How and why I used miles to book 2 new award trips for later this year

Apr 8, 2020

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My family is currently one of the lucky ones: We have our jobs, and we already worked remotely before the coronavirus outbreak. We’re still healthy. We have a backyard that makes social distancing a bit easier with the kids, and we have the technological resources to pull off the new virtual homeschooling adventure.

But, it’s still hard. Some days, it’s really hard.

Almost overnight, people all over the globe have been told they can no longer eat out; getting basic groceries and household goods is tougher than it’s been in decades; people could go months without visiting friends or family members. Many are also homeschooling children without help from extended family or childcare workers. Some people have lost their livelihoods and others have experienced firsthand the devastation of the disease as it spreads around the globe.

We aren’t just living in a time of first world inconveniences: We are living through a legitimately scary, tragic pandemic.

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Right now, in this reality that absolutely none of us wanted, most of us also aren’t traveling, shouldn’t be traveling and don’t know when the luxury of travel will return. And yet last week, I booked flights for two new trips, both for late 2020. Through a certain lens, surrounded by so much uncertainty, that sounds crazy.

And yet booking future travel isn’t necessarily crazy at all.

Following my heart to Hawaii in a lie-flat seat

We will learn many painful, life-altering lessons from COVID-19. But there will be small silver linings, too. I believe many of us will come out of this more purposeful with our time, love, money and resources because we have lived in a world where it all changed on a dime.

I love Hawaii — a lot. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit in 2020 in part because, as a travel writer, I have business-related incentives to expand the list of places I’ve traveled to and can cover, rather than just revisiting the same destinations. Of course, I also just naturally want to experience new places. Sometimes though, that’s meant exploring a new destination I may or may not love, instead of returning to one I know has my heart.

Not this time.

Hanalei Bay
Fun times at Hanalei Bay. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

When travel resumes, I want a surefire hit destination for my family. So, when I saw multiple well-priced lie-flat seats to Hawaii during Christmas break late in late 2020, I booked them. Even at the lower-than-normal price of 60,000 United miles one-way — usually 90,000 to 100,000 miles each way — a large portion of my United MileagePlus account balance was wiped out with a few keystrokes. But, I don’t care. Those miles are there to be used, and my heart said the idea of this trip will bring me happiness over the coming months, even if it doesn’t actually happen. (Pro tip: I’ve seen even cheaper round-trip first-class awards to Hawaii over the holidays as American Airlines web specials.)

Related: Why Hawaii is worth it for me

While I don’t know when we’ll be able to safely travel to Hawaii for fun, that doesn’t really matter. I’m already getting enjoyment out of having it on the books. I’ve been looking back at pictures from when we were lucky enough to spend several weeks in Hawaii last summer, and read my dad’s newly published story about how he loved Hawaii more than he thought, with a huge smile on my face. It’s been uplifting to think about old Kauai favorites we can revisit and new-to-us spots we can finally explore. (Here’s looking at you, Lanai.)

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Visit TPG’s Hawaiian Islands destination hub for everything you need to plan your trip.

It doesn’t hurt that United has announced it will waive all award redeposit fees at least until May 31, and then will continue to waive the fees throughout 2020 as long as the change is made at least 30 days before departure. My United elite status gives me reduced award fees anyway, but now anyone could go until a month before departure before being on the hook for any financial loss associated with changing or canceling a United award flight this year.

Returning to Disneyland for 7,000 miles

To cope with the realities of current life, my family has been watching a whole lot of Disney content on television. We’ve watched Imagineering and other behind-the-scenes shows on Disney+., but we’ve also binged many YouTube shows on Disney World and Disneyland — including going on virtual rides (which is way more fun than it sounds).

My girls have fallen in love with the idea of celebrating the end of quarantined life by going to Disneyland. And who am I to disagree, since United only wanted 7,000 miles each way to fly nonstop from Houston to Orange County (SNA) this fall? That’s normally a pricey round-trip ticket when paying with cash — and easily two or three times that award price when traveling on peak weekend dates.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

We want to go all-in with a stay at the Disneyland Hotel, have tropical drinks at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar by the pool, ride the monorail into the middle of the park and, if we’re lucky, go to the Oogie Boogie Bash. Maybe the new Avenger Campus will even be open by then.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Now, the logical side of my brain knows that even when life reopens, a crowded theme park may still be a bad idea, and we may be better off with open spaces and crowd-free destinations. The emotional side of me, however — the one that longs for nostalgic magic — said what the heck. Again, we can cancel the award ticket until 30 days out without paying a penalty.

If a fall trip to Disneyland turns out to be a bust, we’ll just reschedule our dose of magic for another time, but we (hopefully) won’t cancel completely. We will make it there to celebrate eventually, and that plan helps put a smile back on my face, even in the moments when things feel really tough.

Related: Choosing where to stay at Disneyland

Bottom line

Those were the two award trips I booked last week using my miles, but they are far from the only deals out there. Within the last week, TPG has covered 55,000-mile first-class awards to Japan, business class awards for the whole family to Europe, domestic deals from $35 or 4,000 miles and tickets to the Caribbean for under $100, all available into late 2020.

It’s possible it still won’t be smart for many of us to travel then, so know the change and cancellation policies before committing to anything.

For me, the chance to dream about booked travel has value (especially at those award prices) — even if the trips don’t happen with the dates that are currently printed on the tickets.

Featured image by Kim Ebert / The Points Guy

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