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Taking Advantage of Refundable Tickets to Get the Best Deal, or How I Just Got 5 Hours of My Life Back

Even as I’m blogging about my March trip to Paris, I’m working on planning my next big trip, to Iceland and Norway this summer. And I’m really excited that today I just rebooked my return flight at the end of the trip with a different airline — to make our journey home much better in multiple ways.

Back in March, when we planned this trip, I booked our flight home from Oslo on American Airlines, because that was the only carrier where I had enough miles at the time. The itinerary I booked was going to take about 20 hours total, including three legs and two international transfers. Basically we were flying from Oslo (leaving at 7:45 a.m.) to London, then to LA, then we would have a 3.5 hour layover, then switch to Southwest Airlines to fly home to Oakland. Ugh, right? But it was the best I could do at the time without shelling out quite a lot of actual money.

The new itinerary that I booked today will make our journey home from Oslo about five hours shorter, and condense it from three legs to a manageable two. Best of all, we get to arrive at the Oslo airport at around 8 a.m., because the new flight doesn’t leave until 11.

As if all that isn’t great enough, the new itinerary will even cost us less: We’ll save $80 in fees and about 20,000 Southwest miles (worth more than $300).

How did I improve our situation? By going through these steps to saving money and points on travel:

  1. I remembered that nothing refundable is final.
    When booking with miles on American Airlines, your flight is fully refundable. When I cancel my original trip, the 136,000 miles I paid for the two one-way tickets will be reinstated, and the $220.50 in fees we paid will go back to our card.*
    When I booked the itinerary on American back in March, I knew that I might end up cancelling it. I never considered it set in stone. It was a fallback reservation in case I couldn’t get anything better in time.
  2. As soon as I booked my fallback flight, I started looking for something better.
    When searching for flights, I noticed that United offered a much better itinerary, with seats available for 70,000 miles* per person. Unfortunately, I had very few United miles, and my husband, Epu, didn’t have any.
  3. I figured out a plan to get the miles for the better flight.
    Knowing that we were definitely not going to be stranded in Norway this summer, I now had more time to concoct a Plan B.
    I checked out the credit card offers, and saw that we could earn 50,000 miles apiece if we each applied for a United Explorer Visa** and spent $3,000 on it. I immediately applied for the card for myself, then used my refer-a-friend link** to sign up Epu, for a 10,000 mile bonus. It took me two statements to charge $3,000 on mine and one statement to charge it on Erik’s (yeah, we spend way too much money).
    So as of early this afternoon, Erik had 53,000 United miles, and I had just over 69,000.
    But the flights I wanted were 70,000 miles each. No worries! I had some Chase Ultimate Rewards, which can be changed for United miles anytime you want. I transfered 1,000 Chase points to my United account, and boom! Within seconds, I had the 70k I needed. Then 17,000 Chase points to Epu. Boom!

    I did this all knowing that the seats we wanted at the price we wanted might be gone by the time we had accumulated the miles to make it happen. But today, when I went to book, the seats were still there, and I got ’em!

How fast do Chase points transer to your airline account? Almost as fast as you can refresh the screen. These photos of my computer screen were taken seconds apart:

So there you have it! If you’re planning an international trip a few months out (and if your household spends enough) you totally have enough time to get a new credit card and earn enough miles to make that flight free. But to be safe, book a fully refundable ticket to have in your back pocket while you work on it.

Now, I just have to make sure to cancel the old flights before our trip. I didn’t do it today because I just want to let the new itinerary settle a bit first. I don’t want to get some email from United saying “Oh, actually, that flight couldn’t be ticketed.” I’ll just wait until I see the fees charged on my credit card, and then cancel.

It occurs to me, looking at the title of this post, that you might ask: Did I really get five hours of my life back? Or did I just spend that five hours figuring all this out? First of all, probably not — it took a few minutes at most to apply for each card and to book the new flights, and it’ll take like one minute to cancel the old flights. And second, frankly, I don’t care if it did take five hours! Getting and using miles and points is a fun hobby for me. A lot more fun than sitting in LA waiting for a third connection.

* Yeah, at 68,000 miles and 70,000 miles per person one way, these are shockingly expensive coach tickets! For comparison, I paid only 22,500 AAdvantage miles each way to go to Paris in March. Flying is crazy high this summer.

** If you sign up for a card through this link, I’ll get bonus points.