Spring break travel using points and miles, Part 1: Extreme Frustration

A couple of years ago, right around this time, I was sitting in front of my computer, wailing and gnashing my teeth. This was BPAM (Before Points and Miles), I was trying to plan a family trip for Spring break, and I simply could not believe how expensive it was going to be.

So I did a little searching, I stumbled on Flyertalk, and the rest is history.

I love thinking about this watershed moment, because learning how to earn and use points and miles has been such a huge gift for my family that I would go so far as to describe it as priceless. Over the past two years, we’ve taken trips that we never could have afforded to take otherwise. I love the planning process itself as well – piecing everything together to create a memorable, satisfying trip is also very rewarding for me.

But it takes a lot of time. One thing about traveling on points and miles is that you have more options if you book way in advance. I’m skating on the edge of Spring availability right now, so I knew I needed to get my act together if we’re going to go anywhere this year (2014).

I asked my family for input and ideas. Josh was super helpful. “Somewhere free,” he instructed. “And warm.”

Dreams,” my son Bear told me. “I only want to go to Dreams from now on. That was my favorite vacation ever, because I could drink as many Pina Coladas as I wanted to. AND I got to order them all by myself from the bar! And they had trays of desserts! For free!”

“Well,” said my daughter Bird. “Since I’m moving to New York as soon as I graduate from High School, I think we should go there, so I can start figuring out the neighborhood that I want to live in. Also I really want to go to the library. And Serendipity.”

Okay.

At first I looked for a place we would all enjoy: Arizona, Portland, the Grand Canyon, and Washington DC were all on my list. But when I pitched these spots to my family, they kind of stared at me blankly.

“What about Dreams?” Bear asked.

Fine.

“Behold the wonder of points and miles!” I proclaimed. They stared at me blankly again.

“What does that mean?” asked Bear.

“It means great things,” I told him. And I meant it.

I set off to plan our (separate) trips: Bear and Josh could enjoy Dreams for a few days, while Bird and I would head to NYC. Here’s how my first planning session went (hint: look at the title of this post):

Flights

1. Avios?

My first step was to check to see if Bear and Josh could use Avios to get from San Francisco – Puerto Vallarta. At only 10,000 Avios each way, this would have been a steal. (We booked this exact flight for our trip to Puerto Vallarta in November – you can read the details here). Sadly, there weren’t any available flights, so I went to the next option.

2. Virgin America?

Ack! Flights are pricing out at over $700 round-trip for the dates we have in mind. Forget it. This is why I got into points and miles collecting in the first place. Using points doesn’t work either – it would cost 22,950 points each (!) on the outbound leg, and there aren’t any available flights for the return. Stupid Virgin America.

3. Alaska?

Intriguing. There is some award availability on both the outbound and the return. Also, first class is pricing out at only 7.5K more miles each way. (That would be a nice surprise for Bear and Josh!) Too bad I only have 31K miles total in my account (until my 25K miles post from the recent Alaska Airlines credit card bonus…crossing fingers that it happens!) If I had more time, I would wait for the extra miles to hit my account (or not), but I am feeling like I need to book these tickets soon. Josh also has 25K Alaska miles, but our combined miles are still not enough to get there and back again.

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4. American?

Possibly. Outbound flights in coach are currently priced at 17.5K miles, while return flights are at 30K. Maybe I could do a combo of Alaska and American…

5. Delta?

Jackpot! 45K miles round trip. Josh has 86,476 miles in his account. I could just quickly transfer 4K miles from Amex to Delta for a total of 90,476 miles. Plenty.

Done!

Or NOT…!

@%#*!!!! In the time it took for the points to transfer (15 minutes), availability is gone! Prices for a flight with a layover are now 55K round trip!

Grrrr. I’m too frustrated to continue. Going to stop here for the day.

I’ve gotta ask: does this kind of stuff happen to anyone else? While I don’t wish frustrating award booking sessions on any of you, I would love to hear your stories! They might make me feel a teeny bit better…

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Comments

  1. Spring Break is so difficult to book with points and miles, I guess unless you do it so far in advance. About a month ago, I was trying every which way to get us to New Orleans using Avios. Just didn’t work.

