A question of whether to spend miles and points on short domestic trips comes up often. Should we save our points and miles for aspirational redemptions to faraway lands or spend them to visit family? My answer is always this: do what makes sense to you and what makes you happy.
If you have young kids, a three week trip to Southeast Asia is probably pretty far down on your priority list. Giving your kids an opportunity to see their grandparents is a much more realistic proposition. If you have family across the globe, or across the country, you understand how important this hobby could become.
Why This Is so Personal
I wanted to write about this because this feels very personal to me. One of the main reasons I got into this hobby is because my family is scattered all over the country and the globe. The flights are long and expensive – so I had to figure out a way to travel frugally and with more comfort.
Thanks to my obsession with travel rewards, I can now see my family regularly and fly in a lie-flat seat on long transatlantic flights. If it weren’t for points and miles, I couldn’t afford to travel as often as I do.
And this is where having a good stash of points and miles could be life-changing. Last year, almost on a whim, I decided to go visit my cousin in Boston. Once I’ve made my decision, I’ve got to work. I found saver level award space on United, transferred some Ultimate Rewards points and booked my ticket. The whole process took less than 30 minutes.
Next, I had to find a hotel. Thanks to my good stash of Ultimate Rewards points, I found a good deal on a Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel. I didn’t have any Hilton points at the time, and I don’t care about elite status. So I wasn’t worried about earning qualifying nights or elite perks at this hotel. The rate included breakfast anyway, so I was very happy not to spend $150+ a night on an expensive Boston-area hotel.
I flew United economy on a tiny airplane and I definitely didn’t stay in a luxury hotel. But, I was happy to spend the points, because I went to see the family members I haven’t seen in a while. Our mini family reunion was a great success. I won’t hesitate to spend more points and miles on pretty basic travel arrangements again if I can save upward of $1,000 on a short trip.
Two for One – Visit Family and Spend Some Time Exploring
One of my favorite ways to use points and miles is to combine a family visit with another trip. I get to see my family and be a tourist! Think outside of the box, is there a destination you’d like to see when you travel to visit your family?
Spend a few days with the relatives, then rent a car or jump on a plane and go do something fun, see a new destination by yourself or with your family. You’ve already packed your bag, right?
This is what I did last summer. I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin, mostly because I love 20th-century history and good food, both of which are in abundance in Berlin. So when my aunt organized a mini family reunion just outside of Barcelona, my wheels started turning. I didn’t want to fly across the ocean just to see and do one thing.
I pulled up Google Maps and stared at the map of Europe for some time. And then it hit me, Berlin! Unlike Spain, and many other places in Europe, it’s not going to be hot and crowded in August. It’s only a two hours flight to Barcelona and the tickets on the low-cost carriers were very reasonable.
However, the flight from Berlin to Barcelona on Spain’s low-cost carrier Vueling was far from luxurious.
It was hot and crowded and the boarding area looked chaotic, like a scene from one of the disaster movies. Actually, just as I expected it to be in August in Europe, but I didn’t care. The ticket was cheap and I was going to see my family!
In Spain, I stayed in a tiny resort town about an hour outside of Barcelona. There was not a single chain hotel so I dipped into my stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and booked a room in a small, locally-owned hotel.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each. Some might think this is a suboptimal redemption, but Ultimate Rewards points are fairly easy to accumulate, and I don’t mind spending them on local, non-chain hotels. This hotel was basic but clean and had a very efficient air conditioner, an imperative in Spain.
This trip turned out to be perfect! I got to see a city I wanted to visit for a long time and I met up and had fun with my family.
Booking travel for someone close to you who doesn’t have miles or can’t afford to travel must be the most gratifying use of points and miles. Do you wish someone could come visit you? Book an award ticket for them!
If you have a child or a grandchild in college, it’s so easy to use your points and miles to get them home for the holidays. Want your mom to be there for the birth of her grandchild? If you have travel rewards, you can make it happen. Most airline frequent flyer programs allow you to book travel for other people. Just log into your frequent flyer account and book a ticket for them (don’t forget to change the passenger’s name).
If you have one of the best bargains in travel, the Southwest Companion Pass, you can bring with you one other person on a trip for free. It’s a great deal if you live in an airport that’s well served by Southwest and fly them a few times a year. Combine a great fare sale with the companion pass, and you’ve got yourself a very affordable trip.
In our pursuit of points and miles, we sometimes get carried away with optimizing redemptions and forget that the main point of this hobby is to be able to travel more. And that includes completely unglamourous travel we can book for ourselves or others.
Points and miles can make a difference between seeing your best friend get married or not. Want the grandparents to see your child perform in a piano recital or compete in a track meet? Want to take the entire family on a trip of a lifetime or on an Alaska cruise? This is exactly why we collect miles.
Don’t hesitate to spend your hard earned points to create memories or help others. One of the main reasons I became so involved in this hobby (lifestyle?) is to be able to see my family. I can now fly halfway across the world, or across the country, often in comfort, sometimes in basic economy, and see them. Nothing is more important than that.
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