Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Award Travel (page 1 of 5)

My Kids Magically Fixed United

Let’s face it…traveling anywhere when you live on the beautiful California Redwood Coast is a chore. I have a love/hate relationship flying out of the Arcata airport. The convenience cannot be understated. But that is when things go smoothly. When things go wrong, and they go wrong far too often, it can be a major pain in the neck (SEE: My Second United Horror Story).

Lately I’ve taken to booking out of a bigger airport if time is of the essence, typically if I am flying across the country for work. But for our recent trip to the Southwest, convenience won.

Flying out of Arcata Airport worth the deal

For our trip to the Southwest, I booked last minute tickets for a steal: $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles for all three of us. The beauty of this plan was that we got to fly out of Arcata. The nerve-wracking part of the plan was also that we were flying out of Arcata.

Over a total of about 15 flights that I’ve flown in or out of Arcata, no fewer than 3 have been canceled. A solid 20% cancellation rate. That’s horrible. Delays or cancellation have thrown a wrench in our plans enough times that I literally prefer driving to the Bay to fly most places these days.

Given this experience, there was a bit of trepidation as our trip approached.

Wait…this was an Arcata flight, right?

I kept my eye on the United app during the day of our planned departure. The previous legs serviced by our aircraft were on time, so things were looking good. Our plane landed at the Arcata Airport right on time while we were still driving north. It looked like everything would go smoothly. And there was no fog to stop us this time (SEE: My Second United horror story)!

Boarding was quick in Arcata, as the plane was barely half full. Amazingly, there wasn’t any message from the captain stating the SFO tower had requested we stay on the ground. Too often they don’t have a spot for us and the flight gets delayed until SFO air traffic control can slip our landing into the incoming traffic. This time we were off the ground well ahead of schedule.

Maybe it was because we’d taken off “backwards”. On all other flights in or out of Arcata, the everything is operated off of Runway 32. This time we took off in the opposite direction, from Runway 14. This allowed me to get the shot of the airport as we circled around to the west.

Besides a little turbulence, the flight was fantastic. We were even in economy plus, and I had two seats to myself, so there was room to spare. These ERJ-175s are a much better ride than the tiny CRJs. I couldn’t believe it when we arrived in San Francisco a ridiculous 29 minutes early.

This has never happened on any flight I’ve taken out of Arcata. I’m pleased if we are even remotely on time. Had we really just flown the same little route that is so constantly plagued by delays???

I told the kids this was the best flight I’d ever taken out of Arcata. They didn’t seem to care in the slightest. Figures their first time flying outta here would go more smoothly than I’ve ever experienced.

Being treated like we’re in first class

To top things off, the service was ten times better than it’s ever been. While the flight attendants pretty much never offer drinks on the short hop to the Bay, they do bring by snacks. The offering consisted of only pretzels…unless you were my kids. The flight attendant offered them the last two stroopwafels from the morning. Lucky ducks. All they did was munch snacks and stare out the windows.

Then near the end of the flight the first-class flight attendant brought me two more snacks: Oreos and gummy bears. Do kids hardly fly? Or do the Skywest FAs single them out for special treatment? I’ve never really observed either. It’s like they knew we try to limit our kids sugar intake and were working against us.

To top it off, the flight attendant on the plane to Tucson handed me an small bag of Haribo gummy bears for the kids. I didn’t even know they had these on the plane! Or maybe they were her own. I have no clue. I just know people kept handing me candy for the kids, our flights were empty, and far more ahead of schedule than I’ve ever seen them. If this is the new United Airlines experience, sign me up every time.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what happened to the old United Airlines I’ve come to love endure, but this was definitely my best flight ever out of Arcata. And a great start to our week-long road trip.

Cheap United awards to the Rockies in early summer!

United is currently offering an award sale for a select number of outdoor-adventure destinations in the mountains, which could make for the perfect early summer getaway. Destinations include:

  • Aspen, Colorado (ASE)
  • Bozeman, Montana (BZN)
  • Gunnison, Colorado (GUC)
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming (JAC)
  • Montrose, Colorado (MTJ)
  • Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN)
  • Vail, Colorado (EGE)

These prices are good for travel between June 9-27, 2018.