  2. Yes! This happens to everyone. It’s frustrating, but it’s (a not-so-much-talked-about) part of the game. You’ll figure something out….or you won’t. For every time I find 18,000 r/t Avious flights to Miami for a last minute cruise; I have another potential trip fall apart because I can’t line up cheap flights, cheap lodging, and cheap activities. The uncertainty is part of what makes it fun!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Eliza – I agree that the puzzle is a part of the fun, and it is what keeps me engaged. I also like to think that it’s like doing a crossword puzzle or something and it’s keeping my mind flexible 😉

  3. Clear your cookies/cache and go back to Delta. Oftentimes they will show a flight and if you do not book it they will vanish when you look again. Log out, clear cookies, log back in and it very well might reappear. Happens to me all the time. Best of luck.

  4. If you can find sAAver availability on American, my understanding is that you should be able to book it with Avios. Did you try calling in? You can’t book Alaska Airlines flights online with Avios but if you can find any sAAver availability using the AA website (whether it be on AS flights or AA flights) then you can book it with Avios.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Tyson – Yes, my first step was to call British Airways and check to see if I could use Avios. The rep checked for several days in either direction across my dates but was unable to see anything. Since I’m feeling a little less frustrated now, I am going to call again, but my initial call was a bust 🙁

    • Most frustrating with using Avios. I saw the saver awards on AA website and called Brit ish Airways CSR they said the seats were not offered to them and cannot book. So I went back and book the same flight using AA miles. Can’t figure out why they cannot see what I see on AA website.

  5. Jake from MSP says:

    Though I feel for you, your mistaken lies in your false hope for skymiles. Skypesos with their poor availability and worst-in-class search tool, really are the least useful mileage currency.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Jake – I agree with you!!!! We happened to have a bunch of Skymiles in our account from when I first started collecting points and miles and actually thought we would be able to use them. Josh got a Delta Amex when the offer was at 70,000 miles and flew a handful of times on Delta…and the miles have seriously been sitting in our account ever since 🙁

  6. Nance Kruh-Meyer says:

    you are not alone…..just last nite I was getting so mad, I would find availaibility on us air, then get there and the coach seats were “sold out” but for 60000 more points I could get one…..reminds me of the Alec Baldwin commercial…..

    • Points Pixie says:

      Nance – ARGH!! So frustrating! Thanks for telling me – does make me feel like the universe isn’t singling me out, ha ha.

  7. Nance Kruh-Meyer says:

    oh, I ended up booking 2 first class tix for hubby and daughter, and paying for my ticket..all my points are gone which is how they want it anyway:)

  8. If there is Alaska availability, then you can book with Avios. You just need to call in.

  9. Oh yes, all of the above. We were eyeballing a trip to D.C. with 13 year old grandson over spring break, but couldn’t get him to give us any enthusiastic feedback, or any feedback at all. He finally, very shyly, began to inquire about the clear waters around the Bahamas (a trip on our collective bucket list) and we realized that was the magic key. Now, we’re booked for the Bahamas over break. Now, for costs. We can get to Fort Lauderdale for free with points and companion pass, but flights to and from Nassau have tacked on $1000 for the three of us. It’s still the cheapest option we could find. And we’re giving up a couple of limbs for the resort. But to me it is totally worth it.

    Ya can’t have everything.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Anne – Actually sounds like you did very well with this trip. AND with getting a response out of a teenage boy – that might be your main accomplishment here. Well done!

  10. I feel your pain Pixie, although it is nice to see a post about the reality of using our points/miles. So many of the bloggers out there only tell us about the wonderful redemptions they snagged, not the difficulties of getting them (and many of them don’t have families and jobs with schedules that tie them to certain vacation times, so in reality it is easy for them to get one ticket on First class airlines to whevever when they feel like going on a whim…..not that I am jealous…..).
    Good luck in nailing down something fun for all of you.

    • Points Pixie says:

      LauraPDX – Thanks for the props.

      It definitely is more of a challenge to plan a family trip than it is to sail off by yourself for the weekend…although once the family trip is planned, it really feels like an accomplishment. (Trying to see the silver linings here).

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