I’ll take a boarding pass with a side of miles, please.

Back to the travel hacking bit..

I’m still very much in the accumulation phase.  As you read more about the game, you’ll see different types of folks.  Earn & Burn type people rack up points and then jet off to somewhere far away as soon as they have the points for the trip.  Some people get all their points through clever spending.  Some just take a vacation once a year with their miles, and accumulate very steadily, over time.

Me?

I’m a bit of a hoarder at the moment.  Now, eventually I’ll be able to get to see the world, but for now, I’m content to watch my frequent flyer accounts grow.

As you know, I was able to get down to North Carolina for a weekend recently.  I love to crunch the numbers, and see how I did, what I could maximize, and how best to travel hack.  By reviewing each trip, I’m able to improve and learn more about this hobby, and you know what they say:  knowledge is travel.

Or power, or something like that..

Booking Flights

My only options for miles redemption on this trip were American Airlines and Southwest.  I had the miles for a BOS-CLT roundtrip with American, but it wasn’t worth it.  The cash price of my American Airlines roundtrip ticket was $306.70.  Using AAdvantage miles, I would have spent either 25,000 or 40,000 for the roundtrip, depending on the availability when I booked.  Let’s compare at the MileSAAver award level:

$306.70 / 25,000 AAdvantage miles = 1.2 cents / mile

1.2 cents/mile?  Not very good value.  AAdvantage miles are typically valued around at least 1.5 cents.  This difference represents a 25% deficit in value.

Would you give someone a $20 bill for 3 $5 bills?

But it’s only 25% less than their value!

I didn’t think so.

AA Award Chart US 48

MileSAAver seats are a great value if you can book them soon enough!

If I booked later in the game, and could only take advantage of the AAnytime Level 1 rates, my AAdvantage miles would have been worth only 0.7 cents/mile.  A terrible value!

$306.70 / 40,000 AAdvantage miles = 0.7 cents / mile

But wait, I love Southwest!  What about them?

I tend to enjoy Southwest, despite its faults.  And although their east coast network has certainly grown in the past 20 years, some airlines still beat them to it.  In Charlotte, if you’re not flying American Airlines…you might not be flying.  Charlotte, North Carolina is an American Airlines hub, and it dominates the runway there.  Southwest certainly flies to Charlotte, but only from a few cities.

Unfortunately, Boston isn’t one of those cities.

Flying on Southwest metal meant connecting flights, and every minute counts on such a short trip.  I didn’t want to waste any time on connections.  My most likely flight path would have been BOS-BWI-CLT.  Routing through Maryland doesn’t add much to the air time, but I figured at least be an extra 2 hours including transit stop, landing, taxiing, and take-off.

Don’t like Baltimore?  You can fly Southwest through Midway International Airport in Chicago, adding 717 miles.  Your travel time would be at least 3 hours more than the nonstop on American.  Over double the total travel time and mileage.

BOS-CLT, BOS-BWI-CLT, BOS-MDW-CLT

Needless to say, Midway is completely out of the way.  Courtesy of gcmaps.com

To be honest, I’m also trying to save my Rapid Rewards miles for use with my Companion Pass.  I should be earning it by the end of June, and the pass will effectively double the value of my Rapid Rewards.  Redeeming Rapid Rewards prior to my Companion Pass (especially when I know it’s so close!) would be a waste of points, in my humble opinion.

Speaking of value, I would have netted a much higher value booking this American Airline trip with my American Express PRG, instead of my Citi AAdvantage Executive.  Alas, I wasn’t thinking at the time.  I saw the pretty AAdvantage logo, and pulled that card out of my wallet to pay.  If I had been thinking clearly, I would have banked about 5.7% back in Membership Rewards points, a valuable and flexible currency.  Instead, I only earned about 3% back in AAdvantage miles.  Not awful, but it’s frustrating to know that I missed out on some points.

I did remember to swipe my AmEx PRG at the grocery store while there, for double points (about 3.8%).  My Discover it was on deck for the restaurants and bars in North Carolina.  During this quarter (April, May, and June), I’ll earn 5% in cashback on restaurants and movies.  The Discover it is one of my oldest cards, and the 5% rotating categories continue to serve me well.

Should I purchase additional miles when I check in?

When I checked in for my flights, the American Airlines kiosk prompted me to purchase additional miles.  I had a gut feeling this was a bad value, but didn’t have time to do the math in Boston.

On the way out of Charlotte I was ready.

AA Check In Purchase Miles.jpg

American Airlines offers travelers the chance to purchase extra miles at check-in.

Like any miles addict, I briefly considered just hitting the additional 2,181 miles and being done with it.  (I hoard my miles, remember?)  The “Financial” bit of the Hippie reminded me to run the numbers though.  These kinds of deals are not typically worth it, in my experience:

Option 1:  $22.34 / 727 AAdvantage miles = 3.1 cents / mile
Option 2:  $70.63 / 2,181 AAdvantage miles = 3.2 cents / mile

Neither of these are a good value at all!  You’re paying over double their value, for a few extra miles.  To be fair, you should earn bonus airline miles or credit card points, since you’re buying directly from an airline.  Even so, purchasing Option 1 (the marginally better value) with my AmEx PRG, I would have earned 67 Membership Rewards points.  Those MR points are worth about $1.27, bringing the effective cost of Option 1 to $21.07.

Option 1 (including AmEx MR Points):  $21.07 / 727 AAdvantage miles = 2.9 cents / mile

Still a terrible value.

How about a new credit card up in the air?

American Airlines was really pushing their Platinum Select credit card from Citi during my flights.  There were announcements at the gate, ads on the airbridge to the plane, and announcements on board.  One of the pilots even walked around the cabin with applications in his hand.

Next thing I knew, I was running up the aisle full throttle.  I pushed pass the folks waiting in line for the bathroom, barreling toward the cockpit.  I got to the flight attendant’s intercom just in time, and was able to warn everyone it was a bad deal!

Well, I thought about at least…

The in-flight offer was for 40,000 AAdvantage miles.  Not bad.  The thing is, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select offers 50,000 AAdvantage miles for their sign-up bonus at least once a year.  Why take 40,000 miles when you can earn 50,000?

So, what’s the moral of our story?

Ultimately, I didn’t take advantage of any of these extra miles offers.  I didn’t feel any of them particularly worth it, and I’m not in the habit of throwing money away for miles I don’t particularly need.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for other in-air offers, and hope to find some that are worth taking advantage of.  In the meantime, I’ll keep chugging along, earning miles and stamping my passport.

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