Finland Trip Report: Part 3 How to Get the Best Flight

 

To continue the story, I had found many possible routings from San Francisco, CA to Helsinki, Finland. However, they vary in airlines, fare class, layover location and duration, fuel surcharges, and other criteria.

In this post I will teach you how to choose the best flight for your preferences and then I will reveal what route we finalized.

When you are stuck, get unstuck by reviewing your preferences and accept small compromises

At the end of the last route-finding sprint, we decided not to stopover in Iceland or Ireland, but we still had many options:

  1. See which alliance has easier routing (direction) and book that route first.
  2. Determine if we are ok with more than two stops.
  3. Searching on Qantas website for Oneworld availability (could be different from AA or BA)
  4. Try two stop with one of the stops in the east coast somewhere.
  5. Book the outbound with UA miles and use the AA miles for something else.

I normally travel off-peak, but some destinations are far more desirable in a particular season. For example, I go to Finland for the summer saunas. In mentally preparing myself for a more difficult search and quantifying my options I reduce disappointment and keep up my spirit.

Alas, that is the pain and beauty of this work.

Return to the drawing board, but don’t erase the previous work! Expand your date range

Earlier I tried CPH-SFO, but the award search engine missed a valid connection through IST. By searching segment by segment I was able to piece together an inbound from CPH.

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Cash tix HEL-CPH are reasonable from $100 – $200 or I could use BA Avios, which is also reasonable depending on the carrier.

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But a quick search shows no outbound availability 7/15-7/17. I have to be more flexible with my dates, so I extended the range a couple days both ways to find something. I found two routes possible routes by looking at 7/13-7/19:

  1. sjc-ord-dus-hel
  2. sfo-jfk-lhr-hel

Secure the best option available and schedule future searches for a better route

I prefer route two since the hard product across the pond is much nicer on AA’s 777-300ERs, but there is currently no availability. The SJC outbound has availability and I can book the 763 (not as nice as the 773) and change the date later as award availability opens up, but I have to lock in my departing airport – SJC or SFO. AA allows you to change the date and routing of any award flight as long as the destination and origin airports are the same.

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GCmap.com is very helpful in visualizing routes.

I decided to go with SJC and forgo my SFO-JFK-LHR-HEL option in the 773 later on. I think that’s fine given that with SJC, I have a slim chance at opting for the SJC-LHR direct w/o YQ if there is IRROPS.

Then, I finally booked the inbound TK flights CPH-SFO. For each person there was about $270 in taxes (accurate to ITA Matrix) + $20 A3 booking fee, but it was the best way to redeem A3 miles thus far. The same flight would have cost 25k more in UA miles and the change policy is much less lenient. Considering most people got into A3 mostly for the easiest *G in the alliance two years ago, this was a great way to liquidate the ‘orphaned’ miles. The 15 min phone call to book the flight was simple and pleasant as well. Finally, though 7 CPM is something to be proud of, it doesn’t matter since I would almost never buy this anyway. This is an example where CPM fallacies can hold people back from pulling the trigger on an acceptable route.

Poor award availability and lack of partners limited our ability to route through Iceland. However, between Dublin and Copenhagen, we are looking forward to enjoying some time in CPH.

Book your connecting flights

Since our award tickets created an open-jawed itinerary, the last flight I needed to book was the HEL-CPH connection on either BA Avios or using cash. We explored taking a boat to Stockholm, which is connected by rail to Copenhagen. However, the cost, travel time, and complex logistics required deterred us. We can visit Stockholm another time.

Using ITA matrix, I identified several air carriers and the possible prices.

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For this flight, I can use BA Avios on Finnair, but the redemption isn’t the best use of the miles compared to the least expensive cash itinerary.

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For example, I priced a midday departure out to 4,500 miles  and about $60 in taxes required per person. The same flight costs about $100 per person. Using 4,500 miles to cover $40 is not ideal (less than 1 CPM). I don’t have an abundance of Avios and I would need to transfer valuable Chase UR points to make this work. UR points are worth much more than 1 CPM (I value them conservatively at 2 CPM). I purchased the cash ticket.

If I determined that using miles was a good redemption, after confirming the amount of miles needed, I would log into my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to make the transfer (which posts instantly). In past experiences I was able to refresh the BA website and purchase the flight. In our case, miles is not the best option, so I will stick with the flexibility of a cash fare. Furthermore, this gives me more flexibility to determine when I want to leave Finland, since award availability is currently limited to that one Tuesday in that week (which works out ok in my current calculations). And since I purchased the SAS flight, my Star Alliance Gold status gives me free luggage as well, in the case our luggage doesn’t meet their carryon requirements.

Be proud of your work

After booking your flights, reward yourself with something you really enjoy – perhaps eat a piece of chocolate cake or watch your favorite episode of Downton Abbey. Here is our final routing: SJC-ORD-DUS-HEL-CPH-IST-SFO

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What has been your experience booking award tickets to non-standard destinations?

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