My sister lives in Helena, Montana (HLN) the capital of the Big Sky State. The population of Helena is less than 30,000 people.
The airport there is really tiny. Long-term parking is $15 per week; you leave your payment in the drop box when you exit.
There are only about six flights per day out of HLN. The flights are not only scarce, they are also expensive.
My sister wanted to come east for our Mom’s 90th birthday and our Uncle’s 95th, so I offered to buy her a ticket.
Well there was no way she was going to let me buy a ticket.
But she would allow me to pay for her ticket with frequent flyer miles — miles that I had accrued largely through credit card sign-up bonuses.
That’s the reason I collect miles and points!
Extreme Travel Hacking for the Sandwich Generation
When I attended my first frequent flyer meet-up a few years ago, one of the old timers informed me that frequent flier miles should not be used for domestic flights. Excuse me?
I was told that I could get a much higher value if I redeemed points for international first class travel.
Over the past several years, I have redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles for flights — and all of these flights were economy class domestic travel.
Most people think of family travel as traveling with children. Our family travel is traveling to see family, or flying family members in for a visit. To me, that is maximizing the value of frequent flyer miles!
I don’t care whether I have to spend 25,000 miles or 50,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket. The “point” is that we use the miles to get where we need to go. Like many busy families, we have limited time off work and we must adhere to the school calendar. We don’t have much flexibility about when to travel.
I don’t mind paying a premium price (in miles) for travel during school vacation time, or for nonstop flights at convenient times.
Everyone Likes to Get Something for Nothing
The appeal of miles and points is that you feel like you are getting something for nothing. Whether this is real or an illusion has been the subject of much discussion.
My rational mind tells me that there is an opportunity cost for collecting miles and points.
My emotional mind tells me that it’s fun to travel with points — trips I might not make if I had to pay cash.
Delta Ripoff Blows My Story
I planned to write a story about how I was able to pull off a family trip to New York City for my uncle’s birthday party for free.
I flew my sister in from Montana for free by transferring SPG points to Delta.
My daughter and I got train tickets up to New York for free with Chase points I transferred to Amtrak.
We stayed in a nice hotel for free with Club Carlson points, and they offered us free breakfast.
Unfortunately, the reality conflicts with that story line.
Because of a change in plans, Delta socked my sister with a $150 change fee. Beyond that, she paid $25 to check a bag each way, and $11 in fees. Her “free” plane ticket ended up costing $211. Her Uber ride from the airport was $70.
These fees from Delta are totally annoying. I don’t think they should charge change fees on award tickets. When you read mainstream miles and points blogs, you don’t hear much about these fees.
There are a lot of ancillary costs for “free travel” that need to be taken into account.
How does the psychology of miles and points factor in to your decision-making?
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