Save Tens of Thousands of Miles by Checking Airline Partners

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A few weeks ago I got the idea of skipping throwing a regular birthday party for my youngest daughter this year and instead heading with her to Disney this summer to celebrate her third birthday doing her favorite things…dressing up and being surrounded by princesses! As long as the Disney part of the trip starts before she turns three years old, she is free for the duration of the trip since “no one ages at Disney” and children don’t require paid tickets until they are officially three before the trip starts. That amounts to pretty big savings over a paid Disney experience, and combine that with skipping traditional birthday party expenses, using some miles and points, and the plan isn’t all that crazy…just the right amount of crazy for my tastes.


Little girls. Big castle.

Save 40,000 miles thanks to airline partners

I could fly from Houston to Orlando next week in the middle of February for just $67 round trip, but we aren’t going next week. We want to time this trip with both my daughter’s birthday and when the kids are off school for the summer, which of course isn’t when the cheap $67 round trip flights are available. For our July dates, even Spirit Airlines wants close to $300 per round trip, and that is without seat assignments, carry on bags, etc. Add in a few fees and multiply by four, and all of the sudden this fun plan isn’t looking so fun-tas-tic anymore.

Thankfully, of course, miles and points can help us out a bit. The question becomes how do we get the best deal for our miles so that this fun, quick, trip doesn’t end up being a big financial burden.

Since summertime paid fares are higher than I like, using points at a fixed value probably isn’t the best strategy for this trip. My preferred route to keep things simple with the kids is the United nonstop from Houston to Orlando. If I booked this flight as a United saver award it would cost 12,500 miles per flight, which means 100,000 miles for a family of four. Yuck. We can do better.

Thanks to the geographical grouping of Texas and Florida (and Montana?) in the same region, this same United saver award flight can be booked for just 7,500 LifeMiles each way. For a family of four, this means just 60,000 miles for the entire trip instead of 100,000! LifeMiles does charge a $25 fee per award ticket, so factor that in, but the overall savings can still be massive.

Avianca LifeMiles is in the Star Alliance and while you can’t use United miles to book via the LifeMiles award chart, you can transfer your Citi ThankYou points at a 1:1 ratio to LifeMiles.

You will then be able to book many of the exact same United operated award flights as you could using United miles, but potentially for less depending on your routing. If you don’t have Citi ThankYou points, note that LifeMiles frequently has sales where miles are available for less than 1.5 cents per mile which may make sense depending on the cost of the paid fares you are trying to avoid.

You can learn more about using LifeMiles in this post, but while the program is far from perfect (especially if you need to call them for any reason), it can save you tens of thousands of miles when flying around the country on United with your family. Do be aware that there has to be United saver award space in order to book the flight with LifeMiles and it needs to be the kind of saver space that isn’t ‘bonus’ space available to United cardholders and elites. You can either just poke around the LifeMiles site to see what is available or on the United site in ‘Expert Mode’ it will be the flights with X space available as opposed to XN space.

This is similar to how you can book via British Airways Avios to save a ton on American Airlines operated flights. For example, flying nonstop from Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, or New York City to Orlando would cost 25,000 American Airlines miles per round trip at the saver level, but you could do the same thing with just 15,000 British Airways Avios per round trip since they use a distance based chart and all of those are in the cheaper distance band.

Knowing your airline partners and their award charts can really make or break your miles and points balances. This isn’t a new concept, but it is one that is worth remembering as partners can save you tens of thousands of miles even on routine domestic trips. I’ll keep you posted as this trip evolves (or changes!), but if you want to see how we put together a Disney World trip for less last summer, you can head here as I’m sure we will re-use some of those same tricks and strategies if we return this year. 

What airline partnerships do you routinely use in order to travel more for less?

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Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

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  1. I think you forgot to mention the $25 booking fee ?! And it’s per person, not per reservation.

    Plus, their taxes and fees are basically random numbers and confusing. If you try ORD-IAH in May, system correctly prices out at $36.20 (25+11.20), but if you randomly pick say ORD-OKC nonstop in May, the total is $85. Why? No clue at all.

    Another random pair – ORD-BIL (with 1 stop) in May, again $85. ???

    IDK what I am missing.

    Cheap miles, but really annoying!

  2. I know you have mentioned this before but I love using KrisFlyer for United J. 20k miles (or 30k to Hawaii) sure beats flying economy at 12.5,k.

  3. I was poking around the LifeMiles site to see about booking an award ticket in the future. I put in US to El Salvador, 15,000 miles each way + $30 in taxes and fees. When I changed it to 3 tickets, it was 90,000 miles (round trip) but the taxes and fees jumped to $189. Any idea why this would be or how to work around it?

    Also, is it possible to use United Miles for an award ticket on Avianca (IAD to SAL)? How would I find that?


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