I had a chance to to head out to California on business and, in keeping with tradition, decided it would be fun to bring the family. Work will pay for my flight, the hotel, and rental car, however it is up to me to get flights for the family. Its precisely for moments like this that we like to keep 50-100 thousand points laying around, usually the result of a sign-up bonuses for credit cards.
This time around I had an arsenal of 100k southwest points, about 40k american airlines points, and 50k avios points. I wanted to save the southwest points, so i focused on aa and avios. Here’s what I did:
First, I looked for flights on avios and had mixed luck. It turns out, as the “Points Guy” points out, that it is because the avios website doesn’t work well with multi-hop routes. In my case the route was IAD -> DFW -> SFO. The trick is to look up the individual legs and book them separately.
BA.com showed that I could get three family members from IAD to DFW for 30,000 points, then with my remaining 20,000 i could get two people from DFW to SFO, meaning I’d have to pay for the third person for that leg. Before booking i checked on prices and found that the price tag for DFW->SFO was $530! In contrast, IAD to DFW was only $78. I quickly switched the order, using 30k points to pay for the more expensive DFW->SFO leg Then I booked 20k points for the IAD->DFW link for two members.
Things got a little interesting when I tried to buy tickets for my daughter (the third member of the IAD->DFW.) Since she is under 16, AA.com would not let me book her alone. Of course, she wasn’t alone, but aa.com doesn’t let you link her to another person on the same flight (which, incidentally, i had booked with ba.com). So i called aa and, after bypassing the annoying robot, found a helpful lady. She let me know she was waiving the $25 phone reservation fee, then helped link my daughter to my wife so she could get a ticket.
My opinion of avios is not so great, at least for cross-country domestic flights. I ended up barely getting 50% as far as I would have with delta, aa, united, etc. for the same points. To be fair to avios, I’ll just chock this up to ignorance on my part. I think one can “work” avios better, but i didn’t find a way. In the end, excluding 9/11 fees (which you always pay, regardless of your points program), the trip cost me around $78. If I had purchased it on my own dime, it would have cost over $800 (excluding my flight, which is paid for by work). This is why getting points is so worth it.
Based on my research avios just works “differently” than most other domestic programs (like aa or delta); avios are “distance based” – in theory they are fantastic for short-haul flights, since they charge less points than, say, aa might charge. For example, i consider it standard to that 12.5k points gets one person one way in the US. Since most credit cards that are worth getting have a 50k sign-on bonus, i expect to get two round-trip tickets per card. In the end, with my 50k avios points, I got a family of three only MOST of the way from virginia to california. Kinda crumby! However if I were hoping from, say, virginia to new york, avios might charge less than the standard 12.5k points, and therefore be a better deal. So the theory goes.
One last thing: I was planning on using aa points to fly back to virginia, but in order to align with flights allowed by work ended up having to go with southwest. Before i decided on using southwest, i thought I would book with points from a pair of AA accounts. Unfortunately I found I was short about 800 points in one of my aa accounts. However, I had an excess of several thousand points in another account. AA lets you “share” points, but at an exorbitant (IMHO) cost. To transfer 1000 points between accounts ended up costing over $30 ($12 for the 1000 points, and a flat $20 processing fee.) sheesh! But i now have the points where i need them, and can send my family in one direction anywhere in the USA.
So there you have it – a coast-to-coast trip for the whole family for under $100.