Now and again I like to do posts that highlight using miles and points in a real world. After all, that’s why we collect them in the first place, right? One time I saw someone on Travel Hacking 101 Facebook group compare accumulating miles to a game of checkers and redemption process to playing chess. Spot on!
Image courtesy of podpad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Sure, if you have Southwest currency, the process is easy. You simply log into your account and search for flights. Southwest is perfect for regular families because there is no stress involved on whether you’ll even be able to utilize points. If the seat is available, you’ll be able to book it, albeit at a high rate when searching last-minute.
But what if you need to go somewhere where Southwest doesn’t fly? Or rather bring a family member for a visit to US? That’s the issue one of my readers faced recently, so he reached out for help. Here is the email (edited):
Do you know anyone who can help me get the award flight from India to USA? I can pay for this service if I can get it for a good price.
I need 2 roundtrip tickets:
1) HYD (Hyderabad, India) to JFK – first week of June and return during first week in November.
2) HYD to JFK – first week of August and return during first week in November.
2 return tickets should be on the same flight.
US Bank FlexPerks – 120K points
Chase transferrable UR currency– 300K points
Amex – 160K MR points
American AAdvantage– 200K miles”
My email response (edited):
“I don’t think you need to pay anyone to do it. I’ll be happy to make a few suggestions. I think your best bet is to burn FlexPerks currency. If you can find a flight right under $1000, it will cost you 50K Flexperks points (taxes included). Plus, the tickets will earn miles.
It’s very simple. Just do a search through Flexperks portal and play around with dates. Then book the two tickets separately. I checked AA.com and all flights seem to involve British Airways, which adds huge fuel surcharges. Stay away. So, long story short, FlexPerks should be your first stop, followed by UR portal, followed by Amex.
If you want to try to add stopovers, using miles would be the way to go. Check this post for various requirements http://travelisfree.com/2015/03/04/cheapest-miles-to-india-the-middle-east/ In general, you are looking at price of 60K-80K miles roundtrip, plus taxes and potential fuel surcharges.
If you just want a simple roundtrip flight, FlexPerks is probably your best bet. You have more than enough points for two tickets. Just try to find a price right under $1000.”
Reader’s follow-up email:
“I used FlexPerks points to get the tickets, but the starting airport is MAA instead of HYD because it was a cheaper routing. I was able to book one ticket for 40K FlexPerks points and the second one for 50K points. An interesting discovery: there is no 60K points’ threshold in FlexPerks program. When the ticket price is between $1,000 and $1,400 you have to use 70K points, and for $1,400- $2,000 ticket it’s 100K points.”
The beauty of FlexPerks
I’m a big fan of this program and was able to utilize it a few times for my parents’ tickets from Belarus to USA. It’s perfect for simple roundtrip (or open jaw) tickets that don’t include crazy routings or stopovers. The rate is tied to the price of the ticket. There is a catch, however. If it goes over the maximum redemption price by even a dollar, you are bumped into the next bracket.
So, let’s say the ticket costs exactly $400. You can book it for 20,000 FlexPerks points. If it costs $401, you’ll have to shell out 30,000 points. In that instance, you may be better off just saving the points for another flight and using currency like UR points (especially if you have CSR that unlocks 1.5 cents per point towards travel). Another great option is Merrill airfare portal, which I’ve described in detail in the second part of this post.
The airfare for my parents usually costs close to $700 roundtrip per person, that’s why FlexPerks portal is a great choice. In fact, I plan to utilize it in the next few months. If this price holds up, I’ll be able to burn my 40K points for one ticket and use Merrill bonus for the second one. Compare it to 60K miles (plus $115 tax) I would have to shell out via traditional mileage programs, and it’s easy to see why it’s a no-brainer for my particular situation.
Cards that earn FlexPerks points
If you are looking for a juicy sign-up bonus on the Visa version, right now is not the best time to sign up for it. You should wait for Olympic games because US Bank usually bumps up the offer to correspond to the number of medals US team ends up winning.
However, the sign-up bonus on US Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express card may be worth considering. Here are the details of the offer:
- Spend $2,000 in first 4 months of account opening and earn 30,000 bonus FlexPoints
- 3X FlexPoints at restaurants
- 2X FlexPoints at gas stations
- 2X FlexPoints at airlines
- 1X FlexPoints per $1 spent on all eligible net purchases
- Annual fee is $85 (not waived)
This card pays us commission, but it’s very difficult to find on the affiliate site, ha! Of course, do check my Hot Deals page first to see what other offers are available.
Who should consider this offer:
1) Those who plan on booking an airline ticket that normally costs $600 or a bit less. Obviously, anything over $600 will require 40,000 points. If you plan to use this card till next annual fee hits, you should be able to get to 40,000 points’ level. This will give you an opportunity to get two tickets that cost $400 or less.
2) Folks who usually pay cash for tickets and who spend a lot on restaurants, airlines and gas.
3) People who are diligent about maximizing Amex Sync offers. Since it’s an American Express product, you should be able to take advantage of various deals through Twitter or Facebook.
When using miles is a better option
While revenue prices on airline tickets have been going down as of late, that’s not the case for all routes. So, if you are one of the unlucky ones who absolutely has to fly to an expensive destination, miles can come in handy.
For example, while bringing my parents to Orlando is best done via FlexPerks program, if I wanted them to fly to Hawaii, redeeming traditional miles would be the way to go since tickets can cost as much as $1,500 per person. Two more examples: one-way redemptions and last-minute travel. Those can sometimes cost an arm and a leg (via cash).
There are many tools to find out which program will be the right fit. I really like Award Maximizer on TravelCodex. It’s a very simple, user-friendly tool that shouldn’t be too intimidating for beginners.
Some bloggers have dedicated pages on their sites like Cheapest Miles To… on Travelisfree, which I highly recommend. Obviously, programs and mileage requirements change, but it’s still a good primer on what options are out there. For those who are looking to dip their toes into “stopover” world, Travelisfree has a page on it as well (though it is a bit outdated).
Of course, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to give some free advice. I won’t personally book tickets for you, but I’ll point you in the right direction (or try to).
While there is no question that accumulating miles and points is easier than redeeming them, the latter isn’t a rocket science. Once you familiarize yourself with various options, your knowledge will pay “dividends” going forward. No need to pay anyone for something you can do yourself. Yes, you can do it!
Leana is the 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.