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Helping a Family Plan Ahead to Stretch and Save Miles

Meet Martha, whose real name is not Martha. She loves to ski and travel with her two daughters and husband (Jack, whose name is probably not Jack – I have no idea), using miles and points to stretch her travel resources as far as possible. Like us, her family uses San Antonio as their primary home airport, and she contacted me looking for a way to possibly improve her plans for the next year.

Martha’s approach to collecting miles and points is The Demand Schedule. That is, she conserves the time it would take to chase after every deal, plans a year or more in advance and works to earn enough miles and points to cover their travel. She reads Milenomics (you should too) and has a very good handle on this game. She was primarily asking for some help with why she couldn’t get a New York-San Antonio ‘free one-way’ to price out correctly before a trip to Hawaii next year. I asked her to let me look at all 5 of her planned trips, and see if we could improve any of them.

Their combined balance:

  • Southwest: 50,000 points and one companion pass.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 50,000 points and growing rapidly, with plans to be used for that one-way from New York and trip to Hawaii all on United. United miles needed: 180,000.
  • American: 200,000 miles with another 110,000 on the way from a recently opened AA Executive card. (That card is still available, but the bonus is down to 75,000 miles)
  • AMEX Membership rewards points: 110,000 on the way due to a recent targeted offer for the AMEX Platinum card. I think she’s well on her way to developing the tendencies of an Opportunistic Hoarder.

Their one already-booked trip and planned future travel:

  • San Antonio-Baltimore in August 2014: already booked for 80,000 Southwest points total for 4 passengers, roundtrip.
  • San Antonio-New York in November 2014: planned using 51,000 Southwest points to get to NY, and using the free one-way on United for the return.
  • San Antonio-Vancouver in February 2015: planned using 100,000 AA miles for 4 passengers, roundtrip. However no dates work to give them coach seats in both directions so they were looking at likely using 150,000 miles and flying home in business class.
  • San Antonio-Hawaii in May 2015: planned using 180,000 United miles which also includes the return from New York above.
  • San Antonio-Italy in Fall 2015. This one obviously can’t be booked yet, but the plan was to use American miles using their off-peak pricing, or Air Canada miles (transferred from AMEX).
Domestic travel before saving 50K-100K miles.

North American travel before saving 50K-100K miles.

Making a good plan better:

North American travel after saving 50K-100K miles. Maps courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

  • SAT-BWI:  I found, and she probably already knew, that there was a workable if less ideal return from Baltimore earlier in the day that would save 4,000 points per person. That wasn’t enough to make a difference until,
  • SAT-EWR: I didn’t really like the idea of spending the United free one-way on a destination served by Southwest, so I started playing around on southwest.com and looked at an alternate airport. San Antonio-Newark with one stop is ~16,700 points one way on her dates. Austin, an hours’ drive away, is ~20,000 points roundtrip, nonstop! (No other carriers have low or saver level seats to EWR, just in case you were curious. And her companion pass means 4 fly for the price of 3.) So by changing her return from BWI and driving an hour on the New York trip, they will save several hours worth of layovers, dealing with unnecessary connections and free up their United miles!
  • She did go ahead and make these changes, so now it’s SAT-BWI and AUS-EWR. Since Southwest does not charge any award change or cancellation fees, the points were back in her account within minutes of changing to the lower ‘cost’ Baltimore flight.
  • SAT-YVR: 50,000 AA miles on US Airways flights via Phoenix. They have plenty of AA miles, and this is the perfect place to use some of them.
  • YVR-SAT and SAT-HNL: Now it’s time to use that United free one-way, and there are seats available on their dates! That is, if they open a United credit card and get access to XN award space. Without the XN space, not even one of the three one-way trips work:
Note the XN space required for 3 of the 6 segments

Note the XN space required for 3 of the 6 segments.

  • Using United miles to get home from Vancouver saves 50,000 AA miles if coach seats opened up for them, or 100,000 miles if they had to take the business class seats!
  • SAT-Italy: They are on the right track and will now have plenty of AA miles, but they’ll need to bulk up that AMEX balance to 120K over the next few months to be able to use Air Canada awards on Star Alliance airlines if needed.

What other ideas could Martha use to save even more? Or what can you do to improve your own planning? Maybe none of these particular tips will help your situation, but getting a second pair of eyes to look at it can’t hurt. Whether it’s an email to a blogger that has helped (or could help) you, or a post in the forum thread Award Booking Help-Burn Here, there are plenty of us who would be happy to take a stab at it!

Disclosure: Besides the names, a few date and destinations have been changed with Martha’s permission. The savings, however, are accurate. Please pay all of your credit cards off every month, and check the balances every month or close them!

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Narayan July 20, 2014, 7:38 am

    Nice one Kenny.. Seems so much like my situation!! I am closer to Boston (1 hr) and New York ( 2.5 hrs) and that helps..Don’t mind driving either direction.

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