Author Topic: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?  (Read 6903 times)

Megma

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Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« on: January 07, 2016, 01:12:49 PM »
As someone who likes to travel, mustaschian travel hacking is something that really appealed to me! But I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing it wrong?

I have spent the last ~6 months accumulating points for a trip to Europe I have planned for May 2016. I am getting a free flight (thank you work trip!) but I want to get one for my SO to come along. Last summer, I looked at which airlines fly there and the approximate miles needed for at RT ticket, and there were decent itineraries for ~60k miles.

I targeted American Airlines because they had good options and their card was offering a 50k sign up bonus (plus I had a really long trip booked on AA already for work and would get extra miles for that). Now that I am getting closer to the trip, there are no decent flight options and my planning seems to have gone totally out the window. There is only 1 departure, but it is a 24-hour trip duration and the returns are almost as bad. While I had Paris in mind because I’ll be in France already, I’ve also looked at other destinations (Madrid, Athens, etc) but they were the same.

I also have a bunch (~51k) of Amex miles but those will only cover 1/3 of the ticket because it’s $1500 booked through Amex.
Delta (now!) has a direct flight for 60k miles but I have 0 Delta miles.

Do you have these kinds of problems trying to use miles? Is it because I want to go on specific dates and those just happen to have crap options? Is it possible more things will open up closer to the trip? Would I be better off using the miles for a hotel and paying through the nose for the flight? Will I have to choose between a cheap trip and a semi-convenient trip?

arebelspy

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2016, 04:38:42 PM »
Yeah, you may have done it a little backwards.  :)

It's typically easier to look at where you want to go, then see who flies there, then accumulate those points, rather than getting points and then checking if they're useful for where you want to go.

This is also why flexible points like chase ultimate reward points are gold (and amex and spg to a lesser extent).

The amex won't transfer to any partners that will book a ticket for miles, instead of cash?
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Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2016, 07:20:41 PM »
Well I did check that AA flew there before getting the points (the delta nonstop is new, starting only in a few months, sigh)...but that's how it goes I guess.

Maybe I can convert the Amex points to delta? I'll have to look into that.

Thanks for the suggestions!
« Last Edit: January 07, 2016, 07:32:13 PM by Megma »

Gerard

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2016, 08:34:57 PM »
For this particular trip, you might be better off just paying cash. There are a lot of sales to France right now because people are afraid to go there. I'm seeing Toronto-Paris for as low as $650 CAD ($461 US).

eliza

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2016, 09:10:20 PM »
The key to booking with miles is to book early or book late.   If you are willing to risk it and wait until a week out there is a better chance that you will find availability (although there is a $75 close in booking fee assuming you aren't an ExPlat).   Of course, reward seat availability changes over time, so search often to see if a seat has opened up.

Summer travel to Europe is a difficult award to book, but there may be options.  It depends on your flexibility (class of travel, dates, connections, airlines).   

If you are willing to share routing and dates, I'd be happy to do some searching to see if there are options you may not have seen. 

Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2016, 11:13:16 AM »
Thanks Eliza and Gerard for your advice.

Right now, cash flights are ~$1500, at that price my SO will probably have to stay home! Unfortunately we don't have a lot flexibility with dates, which I'm sure is some of the issue that I'm having. It's good to know that maybe I should wait a little longer and things might open up more, work hasn't pushed me to buy my ticket yet, so I can wait a little longer.

I could also book him a one-way paid to get there and then book him on points coming home.

It's unfortunate that I have a free ticket but that gives us zero flexibility on dates for him to come, and it happens to also be a Friday night departure.

klystomane

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2016, 11:28:07 AM »
Can you transfer AMEX points to Delta and purchase the remaining 9k points ($315)?

https://www.delta.com/buygftxfer/displayBuyMiles.action

Total would be about $825 + fuel surcharges/taxes.

Eric

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2016, 11:47:00 AM »
I'm also going to Europe in May 2016.  Maybe I'll see you there!  I booked my flights with miles.  In of July 2015.  As mentioned above, travelling to Europe in the summer is really popular, so booking early is imperative if you have a non-flexible schedule.  Sorry, I know that doesn't help you at the moment.

I'll also point out that if you're using AA miles to return, you're probably on British Airways, and they charge a large fuel surcharge on flights booked with miles.  So make sure you check that out before committing to booking a one way for the flight home.  (I learned this the hard way, as my miles are/were also AA and my free flights are now ~$250)
« Last Edit: January 08, 2016, 11:48:46 AM by Eric »

arebelspy

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2016, 11:59:42 AM »
I'm also going to Europe in May 2016.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Early or late May, and whereabouts?
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
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Eric

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2016, 12:36:07 PM »
I'm also going to Europe in May 2016.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Early or late May, and whereabouts?