For itineraries less than 700 miles, you’re looking at a mere 15,000 miles round-trip. Anything longer than that is 18,750 miles. You do have to book a round-trip ticket to qualify for these prices. One quirk: United doesn’t take connections into consideration when determining the 700 mile cutoff, so a couple airports from Arcata qualify for the cheaper prices, even if they have a connection in Los Angeles (notably, Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

Important note: You do have to either be a United MileagePlus credit cardholder or a MileagePlus premier member to take advantage of these prices. If you aren’t either of these, you’ll pay the standard 12,500 miles each way. If you haven’t picked up the United MileagePlus Explorer card yet, consider the current inflight offer for 50,000 bonus miles and waived annual fee.

Is there award space?

An award sale is only good if there is actually space for people to book. I did a bit of research, and it appears there are a decent number of seats available. I actually stumbled onto the sale by looking to book an award to Jackson Hole. I hadn’t received an email and was scratching my head at the odd 7,500-mile price. Now it all makes sense!

Book by May 21 if you’re interested!

Braving Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back Trips!

Yes. There are 5 backs in there. Looks like we’re going to start 2018 off with a bang!

This wasn’t the plan, trust me. It sorta just happened. We planned one major trip for January, thinking that was plenty. But then the rest slowly got penciled in, so here we are. It all starts with a fury this week.

Work trip to Needles

This one was the second-to-last addition. The company I work for was recently contracted for a small project in Needles, so I get to fly in and out of Las Vegas for a single-day site visit. Due to the flight schedule between Arcata and Vegas and the 2-hour drive to Needles, I have to make it a 2-nighter.

Work isn’t my concern. That part will be easy. It’ll just be the first time I am completely away from the kids for even one night. I’m a bit nervous to see how they’ll do.

And it starts later today. I’ll be on my way to the airport after lunch.

New Year’s celebration

I took advantage of the Best Western promotion to plan New Year’s Eve away with our older two kids. Originally, I was eyeing the first weekend in January, but we have relatives coming up then. Honestly, New Year’s works even better.

If you know me well, you know I shut down about 10:00 p.m. Sometimes 9:00, or even 8:00 p.m. Staying up late is not my thing. But I already know the kids want to party til midnight, so I’m trying to make this as painless as possible for all of us.

And taking them to a hotel with a pool where they can have fun, eat (a little) junk food, and stay up late sounds like the best plan. My wife can put the little guy to bed and welcome 2018 by getting some quality shuteye.

MLJK Weekend with the older two

This one is still tentative. Given the busy schedule of the rest of the month, it may get axed. But it may be a necessity to give mom some time to catch up around the house. And continue potty training the youngest.

My first little weekend getaway with the older two went really well. They didn’t really care for the 5-hour car drive, but they enjoyed the flight. So what’d I plan? You guessed it: another 5-hour car drive. Yeah…haven’t told them yet.

I decided that it wasn’t worth burning miles for a trip that short. Either we’ll find a good points deal in the Bay, or we’ll stick with my plan to maximize my IHG Accelerate promotion at a Holiday Inn in the Sacramento area. I can offset some of the out of pocket cost with cash back, but not the whole thing. The latter (and preferred) option depends on how our January budget looks.

Disneyland!

This was the big surprise trip for the kids for Christmas, and the original one on the schedule. We didn’t expect to take them so soon, but I have an “in” that can get us a steep discount on the tickets. Since this is the biggest cost (free flights and hotel is cake), it made the trip much more doable.

back to back trips disneyland

My mother-in-law did chip in as well, so we are staying at a Disney hotel for part of the trip, which will be a first for me. I am no Disney guru. Travel hacking Disney is a whole new level of obsession.

And then right back to LA

This time it is mom’s turn. It’ll be the first time that my wife has done a solo trip since we’ve been married, if I recall correctly. Maybe ever. She has done a few with her mom, but I can’t think of a single time she has flown or stayed in a hotel solo.

So what is the impetus for this? A day of exercise and dancing with Derek and Julianne Hough was enough to make her jump. It looks like that her first extra cash from starting work again will be put to good use for a one-day intensive in Los Angeles.

The only tricky part is how close it is to the other trip. If only we’d picked the next weekend for our Disneyland trip. Kinda locked in at this point. Looks like we’ll be heading home Wednesday and turning right back around to Oakland on Saturday.

What’ll the kids and I be doing? Good question. I not 100% sure yet. I booked a hotel (for free with Wyndham points) in SF for two nights in case we want to stay there. We may just go back home to Ferndale for Sunday, but that would mean even more time on the road.

After that?

Our kids don’t know it yet, but I’ve asked my parents to watch them for two nights in February so Kels and I can have a romantic weekend. Well…mostly romance. We’ll also be headed to Global Entry appointments. In any case, I’m definitely looking forward to this.

