Helpful Points for Using Travel Points
My first title was actually going to read “what’s the point in using travel points?” as I’m sure this is something you may have thought while hopelessly searching for a convenient way to travel using reward points. It seems like these companies do everything in their power to dissuade you from using your points by creating blackout dates on half the year or making you fly half way around the world in order to go one province over. It can be super frustating but there are ways to make using travel pointers easier and still save money on flights.
For our trip to Orlando/Florida that I’ve been blogging about the last two weeks, I decided I would try to purchase our flights with some travel points we had saved up. We actually have this great MBNA Alaska Airmiles card that gives you 25,000 points when you first sign up and this can equate to a free round trip flight in the US if you can find discounted rewards flights. We managed to go to New York two years ago using our points with this company and ended up only paying the taxes on the flights which are actually very cheap for US flights compared to Canadian taxes which are insane! I saw the most hilarious ad the other day that said “$9 for one-way to Glasglow” but, in small print below, it read “$650 in taxes and fees!” Come on! Pretty tricky, eh?
I was so excited that I managed to book our flight to Orlando using our points and then we just bought a connecting ticket to Halifax from there…but there was one small hiccup which I didn’t really consider when I pressed the “accept” key online…the layovers!!! You see, the total flying time on the way back from our trip was only 10 hours, (still a bit farther than flying straight across Canada, but we had to backtrack to Orlando in order to use our points!) but with all the layovers, early check-in times and driving, our return travel day ended up taking 24 hours! Oh, and did I mention that this was with a one-year-old child? Thank God our son is easily entertaining by people and managed to spend most of the time waving “hi” to everyone in the airports and on the planes. Plus, we fed him A LOT! Goldfish crackers are now my official best friend!
Not my finest moment as I realized the travel hell I had put my poor family through and looking back, I probably would have decided that saving money on our airfare wasn’t worth this lost day of our lives— but hindsight is always 20/20 right?
Anyway, from this experience I did manage to discover a couple of good tips on how to best use your travel points and not have to live in an airport.
1. Book your flights early! As soon as you know when you want to go on vacation, contact your travel points company to see if there are flights you can apply your points to. Most of these programs only allow so many seats to be bought up using points, so the sooner you book it, the better chance you’ll get to use your points. Plus, you may actually get to book the only two seats available on an actual direct flight…these are few and far between but they do exist.
2. Consider the TOTAL amount of travel time! As I said earlier, really look at your itinerary and first consider this: you usually need to be at each flight at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours prior to departure. Then calculate how many transfers there are and what the layover times are between each flight. I was talking to a flight attendant on one flight and she told me that her sister had used travel points to fly from Orlando to New York but with all the layovers, it took her over two days to get there! Sometimes it just may be better to buy a regular plane ticket if you want to get to your destination straight from A to B. (Something I will definitely consider now that we are travelling with a child!)
3. You don’t HAVE to use travel points just on travel. Most rewards programs with credit cards and Airmiles have a catalogue filled with items you can buy using your points. So if you cringe at the idea of travelling two days for a five hour flight, this may be a better option for you. You can buy everything from appliances to gift certificates to hotel rooms. I’ve been trying to use my Airmiles points for years now but the layover times have been so ridiculous that I’m now saving them up to buy a Kitchenaid mixer!
4. Make sure your points don’t expire. Certain rewards programs have a rule that if your account remains inactive for a certain period of time, you can lose all the points you’ve accumulated. I heard about this a few months ago and immediately panicked that I’d lost years worth of points as I hadn’t looked at my account in ages. Luckily they were still there and from this, I stumbled upon this awesome free webpage called usingmiles.com which allows you to keep track of all of your rewards points accounts in one spot. Plus, they will send you alerts if any of your points are about to expire. Super handy if you have a bunch of programs…I think I have like ten! You all know how I like to get free stuff!!
All in all, the trip was fabulous and I’m happy that we saved a bunch of money on our flights by using our points but I would rethink using them again for airfare now that we have a child. Gone are the days of taking two Gravol and drifting off to sleep for the flight…Welcome to my new world of entertaining a small human for six hours in a flying tin can with no cartoons, no crib, no toys and dozens of people giving you that look. Oh, you know the look! The”Oh-crap-there’s-a-baby-on-the-plane!” look. I know because I used to give that look…isn’t karma fun?
Coupon tip of the week: It’s summer time and that means it’s a great time to get super deals on clothing for fall and winter. Search out the clearance sections in your local department stores and I’ll guarantee you’ll find some amazing deals on long sleeve shirts, sweaters and outerwear. My hubbie just bought an awesome hoodie for $7 (regular $45!).