Germany, Austria, and Prague.  Hang on, let me bust out my schedule.....


Berlin 5/8-5/10
Munich 5/11-5/13
Salzburg 5/14-5/15
Melk 5/16
Vienna 5/17-5/19
Prague 5/20-5/22

arebelspy

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2016, 12:47:17 PM »
I'm also going to Europe in May 2016.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Early or late May, and whereabouts?

Germany, Austria, and Prague.  Hang on, let me bust out my schedule.....


Berlin 5/8-5/10
Munich 5/11-5/13
Salzburg 5/14-5/15
Melk 5/16
Vienna 5/17-5/19
Prague 5/20-5/22

Hmm.. need to record this somewhere such that I'll remember to look at it in April.  :)
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

SilveradoBojangles

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2016, 01:13:23 PM »
As others have mentioned, miles are great when you either have a lot of flexibility with dates/location or are booking 9-12 months in advance.

We did a similar kind of trip last summer (SO had work trip, I was tagging along). I booked in Feb for a late june departure, and it was hard to find any tickets at all in and out of Europe (this was on United). I spent a ton of time looking at every possible combo of date/location on their website, and eventually found something so I could get to Europe and back for 60,000 miles.

For the first flight, I couldn't find anything out of my local airport. But there were tickets out of Phoenix, and I have a friend there, so I spent $80 on a one way to PHX, stayed with her for a couple of days, and then went flew to Europe. So maybe broaden your home airport search?

I ended up flying out of Paris, which was a <$100 flight from our destination, so I spent one day there and then flew back to the states. There are worse things than an extra day in Paris, and weirdly a friend ended up being there so I had dinner with her and it was great.

My SO flew in and out of our actual destination, and spent $1900 on his ticket. I had to spend about 200 extra for the extra flights to get me where we were going, but it was totally worth it, and the PHX Paris parts of my trip ended up being fun little bookends.

I will say that May is not yet peak travel season, so you should be able to get something cheaper. I was looking for tickets to France (both to Paris and to Bordeaux) in May/early June last year for my sister, and for early may there were tickets priced around $800 (this was in March that I was looking). So prices will probably go down, and you may find a good deal closer to the time of departure (12-6 weeks before).

elaine amj

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2016, 01:21:31 PM »
Yes - you have to be flexible when working with airmiles. And things don't always work out as you hope. I always remember that it is a lot of work and you win some, you lose some. Hopefully some of the options PPs have suggested will help bring the cost to a manageable level. What about getting a flex card like the Barclay Arrival? It will give you a statement credit on what you spend on travel. That way you are not fussing with airmiles.

Eric

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2016, 02:17:06 PM »
Hmm.. need to record this somewhere such that I'll remember to look at it in April.  :)

You'll possibly be around?  I'm guessing that would be a bit of a longshot to get together, but it'd be a seriously cool Mustachian meetup if we could pull it off.  :)

I'll remind you in April.

arebelspy

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2016, 11:17:51 PM »
Hmm.. need to record this somewhere such that I'll remember to look at it in April.  :)

You'll possibly be around?  I'm guessing that would be a bit of a longshot to get together, but it'd be a seriously cool Mustachian meetup if we could pull it off.  :)

I'll remind you in April.

I might be able to make that happen, right at the beginning (first day or two, in Berlin). Will have to see. :)
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

Gerard

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2016, 08:24:47 AM »
Near-high season, short-ish booking time, limited flexibility, and a Friday departure are a killer combination (in a bad way). Do you have to travel together? Could he go on a Thursday or Saturday? Could you use different airports? (If you've used ITA Matrix to search for flights  before, the "nearby" function is handy.)

ambimammular

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2016, 07:04:13 AM »
DH, who does our reward travel stuff, writes:

As others have said, your itinerary is pretty restrictive, making it a tough pull. My first suggestion would be to check out the FlyerTalk.com forum. It's one of the least friendly forums I've seen in the sense that if you start a thread that is similar to one started in the last 3 years, people will jump on you. They also use a ton of acronyms that they never explain and expect you to know. But the amount of knowledge in those forums is insane.

If you're set on using AA miles, this is a good read: http://www.milevalue.com/redeem-american-airlines-miles-europe/

If not, you should read this article, because I think the 3 major credit card point systems all transfer to Singapore Airlines, which can be used to book United: http://www.milevalue.com/using-singapore-miles-to-europe-in-economy-is-better-than-using-united-miles/

Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2016, 11:05:34 PM »
Near-high season, short-ish booking time, limited flexibility, and a Friday departure are a killer combination (in a bad way). Do you have to travel together? Could he go on a Thursday or Saturday? Could you use different airports? (If you've used ITA Matrix to search for flights  before, the "nearby" function is handy.)

