The Art of Skipping Stones & What We Can All Learn from the Boise to Budapest Premium Traveler

Bernie Baker, a banker, lives in Boise and often travels to Budapest for business.

Bernie’s been a First Class Flyer subscriber for a while now, so how many times has he spotted a FCF deal with “Boise to Budapest” in the headline?

Not once.

In fact, there has never been a “Boise to Budapest” FCF Alert.

So what’s a Boise boy to do? Or a Baltimore, Baton Rouge, or Kansas City boy?

Or woman?

The answer is to think about what they did as kids: skip stones.

When you skip a stone on a lake, you get down low, make sure the smooth, flat stone is parallel to the water, and throw firmly. Now, that first throw is usually close to shore. If it’s done right, you then get a nice long skip—and then a shorter skip or two before the stone sinks.

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The Ripple Effect and Airline “Hubs”

Importantly, each skip leaves ripples that spread across the lake.

Now think about travel. When you live in Boise and you want to get to Budapest using miles, you’re never going to find a deal that specific in FCF’s newsroom—so you look a little wider—you play zone coverage, not man-to-man (or city-to-city).

Well, whaddya know: you see Seattle to London with great availability; saver level: Cheap.

Get your rock out. The first short skip is Boise to Seattle, then a long but comfortable Business Class flight to London. Like a stone skipping over water. And then it’s just a relatively short hop to Budapest. That first ripple (to an airline hub) in the U.S. takes in a lot of places, from Seattle to the Florida Keys, in fact, it includes all 48 states in the continental U.S., while the ripple on the other side of the pond, London, spreads across most of Europe. As those little kids keep singing: it’s a small world after all.

Smart travelers use the readily available, discount long-haul Business Class flight as a “bridge”. All they have to do is get to and from the bridge gateway.

Skip a stone, not a deal.

Now here’s a little more polish for that rock: U.S. mileage charts are zone-based, so if you fly American (or partner Alaska), the Boise to Seattle flight is a free “tack on”. The “bridge flight” on American or British Airways, a mileage partner with AA, from Seattle to London is the discounted mileage award ticket, and the British Airways skip flight from London to Budapest is also free because BA is an American partner.

For this example it goes like this:

Boise to Seattle: Short flight—Free on American or partner Alaska

Seattle to London: Long Flight—Discounted Business Class on American or partner flight with British Airways

London to Budapest: Relatively Short Fight—Free on British Airways

All for 57,500 miles one-way (115,000 round-trip), which is the same cost as the flight from Seattle to London. See screenshots below.

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So, next time you run your eyes over a FCF Daily Alert such as:

Think: innumerable cities in the U.S. to New Zealand and Australia.

The “bridge” concept works with mileage programs that use a zone chart, meaning they divide the world into regions (usually the 48 contiguous states and Canada, for example), with every destination within the zone costing the same number of miles. When using a zone mileage program, the only thing travelers have to do is get to and from the bridge.

When searching for free award travel, most people make the mistake of not focusing on the long-haul segment, which is the most difficult segment and the prize. So what if you have to fly coach from Boise to Seattle? Find an available bridge and you’re 80% home.

See charts below for sample American, Delta, and United routes on which you can get a free tack-on ticket and the airline partners you could possibly use. (By the way, this also works to Asia.)

Get Free Tickets on American Beyond the Non-Stop Bridge Flight

RegionAmerican U.S. Departure CitiesAmerican's Foreign GatewaysGet Free Tickets Beyond the Gateway, Throughout the Region, With PartnersNumber of Cities With Partner AirlineSample of How Far You Can Fly With Partner Airline, Free
AsiaChicago, Dallas, Los AngelesBeijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, TokyoCathay Pacific30+Bali or Sapporo
Japan Airlines30+Kuala Lumpur or Dhaka
Malaysia Airlines25+Beijing or Tokyo
EuropeCharlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, PhoenixBarcelona, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Zurichairberlin45+Moscow
British Airways45+Istanbul or Moscow
Finnair35+Malaga
Iberia35+Melilla or Moscow

Get Free Tickets on United Beyond the Non-Stop Bridge Flight

RegionUnited U.S. Departure CitiesUnited's Foreign GatewaysGet Free Tickets Beyond the Gateway, Throughout the Region, With PartnersNumber of Cities With Partner AirlineSample of How Far You Can Fly With Partner Airline, Free
AsiaChicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DCBeijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, TokyoAir China45+Singapore
All Nippon25+Kuala Lumpur
Asiana35+Singapore
EVA Air45+Singapore
Singapore40+Tokyo
Thai48+Dhaka or Sapporo
EuropeChicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DCBrussels, Frankfurt, London, Munich, Paris, Rome, ZurichAustrian25+Moscow or Oslo
Brussels Airlines50+Tel Aviv or Moscow
LOT Polish45+Moscow or St. Petersburg
Lufthansa50+Istanbul or Moscow
Scandinavian Airlines50+Moscow or St. Petersburg
SWISS50+Moscow or St. Petersburg
TAP Portugal45+Moscow or St. Petersburg
Turkish50+Helsinki or Moscow

Get Free Tickets on Delta Beyond the Non-Stop Bridge Flight

RegionDelta U.S. Departure CitiesDelta's Foreign GatewaysGet Free Tickets Beyond the Gateway, Throughout the Region, With PartnersNumber of Cities With Partner AirlineSample of How Far You Can Fly With Partner Airline, Free
AsiaAtlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New YorkBeijing, Tokyo, Seoul, ShanghaiChina Airlines15+Denpasar
China Eastern40+Sapporo
China Southern45+Singapore or Sapporo
Garuda30+Beijing or Tokyo
Korean45+Kuala Lumpur or Singapore
Vietnam Airlines35+Kuala Lumpur or Sapporo
EuropeAtlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New YorkAmsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Milan, ParisAeroflot40+Helsinki or Malaga
AirEuropa30+Helsinki or Moscow
Air France40+Istanbul or Moscow
Alitalia35+Moscow or St. Petersburg
CZECH Airlines40+Malaga or St. Petersburg
KLM40+Moscow or St. Petersburg

And so it goes. FCF may publish a dozen or three “Sweet Redeems” per month, yet they, in fact, represent an infinite number of deals. Because it’s not from where the rock is thrown or where it lands, it’s the ripples that spread far and wide from those points.

When it comes to this big beautiful planet we live on, your destination could be just a hop, skip, and jump away from a fantastic deal.

When You Might Not Want to Use the Bridge Concept
The “bridge” concept does not always work with mileage programs that use a flight-distance chart, meaning they charge based on the distance flown for each segment. When using a flight-distance mileage program, British Airways, for example, charges each segment separately. So, the Boise-Budapest sample would cost you 82,750 miles one-way (7,500 miles Boise-Seattle; economy, 62,500 miles Seattle-London, and 12,750 miles London-Budapest), 25,250 miles more than American. Flight-distance mileage programs offer great value when flying non-stop and on shorter flights.

Now that your horizon has spread far and wide, have a fresh look at our Search Tool – bet you can find tons of deals that you previously overlooked.

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