The first part sounds like a title of a country song, doesn’t it? The only thing that’s missing is a dead dog.
Anyway, my 12-year old son has always been a rascal, and I’ve documented many of his crazy antics on the blog. Between sticking metal objects into outlets and trying to climb over balcony in a hotel (10th floor), travel with him hasn’t been very relaxing, to say the least. Forget travel, my life since his birth has been anything but relaxing.
And I know exactly who he got his restless personality from. Me! When little girls my age were content playing with dolls at home, I was out climbing trees with local neighborhood boys. My parents told me that when we were out in public, they had to hang on to me for dear life. Otherwise I would run away. And I did, a couple of times. I guess I was practicing my great escape to America. I never broke any bones, though not for the lack of trying.
And just the other week I told a friend that I couldn’t believe my son never ended up in ER. Well. Our luck officially ran out last Thursday. I was actually working in his school as a substitute teacher, and they called me to the nurse’s office. Apparently, he ran too fast at PE and decided to slide under a volleyball net. The net won.
A trip to ER confirmed an elbow fracture, and we were told by a specialist yesterday that he would need surgery. We are scheduled for this Friday, which is more terrifying for me than my son. When I spent countless hours in the hospital a few days ago, I thought about families whose kids have a chronic illness. Their life consists of trips to a doctor. It made me realize that I (unfortunately) take my children’s health for granted. I also often daydream about exotic trips, and forget to appreciate simple moments like making pancakes on Saturdays and watching TV together. The little things.
I jokingly told my husband yesterday that this would be the “perfect” time for our old van to break down. And guess what? It did today. I seriously started laughing when I couldn’t start it this morning. Fortunately, my MIL lives across the street and will step in while we try to get the old clunker fixed at a local shop. We certainly can’t afford a new one, especially since we are now on the hook for at least $5,500 health insurance deductible for ER visit and surgery.
And yet, we are the lucky ones. I have an emergency fund I can tap into, plus Roth IRA where I can get original contributions out without penalty. It’s unpleasant and not something we expected to do. But emergencies rarely occur at a good time, don’t they? The most important thing is to get my son’s elbow fixed. Everything else is secondary.
The impact on our future travel plans
We have a Vacasa reservation at the beach the same day as the surgery. It’s only 1.5 hours away from our house, so depending on the situation, we may end up going after all. My son is supposed to be released the same day, if all goes well. It won’t be much of a vacation, but there is one compelling reason to drive there. The beach rental is located only 15 minutes from an excellent children’s hospital, and we live almost 1.5 hours away.
So, if something goes wrong, we can get to ER very quickly. I’m still debating whether it’s a good idea, and will play it by ear. If you are familiar with Wyndham/Vacasa partnership, you know that the reservation is non-refundable if you cancel 30 days before the stay. I booked it for 3 nights and paid 45k Wyndham points. We might send my daughter and MIL or even find a friend to take our place. I’m confident the reservation will be used one way or another. I hope it will be us, but it is what it is.
I also have a reservation at a local Hyatt resort during winter holidays, and we will likely keep it as well. My son doesn’t want to go unless he gets rid of his cast in time. I get it, it will be torture for him to watch all the kids splash around in the pools and knowing he can’t join them. Since I also used points for my SIL and hew new husband, I don’t want to mess with it. They are coming all the way from Detroit, and looking forward to some resort time.
I figured my daughter and MIL will have the suite to themselves even if the rest of us have to stay behind. I’m not giving up hope just yet, but the timing has to work out perfectly for my son to be able to go.
And then, of course, there is an issue of money. 2024 will be a very expensive travel year even after using points. My husband and I sat down and discussed what we could cut. Spoiler alert! We ended up keeping everything… for now. My son said how much he looks forward to Disney World after his cast comes off. Can’t cut that.
