Thursday, January 8, 2015

Best Friend Reunion

So it looks like my family is starting an annual tradition with our best family friends in Chicago. Last winter, we all met at the Wisconsin Dells to enjoy some indoor water park action in the middle of frigid February. This year, we're all getting together in sunny Orlando, Florida!

As I may have mentioned in an earlier post last year, my father's friend Paul started a new residential painting business called Five Star Painting IL.

As a part of being in the painting industry, they attend a big group conference each January. This year, the conference is in Orlando, and they're flying down next week, January 15th.

Because my father simply cannot stand being away from me, my parents and I decided we'd all fly down together. While my father and Paul were in their meetings, my mother and I would be enjoying the hotel pool. Paul, however, was going to come solo, leaving behind my two best friends, Jack and Connor, and their mom, Beth.

But through the magic of frequent flyer miles, my father was able to find some award availability for Paul's family to join all of us down in Florida.

First, my father searched online to see what it would cost to pay in cash - just to have a benchmark.

We should note that Paul had bought this exact itinerary back in November for $380/person. Looking a week out, the cash prices for the same flights were a ridiculous $683/person....

...but with they were only going to pay $36/person in cash. Yes, thirty-six dollars! Here's how we did it.

Flight 1 - Chicago to Orlando (on United Airlines)
Beth wanted to fly on the same flight as Paul since she'd otherwise be flying solo with 2 young kids. Since Paul was on a United flight, we looked at using United miles. While there was no Saver level availability (12,500 miles each way), we did find Standard Awards (25,000 miles each way).

So for 50,000 miles + $11.20 taxes + $50 close-in booking fee, we secured 2 seats for Beth and Jack. Connor, being under 2 years of age, could fly free as a lap child. For one way tickets that were going for $427/person ($854 for two), those 50,000 United miles saved $793 total. Not an amazing redemption, but 1.6 cents/mile isn't too bad. Throw in the fact that we were able to assign them Economy+ seating for no additional cost, that was another $100 in additional value received.

Flight 2 - Orlando to Chicago (on American Airlines)
Booking the return flight, we had even better luck. Not only was there award availability, there was Saver level (12,500 American miles each way). However, as you may recall, whenever American has Saver level awards, then you can also book those same exact flights using British Airways Avios (as we did for Chicago 2014 and Puerto Rico 2013).

But remember, the BA Avios program is distance based, not region based. Meaning, American charges the same 12,500 each way for any flight in the domestic US. However, BA Avios charges miles based on the distance, so a 1,005 mile flight costs just 7,500 BA Avios plus $5.60 in taxes per person!

Combining the fact that American Express was having a 40% Bonus for transferring their Membership Rewards into BA Avios, that meant we ended up using just 5,357 Amex MR points per person!

For a one way flight that would cost $256/person, that's a ridiculous 4.8 cents/MR point redemption. Even without the Amex 40% transfer bonus, that would be 3.4 cents/BA Avios. Had we used American Airline miles, then it would have still been a respectable 2.0 cents/AA mile. But of course, that MR transfer was our best option!


Some multiple choice questions to think about...

Flight 1
a. $854 cash for two passengers; or
b. 50,000 United miles + $61.20 cash

Flight 2
a. $512 cash for two passengers; or
b. 10,714 Amex MR points + $11.20 cash

Weather next week
a. New York: 36 degrees
b. Chicago: 21 degrees
c. Orlando: 77 degrees

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