Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Perry, whose miles helped her save time and money on a recent itinerary:
I travel weekly for business on United Airlines, and wanted to use my considerable stash of MileagePlus miles for a trip to Denmark and Norway with my husband this winter. We live about two hours from Denver International Airport but just 10 minutes from a small regional airport in Laramie, Wyoming. Flying from Laramie usually adds $200 or more per person on revenue tickets, but as I searched for possible award flights, I noticed that tickets cost the same whether we flew from Laramie (LAR) or Denver (DEN).
That was win number one: we’ll be leaving from our regional airport, saving us four hours of driving time, several days of parking fees, 20 minutes in the parking shuttle and 30+ minutes going through Denver’s maddening security, all for 30,000 miles each — the same as a flight from Denver. We can arrive at our regional airport just 15 minutes before boarding starts and park steps from the front door, all for free.
That got me thinking about how I could use regional airports in Norway rather than planning our trip out of Oslo (OSL). So, win number two: after our first flight leg from Laramie to Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH), I used United’s Excursionist Perk to get a free flight from Copenhagen to Bergen, Norway (BGO).
The final leg of our trip will be from Tromsø, Norway (TOS), all the way back to Laramie in business class for 70,000 MileagePlus miles each (with layovers in Oslo, Newark and Denver). This allows us to take the Flåm Railway from Bergen to Oslo, where we’ll buy cheap (~$100 per person) revenue tickets from Oslo to Tromsø for some northern lights gazing at the end of our trip. Win number three: by flying from Tromsø rather than Oslo, we’ll get an extra two hours in SAS business class for the same number of miles.
All in all, this itinerary cost me 200,000 miles plus $159.66 in taxes and fees. The United website couldn’t find a revenue ticket for this exact multi-city itinerary, but Google Flights shows similar flights in economy for $2,405 each. That gives me a redemption value of 2.4 cents per mile without adding in the value of flying business class home — much higher than TPG’s latest valuation of 1.4 cents per mile!
One valuable aspect of award travel is that many airlines offer fixed rates for flights between various regions. For example, United charges 30,000 miles for economy saver awards between the U.S. and Europe; whether you’re flying from Boston to Dublin or from San Diego to Sofia, you’ll pay the same amount so long as award space is available. That’s a stark contrast from revenue tickets, which tend to be more expensive the farther you fly.
As Perry’s story illustrates, fixed award charts are similarly helpful for service to or from smaller airports, since those flights may also carry a premium when you’re paying cash. Not all frequent flyer programs operate this way; some (like British Airways Avios) offer distance-based award pricing, while others (like Southwest Rapid Rewards) tether their award rates to cash prices. It pays to give yourself access to a variety of programs by earning transferable points, and to learn their ins and outs so you can identify which one is best suited to booking a given itinerary.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Perry a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured image of the Flåm Railway via Shutterstock.