Yesterday, I saw a post from a friend, Yuko, who I graduated with from pharmacy school and was looking for a plane ticket for her mom. She wanted to fly her from Japan to Austin to be here for the birth of her second child, but the flights she found were too expensive (around $1900!) . I asked her if I could help her and see if I could find a way for her to lower her cost to possibly find a way to get her mom to the US. Her dates are pretty flexible, she is wanting to fly her mom over around mid December and have her stay until mid February. What was I able to find for her?
I can’t imagine having family on the other side of the world, but the great thing about points and miles is that it can make seeing them more affordable. I always like a challenge to find a way to travel or helping someone else travel for less on their wallet. I first asked Yuko if she had any airline miles or reward points, since I could try to help her use those if she had any. She told me she had around 6400 American Airline miles. That was definitely not enough to fly her mom her from Japan.
I started searching with Google Flights and from the initial $1900 flights she could find, I was able to find a round trip ticket for about $1300, which was right around the maximum she was looking to spend.
Although this was in the ballpark of her budget, I thought there could be a better price. Sure, she could hold off and wait to see if a deal arose by chance. I don’t think she wanted to chance this, so I looked at an option that I rarely recommend, purchasing miles.
Typically purchasing miles is a bad idea, you overpay for them and I generally think it is not a good idea. Regardless of how I felt about purchasing miles, I decided to look. Yuko had about 6400 American Airline miles and I know American Airlines flies to Tokyo, so I started there.
First, what was the cost to fly from Tokyo to Austin? Yuko was fine with purchasing a coach ticket, so I started there. I typically look at award flights as one way tickets, instead of round trips. I feel it allows more flexibility.
Flying from Tokyo to Austin:
When I looked at December 11th, there was a flight with one stop in Chicago before landing in Austin. The other flights, were multiple stops with longer layovers
This actually works out well for award seating. There are flights in early to mid December for 25,000 miles one way. Yuko was hoping to have her mom here a few days to a week before the 16th of December. Luckily for her she could have her mom here a few days before, like she wanted!
What about from Austin to Tokyo, would I be lucky enough to find her seats there as well?
There are so many open days in February to fly Yuko’s mom home to Japan! After doing a few searches on the days, I saw the 18th had a flight with one stop in Chicago, before flying back to Japan. The other days had 2 stops, so I would think 1 stop would be better.
So, overall it would cost 50,000 miles plus $49.80 to fly Yuko’s mom roundtrip. That’s great, but she only has 6400 miles! I decided to look at American Airlines cost to purchase miles and right now they actually have a promotion where you will save up to 35% on purchased miles.
For Yuko, this works out really well for her because she would save an additional 25% on purchasing miles! This is one of the rare cases where I say purchasing miles is actually is the better option!
If she purchases the 44,000 miles needed for her mom’s ticket, it would cost her $973.50 and she saves $324.50 more due to this sale. Including her taxes and fees it would cost Yuko $1023.30 to fly her mom round trip. This is about 48% savings from the $1900 tickets Yuko was able to find.
When it comes to award seating, I usually say book sooner rather than later so you don’t miss out on the flight. One of the nice things about American Airlines is you can put an award ticket on hold for 5 days! I would recommend putting these tickets on hold, purchasing the 44,000 airlines miles and once those are added to her account, book her mom’s ticket.
For the future, I would also recommend looking for a credit card that gives rewards, so Yuko can book tickets for her family to fly to Japan to see her family or to help her family fly to see her. International flights can be very expensive, but there are many credit card options to help her reduce her cost for airfare. At a minimum, she could be earning 2% cash back with the Citi Double Cash and although that might not get her a free plane ticket, it could reduce her cost.
If she were to look at a travel rewards credit card, I would look at cards like the Citi Premier, American Express Premier Reward Gold (for the bonus alone), American Express Everyday Preferred (for everyday spending) or even the Chase Sapphire. All of those except the American Express Everyday Preferred have a large bonus and that means free travel! Those cards can help reduce her cost even more and making the flights to see her family more affordable.
If you have questions about finding cheaper travel, please feel free to ask! There is no reason why travel can’t be affordable if done with some planning!