We actually won't be traveling together, he'll join at the end of my trip but I want him to arrive when I'm done working ideally.

Anyway, I think I'll book him from nyc, the connection is much better and a rt flight there is only $200, not bad for a trip to Paris and maybe he can visit some friends we have there too! Thanks everyone!

Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #18 on: January 16, 2016, 08:31:45 AM »
DH, who does our reward travel stuff, writes:

As others have said, your itinerary is pretty restrictive, making it a tough pull. My first suggestion would be to check out the FlyerTalk.com forum. It's one of the least friendly forums I've seen in the sense that if you start a thread that is similar to one started in the last 3 years, people will jump on you. They also use a ton of acronyms that they never explain and expect you to know. But the amount of knowledge in those forums is insane.

If you're set on using AA miles, this is a good read: http://www.milevalue.com/redeem-american-airlines-miles-europe/

If not, you should read this article, because I think the 3 major credit card point systems all transfer to Singapore Airlines, which can be used to book United: http://www.milevalue.com/using-singapore-miles-to-europe-in-economy-is-better-than-using-united-miles/

Ambimammular, thank your DH for me! Some of those AA article were really helpful. I think the segment by segment tips will help me avoid paying for the NYC leg I was gonna book!


Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #19 on: January 19, 2016, 11:24:23 AM »
Does anyone know, if I call reservations, can I book the international portion of a flight with miles and pay for a connection to the international flight? The connecting flights are still being a bit problematic in terms of scheduling but I would like the paid flight and the international leg to be on the same itinerary in case there are issues.

Gerard

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2016, 02:07:10 PM »
Does anyone know, if I call reservations, can I book the international portion of a flight with miles and pay for a connection to the international flight? The connecting flights are still being a bit problematic in terms of scheduling but I would like the paid flight and the international leg to be on the same itinerary in case there are issues.

It seems unlikely, but it couldn't hurt to try. I think you would get 90% of the same benefit (i.e., the safe connections, or rebooking in case of trouble) by making sure the rewards flight and the connecting flight are on the same airline.

LAGuy

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2016, 06:42:37 PM »
Whatever you do, don't leave your SO behind. Consider it a lesson in the pain of booking with miles, choke down the higher price (even though it might not be Mustachian) and go have the time of your lives.

lhamo

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2016, 06:49:43 PM »
You can sometimes get a Delta Gold Amex card with 50k bonus points -- I think standard bonus is typically around 35k but sometimes they have the extra miles specials.  And then you could either transfer the rest of the miles over from your other amex card, or else use cash to pay the difference (I think Delta allows that).

The Delta Gold Amex is free for the first year.

PS:  Looks like the 50k bonus offer they had as a standard signup deal in the fall has expired, but you might still be able to game the system if you have good credit and get a 50k offer if you follow these tips:

http://www.uscreditcardguide.com/amex-delta-amex-gold-delta-skymiles-credit-card/

« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 06:53:42 PM by lhamo »

tj

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2016, 07:07:23 PM »
Fly to London there are always cheap miles flights with AA to London. Then buy flgiht from London to whatever other European city with cash.

Megma

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #24 on: February 03, 2016, 12:53:06 PM »
Does anyone know, if I call reservations, can I book the international portion of a flight with miles and pay for a connection to the international flight? The connecting flights are still being a bit problematic in terms of scheduling but I would like the paid flight and the international leg to be on the same itinerary in case there are issues.

It seems unlikely, but it couldn't hurt to try. I think you would get 90% of the same benefit (i.e., the safe connections, or rebooking in case of trouble) by making sure the rewards flight and the connecting flight are on the same airline.

Thank you all for your help with this! I am happy to say that we have booked a reasonable itinerary for ~$250 and 60k miles RT!

I called the reservation line and the were able to book me a paid connection to the international departure I wanted on the same reservation code. I did have to pay a reservation fee of $40 to use the phone service (Ambimammular's link says I shouldn't have to if it's "not bookable online", but not sure I will argue...). They also wouldn't allow me to use the American gift card I have because I was using miles, so I will save that for the next trip.

LAGuy, you will be glad to know that SO gets to come along. But if hadn't worked out with the miles we would not have been paying for the $1500 flight but probably chosen another, cheaper vacation option for the two of us. I travel for work a lot, so he can't come along on every trip! :-)

We will have a ball in France! and Spain!

eliza

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Re: Booking travel with points – is there a better way?
« Reply #25 on: February 03, 2016, 08:36:35 PM »
Glad it worked out!

I've found that with creativity, persistence, and patience I can find something that works for me ~90% of the time using miles.  And next time, you'll know even more about the tricks of mileage redemption.

Enjoy your trip and be sure to let us know how it goes!