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Over a decade ago, we got married in a city we loved: Las Vegas. No, we didn’t use a drive-thru chapel, but Elvis was at the after-party. We chose Vegas in large part to keep the ceremony and wedding planning simple. (Well, and it was just a whole lot of fun.) In the ensuing 10 years, we’ve had a couple kids and life is no longer remotely as simple. Our most frequent leisure travel destination is now Orlando, outpacing Sin City more than 10:1. However, to celebrate Josh’s 45th birthday, I decided it was time we return to the city we once loved, Las Vegas, and relive the “glory days” — at least for a couple of nights. Two parents in Las Vegas for two nights, that seems pretty simple, right? Wrong. Very wrong.
During our pre-wedding and pre-kid years, we were prone to taking Vegas trips every few months, requiring nothing more than one round-trip ticket each since hotel comps were handed out like candy back in those days. This time, it took exactly 12 airline tickets to send two parents to Vegas for two nights.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of the idea so you see how we ended up where we did holding 12 individual airline tickets for a two-night domestic parents-only getaway.
Josh (my husband) turned 45 over the weekend. I have a track record of giving big birthday surprises, especially on big years. As a couple of examples, for his 35th birthday we went to Disney World and did the unofficial Epcot “around the world” beer tour. Well, he did. I turned up a few weeks pregnant with our first daughter at the time — surprise!
For his 40th, we raised the bar and blew things out with an around-the-world trip in business class with stops in Amsterdam, the Maldives, etc. This was all fueled with miles and points.
But for his 45th last weekend, our plans were to take our 9-year-old daughter to see the “Avengers: Endgame” movie. Even that took some arranging since the movie wasn’t a good fit for our youngest daughter. My how the mighty have fallen.
That’s just where we are in life and that’s a-OK, but with a few days to go before his big day, I decided to raise the stakes and at least surprise him with a planned future trip that I knew he would love.
When we travel without the girls, sometimes we have my parents (who live in the same city) watch them while we are away. Other times, we fly his parents down from Kansas to help us out. But, we try to share the load and not overly burden any one grandparent more than necessary. And, it was more than “our turn” to head up to Kansas and visit his folks on their turf. So, after some phone calls and “secret” discussions with the grandparent committee when Josh wasn’t home, the first four airline tickets were booked. We will take the girls up to Kansas to stay with grandma and grandpa while we’re in Vegas. We will also get a night or so to visit with them in Kansas — placing us solidly in the win column. 40,000 United miles later, four tickets are in hand.
Lucky for us, Southwest has a nonstop route from Wichita, Kansas, to Las Vegas. I happen to have $250 in Southwest gift cards burning a hole in my pocket. We added another $65 cash for the overage beyond $250 (including two Early Bird Check-In purchases as Josh hates the Southwest boarding process), and two more tickets were in hand.
That gets the girls to Kansas and us to Vegas, but it doesn’t get anyone home. Long story short, our schedule doesn’t permit doubling back through Kansas on the way home. So, enter ticket No. 7. Grandma Points, my mom. She will fly from Houston to Wichita to pick up the girls.
While our oldest daughter is 9, our youngest will only be 4, so she is still not old enough to fly as an unaccompanied minor. Grandma’s ticket cost us about $200 cash as award prices just weren’t optimal, though I did use some United.com credit toward the purchase.
Tickets eight, nine and 10 will get Grandma and our girls home to Texas at a cost of 10,000 United miles each for the short-haul awards. Grandma will be doing her first same-day turn in an airport to bring them home.
That just leaves lucky numbers 11 and 12: The tickets that will bring Josh and me home from Vegas (hopefully with some winnings in our pockets). These tickets were secured using points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 1.5 cents each, for a total of around 15,000 points per economy ticket (basic economy would have been a bit less). United wanted 23,000 United miles per ticket if we booked the tickets as awards via MileagePlus, so we passed on that.
If you lost count (and I don’t blame you), that is 12 airline tickets totaling 70,000 United miles, a $250 Southwest gift card, 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and about $265 in cash. All of that to get two parents to Vegas for two nights in economy.
Now, this is not a sob story, so any would-be internet vigilantes can save the “that’s what you get for having kids comments” for another day. We’re lucky to be able to go at all. There is also the built-in bonus of getting to visit Josh’s parents in Kansas, something we were overdue on, so there’s value beyond just a Vegas trip. Having all four grandparents ready and willing to help us pull things like this off — and to have kids who are (mostly) willing to go with the flow, is better than hitting a royal flush on video poker.
Believe it or not, there are a couple morals to this story. Rule No. 1 — travel while you can. Life gets harder as you go, so if you can take the trip you want now, do it.
Rule No. 2 — hard doesn’t mean impossible. Was it a little hard (and points-pricy) to put this all together? Sort of, but it wasn’t impossible. If you don’t have grandparents available to help, look to your siblings, cousins or even close friends. Offer to trade kid-watching duties with another couple so each unit can get away for a weekend. Maybe you have to fly in someone you trust to make it happen — that’s OK, too. Your miles and points are there to be used, so use them however you need to in order to turn vacation goals to travel plans.
Featured image by Maximilian Müller / Getty Images
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