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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Daniel, who was able to buy last-minute flights to Europe without spending a fortune. Here’s what he had to say:
When my wife and I moved to the U.S. from Europe a few years back, I immediately started collecting travel rewards. If anything I started off a bit over-enthusiastic, as I tend to be impatient to get another credit card as soon as we’ve earned the sign-up bonus from the last one. We’ve already done a lot with our points: we paid for a few flights to Europe and back (including one in business class to keep my then-pregnant wife comfortable), we stayed in a few hotels that were nicer and better located than we would normally consider if we were paying cash (like the Hyatt Regency Montreal), and we’ve had lots of extra perks along the way (like lounge access).
A few months ago, our collection of points became more essential to us. My mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away, and after hearing the horrible news, we rushed to book flights so we could be with family as soon as possible. I was able to do some quick research and find us one-way flights to Europe the very same day for only 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points each. I transferred the points from Chase to United (instantly) and booked flights that left a few hours later. This meant we didn’t have to pay an exorbitant amount for last-minute tickets.
We also didn’t have to decide right away how long we were going to stay, since using miles helped us avoid the typical premium on one-way transatlantic flights. A few days before we decided to go home, I again used Ultimate Rewards points to book our flights, this time transferring to Singapore Airlines (which wasn’t instantaneous, but did go through within 24 hours). The return flights were also on United metal, but buying them through Singapore saved us 2,500 points per person. I’m always glad when I’m able to use points for close to the values you list each month — I think we certainly got more than 2.1 cents per point in this case!
Before this experience, my wife and I both viewed our points and miles hobby as a nice little extra — a way to save money or upgrade our vacations a bit if there was a good deal. But with this experience, we were happy and grateful to have some spare flexible points lying around. They saved us from the (additional) agony of having to decide how much we wanted to spend on an expensive last-minute flight, and helped us out in a pinch!
Daniel’s new outlook on award travel is spot-on; if you need extra incentive to earn points and miles, know that they can be a great insurance policy in an emergency. Last-minute award flights tend to not carry the same premium as cash fares — even when award prices go do up due to limited availability, the increase is usually less dramatic. Of course, rewards are often a strong option for last-minute travel even in normal circumstances, so it’s worth keeping a modest reserve on hand and getting familiar with which programs are best-suited to late bookings.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest way to rack up rewards, but you shouldn’t get overzealous about opening new accounts. Individual card issuers impose application restrictions that limit how many accounts you can open (both in a given period and overall). Staying within those limits will help you get approved for the most lucrative offers when they appear. Beyond that, try not to overextend yourself: only go for a bonus if you’re confident you can meet the spending requirement, and pay all your balances in full and on time. Award travel is a marathon and not a sprint, so think long-term when you’re looking for a new credit card.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Daniel 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. Please email your own award travel success stories 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. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Feature image by Ugurhan Betin / Getty Images.
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