My grandmother turns 80 years old this year, and still lives in the town where both she and I grew up, population 20,000. She has never had a passport, and never been outside the United States.
Since my grandfather passed away about a year ago, she has been stretching her wings a bit. She’s since been to California and Florida to visit a couple of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren
There are about 30 of us grandchildren in total, and another 30 or so great-grandchildren (I’ve lost count.) That’s a lot of kids, but it seems she is still excited to add one more, probably because I am her favorite ;) It would be a shame for her to be unable to see and hold GCCjr because of cost and distance, so I’m flying my Grandma and my Mother to Taipei to see GCCjr in May
With a total price tag of $457.40, why not?
Travel Hacking Award Tickets
It’s been awhile since I booked a flight this complicated, and the airline website tools don’t make it any easier
The idea was for Grandma to fly from Minneapolis to San Francisco, visit my sister and her kids for a couple days on a stopover, and then fly together with my Mom to Taipei. They would return together to San Francisco and my Grandma would go solo on the final leg back to Minneapolis.
A normal Saver Award from the US to Asia is 70k miles round-trip. These are limited, and a so-called Standard Award requires 160k miles. The Saver Award is definitely the way to go
But no matter what I tried, there were no Saver Awards between Minneapolis and Taiwan with a connection in San Francisco. Flights were either $1,400+ dollars, 160k miles, and/or had ridiculous connections. Who wants to make a connection in Chicago and Denver en route to San Francisco?
Since airline computers are dumb (on purpose?), I simplified things by looking only at the San Francisco to Taipei flights. By choosing to fly on a Monday instead of a weekend, I found great Saver Award flights. Even better, the flights were on Asia based partner airlines, which I find provide a much better level of service
At this point, I decided to book two tickets for my Grandma, one for the international flights using miles and another for the domestic flights using cash. I could do this on the airline website, but instead I called the airline
By doing so, I could guarantee that the flights were on the same itinerary. Since international flights allow for 1 free checked bag, my Grandma can now check a bag in each direction. Total savings: $50
Had I gone with the default the airline wanted me to chose, I would have had to pay 70k miles for my Mom and 160k miles for my Grandma
I like the option I chose better
Mom’s ticket: 70k miles + $41.60 in tax
Grandma’s ticket: 70k miles + $41.60 in tax + $374.20 for the domestic flight
Total cost: 140k miles + $457.40
Why pay for the domestic flight instead of use miles?
I could get a Standard Award ticket for the domestic flight for 50k miles, and a Saver Award ticket for the international flight for 70k miles. This would have saved 40k miles over the Standard Award international flight and saved us $374
But that isn’t good value for our mileage. Using 50k miles to save $374.20 would value the miles at less than 1 cent each (0.75 cents/ mile)
I would rather use those miles at a later date when they can provide greater value
Mileage Value and Savings
I could have just paid cash for this itinerary. The airlines would certainly prefer this option. There were even some convenient flights available at reasonable prices
Mom’s ticket: $1,074 (includes $72.40 tax)
Grandmas’s ticket: $1,425.44 (includes $91 tax)
But using miles saved us $2,042.04 out of pocket.
With these prices, those 140k miles were worth 1.5 cents each, twice as much as if I had used miles for the domestic flight.
This is near the low end of what I like to get for $/mile, but I prefer this to paying $2k out of pocket
What’s not to like, when most of these miles were free. Using an Airline credit card as our main spender, it is possible to get a free trip or two a year
Want to score your own free flights? Check out these offers
But where will they stay?
We have a great apartment in the center of Taipei, just a short walk to the hospital where all of the excitement will begin. It has 1 bedroom. For a newborn baby and 4 adults. 2 of them jet-lagged and the other 2 sleep deprived
In many of our longer term stays, we rented apartments with an extra bedroom to entice visitors. It’s hard for people to get away though, and it was seldom used… so we stopped. It didn’t make sense to pay extra for unused space
Instead we are looking on Airbnb.com for a small apartment nearby. Nice studios just 1 minute away are available for $50 – 60 a night, and I’ve contacted a few of them to see about longer term discounts. We looked at one this morning, with the owner offering a rate of $40/night
By having my Mom use our referral link for Airbnb, we will receive a $25 discount on the room and a $25 credit of our own for future use. I haven’t decided which credit card to use yet, but by paying for the room with a card we will also get up to 1,000 airline miles for future use or 1.5% cash back.
Trying to get airline award tickets for two people flying from different cities is a horrible pain. By being flexible, we were able to get the best return for both our miles and our money
Although 1.5 cents per mile is not the best rate ever, it did save us over $2,000. There is nothing better than getting something for free that you were going to buy anyway
Our Airbnb strategy also looks like it will pay off, paying less rent each month for everyday life and a few extra dollars for extra space when people visit.
It’s been too long since I’ve seen my Mom and Grandma. I can’t wait to introduce them to GCCjr, show them Taipei, and feed them all of the “delicacies” Taiwan has to offer :)
What kind of value have you received for your miles? We’d love to hear your travel hacking success stories