So, here’s the story of how I saved my family trip and even scored a business class seat using my Lufthansa Miles & More points. If you don’t want to read the background, skip down to the Use Lufthansa Miles to Book Last-Minute United Flights.
I’m on a special father-sons trips to Chicago this week with my brother and dad. As usual, we chose United Airlines, but I never purchased a ticket. Why? I’ve still got that friend who graciously hooks me up with pass travel on United and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to use it. A 6am flight on Labor Day couldn’t be full, could it? I even had it all planned out, putting my brother in an exit row window, my father in an exit row aisle, and planning on taking the exit row middle when I cleared the standby list.
Up until yesterday, everything looked good and I was patting myself on the back for being thrifty. But the flight filled up last night. Then oversold overnight. Shucks.
Standby travel presents a great opportunity, but let me tell you this – it can be a struggle and a great source of stress, especially on busy travel dates (like I should have known Labor Day would be). I try to avoid standby, because it actually is not as cheap as you might think once imputed taxes (flights = income) are added to government taxes, but it has saved my butt on more than occasion.
Anyway, back to today. So as we are driving to LAX this morning, I see clearly that I am not going to clear – flight remains overbooked and I am #20 on the standby list. Sure, there are always no-shows on an early flight, but not that many.
I begin looking at other flights that might get me to Chicago. We had the afternoon planned and dinner reservations and I begin kicking myself for not spending the $150 on a ticket. Later flights? All booked very heavily. How about through Denver, San Francisco, Houston, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Seattle, even Washington, Cleveland or Newark? All full or oversold with long standby lists.
Meanwhile, I was also monitoring upgrade space. My brother, a United Premier Gold, was #1 on the upgrade list and my father #2, though the cabin was full. But all of a sudden, on the 110 freeway driving through downtown LA at 5:15a, I noticed a business class seat opened. Usually when this happens so close to departure, the open business class seats is also bookable using miles. Sure enough, the flight now had one business class award seat available.
Use Lufthansa Miles to Book Last-Minute United Flights
Had I used my United miles to book this business class seat from Los Angeles to Chicago it would have 25,000 miles plus a $75 close-in booking fee and $5.60 in taxes. With my United Gold status, the close-in fee would be reduced to $25. That just isn’t worth it – 25K miles for a flight under four hours just kills me, especially considering how valuable 25K United or Chase miles are. That’s why I never bothered to upgrade my father and brother in the first place.
But Lufthansa charges only 17.5K miles for a one-way business class flight within the Continental USA and charges no close-in processing fee or call center booking fee (Lufthansa partner award space must be booked over the phone). The call center opens at 8am ET each weekday, so it was open. But would it be too late? I cancelled the standby ticket and called Miles & More.
I had to wait eight minutes to reach an agent: it was now 5:28a, with departure at 6:31a. An agent answered, verified my number and PIN, and also verified the flight was available. She thought it was too late to book, but said she would try. Lufthansa has instant-ticketing on award tickets, so I was optimistic. After a few minutes of typing, she said that she was able to confirm the seat, took my credit card, and issued the ticket immediately. By this time, I was at LAX, walked over to the check-in kiosk, entered the United confirmation number she provided, and voila, I had my business class boarding pass.
After breezing through PreCheck, I met my brother and father upstairs at the gate, where boarding had begun early. I grabbed my dad’s boarding pass and gave him mine, but he grabbed it back and said he wanted to sit with my brother. Don’t worry – I’ve got dad upgraded to first class already on the way back.
So to recap what I did, for 17.5K miles and $5.60 I booked a ticket in United business class for a flight departing in under an hour that was retailing for $550. It would have taken 15,000 miles just to upgrade a paid economy class ticket on United! Or, had I used the American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book this flight, 55,500 points would have been required.
Lufthansa miles are not a great value for longhaul travel, with excessive fuel surcharges tacked on to all Lufthansa Group and partner flights, but you just cannot beat using Miles&More for domestic USA travel. LH saved the day today and as I sip my tea from first class as I type this post, I again underscore the beauty of miles – a versatile currency that continues to be extremely valuable even in the post-devaluation world of miles and points.
Next stop, Park Hyatt Chicago.
A tasty breakfast on United Airlines this morning of scrambled eggs, peppered poatoes, and chorizo.