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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.
I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! Every so often I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Please also send me your stories about award travel mistakes or trips gone wrong. In any case, if we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!
Last month I posted a success story from Adrian, who used travel rewards to book a Christmas vacation for his family. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Eu, who redeemed her own miles to help a friend get to an important family event. Here’s what she had to say:
I discovered TPG only a few months ago and quickly became addicted to your site. Since I’m now a stay-at-home mom with a special needs baby, I didn’t anticipate using your advice any time soon, but I enjoyed reading the articles and living vicariously through others. However, as it turns out, I got to use the strategies I learned from you much sooner than I thought I would.
My friend Karen had not been on a plane since 1988. She had dedicated nearly 30 years to taking care of her homebound (and later bedridden) mother. Sadly, though, her mom passed away last month. Her mother’s home church in Hong Kong wanted to host a memorial, and Karen had four days to decide whether she could fly there to participate in the service. She needed a nonstop flight, and since it was at the last minute, the cheapest options were nearly $1,500. Karen didn’t have much money for travel, having traded a good-paying job years ago for a lower-paying one closer to home.
When she told me about the memorial service, I recalled a few very useful bits of information from TPG. First, I knew that you had recommended using the British Airways website to look for Cathay award space and second, I remembered that award space sometimes opens up at the last minute. I told Karen to give me a couple hours before buying a ticket, and between feedings and diaper changes, I got to work.
Incredibly, I looked on BritishAirways.com and found a Cathay Pacific business-class ticket available for the exact date and time she needed to go to Hong Kong, and a premium economy ticket for the day she needed to return for work. I had a stash of Alaska Airlines miles from previous trips between Los Angeles and Vancouver, as well as through my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, and I knew I could use Mileage Plan to book flights on Cathay Pacific. I quickly called Alaska and booked the trip for her, for a total of 85,000 miles and $125 in taxes and fees.
However, I wasn’t totally satisfied. I knew Karen had a long way to fly, and I wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, especially given the circumstances of her trip. Two days later, I saw that a seat had opened up in Cathay Pacific’s first-class cabin for her flight back home. Unfortunately, it was a different flight than the one I had originally booked, and we were outside the 24-hour cancellation window, so Alaska charged me $125 for the flight change. Nevertheless, it cost just $250 and 120,000 miles to book a last-minute, premium round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.
Karen was only able to stay two days in Hong Kong and had to work the day after returning, but the first- and business-class seats allowed her to feel rested — she said she wasn’t even jetlagged! I’ve actually never flown international first class myself, but I’m so happy I was able to do this for my friend. She inspires me; I don’t know anyone else who would take care of a parent for 30 years without a single complaint. I’m glad my Alaska miles came in handy to make things easier for her.
Thanks to you and your team, as I couldn’t have done this without the knowledge and advice you’ve shared. I always assumed it was virtually impossible to book award flights at the last minute. As it turns out, booking late in the game actually helped in this situation!
I’m moved by Eu’s generosity here, and honored that TPG played a part in helping her friend Karen get to Hong Kong for such an important event. Award travel has certainly helped me during family emergencies in the past, and with airlines watering down bereavement fares (or eliminating them altogether), points and miles are a great insurance policy when you need to travel at the last minute. Of course, travel rewards are also great for helping other people travel even when it’s not an emergency!
Finding the award flights you want is often simply a matter of knowing where to look. Knowing how to search for Oneworld award availability or where to find Star Alliance awards that don’t show up on United.com can mean the difference in scoring a Saver level ticket, which can help you get the most out of your miles. I recommend all award travelers brush up on those skills, as well as how to book awards with individual carriers. Check out more posts on TPG for help booking with American, Delta, United, Alaska, Air Canada and others.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Eu for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course), and I’d like to do the same for you.
Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). You’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!