We have one more trip that is in the works, but I can’t spill the beans on that yet. Hopefully I have it all finalized sometime next month.

Final thoughts

Are we crazy? Probably. Do I think we can make it through these with flying colors? Absolutely. Lack of confidence is rarely my issue.

But in case you start wondering if I’m still sane, feel free to drop me a note once we’re on the other side. 🙂

Christmas Surprise: We’re going to Disneyland!

Back when I planned our quick trip to visit my grandparents, I mentioned that a couple more trips were in the works. Well, it’s time to let the cat is out of the bag: we’re going to Disneyland next month!

The trip is one of the gifts we decided to get the kids. As Kels and I have sought to prioritize experiences over material things, gifting a trip for Christmas is much more up our alley than buying the kids a lot of stuff (but they did get a lot of stuff, too).

But given that Disneyland is an expensive destination, so how are we able to afford this so quickly?

Travel hacking a Disney trip

Scoring discounts on Disney is not for the faint of heart. The general consensus is that you really can’t get better than 10-20% off on Disney hotels and admission. And the cost of entry is ridiculous. Entry for our family of 5 to one park for one day would cost approximately $485. And we’re looking to go for 2 days on a Park Hopper pass, which will set us back at least twice that. No matter how you slice it, this isn’t an easy trip to take for cheap. Forget about free.

A strategy I would employ is picking up a couple cash-back cards with a decent bonus to offset the enormous cost of taking your family to the Magic Kingdom. If you’re new to the points world and haven’t applied for many cards, pick up a Chase Sapphire Preferred card if you haven’t (SEE: 5 Reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card) and then look into a Capital One Venture and/or Barclaycard Arrival+. I don’t typically recommend these cards out the gate, but they will get you most of $1,000 in flexible points you can use toward Disney tickets.

Some warehouse clubs offer Disney gift cards at a slight discount. Factoring in the use of a cash back card, you probably can’t do better than ~5% off using this strategy. It’s something, but it’s still not much. In all honesty, there is no easy way to hack Disney like airfare, where you can get a couple sign up bonuses and fly to Europe in business class for less than $200 out of pocket.

But there are ways. You’ll just need to search a bit harder for them. Disney will never be my forte. When I attended the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference this past May, one session was completely dedicated to hacking Disney. It’s is own world.

If travel hacking Disney is of interest to you, let me point you to a few other resources:

So…how are we able to take our family of 5 to Disneyland next month?

It’s who you know

As is the case with many things in life, sometimes it’s more about who you know than what you know. Turns out that I have a coworker whose sister works for Disney corporate. She can walk most of us in for free for one day (possibly all of us if she can have a coworker meet her at the park, which she is trying to make happen). This means our tickets will either be free or heavily discounted. If we don’t all get walked in for free, the remaining two that we need to buy will be ~50% off.

Since my mother-in-law loves Disneyland, we invited her along. My one and only time visiting the park in Anaheim was with their family, long before my wife and I were married. They used to go annually. We got them tickets last year as their Christmas gift.

I’m not sure how she put it all together, but my mother-in-law managed to work some magic for all of us. She has had a Disney Visa card for as long as I can remember, and the tickets for the second day are part of a package she booked in conjunction with a Disneyland hotel. Apparently now was the time to put the points to good use. I’m not complaining.

So now that we will be out at most a mere $150 for tickets for two days, we just have to put the travel together.

Flights south

This part is cake. We had a number of options, so it was all a function on convenience, timing, and maximizing point redemption. Since there were so many of us, it makes the most sense to fly out of the Bay Area rather than Arcata or even Santa Rosa. Alaska has reasonable nonstop flights to John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana), which is the closest to Anaheim and Disneyland. I’ll happily avoid the pit that is LAX.

For the 6 of us I spent a mere 19,600 Amex Membership Rewards (before my 50% back perk dies!), a $75 Alaska voucher, and $28.40 cash. Not much out of pocket. Cash prices would have been $470 for all six of us.

Thanks to a promotion, the kids will each be earning a bonus 5,000 Alaska miles as new Alaska MileagePlan members. This means our family will earn a total of 20,000 Alaska miles for our quick trip. It’s basically like trading our MR points for Alaska miles. Totally, totally worth it.

What about hotels near Disneyland?

There are a number of hotels available near Disneyland, but I quickly focused on a couple options for the six of us. The one that made the most sense was the Homewood Suites about a mile from the park. The points redemption rate was reasonable, and it could fit the six of us.

