Traveling to a lifesaving surgery — reader success story

Nov 4, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader John, who used points and miles to help his family through a vital medical procedure:

I have been meaning to write and thank you for all the tips and advice. A few years ago, I was able to fly from Abu Dhabi to Sydney in the Etihad Apartment and experience the First Class lounge (which still included spa services), and then incredible service, food and a shower at 36,000 feet. I spent two weeks in Australia, booking hotels with the Citi Prestige to get the fourth night free, and then flew Qantas business class and Cathay Pacific first class on the way home. But this all pales in comparison to the biggest help you have given me.

In August, my mother was told that she needed a lifesaving procedure at UCSD Medical Center to physically remove blood clots from her lungs. We needed to figure out how to get from Milwaukee to San Diego and find lodging for more than 20 nights. My parents worried about costs, as the hotel alone would exceed $6,000. Nonstop flights were the only option in her condition, and since she needed to travel with a portable oxygen concentrator, doctors recommended sitting in the front of the plane. As our family came together to face all of these challenges, I hopped on my computer and put to use many of the tips I have learned over the years.

Using free-night certificates from my Marriott Bonvoy cards along with points I earned from welcome bonuses, referral bonuses, work travel and expenses from my upcoming wedding, I booked our stay at the Residence Inn in La Jolla. The standard rate was 35,000 points per night, so I booked 15 nights for 420,000 points, with three of those nights covered by the fifth-night-free benefit. My free-night certificates covered three more nights, and I paid 50,000 points per night for two nights when the lower rate wasn’t available and cash rates were high. Finally, we paid for one night at a low rate. The out-of-pocket cost for all 21 nights was 520,000 points and $243.

We knew when my mother needed to be in San Diego, but not when she would return, so I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways and booked one-way tickets on American Airlines for her and my aunt to fly in business class from Chicago for 22,000 points each. I transferred points to my Southwest account to book outbound flights for my father and me, and used Avios again to book my parents’ flight home when my mom was healthy enough to return. Finally, I used AAdvantage miles to cover my aunt’s flight home (in business class) and my own (in economy).

I was saving hotel points for my honeymoon (some place in Southeast Asia was the plan) but the excitement of that trip doesn’t compare to helping my family. The knowledge I have accumulated over the years from reading TPG helped us stay just a little more calm and not worry about the costs of travel and lodging as my mom had this lifesaving surgery at UCSD. She is now home and feeling better! I am forever grateful for all you do to help people save for travel and adventure. Little did I know when I started how much it would help.

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We at TPG often emphasize the importance of maximizing redemption value, but the “value” you get from points and miles isn’t strictly the same as the amount of money you save. The freedom to pursue experiences that might otherwise seem unattainable, the peace of mind you get from knowing you have an insurance policy when your plans go awry, and the ability to help others in need: These aspects of award travel also have value; it’s just harder to quantify. I’m a staunch advocate for using points and miles valuations, but I think you shouldn’t let them have the final word. Use rewards to enrich your life (whatever that means to you), even if it’s not the most efficient way to redeem them.

John used up his stockpile of Marriott Bonvoy points to help his family, but he doesn’t have to abandon his honeymoon plans completely. There are plenty of opportunities to earn rewards, and you can amass a large amount over a reasonable timeline. Look for credit cards and increased sign-up bonus offers that mesh well with your travel plans, and take advantage of other easy earning opportunities like online shopping portals and promotional bonuses. Award travel can pay increasing dividends when you approach it as a multi-player game, so work with your travel companions to see if you can mutually benefit by diversifying your rewards and pooling resources.

Related: TPG readers on redeeming points and miles for friends and family

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending John a 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; 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, we’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.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Alvin Leopold/Unsplash.

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