Southbank view of London Parliament and Big Ben

Travel Hacking: Anatomy of my $856 Business Class Ticket to London

Posted on Posted in Airlines, Flights, London, London Hotels, Loyalty Points, The Good Stuff
London Kings Cross at Night
London’s Kings Cross Train Station at night

When it comes to finding the travel deals (and travel hacking) you need to be ready.  There have been so many times when I was shut out of a great deal because I wasn’t a member of the frequent flier club of a particular airline, didn’t have this credit card/membership or wasn’t quick enough.  This time I was ready and waiting for the deal… the British Airways $2,015 Business Class Sale to Europe.

I woke up to a plethora of emails, tweets and Facebook posts declaring the great two day business class sale to Europe from British Airways which was good until July 2016! A business class flight to Madrid from Philly could be had for $362!!  How could I not try to find my own deal? While I’m looking for a job (which I could do from anywhere on my laptop), it made no sense to plan out next years’ travel so I focused on the short term holiday – Thanksgiving (and my birthday). Every year I tend to travel for my birthday (last year Iceland, the year before Australia RTW) so I looked at my options (less than a month away).  Having spent three months earlier this year on travel sabbatical in Europe I wasn’t sure where to go to celebrate in November.  Should I visit the cities I missed because of my foot injury (Brussels, Bruges and Ghent) or should I keep it simple and catch up with friends in London?

London Always Wins

It’s my birthday so rather than spend it alone, I decided to be with friends in London, and it doesn’t get better than that (although the sun would have helped a bit).  I also applied for a press pass to The Taste of London food event at Tobacco Dock as well as a hotel site visit at Z Hotels in Soho.  A mix of blog business and pleasure.  So how would I make this work because I didn’t have $2,015 to spend?  I read a few posts from The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time because they are generally the first to fill my social media stream and they offer step by step “how to” take advantage of the deals. I was so tempted to buy tickets for summer 2016 but without job certainty, I couldn’t risk it as the tickets in I class were non-refundable and changeable for $500 fee + fare differential.

Southbank view of London Parliament and Big Ben
The view of Parliament, Big Ben and the Thames from Southbank

My Travel Hacking Tools

To know why this $2,015 fare sale was a BIG DEAL, you had to be prepared to whittle the fare down with everything you had available.  I had the following:

  1. I was a member of the British Airways Avios program
  2. I had a Chase British Airways Visa card for the 10% online booking discount
  3. I had my new AARP membership card (ok, I resisted this one for a while as I’m not old enough but there’s no age requirement) for the British Airways discount of $400 in business class
Superhero in Manchester Airport
I want a superhero shield! Not sure this fit under the seat or in the overhead bin but he is definitely prepared

Finding a Ticket to London

I logged into my AARP account (my best friend tortures me about this but it’s a savings tool) hours before the end of the sale and clicked on the British Airways link. From there I could search fares and the discount was automatically applied to the prices on the screen. For a business class ticket to London, the discount is $400!!! (Membership fee is as low as $16 a year, I’d say totally worth it. Discounts vary by class) so the fare was showing as $1,600 and change.  That’s still a lot of money with or without a job so next I had two options

  1. Use my 10% online discount with the Chase BA Visa card for $160 savings and a net fare of $1,460. Again a fantastic price when compared with the normal $5k fares from Philly to London or against the high summer coach fares
  2. Use the “pay with Avios” feature to reduce the cost of the fare. If you choose this option, you can’t stack the 10% option as the code is invalid. There are many points options to reduce the fare, I chose the largest option.  For 30,000 Avios points, I received a fare reduction of $743 which meant the ROI on the points was about 2.5%
London Marylebone Ribbon store
The ribbon store in Marylebone – I feel like I should get a prize for my travel hacking this time

Final Pricing

So I found the Philly – London ticket, via Manchester, on a British Airways codeshare with American Airlines. The bonus to the American Airlines flight is that due to the merger with USAirways, the plane equipment (USAirways) has a configuration of 1-2-1 on business class.  The BA flight (Club World) has a 2-4-2 configuration (BA First Class is 1-2-1).  So the American flight gave me a window seat and aisle access as if I’m flying in First Class (sadly no pajamas).  I would also have lounge access in Philadelphia, Manchester and London Heathrow on this ticket as well as earn full mileage points on British Airways.

London Carousel and London Eye Southbank
Southbank London Carousel with the London Eye in the background

The flight to London via Manchester meant a change of plane so I decided to go carry-on (hand baggage) only.  I called British Airways to confirm that the connection time was legal and that I wasn’t going to need to run through the airport (I made sure there was a later flight just in case of delays/missed connection).  Connection times are very important as I wasn’t familiar with Manchester airport and the time was less than two hours to go from international through immigration to domestic. I was told it’s a small airport and I should be fine (it was a bit nerve wracking, but that’s a separate post to come).

Southbank London streetart
Colorful London streetart at Southbank on a cloudy day

I used the AARP price and reduced it further with the “Pay with Avios” feature so that with taxes, the final business class flight to London cost $855.71.  By comparison the coach flight was about $650 so my business class ticket is $200 more.  Not a bad birthday present to myself.

Waitrose Birthday Cupcake
Surprise birthday cupcake from my friend – more surprising is that the Waitrose cupcake was good

London Hotels

I’m decided to use my Starwood SPG points for the hotels in London finding the newly added Great Northern Hotel and the newly renovated (still under construction) Sheraton Park Lane for only 12,000 a night (ROI of 2.5% as the rooms are over £200 per night/$300+). I broke up the hotels with a stay at a friend’s house outside the city so my total time in London would be 11 days.

The Great Northern Hotel Couchette Room
The couchette room at the Great Northern Hotel, a new SPG Tribute Portfolio property

Costs for 5 Nights Trip to London

  • Business Class flights on American Airlines (1-2-1 config) – $852 + 30,000 Avios
  • Three Nights (Couchette Room) at The Great Northern Hotel – 36,000 Starwood points
  • One Night (King Room) at The Park Lane Sheraton – 12,000 Starwood points
  • One Night (Standard Room) at The Sofitel at Heathrow due to early flight – $200
  • Airport Train from Heathrow via the London Underground Piccadilly Line – estimate $30 with Oyster Card
  • Miscellaneous – Chocolates, Cupcakes, Food, Wine, Pub, Fun
Paul A Young London Chocolates Soho
My favorite chocolates in London at Paul A Young Fine Chocolates in Soho

So are you ready for the next fare sale to pop up?  Where will you go?

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