I’m usually hesitant to redeem my miles and points. Is this actually a good value? Will I get more value if I save them for later? It’s cheap enough, so should I just pay cash? I considered booking a few nights at the Grand Hyatt Singapore — 20,000 points or $230 — and even my wife knew that was a bad deal.
However, some situations present obvious opportunities for redemption. I try to always keep some miles in reserve for these situations.
Last Minute Travel
On Wednesday my wife asked me for the details on her trip to Austin next weekend so she can host her sister’s bachelorette party. “What trip?” I asked. Obviously some quick action would be required. Not any flight would suffice because she needed to be there for the entire weekend to open and close the home they’re renting. It was both too late and too early to find good saver level award space, and we were less than two weeks from departure — after the cheapest paid tickets disappear. (Most discounted fares require 14 or 21 days advance purchase.)
In short, it was the worst time to be looking.
I ultimately chose to use her Citi ThankYou Rewards points. They’re easy to redeem for almost any flight since they work like cash. She has a Citi Prestige card, which means she gets even greater value from them than other Citi ThankYou cardmembers. In this case we arranged an itinerary on American Airlines and booked a ~$400 fare for 25,000 points, or 1.6 cents per point.
On the surface this redemption seems merely decent. Those points might have been worth more for a future trip if we transferred them to an outside loyalty program, but we actually saved overall. Most other airlines were charging 50,000 or 60,000 miles for a round-trip award. I would much rather redeem 25,000 ThankYou points at 1.6 cents each ($400) than 50,000 United miles that I value at 1.8-2.0 cents each ($900-$1,000). I didn’t really want to just spend $400 cash, either, given that this month has seen several other large purchases.
This morning I was updating some reservations that we have later this year. Guess what? We’re going to Austin again. And again. And again.
There’s a wedding shower in October, and we had a flight but no hotel. You might say October is a long way off but I saw no reason to wait. Using Costco, AAA, and AARP discounts usually enables me to get a flexible rate in case prices drop.
But when I started my search I was surprised. $699 for the Hyatt Regency Austin? I checked out other hotels in the city and found similar prices, even at three-star places like the Hyatt Place and Marriott Residence Inn.
It turns out that weekend the city is hosting Formula 1, a Taylor Swift concert, and AustOberfest — coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the oldest continuously operating tavern in the United States. (Obviously everyone will be in town to celebrate a milestone for brewing.)
I was fortunate that the Hyatt is still offering rooms for 15,000 points. I will not earn stay credit for an award night, but I’m pretty sure this is the right call.
Neither of these trips is aspirational, but they need to be made. We’re not flexible on the dates or destination. We can’t just say “that’s too expensive” and move our plans around.
Contrast this with the over-hyped stories about “$30,000 flights in Emirates first class” booked with miles. No one pays that. If you were shelling out for your vacation with real dollars I bet you’d fly coach and go to Hawaii, not the Maldives. But the $2,000 potential cost we faced was very real, and it made me glad to have some extra points ready to redeem.