I’ve talked about how to buy frequent flyer miles for immediate use in travel, and why it could potentially be a good deal to do so.
But why stop at theory?
Here is the story of how I helped a friend of mine save hundreds of dollars using this method.
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Putting on [Buenos] Aires
My friend is moving to Buenos Aires this summer. (I know, sad, but way to live an adventurous life, dude.) Knowing of my interest in travel hacking he asked me if I had any advice for getting there as cheaply as possible. Tickets appeared to be in the $900-$1000 range.
There were some complications. He didn’t know exactly when he was coming back, but a one-way ticket seemed to cost as much as a round trip. I felt like $900 for a one-way ticket to Argentina seemed steep to me. I felt confident we could find a better way.
We talked about various options: buying a round trip ticket and then paying the $200 “change fee” when he knew when he was coming back. Also, buying a “refundable” ticket, one with no change fees (though the ticket is much more expensive), so he could move his return around as often as he needed.
None of this sounded optimal.
I can fly for miles and miles
For fun, I then went to the Alaska Airlines website (my current airline of choice) and investigated how many miles it would cost to fly from the US to South America and back.
To my pleasant surprise, the number was much lower than I expected: 40,000 miles. (For comparison, at the time of writing, US Airways requires 60,000 miles.). Even better, Alaska allows for one-way awards (US Airways does not). So a one way award ticket to Buenos Aires would only require 20,000 Alaska miles.
The cost to purchase 20,000 Alaska miles was $550, plus 7.5% tax, so a little under $600. This was certainly better than $900!
Then there was the question about award availability. Having miles is no good if there are no flights in which you can redeem them. Luckily, he was flexible about what day he could leave, and he found a flight that would work. Best of all, the taxes were low, only $20 (no fuel surcharges here). So for a little over $600, he was good to go.
Miles found under the couch
It got better. He did some more digging, and found that he actually had some miles sitting around in his Alaska account. They had expired (clearly he hadn’t read this post!) but he was able to pay a $75 reinstatement charge. He still came out ahead when factoring in the miles he would be able to reclaim.
Total cost: $476.
Sounds much better than $900, doesn’t it?
The biggest takeaway for me is that you want to keep track of your mileage balances. No balance is too small. 7,000 Alaska miles may not sound like much, but you can see how in this case having them was like money in the bank. It’s nice that Alaska let him reinstate “expired” miles, but it would have been better to not let them expire in the first place.
To help me, I use a service called Award Wallet. It’s a “freemium” service that tracks all of your mileage balances and warns you when they are going to expire. You can even manage multiple people’s accounts (after all, your friends/partners also don’t want expired miles either).
The other takeaway for me is that there is more than one way to make your trip happen. Even when airfare seems expensive or prohibitive, there may in fact be another way. You just have to look around and do some research. It took some time, but I think you can agree that in this case, it was worth it.
Everything worked out in the end, and my friend was able to save hundreds of dollars on his adventure to a new place.
So here’s one final takeaway: go have an adventure. Safe and happy travels!
But enough about my friend and me. Do you have any similar travel success stories?