Last November, my wife and I had this crazy idea. We wanted to take my mother in law on a trip to Asia on miles and share with her what we truly enjoyed in this miles and points game. We had previously taken her to Argentina and Uruguay for a long weekend (although that was on revenue, each paying their share), and thought she’d appreciate the chance. Well, she jumped at the opportunity, and through some negotiation, we initially decided that we would fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and back, with enough time that if we wanted to nest another itinerary we could.
Well that trip was originally scheduled to be this past March. For reasons I’ll not go into, we had to push that out to November. In the process, I lost what was one of my “bucket list airline products.” ANA Square Class on the ANA 777-300ER (my favorite aircraft type). We instead chose to fly roundtrip over the pacific on Eva Air’s 777-300ER (see a trend?) in Business.
Cut to today
We had decided we needed a change. I didn’t want to fly domestic from Seattle back to Washington, DC, and we have been moving away from a strong desire to visit Malaysia. Nothing against Malaysia, it just has dropped lower on our bucket list. Contributing to that, my mother in law expressed an interest in seeing the Great Wall and my wife and I have Chinese visas until early January. Things were really starting to sound like this modification was made to be.
Even more so, as we were talking to Kim, the United customer service agent, who was about as patient and amazing as one could ask for (especially with me no longer having 1K status). It took about an hour, but we finally had the itinerary mapped out.
The final itinerary had the three of us flying BWI-ORD-NRT(36 hour stop-over), HND-PEK (70 hour stopover), PEK-FRA-IAD. Finding 3 seats in First or Business is tough, so I took the personal hit to fly in ANA’s Square Class (First) from ORD-NRT, while my wife and mother in law were gracious enough to accept ANA’s very impressive business class. On the flight from PEK-FRA, I’m flying in Air China’s First Class, because even though United’s website showed three seats in First, they only confirmed one. My wife and mother in law will get some more “girl time” on that flight in Business. My hope is that Lufthansa First Class opens up on the FRA-IAD flight for 1 or more of us, because right now, Expert Flyer is showing F7 (7 out of 8 open seats).
I realize, as a hardened mile/point guy, I should’ve known that changing the routing would result in a re-pricing of my itinerary. The original itinerary was ~120k UA miles, but because we changed our destination and routing, it re-priced. For me, for example, I was quote an additional ~120k UA miles. My wife and mother in law were quoted only an additional ~40k UA miles.
Enter the balance of Irrational desires and sunk costs
My original feeling was that it was way too many additional miles. Before I started the call, I had already “invested” 360k UA miles into this trip, not inclusive of hotels. Now I was being told it would be an additional 200k miles. It took me a few moments to regain my composure and weigh the options. Knowing the United Award Chart like the back of my hand (like I’m sure most of you do), I realized that being quoted an additional 120k for my trip wasn’t necessarily unreasonable. I’d pay that much anyway, if I were to delay my ANA 777-300ER Square Class experience to another trip.
So here I was, justifying my additional 120k miles, so I could fly First Class on ANA’s 777-300ER, and Air China’s 777-300ER, with the hope of adding Lufthansa’s 747-8i’s First Class. For my wife and mother in law it was 40k UA miles more each. A drop in the bucket. It was a tough decision. Here I had my irrational desire to fly really cool international airlines’ first class products, and yet I was looking at more than 50% additional miles to do it.
Ultimately, my mother in law’s words in a rather simply stated e-mail made the decision very easy. She said “I would like to see the Great Wall, that is on my to do and wish list.” It sounds simple, but, really, when we started searching for this trip, it was about her. The fact that I get to check off some of my airline bucket list items is a bonus. The challenge I have from here out, is focusing on how I can make the hotel and tour choices (including the Great Wall), in Tokyo and Beijing about her.
Often, I think we get overtaken by the fact that miles open the door for luxurious travel. In reality, I am more and more believing that miles don’t necessarily open the door for that luxurious travel so much as they are a tool, a vehicle for us to see sights we would not otherwise be able to see, to enable experiences that we would not be otherwise able to experience. Miles and points, if used to their fullest, make the world our playground. In the words of the most interesting man in the world, “Stay thirsty my friends.”