Last June my mother and I decided to plan a trip or two…or three. We wanted to go to Europe but Vancouver was on the list as well. I had read about nested itineraries booked with miles or money to save on flights. As I understand it, it refers to putting one flight booking inside another. It was a daunting challenge to make everything line up correctly but we did it. Here is how it went.
We booked two Aeroplan tickets. I’ll call them Ticket #1 and Ticket #2 – those numbers indicate the order in which they were booked. Those two tickets gave us three trips. Three. Not two. Unless something catastrophic happens between now and Monday we will be off on the final stage of our travel adventure very soon.
Our trio of trips was doable because of the stopover options allowed by Aeroplan. For return flights in North America, you can include a stopover of any length. For return flights to Europe, two stopovers can be included. This is the key. We decided that we would book a ticket from Vancouver to somewhere in Europe and back to Vancouver. But we would make Halifax our stopover city. During our stopovers we would be at home, for months, doing normal home things.
If you’re familiar with Aeroplan redemptions, you’re aware that flying Air Canada will mean high surcharges on top of your miles. To avoid these added costs you need to find availability on certain other Star Alliance airlines such as United, Swiss, Turkish among others. We decided we wanted to visit Prague or Vienna. Many searches turned up empty until I decided to check Dresden. Dresden is only a couple of hours away from Prague by train. That was the answer. We found availability on Swiss across the ocean. Our Europe trip would be in late September and looked like this:
Halifax – Boston – Zurich – Dresden
Dresden – Zurich – Boston – Halifax
Two connections is not ideal but that hop to Boston from Halifax is not very long. Same with Zurich to Dresden.
Next up we had to organize the first and third trips. This was June and the trip to Vancouver was in early July. I had to coordinate two separate Aeroplan bookings because we were getting to the west coast on one ticket and departing on another ticket. The third trip was almost a year away so availability was not a big issue with that one. After a lot of repeated checking of the Aeroplan website, a good option appeared so I quickly called Aeroplan to get it ticketed.
My first attempt failed because the agent declared that we could not stopover twice in the same city. That is incorrect. You can stopover in the same city on either side of the destination – on the way there and on the way back. There is no rule against it in the Aeroplan terms and conditions. I mentioned using Moncton as a stop and she indicated that it was possible as a way to “cheat the system”. When I called back later the next agent had no issues with doing two stops in Halifax and was extremely helpful putting the booking together. Note that an itinerary with two stopovers can only be booked by phone.
Here’s the first Aeroplan redemption which incorporated the Europe trip mentioned above:
Ticket # 1 – 60,000 Aeroplan miles per person
Vancouver – Montreal – Halifax (stopover from July to September)
Halifax – Boston – Zurich – Dresden (destination, 8 nights Sept/Oct)
Dresden – Zurich – Boston – Halifax (stopover October to April)
Halifax – Toronto – Vancouver (4 nights late April/May)
There was no backtracking on the way to our destination, Dresden. We could not have flown Halifax – Montreal – Zurich on the way to Germany because we had already connected in Montreal on the way to Halifax from Vancouver. We were lucky there was availability through Boston. And the Boston cream pie in the airport was delicious.
On to the next ticket…
We had decided the third trip would be to Victoria with a plan to take the ferry over and back from Vancouver. Because we could add one stopover on this redemption we chose San Francisco. I knew the availability was there when I phoned to make the first booking so I had to hope it would still be there when I was finished. I could have asked the agent to book this one as well but I wanted to avoid an additional phone booking fee of $30 per person. Fortunately, the flights were still showing so I quickly booked it online. This is the “outside” ticket, so to speak, in which the other ticket is nested. It’s how we get out west to start the adventure, and how we get home.
Ticket # 2 – 25,000 Aeroplan miles per person
Halifax – Toronto – Vancouver (destination, 6 nights July)
(See Ticket #1)
Vancouver – San Fransisco (stopover, 3 nights May)
San Francisco – Boston – Halifax (May)
To recap, we ended up with 6 nights in Vancouver, 8 nights Dresden/Prague and 7 nights Victoria/San Francisco.
The combined taxes, fees and surcharges for the 3 trips came to just about $600 per person. We spent 85,000 Aeroplan miles each on flights that would otherwise require 110,000.
It was a huge relief to get the whole thing booked because I was also tracking hotel availability using points for the first two trips and I needed to lock those in as well. Getting it all coordinated was stressful but worth it.
Living in Atlantic Canada, and considering the relatively high airfares to Western Canada, a nested booking like this can make sense if you’re trying to stretch your miles.
A large percentage of our Aeroplan miles came from redeeming Marriott Travel Packages. This was a redemption that gave you 120,000 frequent flyer miles to use as you wish along with a 7 night hotel stay certificate. This redemption is currently not as good a deal as it was before last year’s Marriott – Starwood merger. However, there are ways to get more miles. You can sign up for credit cards with big welcome bonuses. I suggest having a plan for how to use those miles before you choose the credit card(s). And it’s important to manage your credit cards wisely, of course.
The trip to Vancouver was wonderful, as was our trip to Dresden and Prague. I will write more about our experiences on those travels in a later post. It’s hard to believe the third trip is just around the corner. It seemed so far in the future when we booked it.
To sum up, don’t hesitate to get creative with your frequent flyer miles. There are a lot of resources on the internet to give you ideas and inspiration. Although it may take a lot of effort, we found it very worthwhile and it made trips possible that would not otherwise be attainable on a budget. For us, that’s the goal.