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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Micah, who used miles for a weekend trip to see his brother. Here’s what he had to say:
My younger brother recently moved to Nashville. I have been trying to find time to fly out and visit him for a weekend, but due to work and personal constraints I hadn’t been able to make the two-hour sojourn from NYC. But in early August my schedule magically opened up for a weekend, and I even had the ability to take Friday off from work! I was ecstatic, until I looked at flights for that weekend.
While I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend catching up with my brother, the rest of the world was apparently headed to Nashville for summer bachelor parties. Unfortunately, the high demand combined with the last-minute booking left me with only bad and worse options. Non-stop flights on United, Delta and American from Friday to Sunday started at $773 round-trip; even if I stayed until early Monday the fare was over $600. As a frequent TPG reader, I knew for that amount I could probably take my wife to Europe.
I started looking at award options, focusing on what I could do with my United miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. First I checked British Airways Avios, since I knew NYC-BNA was under 1,000 miles and awards would only cost 7,500 miles in each direction. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any availability. I moved onto United, which only had Everyday award space from Newark for 32,500 miles each way in economy. That didn’t seem like a solid option based on TPG’s valuations, and given that 30,000 United miles can get you to Europe.
However, I noticed that a Friday afternoon flight to Nashville had business saver tickets for 25,000 miles. There was also an early Monday flight for 12,500 miles in economy that would get me to work by 10am. Rationalizing that I could afford to splurge a little, I went for it and purchased both one-way tickets on Thursday morning.
When I got back from work that night, I went over my flights again to see if something else came up. To my surprise, an earlier EWR-BNA flight had economy seats available for 12,500 miles. After researching United’s 737 premium cabin, I realized it wasn’t worth the extra miles. Since I was within 24 hours of booking, I was able to cancel my first (more expensive) ticket with no issues. In the end, I found two economy saver awards that fit perfectly into my schedule, and had a great time catching up with my brother. Persistence and flexibility pays off!
You might think saver awards in first or business class would be hard to come by when there aren’t any in economy, but that’s not always the case. You may see low-level award availability in a premium cabin when there’s none in the back, especially if you’re booking at the last minute. Even better, first and business-class saver awards may cost less than standard economy awards, depending on the airline and routing. Whether you should book those premium awards is another question — the experience of flying up front isn’t always commensurate with the cost, especially on shorter domestic itineraries. But if you need to get somewhere and economy awards are unavailable, don’t forget to check your other options.
Micah’s story is a good reminder that your search for award flights doesn’t necessarily end once you book. If you wind up paying more than you’d like or if you’re unhappy with your itinerary, keep in mind that you have 24 hours to cancel tickets on flights that operate to or within the US. Availability may improve during that time, in which case you can book the better award and then cancel the original one with no penalty. Continuing your search can also pay off for changing AAdvantage awards beyond 24 hours, or to rebook Southwest awards when the price drops.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Micah 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!
Photo by Joshua Ness via Unsplash
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