spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Award travel success…so far

on December 28, 2015

We’re going to NYC in November 2016…but I don’t know when we’re coming back.  Let me explain:  most airlines release their award availability about 330 days in advance.  Since we’re wanting to travel for Thanksgiving next year, the time to book is now!  But it’s still too soon to book the return…

Background on this journey…this is not just a leisure trip- we’re going to be holding a Quinceañera celebration for DD.  If you don’t already know, a Quinceañera is a 15th birthday celebration that is common in Latin cultures, and is often described as a mini-wedding.  They can be very elaborate affairs, with “damas (ladies)” and “caballeros (gentlemen)” making up a sort of “court” for the birthday girl, and choreographed dances, and all manner of fun and frivolity, in addition to a Catholic Mass!  I’ve been to (and IN!) a few of these.  They can also be smaller, with just the birthday girl, cake/dinner/dancing in a banquet hall, and homemade centerpieces <—- mine was like this, and I loved it.  All must include a dance- usually a waltz- between the girl and the girl’s father/father figure, a switching of the shoes (from flats to “first pair of heels”), and of course, a fancy dress.  Pink is traditional, but thank goodness, DD is leaning toward rose gold as her color.  My own dress back in the day was cream-colored, because I refused to wear pink.

dress

My worst nightmare.

We made the decision to throw the party in NJ for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that since this is a Latin tradition, we wanted Latin people to be there to understand it!  If we held it here in Hawaii, the only Latin people DD is related to that can attend are my parents and sister + her family.  DD would have plenty of friends there, but I personally feel that family is such an integral part of a party like this that having only a few family members there make the traditions of it almost pointless.  The party celebrates DD becoming a young woman, and people who know/knew her as a tiny baby and little girl will appreciate it the most.  So, in order for the maximum # of family members to attend, the event will be held in NJ.  She won’t have too many friends (if any) from school, but she will have plenty of cousins.  And, family members from Ecuador should be able to easily travel to NJ, but not to Hawaii.

Alright, so we’re having a party, but…when?  DD’s birthday is in November, so it ideally should be then….luckily there is a holiday right at the end of November there 🙂

We decided to have our event over Thanksgiving weekend, helping us to keep to my school vs. vacation guideline, which brings me back to…travel options.  This kind of party, even a simplified one, is not inexpensive.  So I wanted to be sure and use miles for the travel costs, to keep the overall trip cost down.  Again, through judicious use of rewards credit cards, credit card signups, and transferring multi-use points to airline programs, we had healthy balances in Alaska Mileage Plan, American Airlines AAdvantage, and United Airlines MileagePlus programs.  I started scoping out the scene a few weeks ago, looking at the mileage routes available, and what would make most sense for us.

I had Ultimate Rewards points (from Chase), which I could transfer to United.  I had Starwood Preferred Guest points (from Amex), which I could transfer to American, Alaska, or United.  The first thing that came to mind was United’s HNL-EWR nonstop.  Truly, the most convenient way to get home- no layovers, and no NYC to transit through to get to my parent’s place in north NJ.  But I hate flights over 8 hours long 🙂  As it turned out, the ratio to transfer SPG points to United is 2:1, meaning that if I transferred 10k SPG points, I’d only wind up with 5K United miles.  Lose even one hard-earned mile, never mind 50%?! Nope nope nope.  Ultimate Rewards transfers 1:1, practically instantly, so I reserved the right to use that option should I need United miles to complete an award reservation.

My research led me to believe that we should use Alaska for the outbound flights.  Reasons:

  • no nonstop <hanging my head in shame….I just can’t do 12 hours in the aluminum tube>
  • Alaska miles can be used for some American Airlines flights, which just opens up more routings to the East Coast.
  • With some wise choices, we can fly overnight and avoid the Seattle overnight layover.
  • DH already had enough Alaska Mileage Plan miles for 2 one-way fares, and I had enough for 1, and could easily get more.

So…I took the plunge and transferred 20K SPG points to my Alaska account.  SPG has a nice perk- you get an additional 5K mile bonus for every 20K you transfer…so I received 25K Alaska miles for my 20K SPG points.  Score 🙂

Then I stalked the Alaska site for 3 days prior to our preferred date opening up.  I read all the time about people finding award availability close to their trip dates, but I really must reiterate: most of those people are booking premium class seats for 1 or 2 people.  For families needing 4 or more economy award tickets for the same flights, you pretty much have to be on the ball date-wise.  I’ve experienced being able to book 2 award tix from one account, and in the 5 minutes it took me to get to the “purchase” page for the other account to get the second set of 2 tix, the award availability was gone.  So…I don’t play.  I was like…

giphy

At 2p on the dot I was on the computer, dropping 20K Alaska miles each to get us all to the East Coast.  I was able to get an overnight flight, avoiding the hotel cost, too.  We’ll arrive at 6am on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  Alaska lets you link 2 separate reservations (one under DH for him and DS, mine had me and DD), and I was able to do that, too.  To top it off, I didn’t even have to pay the $11.20 due in award ticket taxes, because I still had some funds in MyWallet from using the Alaska Airlines Low Price Guarantee.  Success!

By the end of the week I can report what happens when I attempt to book the return.  But now the trip is real…off to make a party-planning spreadsheet!

 

 

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One response to “Award travel success…so far

  1. gina says:

    a special occasion to celebrate!!!

    Like

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