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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Dan, who got hit with surcharges on award flights to London:
I recently booked tickets for my wife and I on Virgin Atlantic for our move to the UK. Having never flown Virgin Atlantic, I dutifully created a Flying Club account and linked it to my Membership Rewards account from my Platinum Card® from American Express. I found one-way Premium seats from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to London-Heathrow (LHR) for 17,500 points and $224.20 per person, so I transferred points from Amex to Flying Club and jumped on the tickets.
What I had failed to note was that the same flight could be booked through Delta for 25,000 miles and $5.60 per person. Had I used my Delta SkyMiles Balance, I would have saved myself around $437 for an extra 15,000 miles. Not the worst mistake, since I still have the SkyMiles balance and will use it for another flight, but definitely a healthy reminder to check award options with partner airlines before booking.
As Dan points out, he paid a premium (in cash) for neglecting to check partner award rates. Each frequent flyer program has its own award charts and sweet spots, so you may be able to get better value for a given flight by booking through a partner airline. Dan’s Flying Club awards included hefty surcharges that could have been avoided by redeeming SkyMiles instead. Even though Delta was charging a higher nominal price, avoiding that $437 in fees would have translated to a superior redemption value. Of the two options he presented, booking through Delta is the more efficient one.
That analysis doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Virgin Atlantic award Dan booked was in premium economy, while the Delta award he noticed later was not, so he wasn’t comparing apples to apples. Virgin Atlantic charges 10,000 miles plus $149.20 per person for regular economy seats on Dan’s flight, while Delta charges 50,000 miles plus $5.60 per person for premium economy. In either case, burning the extra SkyMiles to save on Flying Club surcharges in the same class of service isn’t ideal.
The lesson here is that when you’re weighing different award booking options, try to account for all the variables and don’t just fixate on the price. Class of service is an obvious example, but you should also consider factors like elite benefits, change and cancellation policies, and the relative value of the rewards you might use.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Dan a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by Marcio Rodrigo Machado/S3studio/Getty Images
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