Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Making the Most of Travel Reward Points

I am continuing my series of posts on affordable travel. I do a fair amount of travel and rarely pay full price. If you missed my first post which was an overview with 6 big tips for affordable travel you can read it by clicking here. The second post was about the Reward Credit Cards that I use and you can read it by clicking here. Today I am sharing how I get the most of my reward points. You may be surprised at what you read!

Antwerp 1

I am always shocked at the number of people who travel a lot but who tell me they have never booked a flight using airline miles or points. Several commercials on tv state that the seats are never available and you can never use the miles. I beg to differ. Here are two tips for using your airline miles.

Brussels 1

Book as early as possible! The sooner you book the more likely you are to get a reward seat. However, reward seat availability is based on demand for travel so I’m sure that there are fewer seats around major holidays so plan accordingly.

Amsterdam windmill

Flexibility is crucial! When I’m trying to book a reward seat I always try to book from the 4 airports nearest our home. If no seats are available I look for a seat on days before or after my target travel date. For example, if I would like to fly to New York on December 15 and no seats are available I check for seats on the 14th and the 16th. When my daughter and I were booking our reward seats to Europe, our dates were flexible and our arrival and departure cities were flexible so we kept searching for reward seats on various dates in or out of one of the cities that we wanted to visited. We searched for reward seats in and out of Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London. We ended up flying into Amsterdam and out of Paris. Once before when our family of 6 was traveling to Europe we called the airline very late and night with a list of dates and cities. The agent on the line was not busy since it was very late at night and he worked until he found 6 seats into one of our cities and 6 seats out of our selected cities. Once you get to Europe, train travel is very affordable for getting from place to place. It’s getting across the ocean that is the biggy.

1627 building 

Another option is getting a seat for the biggest part of the trip. For example, when we were traveling to China for the Olympics in 2008 I was not able to find any reward seats to Beijing. However, I was able to find reward seats to Seoul, Korea. I took those seats then purchased a ticket from Seoul to Beijing for a couple of hundred dollars each. The savings still amounted to about $2000 per ticket.

Finding a reward seat does require time and patience but they are out there. You just have to find one that you can use.

nice canal view

One of the unpublished benefits of the Platinum Delta American Express Card is the ability to “pay with miles” on some flights. When you “pay with miles” you use skymiles to pay for the price of the ticket. You can pay for part or all of the ticket.  When we went to New York in December for my birthday we used “pay with miles.”  We usually stockpile our miles for big trips, sometimes saving them for years before cashing them in but this year we did something different. When I looked for reward seats to New York they were available but for 32,500 miles each. I usually use the miles for expensive tickets and didn’t want to use 32,000 miles for a ticket that was $218. Luckily for us, these tickets were eligible for “pay with miles.” I used 20,000 miles for each ticket and paid the remaining $18 each. With this option you can certainly bring the price to an affordable option. Again, if you didn’t read my previous post on credit cards, you can read it here. Remember, you should always pay it in full every month.

train station

I also stockpile our hotel reward points to use when we are visiting an expensive city. I usually save them to use for New York since we usually go there every other year and hotels in the city are very expensive. This year I only had enough points to use for 2 nights instead of 3. The price of the room varied a lot while we were there. The rate for Thursday night was $299, for Friday was $339 and the rate for Saturday night was $419. I used the reward points for Friday and Saturday and put Thursday night on my Capital One card. I then used my Capital One points for  my “purchase eraser” to get a credit for Thursday night. Another option of my Capital One Venture Card is to get cash back. However, I get half of the value for cash that I would get for travel credit so I always take the travel credit instead of cash.

Amsterdam panoramic

I know this has been a lot of verbiage but I tried to give enough details that it made sense. If you have questions on something that isn’t clear, please leave a comment and let me know or send me an email phaney@lydiashouse.com.

a signature 

I’m linking to Grace at Home at Imparting Grace.


Bargain Decorating with Laurie said...

We don't travel much. Maybe if I read your travel tips, we could afford to do some traveling. Your pictures are beautiful and certainly make me want to travel. Thank you for the tips.

Shirley@Housepitality Designs said...

Wow...what great tips!...love the one of calling very late at night...makes total sense...and I have Delta miles, so I will definitely be checking out the pay for miles....You certainly have the skinny on travel and the places you have been are amazing!!!...

Vel Criste said...

You are just so good at this Pat! I'll try the night time calling thing someday and hopefully I'll be rewards savvy like you someday!

Brandi said...

We don't travel that often, but we do have a family trip planned for September. Thank you so much for sharing your tips.

Jaybird said...

This has been some very interesting information!!
Now could you please do a post on credit card rewards. When I call the company to ask questions, they may as well be speaking Timbuctoo-ese!!!
Thank you for being such a good teacher.

Susan (Between Naps On The Porch.net) said...

Such good advice, Pat! I just opened a Capital One Venture card right before I started traveling last fall. They were having a promotion where you got $40,000 miles if you spend a certain amount in the first 3 months. It's only been 9-10 months and I've already accumulated 115,000 miles. Amazing how fast the miles add up!