Our most expensive trip of the year is going to Europe, and the main reason is visiting my family. My parents can’t wait to see the grandkids, so I won’t be canceling. Plus, my dad’s health has deteriorated significantly since I last saw him in Montenegro. We will try to do everything on a budget, but that was my plan even before the accident and the car breakdown. I was a little sad about a stopover in Belgium instead of Switzerland, but I now think it’s for the best. Switzerland is crazy expensive, and that’s the last thing we need right now. Besides, I hope we can go there in a few years, and do it properly by staying for at least a week. I really like the location Nancy picked for her trip and want to do something similar.
I’m planning to use hotel points for our hotel in London, and book inexpensive accommodations in Zakopane, Poland (out tentative reunion location as of now). Of course, there will still be significant expenses, but I plan to minimize them by liquidating flexible points. More on that in the next section.
One trip that is the perfect candidate for being on the chopping block is our couple’s getaway to Peru. Ahh, I know I need to let it go, and my husband said the same thing. But I’m going to hang on to it for now. Once again, I’m hoping that my flexible points stash will help minimize the financial pain.
Our hotels are already covered (refundable rate), and I just need to book some tours and transfers. Who knows when we would be able to do it again. My MIL is still in decent health, but since she is almost 80, it will likely change within the next few years. Sadly. We are the designated caretakers, and her health will be our responsibility. Seeing friends take care of aging parents gives me a pretty good idea on what to expect. International travel is often out of the question.
Almost everything must go (even kombucha)
I wasn’t planning to tap into my flexible points, but we don’t have a choice now. I plan to liquidate my 105k Capital One Venture X points and redeem them against travel charges at a penny each. It’s not the greatest return, but there is no doubt in my mind that it’s the prudent thing to do. Sure, I could save them for some amazing award ticket redemption a few years from now, but our current needs trump that.
I also have 90k Chase Ultimate Rewards (worth $900). The apartment I booked in Brugge, Belgium is listed on Chase travel portal and costs only $28 more compared to Booking.com My plan is to convert Chase Freedom Unlimited to Chase Sapphire Reserve in order to get 1.5 cents per point towards travel booked via portal. But what about $550 annual fee? In 2019 I converted my Chase Freedom to CSR and discovered that the annual fee would not be billed for a few months. But I could use the $300 travel credit right away. So, I was able to take advantage of it again before converting the card back to Freedom. I’m not sure if it’s still possible, but the math checks out either way.
If I were to convert the card to Chase Sapphire Preferred, I would only get 1.25 cents per point towards travel portal. Once you deduct $300 travel credit via CSR, plus $5 monthly Doordash credit, the annual fee of $190 will be a better deal for me vs. $95 on CSP. And that’s assuming I’m not able to double dip on $300 travel credit. This is obviously a more compelling option because I plan to go through Chase travel portal. Otherwise, the points transfer to travel partners at exactly the same rate. Accessing airport restaurants via Priority Pass benefit (courtesy of CSR) may also pay off, but that would be gravy.
Also, I poked around, and we can even buy Machu Picchu tickets through the portal, as well as some tours in London. It’s not fair to say that I’ll get 1.5 cents per point since I’ll be foregoing any coupons and cashback via shopping portals. So 1.4 cents apiece is a more reasonable return, which is still pretty good.
I won’t be cashing out my miles towards gift cards, since the rate is pretty poor. I’m not that desperate yet. I also just signed up for Amex Business Checking account, and hope to collect 50k MR points once all is said and done. I will likely hang on to those, since I prefer to have some flexible points on hand at all times.
One thing is for sure, I need to conserve cash since our emergency fund is severely depleted at the moment. And will be even more so when the hospital bills start trickling in. Fortunately, I’ve already switched to cash back on our everyday bills thanks to Citi SYWR credit card promos. Cash is king for my family, now more than ever.
On a lighter note, I’ve also decided to give up Kombucha drinking habit. That should save us at least $60 per month (no joke), an indulgence I simply can’t afford for the foreseeable future. But if it helps us pay for Peru trip, that’s a sacrifice I will gladly make.
P. S. After I finished writing this post, I’ve discovered that my water pump for the house went out as well. Splendid.
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.