My brother got in touch with me last week with a challenge. He wanted to take his girlfriend to Vietnam sometime in September, using around 100,000 Avios and a British Airways American Express Two for One voucher.
I’m not going to do credit card reviews or referrals on The Ginger Travel Guru, as Rob’s Head for Points pretty much has this area nailed; I’m not going to be able to add much to it. The link to his review is here and is well worth a read.
The problem my brother set is actually harder than it sounds as we have a number of problems to deal with:
- British Airways don’t fly to Vietnam
- Using an Amex voucher constrains us to British Airways only, and no oneworld partners
- Reward availability at less than three months out, on popular routes to the far east is poor at best
- Picking a gateway city where connecting flights for money are reasonably inexpensive
With that in mind, I set to work.
British Airways (and Iberia) operate a system of peak and off-peak pricing for rewards. Thankfully, nearly all of September was in the off-peak time period, requiring fewer Avios. The calendar can be found somewhat buried, here.
With only (slightly over) 100,000 Avios, one combination could be something like business class out to the Far East (for 75K) and then Premium Economy back from the Middle East (for 26K) or vice versa.
The other, better option was to fly to from China, as Beijing and Shanghai only required 62.5K Avios for business and 32.5K for Premium Economy, just coming in within his Avios budget.
If you’re going via these cities and travelling on to a third country as they would be doing, then you can transit the country without having to have a visa (TWOV). There’s a full guide to using this here.
If you’re searching long date ranges for a specific destination, the BA mobile app is actually far more functional than the full-fat website.
BA doesn’t fly to many places in the Far East (compared to North America), so it’s not too onerous a task to manually look through each destination.
- Tokyo (both Haneda and Narita)
- Hong Kong
- Kuala Lumpur
Using the app, I found him Premium Economy out to Shanghai, and Club World back from Beijing. Around pretty much the dates that he wanted.
The next challenge was to work out how he is able to get from China down to Vietnam and back. He actually wanted to fly into Saigon and out of Ho Chi Minh City (or vice versa) and during his time in the country make their way from one and to the other.
This kind of problem was exactly the one that the ITA Matrix tool is best suited for. I mentioned this previously on my article on finding cheap fares to Hawaii, so now is probably a good time to expand on it slightly.
Using the multi-city option, I plugged in the dates and route, allowing it to search to both Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City.
There are various other options, such as current display, what class you want it to search for, but for the time being, I’ll leave it with the defaults and hit search. A list of the cheapest flights is displayed with a whole bunch of lesser known carriers being at the top of the list.
There’s a bar at the top which summarises all of the available options too, comparing the non-stop and multi-stop prices. After ten hours on an aeroplane to China, the Vietnam Airlines non-stop flights had a very small premium over the one-stop flights (around £40) which is probably money very well spent.
Clicking on the £307 price filters the search to only that airline, and only the non-stop flights. Note the From/To is in red, as it’s into one airport and out of another.
Finally, clicking on the price takes us to the final screen with all the details about the itinerary.
There’s also a blue box underneath that contains all of the technical information that you need if you want to book the fare with the airline, or via a travel agent.
You can’t actually buy any tickets via ITA Software’s website – it’s just there to help search for and construct interesting fares.
Matrix has a huge number of very advanced features that allow you to search for trips and constrain on a huge number of parameters. In future articles I’ll touch on a few of the more interesting features that are of interest.
So there you go. Challenge completed. Avios to Vietnam (with a bit of cash too).
Finally, those well-travelled and eagle-eyed readers will note that the featured image for this article isn’t actually of Vietnam! I took it in Burma as I haven’t actually been myself but figure it was still a nice fit for the article.