Making the most of your miles

I love vacations! We get away to our favorite vacation spot, which is conveniently located about a two and half hour drive from home, three times a year. It’s nice to pack everything we might need for a week in the back of our Acura MDX and head to a place so familiar; it feels like a second home. However, once in a while we just want to mix things up a bit and fly away.

Like most people, we have limited discretionary income, so a vacation that involves an airline flight is not a yearly experience. However, with a little planning and a pinch of *finesse, we’ve managed to fly a family of four to Arizona for spring break, fly to family milestone events, and fly to visit family and friends without ever paying full fare. How exactly do we do that you ask? Frequent flier miles!

We’ve been members of the Alaska Airlines mileage plan since 1999. We don’t fly often, but our credit card and debit card purchases add miles at a pretty good rate. At first glance, we didn’t understand the program fully, but with a little research we learned how to make it work for us. Because our credit and debit cards are tied to the program, we rarely use cash or write a check for anything. If we’re going to spend money anyway, we might as well get a bonus!

We also learned the best way to redeem miles for a flight was not to purchase the full price of the ticket with miles. If you do that, you don’t get credit for the miles flown on that trip. We use a combination of miles and cash to receive a reduced fare. With Alaska Airlines, that doesn’t always mean you’re flying at half price, but it’s still a good value.

Occasionally it makes sense to use miles for the full fare, so I figure my flights based on two different scenarios. I check the price and miles needed for a round trip flight and compare it against two one way flights using all miles for the departure flight and a combination of cash and miles for the return flight. The one way flight scenario made more sense on my last flight. While I didn’t receive credit for the miles flown using the free ticket (well, almost free – I had to pay a $5 tax), it made more sense from a scheduling and financial standpoint. The round trip ticket was pretty expensive to depart and arrive at decent times without long layovers. Both scenarios required 20,000 miles so it made more sense to forgo the mileage credit on one leg of the trip in favor of a cheaper overall price.

I’ve flown three times this year already (a real rarity!) and have two more flights scheduled, so I’m beginning to feel like an expert. I’m also beginning to feel like that young man in local television commercials who declares, “We don’t pay full price for anything!” By the way, neither should you.

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

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