Many couples or families who travel together will find themselves in a situation where they need to book a single trip with miles from multiple accounts. This is because the need for miles is great (as much as a half million miles to take an international trip with a family of four) while the earning potential of one person is much less — because let’s face it, your parents don’t understand what you’re doing, your spouse only tolerates your travel obsession, and the kids aren’t to be trusted with a credit card.
Alternatively, maybe your family members do have points, but none of you have enough to book the entire trip by themselves. It’s time to figure out how you can pool resources to make it happen.
Step 1: Inventory and Rank Your Accounts
The first step is always to figure out what you have. Your family members may not know about all the loyalty programs they’re a part of, or they may define them incorrectly. (Don’t be surprised if they have an American Airlines credit card and call them “Citi points.” You could be confused into thinking they have ThankYou points when really they are AAdvantage miles.)
Personally, I keep track of all my family members’ accounts with AwardWallet because it allows me to create multiple profiles for each person in my own account or to create separate accounts and share balance information between them.
Also remember to rank the value of these accounts. This means thinking not just about how many points you have but how much utility they have. If my wife and I had the same number of Gold Passport points, mine would be worth more because I have elite status. My dad has some leftover Avios that aren’t enough for a long-haul award, but they could be very useful for connecting flights. Make some notes about what you could do with each person’s account.
Step 2A: Identify Opportunities to Combine Accounts
Once you know what you have, look at ways to combine those accounts to make the balances larger and more versatile. Do you have Ultimate Rewards points or Membership Rewards points? Where can you transfer those to get the most value? This will depend on where you want to go and what kind of award space you find, so don’t actually transfer them yet. But you will need to know the possibilities so you can compare your options later. If all the transfers in the world still won’t get you enough Avios points, then don’t bother looking for Avios award space.
Common transfer options include:
- Membership Rewards to a variety of airlines and hotels
- Ultimate Rewards to a variety of airlines and hotels
- Various hotel rewards points to a variety of airline mileage programs
- Pooling Avios with a British Airways household account
- Combining hotel rewards points (typically between family members)
As a general rule, you cannot transfer airline miles between each other, nor can you transfer airline miles to a hotel. Popular exceptions include transferring Avios between British Airways and Iberia, and transferring HawaiianMiles to Hilton.
Want to transfer your points to another person? You can consolidate Ultimate Rewards points into the account of your spouse. If you have Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to someone who is an authorized cardholder.
Step 2B: Identify Opportunities to Separate Travel Plans
If you don’t have the ability to combine account balances, then you’ll need to look at separating your travel plans. For example, each person books a separate award flight on the same plane or different planes that end in the same destination.
Three suggestions can create more options for finding award space:
Connect in different cities. If each person has a different international gateway, then you need less award space on each flight. You can meet up when you arrive instead of trying to do everything together.
Travel in different cabins. Sure, put the kids in coach, but different cabins doesn’t mean giving up a lie-flat seat. My wife and I travel in the front cabin often enough that I’m happy to fly business class and let my parents enjoy first.
As a caveat, do consider the needs of other travelers in your party. Small children and the elderly may need someone to travel with them.
I also look at the long-term goals of each traveler. I want to earn more miles as well as requalify for any elite status I may have, so it’s important that I pay for rooms and flights when possible. My parents or siblings don’t care. This means I may book a paid room for my wife and me and an award room for my parents — this is effectively the same as booking two cash and points awards but only requires finding one award night. Free night awards also tend to be more plentiful than cash and points awards.
When it comes to flights, I’ll often try to book paid tickets for me and award tickets for everyone else. That isn’t as expensive as it sounds. My paid economy class ticket can sometimes be upgraded to business or first class thanks to my elite status, although it means competing for the same seats I just booked as business or first class awards. Or I may use a companion fare to book a ticket for my wife and me at a lower average price.
Step 3: Allocate Responsibility for Different Purchases
You may find that one person has a lot of hotel points and another has all the airline miles. Get the first person to book the rooms while the second takes care of the flights. Or maybe each person has points in different hotel programs. It may be possible to book with a different brand in each city that you visit or change hotels partway through your stay. Don’t forget the value of elite status when making these reservations. Someone who has top-tier status may be a better choice to make reservations if it means those awards can be changed without fees or include other benefits.
In my case, I often have far more miles and points than my parents. I’ve suggested in the past that I’ll take care of the flights and hotels if they pay for the taxes, fuel surcharges, and any meals or other incidental expenses. It works out well because they still save a bundle on the trip while traveling in style. I can’t use miles or points to pay for those things anyway.
Step 4: Book Quickly!
When it comes time to book the flights and hotels you’ve found, I recommend you create a plan and then execute it quickly. Sometimes you might find a good deal, and there’s a chance someone else could book it before you do. But in this case, you know that other people are booking trips at the same time — that other person is you. Inventory will be changing as you go. Some tools like ExpertFlyer can tell you exactly how many tickets are available at a particular price.
If you have plans to book any award travel, then book those first. Award inventory is the most temperamental and could be reduced if you book the last standard hotel room or the airline determines there’s greater demand for that flight.
Does this mean the cost of the paid flights and hotels could increase? Yes, but it’s less likely. There could be two award seats on a plane but a dozen or more seats in a revenue fare class. Even if the cheapest fare or the cheapest hotel room disappears, the next higher option may only be 5-10% more expensive. Compare that to “anytime” award flights that may require 100% more miles.
Step 5: Monitor Your Reservations Constantly
It can be difficult to track all the reservations that go into one trip. I’m going to Spain soon and have four reservations with different airlines, five hotel reservations, and three train reservations. But when multiple travelers are all booked on different reservations with plans to converge at the same point, that’s worse. Maybe you’re traveling non-stop and they’re connecting in Phoenix.
You’ll need to stay on top of these reservations and make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible so one person’s delay doesn’t affect all the others in your party. I’ve had to change bookings after missed flights and book hotels to ensure family have a convenient overnight connection in an unfamiliar city. But somehow, at the end of the day, everyone shows up in the right place and we have a great vacation. 😀