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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 points and miles have helped them get where they want to go. Each week I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own award travel success 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. 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 Jack, whose points and miles helped him jump on a rare travel opportunity. Here’s what he had to say:
I couldn’t have been more jealous of my friend’s family trip that they had been planning for the past year. They chartered a sailing catamaran out of Split to island-hop down to Dubrovnik over the course of a week. Five days before their scheduled departure, I got a call from my friend; one of the four cabins on the boat just opened up because my friend’s brother had to cancel. The spot was mine if I could find a way to Croatia in less than a week. Best of all, it was already paid for!
I consider myself a veteran when it comes to award travel, but this was the first time I had a last-minute international travel opportunity like this. I was scheduled to be on a work trip, so I wanted to depart from Portland, Oregon and return to Boston. Dates were relatively fixed, though I had a day to play with on the return. My first thought was to check paid fares … the cheapest was $2,946 for three legs each way in economy. Brutal.
As an American Airlines frequent flyer, my next step was to check award availability on Oneworld carriers. To my delight, there was one itinerary that would cover my entire trip from Portland to Split (to SFO on Alaska, then to Split via Helsinki on Finnair). The close-in booking fee would be waived because of my AAdvantage status, and the taxes/fees were minimal because I was flying Finnair. I could get it done with 30,000 miles plus $11.90!
The return flight was a bit more challenging. I couldn’t find Oneworld award availability leaving from Dubrovnik, and there was minimal availability on the most convenient Star Alliance carrier, Lufthansa, which operates a few daily flights into Boston.
Instead, I booked a two-hop trip starting with a Croatia Airlines flight to Zurich, followed by a long-haul on Swissair back to Boston. I redeemed 30,000 United MileagePlus miles, which I had transferred instantly from my Ultimate Rewards account. I was stuck with a $75 close-in booking fee because I don’t have United status, so taxes/fees totaled about $147.
All told, my Croatian sailing trip cost me 30,000 AAdvantage miles, 30,000 Mileage Plus miles, and $159.36. I learned it certainly pays to carry a balance of points in an account that can be transferred to multiple carriers (like SPG or Ultimate Rewards), or some miles in accounts that cover both Oneworld and Star Alliance.
Jack’s last point is mostly spot on, though I’d add the SkyTeam Alliance and some non-alliance carriers (like Alaska Airlines) to the list of useful transfer partners. Having access to multiple airline (and hotel) programs gives you more flexibility when you’re booking award travel. That’s one reason why I value transferable points so highly, and why you should make earning them a priority. It doesn’t hurt to also have a bank of frequent flyer miles in the programs you use most often, but they shouldn’t be the focus of your loyalty portfolio.
You may not always find saver-level award space one week before a flight, but given the alternative of buying last-minute airfare, it’s worth at least searching. On the other hand, don’t despair if you can only find more expensive standard-level awards. You should always try to maximize your miles, but it’s better to pay a bit more for the trip you want than to pay nothing and get no trip at all.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Jack for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline 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 at the top of this post). 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!
Featured image by Philippe Giraud via Getty Images.
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