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Family Travel Series: Using Frequent Flyer Miles for Cruise Flights

by on May 7, 2012 · 12 comments

in Avios, British Airways, Family Travel, Guest Blog Posts

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This is part of the Family Travel Series on Choosing a Cruise by TPG Director of Operations, Danielle. Other posts include: Choosing a Cruise While Maximizing PointsIs the Disney Credit Card Worth It For A Cruise?How to Choose a Cruise Based on PointsUsing Frequent Flyer Miles for Cruise FlightsHow to Get a Passport for Your Child.

Update: The current sign-up bonus offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios. 25,000 upon first use, and another 25,000 when you spend $2,500 within 90 days.

A key element in our plan to cruise out of Miami is to … get to Miami. Since our greatest source of points wealth at the moment is from the 100,000 point bonus we acquired during last spring’s 100,000 British Airways Visa promotion, we naturally looked to cash in Avios for this vacation. It made especially good sense since Miami is a hub for British Airways partner American Airlines, and Port Miami is a popular cruise departure point, so from the beginning we planned on taking advantage of our Avios to help keep the budget for this family trip reasonable.

Searching for Availability
In order to ensure that we would all be able to fly together using Avios, we kept constant tabs on BA availability by monitoring their partner AA’s website while we researched our cruise options. Generally AA saver level award is bookable with Avios, so we simply loaded up our travel parameters and took a look at AA’s award calendar for the weeks surrounding our desired dates and checked for the days coded with the economy saver color (light green). Fortunately for us, we had almost no trouble finding flights with 4+ coach award seats just about every day in May from our hometown airport Philadelphia and back again.

Still Lots of Green!

After we had narrowed our cruise options down to three during the same week we pulled the trigger with our flights. We learned from our savvy TPG readers and veteran cruisers that we probably wouldn’t want to gamble with a same-day flight so we chose to fly in on a Friday night for a Saturday cruise departure. Even though by this time it had only been decided that we were going to either take a 4- or 5-night cruise, we have a certain family member in Miami so we booked a flight home the following Saturday morning – with the plan being to spend a couple days in Miami post-cruise.

The Avios Advantage
With British Airways’ distance-based award chart, PHL to MIA is just 7,500 Avios each way, so 15,000 for each roundtrip ticket, and 60,000 Avios total for our family of four. Had we booked the same flights using American Airlines miles we would have been looking at 25,000 miles per ticket or 100,000 total. Another advantage to booking our AA flights through BA was that we avoided the $75 per ticket penalty AA imposes when you ticket award seats within 21 days of departure, so that saved us another $300. Since BA has improved the visibility of partner flights on their search engine (though not by much!) we quickly and easily booked our awards on britishairways.com for 15,000 Avios and $5 in fees per ticket. Yep – the grand total was 60,000 Avios and $20 for four roundtrip direct flights from our desired departure and arrival cities on our first choice in dates! And of course we put the $20 in fees on our BA Visa card which earns 2.5 Avios for every dollar spent on British Airways purchases, so we were 50 Avios closer to our next trip.

$20 cash outlay for four roundtrip tickets!

Obviously, we were limited to the flights on each days that had at least four award seats, so we didn’t exactly have our pick of times. The result was that we won’t be getting into Miami until almost 10pm on Friday, May 18th. However, this slight inconvenience is saving us a grand total of $1246.40 for four roundtrip tickets (which was the face value of the exact same flights, if booked at the economy super-saver level). So we got about 2 cents per Avios in value. Plus, that’s one less day my husband Mike will have to take off work since we don’t fly out until the evening. This redemption was hugely valuable for us, and based on our vacation budget, meant the difference between us being able to afford a suite over an interior room for the cruise itself. Since we won’t be jetting off to Hong Kong on Cathay anytime in the foreseeable future (for now I live those trips vicariously through my brother-in-law’s trip reports), this is personally a very worthwhile award booking – and we still have over 50,000 miles left from the promotion to start planning next year’s vacation. Throw in the nearly 12,000 Avios we earned from the cruise purchase (if we transfer them from Ultimate Rewards points), and we almost have enough for another trip to Florida!

Just a few pointers that we picked up while researching flying with children (we will probably refreshing my past post on this subject after our flights in two weeks, but as these tips pertain to booking):

Lap Children: Children 24 months and younger can share a seat with an adult (one infant per paid adult), but are subject to a surcharge of 10% of the adult fare. This also applies to award tickets and be prepared to pony it up in cash … there isn’t a “point equivalent” for paying this fee with miles or points.

Carseats and Strollers: I’ve never been known to pack light, but I almost get panic attacks watching parents struggle to navigate giant multi-seat strollers and carseats around an airport along with their baggage and offspring. However, for this trip we may very well be carting some of those essentials with us since, although previously we’ve rented carseats along with our rental car, that seems like such a waste to have not only the vehicle, but the carseats sitting at the port for 6 days at a a $10 per seat per day additional charge! So I did a little homework in case we decide to just hop a shuttle from the airport to the port and need Keira and Conor’s seats. I never realized this, but strollers and carseats actually do not count as part of your checked baggage or carry-ons and there is no additional charge for them. And if you think your little one will travel easier strapped into his/her trusty carseat it’s important to note that airplane seats are designed to fit carseats (just make sure to check the label to be sure the carseat is FAA “aircraft” approved).

A Final Tip: Historically my husband has been the one to apply for mileage credit cards, but since working for TPG, we’ve realized that we should both be leveraging our strong credit scores to bank miles for the family (we can’t wait until the kids start pulling their own weight!).

For example, if we didn’t have those Avios laying around, we still could have gotten these flights for nearly free via credit card sign-ups. Even though the current 100,000 sign-up bonus promotion for the BA Visa requires a total of $20,000 in spend in order to get the full bonus, we could have each gotten 50,000 Avios after our first qualifying purchase for a total of 100,000, which would have more than covered the flights.

Nonstop flights were also available on US Airways so we could each gotten 40,000 miles from the US Airways Premier World Mastercard and/or gotten the Chase Sapphire Preferred for 40,000 points apiece for a total of 80,000 UR points that could be transfered to United, which is a US Airways Star Alliance partner. Note: low-level roundtrip economy domestic flights on both US Airways and United are 25,000 miles each.

Do any of you have creative mileage redemption stories that involve multi-member families?

looking a little bored on a past flight – flying is kids’ stuff!

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