With 2012 coming to a close I wanted to look back on the many trips we managed this year that were all made possible due to this hobby of collecting miles. We manage to pull off several excellent vacations that would not have been remotely possible without covering the majority of the costs with miles and points.The point of this is not to gloat, but rather to illustrate how far, literally, the miles and points game can take you with a little time and effort.
First up we spent a week in late January/early February in Whistler skiing. Whistler is so far our favorite ski resort and we made this trip using 200k AA miles to get the family of four there and back, going out using AA’s domestic First product and coming back with a combination of Cathay Pacific First and Business class. Seems someone at AA made a mistake and charged the same price for both the First and Business class return portions. Being gentlemen, my son and I let my wife and daughter go in First for the Vancouver – JFK flight while we “slummed” it behind them in the mini-cabin of business. Our plane had the new Cathay business product which was amazingly comfortable, though the story of my daughters open-mouthed wide-eyed amazement at seeing the Cathay F suite and asking “is this all for me?” is a nice memory 🙂 I used Starwood points for our stay, cashing in 72,000 points for seven nights at the Westin which was a great spot for the family right at the base of Whistler. Out of pocket costs ran to our transfer to and from Vancouver (around $400 all in using the Pacific Coach), our ski tickets and ski school which ran around $1,200 all in for 6 days of skiing and 5 days of ski school for each of the kids, and our meals and sundries, so around $2k all in all. A quick check on Expedia puts a regular flight & hotel package at around $4,500. So a $6.5k ski trip become a $2k ski trip with luxury travel thrown in for good measure.
Spring break was up next and we used more Starwood points to book 6 nights at the Walt Disney Swan, this time setting us back 60k points (half of which I got signing up for a 30k offer that ran earlier in the year). We also cashed in 190k Delta points to book four flights RDU-MCO and add in a week of car hire. This was actually booked very late (booked 21st March for travel just 8 days later) and while 42,500 each was a lot for a short flight, I had a big stash of Delta points and frankly it was a wonderful vacation. The more hardcore in the points crowd would call this one a waste of miles, who wants to use a ton of miles going to Orlando? But if fitted our bill just right. Out of pocket on this trip was basically $1k for a 6 day ticket Disney ticket for all four of us. This time a cursory check shows a similar trip next Spring Break would cost us $3k for the flight and hotel, and that assumes booking now – book a week in advance and you could easily double that figure.
Summer was the time for the blockbuster trip to the Maldives which I have detailed and continue to detail on this blog. A lot of miles went into the making of that particular movie but it was obviously a spectacular trip, and the kind of redemption that appeals to those who seek to maximize value as well as the experience itself. This trip was just my wife and I and the kids stayed at home with their grand-parents, but my hope is in 2013 or at worst 2014 we will be able to take them with us to experience this place as well. Even flying in coach a trip like this would set you back $5-10k per person. Actually paying for First Class would treble or quadruple that amount or more. A “once-in-a-lifetime” experience – or once every couple of years if you focus enough on collecting miles 🙂
Thanksgiving we normally spent at home, but this year decided to cash in some Southwest points to try out Vegas! And it turned out to be a great move, even as a family with relatively young kids Vegas had a lot to offer, as well as a spectacular trip out to the Grand Canyon. We only used miles for the flights on this trip, with Southwest offering direct service from RDU. I have to say for my wife it was a bit of a culture shock, going from Singapore Airlines and Etihad First Class to Southwest and their real cattle herding style boarding process and complete lack of on-board amenities! Thanks FrequentMiler’s good spot on double-dipping with Sears gift cards I had a lot of points and a companion pass that is good through the end of 2013 so the mileage cost was low, but I have to say we will stick to shorter routes for Southwest in the future. I can see another trip to Orlando using Southwest next Thanksgiving in our tea leaves!
Finally we used up another big chunk of Delta points for a Christmas vacation to Montreal, where my wife hails from. This time we had to cough up 40k each for the round trip, but at that 40k level availability was very good around the holiday time, unlike AA or any of the star alliance carriers where we’d have had to forked out 50k+ each. Delta mid-level awards have become something of our “go-to” awards for domestic trips, and so the assumed switch to a Southwest style revenue based system may not be a big shock for us as we are already using the program in a similar manner. We also used 120k Hilton points, which as I have detailed on this blog basically grow on trees and are very easy to replenish, to spend three nights at the Homewood Suites right in the heart of Tremblant village to get in our first ski trip of the 2012/2013 season. I will have a short post on that fun trip shortly.
In addition to that I personally used tens of thousands of Avios points for my trips to and from NYC. At 4.5k plus $2.50 for each one way trip this is truly one of the gems of the miles world. The thing with these redemptions is unlike all the others detailed above, they are not discretionary. These are trips I’d need to pay for otherwise. So they are really worth the 3 to 5 cents per mile value I get out of them. Fortunately I still have something in the region of 300k Avios left, but I think I will transfer some Amex Membership Rewards before the current transfer promo ends to boost up this highly valuable short-haul domestic currency.
So that was it for 2012, four fabulous vacations with a whole bunch of cash saving domestic trips sandwiched between. 2013 is already looking equally promising. Our next ski trip looks potentially even better than Whistler. This time I managed to score four elusive 25k seats on Delta to Salt Lake City and we are staying at the Waldorf Astoria Park City at the base of Canyons Resort for a week at a mere 45k Hilton points per night. I also plan to cash in some Amex Membership Rewards to pay for some lift tickets for Canyons as well as taking advantage of my son’s 5th grader skis free passport. Oh and I used another 50k Delta points to rent a Suburban for the week which will be great for getting us to and from SLC and let us explore the area in a little comfort. This promises to be a great ski trip that would easily cost us $6-7,000 paying out of pocket, whereas I expect our out of pocket to be well under $1k this time.
Spring Break is proving more complex. I want to go back to the Maldives with the kids, but given the really high cost of AA awards on Etihad (having to do two awards one between US-UAE and one between UAE and Maldives) I wanted to try and combine it with another trip to make it more efficient. What I had in mind is booking an AA award that would be Abu Dhabi to JFK in Etihad first/business, and then have a 9-10 month stopover and add on a leg JFK to Vancouver for a ski trip in winter 2014. The problem is it means waiting until last minute to book the first leg so that the second leg is within 12 months of the ticketing date. And availability is now getting tight. So this may end up getting shifted into the summer, or even 2014 and I’d switch the saving leg around so the AUH-JFK was tacked on the end of the YVR-JFK leg. We shall see. Whenever we do go we will likely stay at the Conrad which at 37.5k per night for 6+ night stays is another gem. Also it’s closer proximity to Male and kids facilities make it much more attractive when travelling with an 8 and 10 year old in tow.
Other places I want to visit are the Cayman Islands to try out the diving there (a possibility for Spring Break) and it’s been a while since we hit the homeland in Europe where I have a boat-load of Club Carlson points to use up. Lots to ponder and plan as we head into the New Year! Here’s wishing it will be a Happy and Prosperous one for all of us mileage junkies!