I also eyed the Howard Johnson across from the park, as we have a good number of Wyndham points, but it would tougher to swing for 6. For 5 I’d do it in a heartbeat, and request a crib. The Best Western right across the street also seemed like a decent option, but I don’t have enough points to swing it. Since we are going to be in the park all day for 2 days, the hotel is little more than a place to crash and sleep, so staying at a more budget place was an option on the table.

But all my ideas got tossed out the window with my mother-in-law’s plan.  Now we’ll be staying on-property, just a quick walk from the park. I’ve never stayed at a Disney hotel (and never planned to!), so this will be a whole new experience for us.

Our one night of airport hotel is at the Embassy Suites SFO for 42,000 Honors points. I wish San Francisco airport hotels were cheaper, but they are in line with the rest of the area. The advantage here is free breakfast for all of us.

Conclusion

Disney is high on many families travel lists, and with the cost of tickets so high, it is often a vacation that they must save long and hard to make happen. Fortunately, thanks to family and friends, we have a nice shortcut. If not for these, we’d be saving for a Disney vacation for at least a year.

Images courtesy of Tuxyso and Norberak Egina under CC 3.0 license

Best Airline Miles to Europe in Economy

After idyllic Hawaii vacation for cheap (SEE: Best Miles to Hawaii), consider putting your miles to use for a visit to Europe.

With numerous fare sales to Europe, I don’t typically recommend burning miles to fly economy. You can score sub-$500 fares from many major hubs these days, and fare sales are frequent.

Still, there can definitely be reasons to burn miles over flexible points. For example, if you live a good distance from a large airport (such is the case with me), tickets can be prohibitively expensive, sometimes well over $1,000. In this case, miles are often the way to go. Here are some of the best airline miles to Europe in economy:

American Airlines for 22,500 miles off-peak

American Airlines has long had great prices for off-peak travel to Europe. During much of the year, their prices are a standard 30,000 miles. But there are plenty of periods where awards are only 22,500 AA miles each way.

That is, if you can find saver space to use those AAdvantage miles. American has been terrible about releasing award space over the past several months. You might find a reasonable amount of space out of their hubs to Europe, but you’ll often have issues with domestic connecting flights. Or you’ll find that the award that are available are awful red-eyes, have terrible routing, and/or require long layovers.

But it can be done. If you’re patient, plan ahead of time, and flexible with your dates, you’ll almost certainly find the space you need. Or there may be plenty. Here is off-peak space next month from SFO to LHR:

best airline miles to Europe

One thing to note is that there the American Airlines award search engine will return a lot of options on British Airways, a Oneworld partner. Avoid these like the plague. All British Airways flights to Europe have hefty fuel surcharges. Fees will be less if you fly on other Oneworld partners, such as Iberia or Finnair.

All things considered, American AAdvantage can be some of the best airline miles to Europe on economy.

Alaska Airlines for 20,000 miles off-peak

Mimicking American Airlines’ prices, Alaska has an attractive off-peak chart for a couple partners (Alaska does not fly to Europe themselves).  You can fly American Airlines flights to Europe for only 20,000 miles during off-peak times.

Again, award space on American Airlines will be a limiting factor here, since you’ll be using your Alaska miles to book their flights. At least your connections can be on Alaska, which may make it easier to get to an American hub, especially if you live on the west coast.

best airline miles to europe alaska

You can also fly Iceland Air to Iceland for 22,500 Alaska miles one-way and 27,500 miles to Europe at times. Iceland Air has multiple tiers of pricing, based on season, however. Another option is Condor for 25,000 miles in economy. Condor flies some unique routes from the U.S. to their Frankfurt hub.

A couple cool ideas: plan a stopover in Alaska before continuing on to Iceland or Europe. Alaska’s generous award rules allow a stopover on one-way awards. Or when returning, plan a stopover in one of Alaska Airlines east coast destinations before flying back across the country.

It might seem weird that Alaska miles aren’t the first on the list of the best airline miles to Europe since the Alaska (on AA) off-peak award require the fewest out of any currency. But there are simply too many other great uses for Alaska miles that I would hesitate to burn them on this.

Asiana Airlines for 25,000 miles

Asiana is a carrier that many people probably do not recognize, but don’t overlook their program. They are one of the best options for StarAlliance flights to Europe. They are also one of the best Asian carriers overall (SEE: Asiana Business Class Review Seoul to Sydney).

