My points and miles journey started with a cheap ticket to Abu Dhabi

Oct 20, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

What I remember about Christmas Day 2014 was waking up to zero gifts bearing my name underneath the tree.

As a college senior, I’d grown accustomed to the dwindling pile of gifts as I grew older. I didn’t even get a pair of socks — the quintessential “you’re an adult now” Christmas present.

But what I remember most about that day was the great Abu Dhabi mistake fare. If you have no clue what I’m talking about — I’m so sorry. For you.

I’d barely awaken that morning when I got an urgent text from a friend: wake up right now. Immediately my brain considers the worst — perhaps there was an accident, or someone was seriously hurt. But she quickly assuaged my fears by explaining that there was an incredible sale on flights to the Middle East. I was wide-awake with her next sentence: The tickets are less than $300 round-trip.

Back then, I only had a Capital One student credit card, and it was strictly for groceries. I didn’t even bring it to Virginia, where I stayed that Christmas. As I played with the dates and priced out the itinerary, I checked my checking account to make sure I had enough money to make it work. I then enlisted two equally insane friends, sending the Google Flights link and imploring them to book before the error was fixed.

I went back and forth with myself for nearly 15 minutes before deciding to pull the trigger on the $265 round-trip nonstop flight between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) on Etihad. I paid with a debit card — my, how things have changed.

Picture this: three broke college students flying from the U.S. to the Middle East on one of the most luxurious airlines in the sky, and we paid less than a one-way Acela ticket from D.C. to New York.

I’ve written about this experience before, but I want to talk about what I learned from the Abu Dhabi mistake fare.

What I remember most about that trip — and the first thing I always mention — was how inclusive the deal was. People who’d never been out of the country before were descending on the Middle East. Some didn’t even have passports.

View this post on Instagram

touch the sky.

A post shared by Victoria M. Walker (@vikkienotvicky) on

And that’s what the trip taught me — travel doesn’t have to expensive, and it’s supposed to be accessible to everyone.

After Abu Dhabi, I did some research because I wanted to experience (cheap) luxury travel again. I’d also heard that the Department of Transportation ruled that airlines didn’t have to honor so-called mistake fares. That — coupled with seeing people in my Facebook groups eating steak in lie-flat seats — led me to credit cards, bonus categories and welcome bonuses.

Since Christmas Day 2014, I’ve been able to utilize points and miles for restful weekends at Hyatt properties in Washington, D.C. and birthday trips to Cuba. I’m currently planning my birthday trip to Zanzibar entirely on points and miles. These experiences seemed inconceivable just five years ago, but are second nature now.

I signed up for The Platinum Card® from American Express for the extensive network of airport lounges worldwide, Global Entry credit and complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold status. I also signed up for a slew of frequent flyer programs, have been on mileage runs and take advantage of Amex Offers. I went from relying on “glitch fares” in order to travel cheaply to opening credit cards to travel practically free.

My travel journey hasn’t been without several pain points, however. The travel industry is still overwhelmingly white, despite research that shows African-Americans contributed $63 billion to the industry last year. That’s true of the points and miles community, too.

For people unfamiliar with what I do, some have assumed that I’ve done something nefarious to travel cheaply. Still, others knowing how I grew up, ask downright hurtful questions-that-aren’t-really-questions implying that I don’t deserve these experiences. While I lovingly correct people whose assumptions are good in nature, I recognize that this is foreign to many travelers — because it was once foreign to me.

I’m still figuring out the intricacies of points and miles — like whether I want to fly Qatar QSuites or Etihad’s apartment with American miles I earned on my Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard for my next trip to the Middle East. But I’m thankful for that cheap Eithad ticket, because it opened a world and community I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Featured photo courtesy of Getty Images

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.