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Planning and Burning for 2015

Recently we’ve been on somewhat of a miles burning spree. Our miles aren’t earning interest and, oddly enough, we’d like to do some traveling in 2015. Let’s look at these trips, what to do when none of the sweet spots work, and the definitive answer to how much miles are worth. I’m joking! Please let’s not start another argument over mile valuations!

1 cent. We look at each and every unspent point and mile as a bright shiny penny. Sure, we hope to get a lot more value than that, but a low valuation helps us avoid hoarding millions of miles because there is a better opportunity around the corner. It also keeps us from overpaying for miles.

Trip #1


is a very simple roundtrip from Austin to Cancun, nonstop both ways on Southwest. This far better than any other available schedule from San Antonio or Austin as well as the only program with award seats at a reasonable rate for our inflexible dates. Since we don’t know if Bonnie will have a new Southwest companion pass by then, we booked 3 tickets with points and the 4th with my companion pass. If she is able to get a pass before we travel, we can use Southwest’s awesome cancellation policy to get those 22K points back. I tried to use the free night we have from the IHG credit card to stay at the Intercontinental along with 25K IHG points for the second night, but their two-bed rooms have a max occupancy of 3. More (unfortunately typical) hotel program fail for family redemptions. Instead I booked the Westin for 17K SPG points total. We may switch to another hotel if I get time to research more options. Total cost for the 4 of us: 66K Southwest points, 30K Arrival points due to Mexico’s high taxes, and the 17K SPG points. And zero dollars.

Value compared to paying cash: 2.4 cents per Southwest point (3.2 cents if we get the second companion pass), 1 cent per Arrival point and 2 cents per SPG point.

Trip #2

SAT-BZEis another long weekend trip. After a lot of island and Caribbean time between now and then, we plan to head for the Mayan ruins and jungle in Belize rather than sun and snorkeling. Once again the school schedule set the dates for this trip so there isn’t any flexibility. Getting down there, I found saver level seats on exactly the United flights we wanted. So a saver level return on United would price out at 22K ANA miles per person roundtrip, but no such luck to Belize or anywhere else in Central America. Just because this sweet spot is there doesn’t mean it will work. After watching the schedule, it looks very unlikely that United or AA will release the space we need for Sunday afternoon, so we booked those United flights for 17,500 miles per person and the return on AA anytime awards at 27,500 miles each. Plus 4,000 Arrival points for taxes. The silver lining of AA’s devaulation of some anytime awards earlier this year is that they are now some of the lowest priced one-way awards on off-peak dates and this qualified as one. So we’ll take the main cabin extra or whatever AA calls their economy plus seats and get the exact schedule we want. While that’s a ridiculously high price to pay (one-way saver award seats from Europe would be cheaper) but totally worth it because it makes the trip possible. Cash tickets for that weekend are $850-$900.

We found a cool jungle resort not too far from the airport and the Mayan ruins, away from the city, but they wanted around $650 vs 57,600 AA miles. Since we had 1.7 million AA miles and no $650 bills laying around, I used the miles. See, as I added each additional AA Executive card to our collection this year, I knew I’d wind up burning some of them for hotels and other ‘low value’ redemptions. And this was the perfect place for one of those. Total cost for the 4 of us: 70K United miles, 167,600 AA miles, 16K Arrival points and $22.40.

Value compared to paying cash: 2.43 cents per United mile, 1.3 cents per AA mile, 1 cent per Arrival point and 1 cent per penny.

Trip #3

YYJis a concept at this point. 3 or 4 days in the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia. Coach saver availability is bad on AA, US and UA so figure 50K Southwest points or so at 3.2 cents value per point and as many Arrival points and pennies as it takes. Maybe throw in some Avios for Alaska flights to and from Vancouver or Victoria. There’s a really cool sounding floatplane flight from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria for $168 16,800 Arrival points which would be the second most expensive paid flight we’ve bought in a long time, after a Texas-Israel one-way for $246 24,600 Arrival points. Or maybe we’ll take a ferry or something.

Trip #4


All maps courtesy Great Circle Mapper.

I wrote about booking this one and some higher-than-expected surcharges and taxes, but we’re definitely looking forward to our first visit to Asia (besides Israel) and our first long-haul business class trip. It cost 110,000 AA miles and $142.70 per person from San Antonio to Bali and returning from Hong Kong. There were no Cathay or Dragonair seats from Bali to Hong Kong so we’ll use Air France or Delta miles to book that on Garuda. Say 10K Air France miles and $40 or 4K Arrival points per person. Value compared to paying cash for flights we might actually buy (in coach): 1.72 cents per AA and AF mile. Value compared to the retail price of flights we’ll enjoy but would never consider paying for (business class): 7.26 cents per mile. Actual value: priceless. This is an experience for our family that would not be possible without the miles and points game.

So there you have it. No fancy tricks, no free one-ways or stopover itineraries. Not because we don’t know how to use them, but because they often don’t work with real-world family schedules. Instead we have the trips we would like to take on a schedule and budget that works for us. To the tune of 905,000 miles and points for travel with a price tag of around $14,000 all in coach or $40,600 if you call $6500 per person a reasonable price for a couple travel days of additional comfort. I don’t. All told, we are getting what I call 1.55 cents per mile along with opportunities of a lifetime. Now, for the first time since we started collecting miles a couple years ago, our total mileage balances are lower than they were 2 months ago. Time to plan some applications! 🙂 And I’m pretty sure another short trip or three will work into the schedule, like hopefully FT4RL2.

What are you booking  or looking at for 2015? Like I wrote about here, you may be able to stretch your miles and points much further than we are next year. But I hope if you have miles, points and kids, that the experiences come before the price tag when it’s all pretty much free!



{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Wasabirobot September 5, 2014, 12:38 pm

    Thanks for saying this! I’m using many of my miles for non-optimal redemptions because I also don’t have any $650 bills 🙂 It really is hard to find award availability on a specific schedule sometimes so we do what we can.

    • Kenny September 5, 2014, 1:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing – it’s easy to focus on the highest value redemptions and pretend our miles are worth that, but it doesn’t always work that way in the real world.

  • saianel September 5, 2014, 1:12 pm

    I personally think SW redemptions are the best for holiday weekends; availability always exists & you can cancel and rebook if the price drops.

    • Kenny September 5, 2014, 1:18 pm

      For sure, especially those of us in the middle of the country. From East and West Coast oneworld hubs, Avios might have an edge.

  • Kirsten (@TheAmericanTravelProject) September 6, 2014, 1:37 pm

    I burned so many of my miles this year! I need to rebuild those balances! Upcoming we have Jamaica, Aruba, and a huge National Parks road trip for summer 2015 (CO, NE, SD, ND, MT, WY, ID, UT), Disneyworld & I am trying to plan a Spring 2015 trip. I am pretty much earning and burning at the same time.

    • Kenny September 6, 2014, 2:06 pm

      Yeah, we managed to burn a lot less than we should have for our 2014 travel due to a couple of mistake fares and Arrival points. I’m ready for another one of those! Now that we have booked Bali our earning and burning should be more balanced.

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