You can accrue Asiana miles a couple of ways. They are a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you will have enough miles for a round-trip flight to Europe with only 40,000 SPG Starpoints (factoring in the 25% bonus on transfers in 20,000 point increments).

Another option is the Asiana Visa card issued by Bank of America. If you find yourself attracted to the Asiana program, this card is a must-have. The perks include a 30,000 mile sign up bonus,

One thing to keep in mind is that Asiana has a very attractive award chart for premium cabins to Europe. Business class is a mere 40,000 Asiana miles. So it could easily be worth saving up a bit longer to fly in comfort and style. Just remember that Asiana passes along fuel surcharges. If you fly on United metal, though, there won’t be any fuel surcharges to pass on, making them the best airline miles to Europe for flying United.

Korean Air SkyPass for 50,000 miles round-trip

Delving into SkyTeam territory we have Korean Air Skypass as a great option. One of the difficulties with SkyTeam awards is that fuel surcharges are passed on in all cases. You can minimize these when flying *to* Europe, but expect to pay high airport fees and moderate surcharges when returning to the U.S.

You can book a round-trip award to Europe for 50,000 miles. Delta charges 60,000 miles for the same ticket. As far as I am aware, Korean Air does not allow one-way awards on partners. But this is still a good deal at 25,000 miles each way.

You can earn Korean SkyPass points by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to SkyPass miles, or through Starwood Preferred Guest. There is also a co-branded SkyPass credit card issued by U.S. Bank.

FlyingBlue promo awards

The FlyingBlue promo awards come out every couple months. They are a discount (typically 25%) off of the standard award price of 25,000 miles. Economy will therefore cost you 18,750 FlyingBlue miles each way, plus taxes and surcharges. One downside is that they only apply to AirFrance and KLM flights, so you have to fly out of a large hub served by one of these carriers.

Given that both KLM and AirFrance charge significant fuel surcharges, using miles will only make sense if the cash price of the flight is quite high. But there are instances where even redeeming for the full 25,000 miles could make sense.

delta flying blue award

Flying out of a tiny regional airport might warrant using miles for economy

Still, I’d personally wait until the promo awards included a city near me, since a price of 18,750 miles each way is pretty phenomenal, and the main reason FlyingBlue makes the list of best airline miles to Europe.

British Airways Avios

British Airways is far down the list of best airline miles to Europe for two reasons: they charge hefty fuel surcharges on their own flights, and their use as a reasonable currency is pretty situational.

One of the best sweet spots, if not one of the most well known, is the 12,500 mile price for flights between Boston and Dublin (or Shannon), Ireland. Since this rings in at just under 3,000 flown miles on British Airways distance-based award chart, you pay the same as most domestic U.S. flights.

The only other good options are honestly flying non-stop out of an AA hub to a destination in Europe. Most of the U.S. will be 20,000 to 25,000 miles each way. But because BA charges you per segment, connections really drive up the price.

Other best airline miles to Europe in economy?

A couple honorable mentions are Lufthansa Miles & More for 25,000 Miles each way. Barclaycard issues a Miles & More co-branded card if you’re interested in collecting those miles. Singapore will run you 27,500 miles one-way, which is a slight discount over many other airlines’ 30,000 miles in each direction.

I’ll also mention United for 30,000 miles, mainly due to the high number of Star Alliance partners available in Europe, and the fact that MileagePlus doesn’t apply fuel surcharges.

Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about investigating these other programs, as there is an even better solution.

Best option: Use flexible points

I will argue that if you are flexible with carrier, dates, and routing, using a flexible points currency will honestly be the best airline “miles” to Europe for economy flights. With either the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or a Citi ThankYou Premier, your flexible points are worth 1.25 cents each when you book through each bank’s travel portal.

If you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, your points are worth 1.5 cents each through the travel portal. Similarly, if you hold a Citi Prestige card, your points are worth 1.33 cents each when booking American Airlines flights.

In my experience, you can fly to most major European destinations for less than $750 these days on full-service carriers, if you plan in advance. You should really be shooting for $500 fares if you live in any sizable hub. Even for your $750 ticket, you’ll be spending 60,000 points, which is standard in many programs, plus you will owe a whopping $0 in extra fees.

If you catch a $500 fare sale, you’ll be spending a mere 40,000 points. Since these flights will also be earning you miles (nor will you be dependent on available award space), this will likely be the way to go. Research all your options before you transfer your points.

Conclusion

Using flexible points for tickets to Europe will usually be your best option. But if you’re intent on using miles for coach travel across the pond, these are pretty much the best airline miles to Europe in economy.

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