situation is completely different. Those that tell you that X card is the best travel reward club often make too broad of a generalization.
More Information Later
Once I complete my flight bookings, I will share with you all of the point calculations and detail the challenges I had when booking these flights in an effort to save you a lot of hassle when you go to book your flights. I will post lessons learned and some tricks I picked up along the way.