The absolute best way to use frequent flyer miles


I’m going on a big trip starting this week, and I’m really excited about it!

I’ve hinted about it in previous posts, but I wanted to lay it all out here so you can share in my excitement and enthusiasm. It has to do with travel and frequent flyer miles, yes, but it also has to do with family.

Reminder: anyone can travel

One of the threads running through these posts over the years I’ve been writing here is that it is possible for us to travel more if we want to. And that includes you. Yes you.

At a glance, here is some further reading on this topic:

Travel’s importance in our lives is also a big part of my e-book: Stick It To The Man!

And yet, I get it. If you’ve never traveled before, it’s overwhelming. It may not be as expensive as you think it is, but it’s not free. It requires stamina. And it’s not always easy.

And when I say I get it, I’m not just being polite. I grew up in Philadelphia, and if you exclude a family trip or two to Florida, I hadn’t left the country until I was 20, and even in my home nation, I hadn’t been west of Cleveland. Believe me, I didn’t grow up knowing how to travel.

So even though I write here, I know there’s only so much I can do for you out there. For people closer to home, however, I can do much more.

Hi Mom

This is my mom and me.

Mom and me, selfie-style.
Mom and me, selfie-style.

Mom has listened to me talk about my adventures for years now, patiently sitting through my picture slideshows (which I try so hard to cut down to a reasonable length, but fail), seeing these places vicariously through me.

How many times over that years have I hear Mom wistfully talk about how she wished that she could go to some of the places that I went? She had been to Portugal once, in her 20s, but she had barely used her passport since then.

I knew she dreamed of Europe. I knew she specifically dreamed of England. Of Hugh Grant London.

But it was too expensive, and she just didn’t know how to do it. Or so she said.

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Of course I’d want to give my mom some of the experiences that I’ve had. Of course I knew that she could hack it. Of course I knew that she could afford it. I knew that it would take some planning and diligence. And focus.

But while I knew my mom had it in her, I needed to offer something more if it was ever going to happen.

Finally, I hatched the plan which I thought was simple and elegant. Sitting Mom down, I handed her this:

Way better than a card.
Way better than a card.

And told her that I was buying her a plane ticket to London.

Conditions of travel

My gift came with two strings attached, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They were as follows:

  • She would need to save up and pay for the trip. I wanted to show her that travel didn’t need to be that expensive, but more importantly, I didn’t want her going into debt because of my gift to her. So I offered to help her plan, to figure out how to put money away, figure out how much she needed. To see that it really was possible, and not too hard.
  • The offer would expire. Why would I do this? Because I wanted her to not put it off. It would be easy to let overwhelm and insecurity push her to say “I’ll go next year” every year until the end of time. There would never be a time where it would get any easier, so I wanted to light a fire under this plan. (I did extend the expiration date somewhat, but I was still following the spirit of the idea.)

The plane ticket

Now, let’s be honest, a ticket from the US to Europe is expensive. If only I had a way to offset the cost of plane tickets…

Oh wait.

I had been amassing US Airways miles for years. And even though I had switched over to amassing Alaska Airlines miles, I still had a pile of US Airways (soon to be American) miles.

Which I gladly used. I ended up using 60,000 miles to go from Philadelphia to London, returning through Paris. (We added in Paris during the planning process, because we could.) I paid around $80 in taxes which, when compared to the full $1200 ticket price, is kind of an acceptable trade-off.

The whole point

I have to be honest, the pleasure I’ve gotten from helping my mom plan and execute this trip easily overshadows any excitement I’ve had to trips I’ve planned on my own.

Obviously, I’ve benefited handsomely from being able to travel with frequent flyer miles (like my trip to Asia or Scandinavia). But I had traveled a lot even before then, so I had already tasted the experience of going around the world.

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Now, via frequent flyer miles, I was giving the same experience to someone who hadn’t had much travel experience. And it’s my mom. I mean, I’d love to be able to just outright buy her a plane ticket. I’d love it if $1,200 were nothing to me. And while eventually I believe it will be, right now this is the only way I could do it.

The whole benefit of frequent flyer miles is that it allows for experiences that you might not otherwise be able to have. Giving that to others amplifies that to such a high degree for me. It feels like all the hard work in accruing miles is more worth it now.

Let’s go

This is my mom’s trip, not mine. Aside from the stipulations mentioned above, she was free to do whatever she wanted, however she wanted. I wasn’t even planning on going.

But when she asked me to accompany her along with her partner, how in the world could I say no? “I want to travel the way you do,” she said. “No, actually, you really don’t,” I said with a laugh. But I was honored, and unhesitatingly agreed to accompany her.

The day that this post goes out, I’ll be leaving Portland en route to Philadelphia and then points onward. I’m so excited. Not for me, but for Mom. Okay, a little bit for me too.

But enough about me? Have you ever helped someone achieve a travel experience? Have you ever bought a plane ticket for someone? I’d love to hear about it.


  1. mpinard

    Yay! Have a blast! 😀 Breathe deep and stay in the moment, too.

  2. Steve

    Best son ever! Have fun buddy! 🙂

  3. drew

    such a good son 😛

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