- To make it back home for a last-minute appointment, my parents needed same-day flights from California to Colorado.
- Using American Express Membership Rewards from my American Express® Gold Card, I was able to book the trip for my parents for less than $50 out of pocket.
- Knowing how to transfer points to partners and book award travel with alliance partners can get you top value for every point.
- See Business Insider’s list of the best rewards credit cards »
Unless you get lucky and score a deal, last-minute airfare often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars more than booking a flight a couple of months ahead. But sometimes, last-minute travel is unavoidable.
Here’s a look into how I recently tapped into my miles and points balance to save my parents thousands of dollars on flights for the same day.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
The makings for a last-minute flight
I live in sunny Ventura, California, about 1,000 miles from my parents in Denver. With a sister in Virginia and parents in Colorado, my parents travel a lot. In October, my parents jetted out to Ventura for my kids’ birthday party just before Halloween.
What we didn’t expect was for a major medical issue to arise during the visit. My dad had a short stay in the hospital and my parents’ return flights no longer worked. They needed a new plan to get home.
While I was happy to have them stay with me as long as needed, my dad had a very important doctor’s appointment in Denver just two days after he got out of the hospital. After a night at home, we realized they had to leave the same day to get to his appointment early the next morning.
I already had a stash of Avianca LifeMiles from a previous Amex transfer bonus
I’m always working on building my miles and points balances across various travel rewards accounts. The American Express Gold card gets me 4x points at restaurants and at US supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each year, then 1x) so I wind up with a lot of Amex points every year.
I recently learned that Avianca Airlines, a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards, is a member of the same alliance as United Airlines. Avianca is based in South America and is a member of the Star Alliance. That gives it partnerships with 26 airlines around the world for booking award flights.
For me, the most useful partner is United Airlines, which has regular flights from Santa Barbara to Denver. With that in mind, I took advantage of a bonus at Amex where I could get extra points when transferring to Avianca similar to the Air France KLM and JetBlue offers below.
For every 8,000 Amex points I moved over, I got 10,000 Avianca miles. I moved 24,000 points to Avianca, enough for 30,000 miles. That gets me three flights on the SBA-DEN route I need most.
Avianca is a partner of United Airlines and charges lower fees for late bookings
Before I pulled up Avianca, I looked at the United website and did a search for the best flights available that day. Booking a flight on United for the same-day trip we wanted would have cost $1,200 each out of pocket. That’s much more than we wanted to pay.
Booking the trip using United miles was an option. Luckily the flight we wanted had award seats available. However, United charges extra fees for booking a flight close to the travel date. The airline wanted $75 each plus miles for the flight. That was a lot less than $1,200 and I had enough miles between United and points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but I wasn’t done looking just yet.
Remembering that stash of 20,000 Avianca miles, I was able to log into my account and book an award itinerary for just $41.20 total after using the miles.
The trip cost about $1,179 less per person than simply paying cash. Because I only needed 8,000 Amex points per ticket, that gave me a redemption value of 6.8 cents per point. That’s one of my best redemptions ever!
Creativity and ingenuity get you the best results with travel rewards
If I didn’t have to miles and points standing by, my parents would have been out thousands of dollars getting to the doctor’s appointment on time or missed the critical visit. I’m so glad I was able to save my parents the money and get them home on time.
Funerals, births, and other last-minute travel needs are a great use of credit card rewards. This is just one more story that motivates me to stay focused on getting the most rewards back from every dollar I spend.