I am going to try to explain something I call the “boomerang” concept. It is something that can be extremely valuable to you, but something that airlines will generally frown upon. It can help you save on air miles for your next trip. Generally it will only apply to one-way awards, and traveling with carry on baggage only (something I always do). I will talk mainly about United Airlines awards, but also about (and link out to) another great example Drew at travelisfree has written about.
Sometimes the award price between 2 adjacent or close regions is very cheap. The problem for airlines is that there may not be many direct flights between those regions, so you must route through a region that is further away. Some airlines have specific rules about how many regions you can touch on an award (American, Lufthansa, etc.), but some do not. The airlines that don’t have those rules are the ones that this concept can apply to.
Let’s say you want to get from South Africa to Europe. United’s award chart states that partner awards from Southern/Central Africa to Europe are 30K/55K/100K (Economy/Business/First). However, awards from Southern/Central Africa to northern Africa are 17.5K/35K/50K. I have found that United lets you touch 1 region outside of the regions you are flying between. In this case, I know that Lufthansa flies from Johannesburg, South Africa to Frankfurt, Germany. If I decide to book this award, this would be the cost in first class:
Lufthansa also flies to Casablanca, Morocco in northern Africa. Searching for an award from Johannesburg to Casablanca, I can see this option:
The first leg to Frankfurt is the same exact flight. If I wanted to fly to Frankfurt, I could simply book the second award (as long as I only had carry-on baggage) and simply not take the second leg to Morocco. If you have checked baggage, this would not work as your bag will go to the final destination of your booked flights. I would have a 50% savings on the miles I would spend, but would have to spend some extra money on taxes/fees, by booking this boomerang award instead of the direct award.
Let’s say you want to get from Japan to Australia. If using United miles, this would cost you 22.5K/40K/60K miles. However, for some reason, United’s award chart prices Japan to Oceania at 12.5/30K/40K miles. The only Star Alliance (the alliance United is with) partner that flies to southern Oceania (United flies to some northern ones) is Air New Zealand. There are also no direct flights from southern Oceania to Japan, so we know we need to route through a third region and we are only allowed to touch 1 additional region or the pricing will get screwed up.
The only region that has flights to southern Oceania is New Zealand/Australia (there is a flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, but I could not get that flight to work with this trick). So we need to find flights from Japan to New Zealand/Australia. Both ANA and Air New Zealand fly a route that matches this. Since Air New Zealand almost never releases premium award space, I’ll focus on ANA. If we flew from Tokyo to Sydney, this is what pricing would look like:
But if we add some flights to Oceania, this is what we can get the price to look like:
The first leg of is the same exact flight as the first award but for 10,000 less miles. We could save 25% miles and also save some money on taxes and fees by booking this “boomerang” award. You could simply leave the airport in Sydney and not take any of the other flights.
This is actually the example that got me thinking about the boomerang concept. It is an example using Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue program. They charge 50k miles for an economy ticket between North America and Australia. However, they charge 30K miles for an economy ticket from North America to the South Pacific. Delta flies from Los Angeles to Sydney and this is the flight you could take from North America to Australia with a 40% miles savings. I won’t go into much more detail as I was not the one who discovered this. Feel free to read more about it in Drew’s post.
If you travel light with a carry-on bag, you can get some extreme savings if you play around for a bit before booking your award. Some airlines let you touch third regions and some do not. This can work with the ones that do allow it. An essential tool for figuring out the routes different airlines fly is their alliances route map. For these United examples, I used the Star Alliance route map. After playing around with this tool, you can figure out potential flights you could book using the boomerang concept.
Have you taken advantage of boomerang awards before? Are there any great examples that you know of that I would add to this post? Let me know!