People get disenchanted with their points and miles.

Often times, availability isn’t there when you really want it to be, or it seems like the costs in miles continue to rise even faster than the rate of inflation. But sometimes – a moment comes along where you’re so glad you still play the game, because you find yourself a tremendous win.

This week, I experienced that joy, which allowed me to refund an expensive ticket and buy a new one, with an instant upgrade. Here’s how my little travel joy played out, and a few takeaways to ensure you get the most from your points and miles.

A $13,000 ticket for $2600 And Miles

I cringe every time a blogger says “omg, miles saved me $13,000”, or “my $20,000 first class ticket” because really, the miles only “save” money if you were truly willing to pay $13,000, or $20,000 in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not crazy valuable, or can’t give flattering valuations. I’m headed from London to California with my family for a month or so, and the big sale I was hoping for never came.

Instead of the £1000 (circa $1300) round trip business class tickets that typically go on sale once or twice a year around Black Friday, tickets on my dates were $6500 per. Big ouch indeed, costing $13,000 all in!

I wouldn’t go that high, so I found a circuitous routing I’d accept, that dropped the cost to $6500 all in. Still a painful expense, but with a near 2 year old, comfort matters on a 10+ hour transatlantic flight.

I can’t say my miles saved me $13,000, but I can say they cut into the $6500 I spent!

I wasn’t happy, so I did what I do best, and set flight alerts for any potentially better outcomes.

I spent nearly a week agonizing over flights before booking, hoping that a great solution using points would present itself and save me of the cash tickets. There was nothing — zero, nada — and I eventually booked with cash, begrudgingly.

But about 22 hours after booking, I got an alert from SeatSpy letting me know that Virgin had just opened up the floodgates for award seats in Upper Class on my dates.

Instead of a circuitous routing in business class for $6500 hard cash, I could either book Upper Class outright with points, or book a premium economy ticket at a great price (so i’d earn miles back) and then upgrade immediately to Upper Class.

I chose to buy a round trip Premium Economy ticket and instantly upgrade to Upper Class one way, for an all in cost of $2500 and 67,000.

It’s one of my favorite money saving moves in all of travel. For another 67,000 miles (for two passengers) I can upgrade the return, and there’s plenty of time to set alerts and wait to see if that happens.

You can bet they’re all in place! Even an airport cash upgrade will likely still save thousands versus my original ticket, with the added benefit of being direct.

This is also the savage part about loyalty and points.

I had $6500 worth of tickets booked on a direct competitor, which I cancelled because a more economical solution was presented via loyalty and points. I made the window to cancel for a refund by about 30 minutes.

Now, that’s $6500 no longer going to one airline, and $2500 plus the earnings from miles redemption going to another. The timing was uncanny.

It’s a prime example of why having points can be clutch, but also how airlines making seats available using points isn’t necessarily correct to be seen as “losing money” on a ticket because of what people could’ve payed in cash, but rather what they didn’t do with another airline.

Points seats are actually a tool to potentially steal business from other airlines.

I now benefit from direct flights and cash savings which will fuel more fun at the other end, and will earn miles and tier points back in the process, which will greatly offset the cost of the upgrades! It’s $2500 Virgin didn’t have yesterday, and $6500 another airline was 30 minutes from banking, no longer being there.

Other Tools At My Disposal

I had a companion voucher from the UK Virgin Atlantic Credit Card I could’ve burned to save miles and cash, but I’m saving it for another trip, when I can book a cheap Upper Class fare and take a companion for just the cost of taxes and surcharges.

Yep, the Virgin companion voucher can be used on cash tickets, or tickets purchased with miles. This is clutch for people who keep track of fares, who can unlock not only value, but flexibility with this feature.

Ultimately, I’m just really glad I’ll have an easier itinerary in equal, if not better comfort than my previous flights. It was a classic case where a few principles rang true.

  • Garden your reservations: always look to improve, however possible.
  • Collect flexible points: always have points which can move quickly to programs.
  • Even once you’ve booked, keep looking and use flex and cancellation policies.
  • Buying premium economy and upgrading can bring fantastic value.

Thanks for listening to my weird and twisted story of getting between London and Los Angeles. It’s something I do so often, I feel like I have it down, but with travel right now, there are always new challenges. I’m glad points and miles helped to solve mine.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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10 Comments

  1. Nice work. That PE to UC feature is something I have used a couple of times. And booking UC on miles directly still incurs those substantial added charges so booking a fare in PE is really not that onerous.

  2. Please don’t bring a baby into first or business class. NOBODY wants that. Should be illegal. People with kids should be forced to sit in economy. Period.

    1. Jumus is obviously a troll, or just a dick. I find adults (especially on Virgin with their Bar) are far worse than most children when it comes to disturbing my sleep. Also its called business(well upper) class, its not an Adults only pool or resort. Stop trolling or I suggest you go to https://www.privatefly.com/ and book yourself a private jet.

    2. I’ve found adults *with* children to be worse behaved than the children themselves. But nowhere near as bad as some childless adults wondering around behaving like having a first class ticket means they own the aircraft and staff.

  3. Nice job. I also just learned about the PE to UC upgrade with Virgin so will keep that in the back of my head.

    I’m a firm beleiver in continuing to check and re-check future travel bookings. Not quite in the same league but this morning I was able to re-book 2 rooms for 4 nights at a Kimpton in SFO saving another 9K per room since the rates dropped. A few weeks ago for the same trip I was able to re-book 2 Hilton rooms in No Cal for 5 nights for a savings of 35K per room.

  4. First of all Jumus you are an idiot! Children have a right to fly in any cabin. Grow up !

    Thanks Gilbert for the advice. I have nearly 600k pts with VA and have been trying to book 3 First class tics on ANA to Japan with no success. I may try and buy PE on VA and then upgrade to UC if I can find a routing from the US via London to Asia.

    1. I dont think ive ever seen 3xfirst class tix available for 3rd party bookings with ANA… at best you might get 2xbuisness and 1x first?

    2. Hey! My advice with ANA is to piece things. F typically only opens one seat at a time, so I’ll take what I can get, and garden the reservation. I’ll grab 1 F seat, 1 J seat, or 1 F, 1 Y — and then set alerts and just improve as seats open. Typically, i’m always able to get everyone into F or J, if not all one or the other.

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