Sunday, September 15, 2013

Happy to Be Sitting in the Back

Well, thank you John and Sergey! On Saturday, a US-Russian agreement was reached to diplomatically disarm Syria of it's chemical weapons. So, of course, my father immediately jumped on and looked up flights to Israel for my mother and me in a last minute attempt to salvage what was supposed to be a 2.5 week visit.

The good news was that we still had our $2,300 credit to use for future United flights and that I still qualified for Lap Child status (10% of adult fare) since I won't turn 2 years old for another few months.

The bad news was that last minute flights to Israel were running almost $1,600/person. Then add the $300/person change fees we'd have to pay to use our flight credit, and you're talking almost $1,900 per person for just 6 nights in Israel. Normally, EWR-TLV round trip runs about $1,200-1,400 per person, and we originally bought tickets for $1,100 per person.

United Miles to the Rescue (Again!)
Fortunately, my father had about 150,000 United miles in his MileagePlus account and another big stash of Chase Ultimate Reward points. For 80,000 United miles per person, we could redeem for the exact itinerary we wanted paying just $44/person cash for taxes and fees. Since they weren't about to leave me at home, they also had to purchase a lap child ticket for $144. So total cash outlay would be just $232. Not too shabby!

Unfortunately, the outbound flight was pretty full so we were only able to get seats together if we sat way in the back in Rows 41 or 43 (see seating chart below).

Usually, because of my father's United elite status, we were used to securing seat assignments upfront in the Economy Plus section and enjoyed some extra legroom. But as some of you may know, my father has abnormally short legs, so maybe I'll ask the flight attendant to get him a nice hot cup of "Shut the Hell Up" before we take off.

Upgrade for Extra Miles
Fortunately for my whining father, our last minute Hail Mary story gets even better. The return flight to Newark had award seats available in business class for just 20,000 more miles per person (plus an additional $117 cash).

So my parents and I could either:
  • Fly round trip in economy for 160,000 miles + $232; or
  • Fly outbound in economy but return in business class for 200,000 miles + $349  
Given it's a 12 hour overnight flight back home, redeeming an extra 40,000 United miles (aka 1 credit card application) to get two 180 degree lie flat beds was a no-brainer. Plus, my favorite part - business class gets an ice cream sundae after dinner.

Redemption Value
Now, they say you can't really claim that you "saved" a certain amount of money by using miles/points unless you were going to spend that amount of cash anyway. But I'm only 22 months old, so I don't get into those philosophical debates. All I know are these facts:

1. United offered my parents the option to purchase that exact itinerary for only $6,000 cash.

2. We paid just $349 cash and used a bunch of frequent flyer miles.

3. If we waited until after I officially turned 2 years old, we'd have to purchase 3 seats.

4. Most importantly, I get to see my grandparents and great grandmother in Israel this week!

So if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice my floating for the Dead Sea.

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