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As you may have seen, I was in Chicago earlier this week for a chance to talk miles and points on a morning TV show. I didn’t know about this opportunity until about two weeks before it happened, so it was well past the time when I could get a good price on airfare during the heavy summer travel season. For both emotional and logistical support, my mom was going to come with me on the one night trip, so I had a booking dilemma times two.
I was able to grab two flights on American Airlines from Houston to Chicago using British Airways Avios on the outbound. This was a downright bargain for 7,500 Avios each compared to the fares that were in the $400 – $500 range each way (even considered Spirit, but the times wouldn’t work). However, my award availability luck did not hold out for the return trip. There was no award availability at the saver (lower) level on any airline between Chicago O’Hare and Houston on the Monday evening I needed to return. Southwest could have worked since there are no black-out days with their points, but both airports they serve in Chicago and Houston wouldn’t have worked well for us.
I had some credit with United I needed to use, so I bought a revenue ticket using that credit for myself to come home. For my mom I did something I’m not sure I’ve ever done, I booked a domestic economy standard award for 25,000 miles one-way. Ouch! I was getting about 2 cents per mile return for booking it, but it did not sit well with me at first.
I set some alerts with ExpertFlyer.com so I would be notified if the flight (or others around the same time) became available on miles at the saver level. If they had, I would have re-booked at the lower rate of 12,500 miles. Since I have Platinum status with United that would be free, but if you didn’t have at least Platinum status you would be hit with a fee for changes within 21 days of departure that include any change to cabin, award type, carrier, date or time ($100 for non-elite, $50 for silver elite, $25 for gold elite). For me, I think that 12,500 miles would be worth even the $100 fee.
In addition to looking for an economy saver ticket so I could save 12,500 United miles, I also looked for a domestic first class saver award that would cost the same 25,000 miles as my coach ticket, but at least the seat would be somewhat better. In the end, on the day of departure, a first class seat did become available at the saver level, so I switched my mom to first class for the same 25,000 miles that I was already spending on her economy standard award. It didn’t save me any miles over the standard award, but at least she got a meal and a somewhat more comfortable seat to sit in for her trip home. It allowed me (or at least her) to get the most out of my standard award redemption.
Even if I hadn’t been able to do anything but keep her 25,000 mile ticket, I had come to terms with it. I ended up grateful that I have the miles to fly almost anywhere at a moment’s notice without being hit with huge charges on my credit card to do so. Even at 25,000 miles for a one-way flight, I got a fair deal, and if I looked at it from the perspective of 25,000 United miles + 7,500 Avios for the round trip it was even a more balanced deal. Sometimes the saver award availability we want just isn’t there, and we have to extend beyond our normal award booking practices. No matter what the cost, I was glad my mom was able to come to Chicago for the day with me!
Have you ever had to book at the standard (more expensive) award level?