How Miles Saved Us After a Canceled Flight — Reader Success Story

Aug 17, 2017

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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! From time to time 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 info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader JJ, whose miles helped him avoid having to buy expensive last-minute airfare. Here’s what he had to say:

Image courtesy of via Getty Images.
JJ’s miles got him home on time after a wedding in Paris. stuck Image courtesy of James Farley via Getty Images.

My girlfriend and I saved a lot of trouble and money by remembering some of TPG’s lessons after a sudden international flight cancellation left us in a tough spot.

We were recently in Paris for a wedding (which was incredible!). We had purchased relatively cheap round-trip economy tickets on American, and at 7:15 am on the day of our flight home (just hours before our 1:10 pm flight from CDG to JFK), we got the news that all travelers dread — an alert that our flight was canceled. We started to panic, especially because it was a Sunday and we both needed to be back in New York for work on Monday morning.

Compounding our unease, the alert from American said only that the airline was working on rebooking us. Traveling internationally, we were going to have a hard time contacting the airline, so I pulled up American’s schedule for the day and guessed that we would almost certainly be rebooked for the following day. That proved to be the case, as later on Sunday we were rebooked on a Monday afternoon flight.

Looking at Google Flights, the cheapest option that would have gotten us back to New York in time was a connecting flight through Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc. That would have cost nearly $1,200 for the two of us in economy. However, I remembered TPG explaining that last-minute flights are one of the best uses of frequent flyer miles. I also remembered another TPG takeway: that United opens up extra award space if you have the United MileagePlus Explorer Card (which I do). 

Sure enough, I found Saver Award availability and booked us on a 1:10 pm United flight from CDG to EWR for 60,000 miles and $152 total. Since we were booking within 21 days of purchase (really within 6 hours of purchase) we also had to pay $150 total in late booking fees, which I charged to my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 points per dollar. Given that the cash price of these flights was a staggering €3,410 (around $3,800) for one-way in economy, we scored an incredible redemption of over 5.8 cents per mile!

Our story didn’t end there, though. When we got back to New York, I called American to confirm our rejection of the rebooking option. I asked about the refund owed to us, and the representative told me how to submit our e-ticket numbers on the American website for a refund of the unused leg of our flight (which was processed the next day, to their credit).

This is where another TPG lesson helped us out: know your rights! In this case, the representative had failed to mention that the EU has very strict passenger protection laws regarding delays, cancellations, denied boardings, lost luggage, etc. We submitted a claim on the American site, and after providing some documentation we were each sent a check for €600.

So I guess you could say it pays to be a TPG reader! It was cool to see how the tips we’ve read about on the site helped to get us through a flight cancellation on the eve of a big work day, and then helped us get the compensation we were owed.

Travel rewards are a great resource for booking last-minute flights. While the cash price of airfare trends up as you get closer to departure, the award rate often stays level, so you can get outsized value for your miles as JJ and his girlfriend did. Even at the standard award level (65,000 miles per person), they would have gotten excellent value on a per-mile basis — rewards can serve you well in a pinch even if saver availability is scarce.

If you get stuck abroad and need to pay cash for one-way airfare home, consider buying a round-trip flight and ditching the return, since one-way international fares are sometimes more expensive. For example, I searched for last-minute flights from Paris to New York on United, American and Delta; at the time of writing, you could save between $400 and $1,400 per ticket by purchasing a round-trip fare with a throwaway return. Even if that portion of the trip goes unused, you’ll come out ahead.

When you face delays, cancellations or other irregular flight operations, knowing your legal rights as a passenger will help you get compensated for your troubles. Those rights may vary depending on where you’re flying, so get familiar with passenger protections in Europe and other regions in addition to those offered in the US. Of course, you should also have a sense of when compensation is justified, as some delays are outside the airlines’ control.

Man sits down in waiting area in airport terminal. He is ready for take off and looks out of the window at a plane. A suitcase stands before him.
Knowing your rights as a passenger can help you avoid excessive delays (or at least help you receive compensation when they occur). Image courtesy of Mikkel William via Getty Images.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank JJ for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, 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). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, 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!

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