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.”
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.
“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):
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.
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.
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…
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.
@%#*!!!! 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…