“It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I beg to differ!

Our alarm went off at 3:50 a.m. Ugh! The husband got up, took a shower and began to get things ready to head to the airport. I finally crawled out of bed begrudgingly 40 minutes later. I hate early flights. … Continue reading 

Flying on the cheap


Some of the beautiful landscape at Eagle Crest

I love to travel. I enjoy exploring new places, as well as visiting old favorites to just relax. We take at least three vacations a year by car to Eagle Crest Resort, which is about a two-hour drive from our home. We pack up our Acrua MDX, hit the road, grab some groceries in the town near the resort  and move into the condo for a week of relaxation. We’ve been doing this since 1991, and it truly feels like a second home to our family.


I LOVE my MDX! Great car for travel!!

However, as much as we enjoy Eagle Crest, we occasionally like to get out of our comfort zone and explore sites and visit friends out of state. This usually means traveling by airplane rather than car. I don’t mind riding in or driving the MDX (it’s a very comfortable car!), but driving takes a lot of time and we’d rather spend our vacation hours at our destination rather than traveling to get there.

Plane tickets and all the fees can get pretty spendy, but we’ve been flying on the cheap for years. In fact, we haven’t paid full fare since 2000! How do we do it? We accumulate frequent flyer miles and use great *finesse to stretch their value.

We are members of the Alaska Airline mileage plan, but most airline programs are similar. The vast majority of our earned miles have nothing to do with flying. We accumulate miles by using an Alaska Airlines Visa and an Alaska Airline debit card. We use the cards for anything and everything possible, and the miles add up quickly. When we built our house, we put all of our construction purchases on our Visa card, and paid off the balance with the construction loan draw. Those were big purchases that really helped build the account.


When we use our miles for a flight, we rarely use miles for the entire purchase. If you do, you won’t accumulate the miles flown on that flight. However, if you use miles and cash, you can accumulate the miles flown. For a one way discounted ticket, you can use 10,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $100 on a less expensive itinerary, or use 20,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $200 for a more expensive destination.

Each year we receive a discounted companion fare, which allows us to purchase a ticket for $99 with the purchase of a full fare ticket. This is always a better option than using miles and cash. We recently flew to Alaska using this option.

When we fly, we usually stay in a hotel and rent a car. We earn miles just by using our mileage plan’s hotel and car rental partners (and there’s usually a discount). We pay our bill using our Alaska Airlines Visa to earn even more miles!

Do you want to fly more often and spend less? Try what works for us!

  1. Join a mileage plan and really get to know the benefits.
  2. Accumulate miles doing things you already do, like purchasing groceries and fuel.
  3. Research the best way to use your miles for maximum benefit.
  4. Use car rental and hotel partners when you travel to earn even more miles.

Do you have any tips for flying on the cheap?

My travel finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your travel finesse level?

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

Fear of flying

I know people who have a fear of flying. They’d do and risk almost anything to stay off an airplane. When they are forced to fly, they have a white-knuckle grip on the armrests during take off and landings. Their blood pressure is elevated even on a smooth flight. A little turbulence and they begin praying to any and all deity.

I have a fear of flying, but not for the common reasons. I fear coming down with a migraine while in flight. I have written a few posts about my struggle with migraines. My Imitrex medication works, but only if I take it at the first sign and immediately lie down in a dark room for at least an hour. That’s not practical on a plane. I tried just popping the pills and closing my eyes on a trip to Phoenix in April. The migraine only increased in intensity. Fortunately that flight was only two and a half hours.

It’s not surprising that I was more than a little concerned about my Alaska Airline flight to Orlando. My itinerary was to fly out of Portland at 5:30 a.m., land in Seattle about 30 minutes later, then fly to Orlando at 8:55 a.m. I wouldn’t land in Orlando for five hours. If a migraine attacked any time within the nine hours I would not have access to a dark, comfortable place to rest, I was going to be in a lot of pain – maybe even to the point of vomiting. Fortunately, I was migraine-free during the flight. I had taken my injections just in case, but I’m not sure if they would have worked any better than the pills.

Why risk it? I guess I’m only willing to let migraines have limited control over my life. They caused me to resign from a job I loved, and have robbed me of time (sometimes days), so I wasn’t willing to let them rob me of a chance to travel with the husband.

Am I concerned about the flight home? Absolutely, but the only other option is to not travel, which is not living life as I’d like – with *finesse!


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

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)