How ExpertFlyer Saved Me 50,000 American Airlines Miles

Mar 28, 2019

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At TPG, we pride ourselves on maximizing our points and miles — and teaching our readers how to do the same.

Today, I bring you my personal story of a really poor use of miles, why I still did it and how ExpertFlyer and its award alerts helped me recoup most of my losses.

Let’s just start out by saying that sometimes we do irrational things for the ones we love. We have a family trip next month to the Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana to celebrate a big milestone birthday for my in-laws. They have been extremely generous in covering the trip costs for six adults and three kids.

We are also a family of advance planners. When airfare went on sale 330 days in advance, we purchased our tickets. (Yes, this was last May.)

There was just one little hiccup: My in-laws, who live in Florida, jumped on some cheap one-way tickets for themselves from Miami to Punta Cana without thinking about the return. A week later, when the return tickets went on sale, they were priced at more than $1,000 each. To help out, I dipped into my American Airlines miles. There were no saver awards free (or should I say Mile SAAver awards), so we spent 37,500 miles for each one-way coach anytime (Economy AAnytime) award ticket, plus $67.91 in taxes and fees per ticket. For a three-hour flight. Ouch.

TPG values American miles at 1.4 cents each, so even at the 37,500-mile price, it was wiser to use $525 worth of miles than pay $1,000 in cash. I also had a hunch that I might get lucky. It just took months of patience and the help of ExpertFlyer.

(For those who don’t know, ExpertFlyer is a site that helps users search for the availability of open awards and upgrades or search through various paid fare classes. You can set alerts to tell you when specific seats open up on your flight or when an award ticket becomes available.)

Fast forward to this morning, exactly one month before the return flight. I woke up to an alert from ExpertFlyer: At least two saver seats had opened up on the flight. The cost was just 12,500 miles each — 25,000 fewer than I had originally paid.

With a quick call to American Airlines I was able to swap out the original award tickets for the cheaper saver ones. However, American Airlines charges a redeposit fee to all members except for top-tier elites with Executive Platinum status. For me, this meant a $150 fee for the first ticket and $25 for the second passenger. In the 10 months since I had booked the flights, the taxes and fees also had climbed from $67.91 a ticket to $68.03 — and yes, American charged me the extra 12 cents per ticket.

All in, it cost me $175.24 to get back 50,000 miles, which TPG values at $700. Not ideal, but a lot better than the original price I paid.

There was one minor downside: The two seats previously assigned to my in-laws over the wing were no longer free. American wanted $35 and $38 to sit there. So instead, they are eight rows back in comparable seats.

UPDATE: Yes, reading the comments, I should have noted that British Airways Avios would have been a great option here, especially when the saver award opened up. However, due to an oversized balance of American miles, I chose to dip into that stash instead. We always tell you how to maximize points and miles here at TPG, but always remember that strategies sometimes need to be adjusted to account for personal situations. 

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Featured image by Alberto Riva/TPG

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