The Upgrade

How I Scored an Insane $12,000 Flight for Nearly Free… And Had the First-Class Cabin All to Myself!

PART EIGHT: It helps to be open to traveling anywhere on earth… at the very last minute.

Hi again! It's Ben Schlappig, One Mile at a Time bloggerand the guy who lives an uber-luxury travel lifestyle on points and miles. When we last left off, I was luxuriating in Bali in five-star-style all the way.

We were booked at the W in Bali for two days. On the second day I still hadn't decided where to go next. I tossed around a lot of ideas but couldn't settle on anything solid. I found award availability to Bangkok, to the UAE, to Amsterdam (via Jakarta), to Australia, and even back to the U.S. I found flights on Singapore Suites, Emirates, and Thai Airways — all amazing first cabins.

Since I'm pretty much a full-time award traveler I'm always watching the airlines' release patterns. If you pay close attention, you can generally figure out in advance when an airline is likely to open space. Of course it's not carved in stone but you can typically get an idea of what is likely open up (usually at the last minute).

After a few hours of tossing around idea, we were no closer. Finally, I settled on an extremely rare find.

I had been keeping an eye on a couple of flights that seemed to have a lot of availability, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fly Cathay Pacific first class from Hong Kong to London, as they opened five first class award seats last minute. That’s crazy — especially when you consider that the entire cabin has only six seats. And the cabin was empty, meaning we would have one of the best first cabins in the sky all to ourselves.  Cathay Pacific's first-class service is divine!

We managed to book these award tickets using American miles. One of the cool things that most airlines allow when redeeming miles is that you can have a stopover of up to 24 hours at no additional cost. Since we were flying from Bali to Hong Kong to London, we could time the flights so that we had just under 24 hours in Hong Kong.

We’d fly from Bali to Hong Kong in the afternoon, getting into Hong Kong in the evening, and then continue the following afternoon to London. Hong Kong is my favorite city in the world, so there’s nowhere I’d rather have a stopover. Of course, I’d ideally stay longer, but I’ll take what I can get when I’m on an airline award ticket.

Hong Kong's airport

This is probably a good time to explain in a bit more detail what an obsessive and unusual planner I am when it comes to award tickets.

You can get incredible outsized value out of miles and points, especially with some flexibility. In this case we were traveling as a crew of four, so generally finding four first-class award seats on a flight is difficult, given that many first-class cabins have just a handful of seats.

The "private" first-class cabin

It also goes beyond just finding award availability. It’s also about maximizing the routing and making it as efficient as possible. So the goal wasn’t just to find flights with award availability, but find the ones that are the best value, allow the best “free” stopover, et cetera.

In the end it usually works out great, though it does require some flexibility at times!

Stick around for the next adventure!

FOLLOW MY JOURNEY:

See the party side of Bali (complete with a hangover brunch to end them all).

Glimpse the five-star life I love (and buy with miles!) in Bali.

Here's why I call Bali the ultimate place to recharge.

Check out my epic layover in the world's best airport on the way to Bali.

Read up on my Hello Kitty-themed flight to get this far...

And the Hello Kitty airport experience to match!

And here's where it all began at LAX.

Here’s what it's like to fly in an empty first-class cabin:

Here’s What It’s Like to Fly in an Empty First-Class Cabin
It’s better than even flying private — check this out.

And mystery solved: THIS is the best time to redeem airline miles:

This Is the Best Time to Redeem Airline Miles
Go way early — or roll the dice, and try way late!

Ben Schlappig, the blogger behind One Mile at a Time, experiences about $1 million worth of travel every year using miles and points — and covers about 400,000 miles annually this way. Ben has teamed up with Bravo’s Jet Set for a series called The Upgrade, in which he shows you how you — yes, you! — can score real-world-ready strategies for upping your travel game. Come along for the adventure!

Jet Set is Bravo's launch pad for the most extravagant, luxurious, and unforgettable travel experiences. Ready for takeoff? Then Like us on Facebook to stay connected to our daily updates.

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