I’ve mentioned many times how much I hate paying annual fees on credit cards. I do whatever I can to avoid them. There are exceptions, like Chase IHG MasterCard and US Bank Club Carlson Signature Visa. But those two cards give me perks upon renewal, so I don’t mind shelling out my husband’s hard earned money to keep them around.
The problem with flexible points is that usually you have to pay a fee to keep them in their state of flexibility. I don’t count SPG program because the points don’t transfer instantly. To me, it’s best for topping off mileage accounts and category 1 and 2 hotel redemptions.
There is a new card called Amex EveryDay (not the Preferred version) that is a game changer. It earns Membership Rewards points that can be instantly transferred to various airline programs AND doesn’t charge an annual fee. What’s nice about it is that you can pool points between various MR-earning Amex cards, so if you cancel one with a monster annual fee (Amex Platinum, I’m looking at you), Amex Everyday can help you preserve them.
However, the sign-up bonus is paltry and that’s my main criteria when picking a card. It gives 10,000 points (the offer pays me referral), but my advice is to try to convert another Amex card, unless you are absolutely desperate for Membership Rewards currency.
There is another way to achieve flexibility, though, it’s more complicated, no doubt. You can just have various mileage accounts redeemable on several airline alliances. That’s the route I decided to take. I try not to hoard too big of a balance, but good enough for at least a one-way ticket. My main consideration is having miles that can get me to Europe.
My parents are starting to have various health problems, so you just never know when I’ll have to drop everything and fly on a short notice. Few weeks ago, I wrote how my dad may need a surgery. Well, ironically enough, he was having that very surgery as the post went live.
I had no clue since my parents didn’t tell me about it, so I wouldn’t worry. Ahh, my dysfunctional family… Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get as far away as possible from them. And now, all I try to do is minimize out time apart.
But once again, it made me think about a possibility of flying on a short notice. As you can imagine, last-minute tickets to Europe are expensive. Fortunately, I have miles that should get me there if the need arises. My main consideration is being able to find outbound flights to Europe. Let me show you what I’ve got:
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: Costs 21,500 miles one-way in economy (plus $130 tax and fuel surcharge) from Orlando to London. I have about 55,000 miles, which is enough for coach or business flight. From London, I could purchase a cheap ticket to Vilnius (Lithuania) on Ryanair and get someone to pick me up and take me across the border.
United: Costs 30,000 miles in economy to fly from Orlando to Minsk. I have 60,000 miles in two accounts. This option would be ideal. I do plan to burn the miles for my parents’ flights, though.
AAdvantage: Costs 20,000 miles one-way in the off-season, 30,000 miles in the summer to fly from Fort Myers to Moscow on Air Berlin. From Moscow, I can buy a one-way ticket to Minsk, which usually runs $120, even when purchased last minute. I have 65K miles which will soon turn into 300K due to merger with US Airways.
British Airways Avios: Costs 25,000 miles one-way from Orlando to Dublin, where I could catch a flight on Ryanair. These miles don’t actually belong to me, but my mother-in-law. However, if the need arises, I know I can count on her.
As you can see, there is a good chance that one of those programs will have something available. Europe has a lot of discount carriers, so I feel confident that I should be able to get to Poland or Lithuania (countries that border Belarus) without spending a fortune. Flying to Minsk (the capital) is ridiculously expensive because only few airlines serve it, and all belong to Star Alliance.
That’s why United miles are becoming increasingly valuable for my situation, since the program doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, its partner. My husband just got approved for Chase Sapphire Preferred, though, he doesn’t know it nor does he care. I’m certain he’ll be happy with the attention the card gets, it’s so very pretty. I may end up speculatively dumping the bonus points to United instead of Southwest right before canceling the card.
While for my family, travel within United States is discretionary, going to Europe is not. We plan to fly there every two years, and my parents come here every year in between. It means that every 12 months we’ll need between two and four roundtrip award tickets. At some point, I hope to bring my sister and her family here as well. Those miles will go fast.
Meanwhile, having them in different mileage accounts does give me a measure of protection. One of the pluses of having miles instead of flexible points is that you can redeem them for standard awards.
Those usually cost at least double, but for last-minute tickets can still represent a good value. As I’ve mentioned previously, when you deal with a partner program (like redeeming Avios for American flights), you only get access to saver awards, which may not be there.
You have to keep track of expiration dates for several mileage programs at once. Some are forfeited after only 18 months of inactivity, so you have to be vigilant. Award Wallet can help you in this respect, but it doesn’t track all programs. Dan at Dansdeals blog has put together a chart of various loyalty programs and expiration policy for each one
I still recommend you focus on collecting flexible points if at all possible. It’s much easier to keep track of one currency instead of four. IMO busy families should keep things simple so they can focus on more important things. Basically, do as I say, not as I do. However, if you are a bonus chaser like me, it could make sense to go this route.
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.