See our Advertiser Disclosure and Editorial Note here.
A few months ago, I wrote a post on my dilemma as to what to do with 53k Merrill points that I’ve had for over four years. In short, I pondered on whether to cash out my points for $530 or wait and see if I can use them up towards airline tickets at a far more favorable rate.
One of our readers made an excellent point when she said “I’d just cash out now and invest it. The stock market YTD has gone up 20%, bonds are as high as 7%. What has this stash of points done for you lately?”
This made me realize that not cashing out the points had a real opportunity cost. After all, there is no guarantee that Bank of America will keep the program in its current state. So, I set myself a deadline that if I don’t find a good use for these points in the next few months, I’m cashing out and investing them.
A perfect opportunity finally presents itself
In a few months I have tentative plans to meet my family in Montenegro. I use the word “tentative” because they live in Belarus, and the events of the last few weeks have changed the situation drastically. There is even talk of Martial law being imposed in a near future. So, there is a good chance that they simply won’t be able to leave the country.
However, we also have plans to visit Iceland afterwards, and I intend to keep that portion regardless of what happens with Montenegro. Originally, my MIL and SIL were not planning to join us in Europe. But a few days ago, they suddenly changed their minds. My sister-in-law also decided to add Faroe islands into the mix.
So, we had to come up with a plan for their airline tickets. The flight from Reykjavik to Faroe islands only operates on certain days of the week and is usually quite expensive. So when my SIL found a good deal ($330 per person), she decided to grab it even before booking the airfare from US. So, she is obviously very much committed to this trip.
I checked my various mileage currencies, but none of them had a decent value proposition compared to cash price from Orlando. I saw tickets for $650 roundtrip on Delta, or we could use 80k miles. Even though the former was in Basic Economy, once you factor in taxes, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to go the mileage route.
And then I remembered my Merrill points. While the selection isn’t as good as you would find on Expedia, this particular flight was listed in the portal. So, I ended up burning the points towards two tickets.
A nice thing about Merrill portal is that it lets you pay the price difference via credit card, at a cost of one cent per point. The real value, of course, lies in redeeming 25k points towards $500 in airfare rather than $250 in cash. So, it looks like I was just able to double my investment after all! Well, not exactly, since I don’t plan to ask her for reimbursement. She will help with costs in Iceland, and that’s good enough for me.
Of course, the world situation can change drastically in a few months, but my SIL plans to buy travel insurance with “cancel for any reason” option. I think it’s a must under current circumstances.
Adjusting our award flights
As I’ve said earlier, when I booked our return tickets from Iceland to Florida, my in-laws were not planning to join us. So, I picked the most convenient/closest airport to where we live, which happens to be in Fort Myers. Unfortunately, revenue tickets from Fort Myers to Iceland are considerably more expensive compared to Orlando. Since my in-laws will leave their van in MCO, it made sense for all of us to fly there on our way back.
Unfortunately, the rate via United program has increased from 35k miles per person (what I paid) to 39k miles. But it is what it is. It wouldn’t make sense to ask someone to pick us up from the airport, when my in-laws have a van available. So, I’ve transferred some UR points to United, and rebooked our award tickets. To be honest, we may still end up changing the whole thing if my family can’t meet us in Montenegro. But for now, at least we have something in place.
Hoping for the best
I don’t know how this whole situation with Ukraine will change in the upcoming months. I’m heartbroken beyond words. Obviously, the human catastrophe that is unfolding as we speak can’t in any way compare to me not being able to meet my relatives. Right now I’m just hoping that mom and dad stay safe in Belarus, everything else is secondary. In the meantime, life goes on, and I continue to make travel plans with the help of miles and points.
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.