bmi Hacking

I’ve been a bmi Diamond Club holder for many years. Unlike most Frequent Flier programs, airmiles you earn in this scheme never expire, so I’ve built up quite a few of them. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that bmi won’t actually be around for much longer — at least not in its current form. The most likely outcome seems to be a takeover by Lufthansa, and subsequent conversion of Diamond Club to their nowhere-near-as-good Miles and More scheme. So it’s looking like a good time to turn all my airmiles into a fun end-of-year escape-the-Tallinn-winter trip.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last week learning how best to go about that, and discovering all manner of interesting ways of combining the various rules in interesting ways. (Much of this is learned from the fine folks at Flyer Talk, which, once you can get beyond all the jargon, is an amazing source of tips, tricks, and useful advice.)

The first thing you need to get the hang of is the bmi zone chart. Rather than spending miles based on the actual distance you fly, the world is divided up into a series of zones, and you pay a fixed rate per flight based on the zones you’re flying to/from. (This is purely in terms of the miles spent—you still need to pay the taxes depending on the airports you use, which, of course, differ everywhere.) I found it hard to keep track of which countries were in which zone, so I drew a pretty map.

The biggest problem with constructing a suitably interesting trip is that you’re only allowed one stop-over (visiting a city en-route for more than 24 hours) per ticket. So, for example, if you were to book a return from London to Sydney you’d only be allowed to stop off in one other place (e.g. Singapore) in a single direction (not both!). However, you can purchase one way tickets for half the price of a return, so simply by getting one for each direction you can get a stop-over in each direction, and thus could stop, for example, in Singapore for a couple of weeks on the way there, and Thailand on the way back.

What I then noticed was that to go from Zone 2 (Central/Eastern Europe — where I currently am) to Zone 10 (Australia/NZ — where I want to go) is 50,000 miles each way, but you can break that up into separate singles from Zone 2 to Zone 8 (East Asia) and then Zone 8 to Zone 10 at exactly the same price (25,000 miles each). Thus, by going via South Korea or Japan, for example, you can effectively get 3 free stops in each direction — effectively turning a naïve two destination trip (e.g. Copenhagen – (Bangkok) – Auckland – Copenhagen) into a seven destination trip for the same price (e.g. Copenhagen – (Bangkok) – Tokyo – (Hong Kong) – Auckland – (Sydney) – Seoul – (Delhi) – Copenhagen)! These are all published Star Alliance routes: Air Asiana, for example, fly Seoul to Copenhagen via Delhi and Zurich three times a week.

If you really wanted to, you could also (again, for the same price) omit the last ticket, and return Auckland–Copenhagen via L.A. or Vancouver turning it into a complete round the world trip at half the mileage cost of an actual round-the-world ticket!

I wrote a little script to analyse the entire zone chart for other free multi-zone detours, and discovered there were quite a few of them (including some where the detour actually lowered the total price, such as Zones 2–7 via 10 which is only 70,000 miles, instead of 80,000 direct!)

Of course, the longer the route, the more complexity there is in trying to piece it all together.  You get significantly more value spending the miles on business class flights than on economy, but availability on those disappears quite far in advance on popular routes (and isn’t available at all on many Singapore Airlines flights as they reserve those for their own card-holders rather than their Star Alliance partners). But I’m currently contemplating trying to piece together a 2-10-7-9-8-2 route, which is only 110,000 base miles, and would theoretically allow something along the following lines:

Riga – (Cairo) – Bombay – (Bangkok) – Manila – (Tokyo or Sydney) – Auckland – (Shanghai) – Tashkent or Almaty – (Istanbul) – Riga.

Which, if I can pull it off, isn’t bad for only 10,000 miles more than a simple Riga–Auckland return! Suggestions / alternatives / gotchas / etc. welcomed!

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