My general rule of thumb with miles is to accrue them by flying coach fares domestically (so that I earn elite status) and then redeem them for international business/first class awards. Kind of like the age old investing advice “Buy low, sell high.”
As a points “expert” who has redeemed millions of miles, I pride myself on juicing out the absolute best value when it’s time to redeem my own awards. Whether it’s adding in extra cities through stopovers and open jaws or forcing a way to get low-level/Saver awards, I like a good deal when I use my hard earned miles.
I’ve redeemed for last minute coach fares a couple times in the past, but always at the saver level. However, this week my parents called me to say they were taking a last minute trip to North Carolina to visit my Grandmother for Easter. You all met my Grandmother in November, when I used miles to take her to California to visit family for Thanksgiving and I described how she’s been a huge supporter of mine over the years. I haven’t seen her since then and it’s been a while since I’ve seen my folks so I told my Mom I’d be joining them.
I hung up the phone and pulled up airfare on Expedia to check out prices on multiple carriers from multiple airports and my eyes nearly popped out of my face when I saw the results- ~$985 for all reasonable options. I then contemplated driving, but that would be at least 12 hours each way and for a one-night trip it really wasn’t worth it.
So then, begrudgingly, I pulled up Delta.com to see how many miles it would take: 80,000 for first or 50,000 for coach. Delta offers Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallions upgrades on award tickets and availability was showing for one of my flights since I was within my 5 day Platinum upgrade window. Roundtrip first class saver tickets are 45,000 miles, so I somewhat rationalized it by thinking that I was basically getting a first class award (FYI the upgrade on the other leg of my trip did end up clearing as well). I checked US Airways and they only had peak awards and the routing/timing was not as convenient and they don’t upgrade on award tickets (not that I even have US Airways status).
So I pulled the trigger and redeemed 50,000 SkyMiles and $10 for my last minute trip to Asheville. For a second it stung, because all I could think about was that 50,000 SkyMiles is half of a roundtrip business class award to Europe. But then I realized that life is too short to be measured by “what if” experiences and that spending time with family is more important than taking that extra trip to Europe.
What is the point of this blog post? Basically a reaffirmation that the true value received from miles is much more than dividing the price of the ticket by the amount of miles used or getting the “best deal possible.” Often there’s an intangible human factor that can’t be measured, but should always be taken into consideration. The bottom line is that I probably wouldn’t be taking this trip if I didn’t have the miles, so I’m thankful that mileage collecting, my favorite hobby and full-time job, allows me to experience life by being able to travel more – especially in times when it matters most.