Hopefully, before you read this, you have either signed up for reward accounts or have your point values at hand.
Let’s start with flights. How can someone translate frequent flyer points into almost free flights? The best way to work the system depends on the carrier, and since the HH and I primarily use two airlines, I will use these as examples. You will get the idea. Jim, the HH, alternates between using Southwest and American Airlines for work unless neither go to where he needs to be. He uses three things to choose flights. The first two elements for choice of carrier go hand-in-hand: cost and schedule. He is conscientious to find the most cost-effective flight that meets his work schedule needs. If the carriers’ flight times and cost are comparable, then he will usually choose based on our personal travel plans; that is the third consideration. If we are planning an out-of-country trip, American is the choice; if we need miles for a domestic trip, Southwest is the go-to carrier. One must know where the airline flies to plan how to use points effectively.
Planning is key, especially for flights out of the country or during peak travel times.
Once my husband and I have settled on a date and destination and PTO has been approved, we book our flights. From experience, if anyone waits too close to the date of travel, award tickets may not be available. Only a certain number of award tickets are allowed on any given flight. Make sure, as much as possible, that your travel time is certain. If you are unsure, then you may want to purchase travel insurance, depending on your travel arrangements. At the time of this post, Southwest airlines will return air miles to your account without penalty if you cancel in advance of the flight; American charges a fee to return the miles to your account.
Now, we have the destination, the dates, the approved PTO, the carrier we want to use, and the number of air miles with which to work. Here comes the fun; it really is fun for me. You have to outwit the system to get the best possible flights for the least amount of money. What? I thought these flights would be free. I’m sorry folks; you still have to pay the taxes, and taxes vary greatly between carriers and locations. Sit at your computer and plug in potential airports – go to the point where you see the actual flights on which you would travel and the cost in air miles and taxes. DON’T GO ANY FARTHER UNLESS YOU ARE READY TO BOOK. You can do this over and over up until the same point – as often as you need to do so until you find what works best for you.
While planning our trip to Italy, Jim and I wanted to see as much of the country as we could. We planned to use rail to travel in country (we love public transportation). To fly from Nashville into Rome by way of New York, the taxes were very little – about $70 each. If, however, we wanted to return to Nashville from Rome, the taxes were going to be $200 or $300 each. What! No way. I kept checking other major airports in Italy into which American flew. BINGO! Milan was our deal. That was perfect for us as we wanted to travel through the country, so we would fly into Rome and out of Milan after seeing several wonderful cities as we traveled by rail to Milan. These tickets were booked well in advance. Another consideration is the amount of miles you use. Traveling on Monday to Dublin, Ireland might, for example, cost 60,000 air miles per person, but if you fly to Dublin on Tuesday, you may be able to fly for 30, 000 miles per person. If you have flexible dates, consider this in your planning. Some airlines have black out dates. You may want to find out what the black out dates are before setting the dates of your trip if you intend to use air miles.
Using frequent parker points is super easy. You sign up and earn your points, and when you are ready to travel, you go online to your account. Select the dates you want to park (even a partial day counts as a day) and the level of parking lot (short term versus economy, for example), and then click to redeem the points for free parking.
Hotels are usually pretty easy, but as with airlines, book as soon as you know your plans. Priority Club (Holiday Inn chain of hotels) is the one we use almost exclusively. As of the writing of this, points for hotels can vary from 10,000 to 50,000 per night, depending on type of property. Often the option to use fewer points with a small monetary fee is also available. For planning our trip to Germany, I have chosen a downtown hotel for one night at the cost of 25,000 points. The night before we leave, I have chosen another level of hotel based on location that is 10,000 points per night. I hope to book a hotel in Prague that will cost us 35,000 points per night; we just need to decide for which nights we need to book.
Rental cars also have reward programs that can garner you free days of car use. These work pretty much the same way as hotels and airlines.
Like most things in life, success is in the planning. That being said, we have done spontaneous trips on points also. A couple of years ago, the HH came home on Thursday night. Friday morning he said, “Since it is Labor Day weekend, let’s go somewhere.” We went to the computer to see which Southwest flights leaving later that day still had availability for reward tickets. We found three potential cities, and chose the one that sounded good to us. Then, we booked our free parking at the airport and free hotel nights in that city. Next, we threw some clothes into a bag and headed for the airport. The result was an amazing 3-day spontaneous adventure that only cost us a rental car and gas (no points for the car at the time), food, and the attractions.
If you have questions about using points and air miles for personal travel, drop me an email.
Have a blessed and happy day!
This work by Angela C. Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at livingandlovinglifeafter50.