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I’ll never forget the thrill and uncertainty of booking my first award ticket. I thought I’d show up to the airport and be turned away for not paying (or something like that). Can a flight really cost ~$11 when you book with… points?
That was a few years ago. But there’s still something so novel about booking award trips. Some of them are planned in advance, like my upcoming trip to Hawaii. And some are aspirational or in the future, like the Brussels Airlines flights I booked with Etihad miles.
Long story short, I needed to spend a couple of days in New Mexico to get some work done there. Looking at my upcoming weekends:
- Next one was open
- After that, Austin for work
- Labor Day weekend – nothing available with points
4 weekends = a month of plans. I started poking around and realized, holy crap, I’m gonna book this trip for next weekend!
In This Post
Always check paid flights first. No use in redeeming points for a cheap flight.
When I checked, I gasped a little.
Flights from Dallas to Albuquerque are short – probably 90 minutes of actual time in the air.
Round-trip flights were ~$598!
So I checked AA.com to see if award seats were open – knowing I’d book with British Airways Avios points if they were.
American makes it dead simple to start an award flight search. Just check “Redeem Miles” on the homepage and click “Search.”
On the next page, check “Non-stop only” to single out flights you wanna book with British Airways Avios points.
Because American loooves to connect you in some small regional airport (I’m looking at you, CMH) and British Airways charges per flight segment. So obvi the non-stops cost fewer points.
Flights from DFW-ABQ were available nearly every day, including next weekend.
Getting the points
Award flights on American, especially expensive ones like these, are a fantastic deal with British Airways Avios points. You’ll pay 7,500 Avios each way for coach flights up to 1,150 miles. Or 15K for round-trip.
This is the part where keeping up with points and miles news came in handy.
I remembered Amex has a 50% bonus on Membership Rewards points transferred to Avios through October 10th, 2016.
The flights would be even cheaper now. I made the transfer and they appeared instantly in my British Airways account.
That’s the kicker here. The instant transfer. They’re a lifesaver for a:
- Spontaneous getaway
- Family emergency
- Last-minute work assignment
I also think the 2 to 3 day (or longer!) wait times with some transfer partners is a deterrent to even starting with points and miles (mostly the more obscure international programs).
But British Airways is an instant transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. So if you see a flight you want, you can book within minutes.
I chose my flights on AA.com, then replicated the search on BA.com.
In about 2 minutes, flights were booked. Total cost of ~$11. My 12,500 Amex Membership Rewards points were worth ~$587 ($598 – $11 in taxes). Or about ~5 cents each. That’s a tremendous deal!
This was the crux of the trip. Without the flight availability, it wouldn’t have happened. Period.
But once this was settled, the rest fell easily into place.
Hotel, car rental, pet sitter
Looks like I’ll be staying at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Albuquerque Uptown. Did a quick search on Hilton.com, clicked “Map View” and picked the hotel most easterly (I need to be close to the East Mountains area).
$101 a night for 2 nights. Easy. Done (and not worth using points for).
This is where having a hotel chain as a go-to was a time-saver.
I didn’t even check Hyatt, Starwood, or Marriott. Hilton’s done me well since they matched me to Diamond elite status. Having that free breakfast in the morning is what I like the most, all else being equal. And let’s be honest, mid-range hotels are mostly same-ish no matter what brand you’re staying with.
With Hilton, I value the huge amount of bonus points, the room upgrades, and the free breakfast. Having a “set it and forget it” plan with whatever chain you like best cuts out a lot of thought.
For car rental, I checked two places: Costco and the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Costco was ~$106, Chase was ~$121. Both not bad ($50 to $60 per day), but I took the cheaper option.
I’ll pay with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card for primary coverage.
Then I texted my usual sitter and said hey are you available these dates. He was. So the pooch is all set, too.
Becoming Speedy Gonzalez
This may sound like a process, but I’ve refined it over time. I open all the browser tabs and go through them one-by-one.
The flights were booked in about 5 minutes. The hotel and car rental, maybe another 5. And setting up the dog sitter was a quick text message in between.
The first few trips I booked took me hours. I futzed around with it so much. Applied every discount code, checked 4 or 5 sites for each component. The process of learning. So I’m confident I got the best prices possible with the least amount of effort.
In this case, the flights would’ve cost more than all the other parts combined. I still have a child-like wonder about the magic of points and miles to take trips you otherwise couldn’t do.
And to see more of the world – both near and far.
I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than drive around northern New Mexico for a couple of days.
This trip only fit in either next weekend or in a month. I didn’t want to wait, so I called in my points and miles. Times like this are when it’s helpful to have a stash – preferably in a transferable points program like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.
Knowing about the current 50% bonus from Membership Rewards to Avios got me better than a 1:1 ratio – and boosted the value of each point.
Having the instant transfer was the biggest benefit of all.
And practice really did make perfect. I’ve run the numbers enough to have my go-to methods in booking quick trips like this. That’s why I think poking around travel sites from time to time is fun (but I’m weird like that).
Having a preferred hotel chain and way to get a cheap car rental was also a huge help. When the need arose, I had a complete trip put together within minutes: flights, hotel, car rental, and even pet sitter.
It’s such a good feeling, too, on so many other levels. To feel free, mobile, and unencumbered. And to know you have options when you need them.
Things are changing in the points and miles space with regard to the banks and their approval guidelines. But times like these, trips like this booked on-the-fly, still makes me feel like it’s all worth it.
And man, I can’t wait to be in New Mexico again! Something about the state stirs a part of my soul in a way I can never fully describe. It’s been far too long since I’ve had that feeling. Suffice it to say I can’t wait for next weekend (another plus of booking a quick trip – instant gratification!).
Have you booked a trip in minutes for an event, or just for fun? Feel free to share any quick booking tips you’ve picked up along the way!
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