Let’s talk about last-minute flights
If you think miles and points are only useful for trips planned well in advance, this will change your mind! Miles and points just saved us lots of money on last minute flights. Here is a real-life example.
Well, yesterday we had our first broken bone. Taylor fell off of a rocking chair in her playroom. It’s low to the ground and the carpet in there has an extra thick pad underneath so we didn’t think anything of it. But after a few minutes she would not stop crying. She was guarding her arm and since she was inconsolable, we decided to take her to urgent care for an X-ray. Thankfully Ryan’s mom was in town and was able to watch Jack and Olivia. After the X-ray, the doctor broke the news to us that her elbow is fractured. They put her arm in a splint and referred us to a pediatric ortho doc. We will be going to see that doctor on Tuesday. Our poor girl will probably have to wear a cast for about a month.
Send help… I need my parents!
Jack doesn’t start school for another week, and Ryan’s mom left this morning so I’m just wondering how I’m going to keep him and Olivia entertained while still constantly watching Taylor to make sure her arm is okay. There’s also just a lot going on this week with getting Jack ready to start Pre-K, and while I do have the girls enrolled in a Mother’s Day Out program, I do not have a nanny. My first thought is I need my parents! Well, my parents live in Florida.
I called my mom and explained the situation and told her I will take care of flights if she can come help me. She agreed and then after talking to my dad, he wanted to come too. My parents are the best!
So the rest of this post will explain how I booked 2 last minute flights for $22.40 and 21,500 American Express Membership Rewards points.
Last minute flights are expensive
My parents live in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. There are two airports that are somewhat convenient to them. One is VPS which is in Fort Walton and the other is ECP which is in Panama City. Both are very small and only served by a few airlines. From Dallas, there are 2 airlines with non-stop flights to the Santa Rosa Beach area. Those airlines are Southwest and American Airlines. Southwest flies direct from Dallas Love Field to ECP in Panama City. American Airlines flies direct from DFW to VPS in Fort Walton.
Normally when we book flights to and from Santa Rosa Beach, we fly Southwest because it’s cheaper/less points as long as we book in advance. Unfortunately, Southwest tends to be pretty expensive or unavailable when it comes to last minute tickets. Since Southwest’s award ticket costs are based on the price of the ticket, this means that it will cost more points on a last minute ticket as well.
As you can see in my search, the nonstop flight was completely sold out. The other options are ridiculously expensive at over $400 or 38,000 points each way because Southwest usually does not offer ‘Wanna Get Away’ fares on short notice.
Southwest is not going to be an option here so I checked Google Flights just to make sure there weren’t any good last minute deals on tickets. No luck. The cheapest roundtrip flights from either airport were $700 each, and that wasn’t even a direct flight.
Miles and points to the rescue
So my next strategy is to start searching for award ticket availability. I always start with direct flights, so since Southwest was out of the question, I went to aa.com. To my pleasant surprise, the availability was wide open, even for 2 tickets.
So it’s settled. I can just book them on these AA flights, right? WRONG! If you’ve read here before, you probably know that I have to take it a step further to save even more money and miles!
I DO NOT want to book these flights with AAdvantage miles for 2 reasons:
- American Airlines charges a fee called a close-in fee for award flights booked within 21 days of travel. Since I was booking flights 2 days in advance, I would have been charged $75 for each ticket.
- 12.5k miles each way is 25k miles per ticket. So thats 50k miles total for 2 tickets. Considering these flights are at least $700 each, that’s actually not a terrible value. It’s a value of about 2.8 cents per mile. I generally consider anything above 2 cents per point or mile a good deal. But I can do better. If you want to read how I calculate this, click here to read that post.
Instead of booking with AAdvantage miles, I want to book with British Airways Avios
- As I’ve stated several times, for nonstop flights under 1150 miles in distance, British Airways is the program you want to use to book AA flights. BA charges 7,500 Avios (their name for miles) each way for these flights
- British Airways does not charge a fee for last minute flights so that saves $150 on these 2 tickets
- British Airways Avios can be transferred from all of my favorite programs. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards, SPG, and American Express Membership Rewards Points to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio.
As long as American Airlines has MileSAAver space available, you can book the flight with British Airways Avios. The exact same American Airlines flights booked with British Airways Avios cost only 15,000 Avios roundtrip per ticket. So for both of my parents’ roundtrip tickets, I can pay 30,000 Avios or 50,000 AAdvantage miles. I’ll take the 30,000 Avios!
But wait, it gets even better thanks to the current Amex bonus on points transferred to British Airways
After confirming availability for their dates, I had to decide which points I would transfer to British Airways to complete the booking. Since I had only 300 Avios in my British Airways account, I needed to transfer about 30,000 points from either Ultimate Rewards, SPG, Amex, or a combination of the 3. I decided to use Amex Membership Rewards because of the bonus. American Express is currently giving a 40% bonus for Membership Rewards Points transferred to British Airways. So instead of transferring 30,000 MR to British Airways, I only had to transfer 21,500 MR to get the 30,000 Avios!
American Express Membership Rewards tend to transfer instantly and they did in this case*. I was able to book both tickets immediately.
*Remember that you should never transfer points to an airline or hotel before confirming availability for your dates. Transfers are permanent.
British Airways Avios and Amex Membership Rewards made this unfortunate situation a little more bearable
Thanks to a little creativity, I was able to use 21,500 American Express Membership Rewards points and $22.40 (5.60$ each way in fees per ticket) to book last minute flights for my parents worth at least $1400.
That is a value of 6.5 cents per point. You won’t get a return like that on a cash back card. This is another great example of why miles and points are my favorite currency!
Taylor is back to her happy self and seems to be feeling fine. She will be so happy to have her grandparents here for the week!
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