How to Give a Surprise Vacation Trip

Dec 26, 2014

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I really love giving fun or slightly over-the-top gifts from time to time, and this year two of those gifts I gave at Christmas were surprise trips! There’s plenty of research out there that an experience, such as travel, is more meaningful and remembered long after the excitement of a material possession wears off.  There’s also no question that many of us have more than enough “stuff” in our houses, so giving a great gift without adding to the “stuff pile” is a definite win.  Plus, let’s be honest, it’s also super fun to put together a travel surprise that someone might not do for themselves, and then go on the trip with them!

Giving a Surprise Trip
The Magic of Christmas Morning

However, giving a trip as a surprise can be a bit complicated, so I’ll tell you how I did it in case you want to do something similar for a friend or family member in the future.

1.  Be 100% Certain They Will Love It

I would argue that if you can’t be 100% sure of whether the gift recipient will like the destination and be free to go that you should probably not book the trip before telling them about it as it just isn’t worth the risk and stress.  You can still surprise them with the idea of the trip, but I would not make the actual bookings (or at least not any non-refundable portions) if you don’t know the recipient and their availability well enough to be pretty certain that they will be both jazzed and available.

2.  Don’t Put Frequent Flyer Numbers in the Booking

The easiest way to have your secret plan foiled is to have the trip show up in the recipient’s email inbox or frequent flyer account.  This will almost invariably happen if you put their frequent flyer number in the reservation.  This sounds like an easy step to skip, but be aware it can happen without you even intending for it to if you have booked a trip for them before and they are already a traveler in your airline account.

For example, I booked trips for both my mom and my husband for Christmas and both were already travelers in my United account.  I had to enter them as new travelers in order to not have their frequent flyer number default into the reservation.  The system then tried to override them into a known traveler since the names were the same, so I had to get a little creative with entering middle initials vs. middle names.  In the end it worked, and now that Christmas has passed I have gone back and put in their United frequent flyer numbers and known traveler numbers.  There is a chance this will throw off your ability to use Pre-Check or similar, so there is a potential slight downside to this form of trickery.

3.  Don’t Use Their Points

This one should be pretty obvious, but don’t use someones miles or points to book their surprise trip for various reasons, including they are likely to see the activity in their account or email inbox.

4.  Consider Gift Certificates if You Aren’t 100%

One thing we have done for some extended family members in the past is give airline gift cards if we know they like to travel, but we aren’t in a position to know exactly when and where they want to head.  We have found that this is an especially good gift for grandparents who have grandchildren spread around the country.

5.  Wrap it Up in a Creative Way

The gift of travel is good enough that it doesn’t have to be dressed up in fancy wrapping in order to be awesome, but if you are like me, it is fun to come up with a unique way for the recipient to find out about the gift.  For example, give a trip to Paris in a box of macarons, or a ski trip in a box of fake snow, or in our case a trip to Spain using a huge map that your mom used in her high school Spanish classroom for 30+ years.

It isn’t totally necessary, but it sure builds up the fun and excitement for everyone in the room as you can see by our trip reveal to my mom on Christmas morning!

Giving the gift of a vacation may be a bit more risky than a sweater, DVD, or cozy blanket, but it can also be way more fun.  If you have ever given a surprise trip, then I’d love to hear what you did and how you did it!

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