For me, one of the best things about points and miles is using them to treat family to things they might not have otherwise done. And sometimes when we’re lucky, we get to share the experience with them.
Our points, miles, and elite benefits are hard-earned (or at least cleverly-earned!). We want to use them in the most valuable ways we can. And we only have so much time with our family. So when those things come together, to me, it results in some of the richest points-and-miles experiences we can ever have.
We’ve had three recent times when we’ve been able to share points, miles and/or elite benefits with family to facilitate experiences that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have had. Things like this help me enjoy my points-and-miles hobby more and more. I wanted to share these stories with Middle Age Miles’ readers. Perhaps they’ll motivate you to jump further into points and miles – and hopefully they’ll help inspire everyone to live their travel dreams with those they care about most.
(1) Notre Dame Football with Craig’s Dad
My Dad grew up playing football and played in college, and he began his working career as a high school football coach. When I was young, he would take me once or twice a year up the curvy roads of the northwest Arkansas hills to see my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks play. Our usual pit stop was the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse on old highway 71, which had the best ham sandwiches I’d ever tasted. We usually sat in the south end zone of old Razorback Stadium, sometimes in the face of a cold north wind. We were there in 1970 when Bill McClard kicked a then-NCAA record 60-yard field goal that rode the north wind just over the crossbar to help the Hogs defeat SMU. Except for the occasional Razorbacks loss, these were some of the fondest memories of my early childhood.
Notre Dame football has a long and storied history, of course, and it’s one of the iconic places to visit for a college football game. Philly went to Notre Dame and now I’m “adopted Irish” as I say. We make it up to South Bend for a game or two each year, and this year we asked my Dad to come up to a game with us. In some ways, it’s me returning the favor for the great memories my Dad gave me as a child.
It was a super weekend and a wonderful experience to spend special time with my Dad. And my Dad really loved the trip and time together.
We took a tour of Notre Dame Stadium:
… including getting to go into the steps leading to the ND locker room to see the famous “Play Like a Champion Today” sign:
Dad did his best Touchdown Jesus imitation:
And we got to see the Fighting Irish hold off a gritty Vanderbilt Commodores team for a close victory on a very sunny Saturday afternoon:
It was a great trip that none of us will soon forget, and points-and-miles played a big role.
We flew from DFW to South Bend (SBN) on American’s new non-stop flight, which was very nice. In prior years, we had to fly into Chicago O’Hare, pick up a rental car, and then drive 2 hours over to South Bend (assuming no bad traffic in Chicago). Not surprisingly, the non-stop from DFW to SBN isn’t cheap on a ND football weekend. But we used the Companion Certificate that we received as a result of spend on our Barclays AA Aviator Silver card to save more than $1,000 on airfare. The Companion Certificate allows up to 2 guests to travel at $99 each plus taxes and fees when the primary traveler purchases a published AA domestic economy fare. In our case, my round-trip fare was about $640; the cost for Philly and Dad was $134 each.
In addition, we paid for hotels for 2 rooms for 2 nights using hotel loyalty program points, saving us more than $2,400 (4 room nights at about $600 each)! Plus, our elite status gave us free breakfast each morning. Needless to say, this was a very high-value hotel point redemption!
(2) Dubrovnik with 2 Kids and Craig’s Sister
In August, we fulfilled a long-standing bucket list destination by visiting the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Besides Philly and me, the travel party for this trip included daughter Katie, son Andrew, and my sister Cymber. Thie idea for this summer holiday originated when Katie was accepted into an international study abroad program in Prague. We wanted to meet her at the conclusion of her program, then venture out to another European destination for the bulk of our trip. We ultimately chose Dubrovnik. On this trip, we also visited Prague; Kotor, Montenegro; Ston, Croatia; and Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
“Game of Thrones” is my sister’s favorite show, so we did a “Game of Thrones” tour in Dubrovnik that included a ride on an on-theme wooden ship, a walking tour in Dubrovnik … and costumes!
We will always remember Kotor, the site of our unforgettable hike and visit to the “cheese shop” on the mountainside near the Fortress of Kotor, with a spectacular view:
We climbed and hiked on the formidable Walls of Ston:
And we had an unusual but extremely hospitable visit to the Berak Winery in Trebinje:
Fortunately, points and miles bought us all of the major pieces of this trip.
Katie and Andrew flew back and forth to Prague using United miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points paid for Cymber’s airfare to Prague. Philly and I bought our tickets to Prague using Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points, plus we used Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) earned by virtue of our AA Executive Platinum status to upgrade our transatlantic segments to business class. Amex MR points also bought us our tickets from Prague to Dubrovnik and back.
As for hotels, we used SPG Starpoints to book the Sheraton hotels in Dubrovnik and Prague for all of our nights abroad. I coached Cymber through getting the Amex SPG personal card and collecting the sign-up bonus, to earn points for her hotel rooms. And our Platinum elite status with SPG gave us free breakfast each morning of our trip.
We also used Priority Pass lounges and restaurants extensively on this trip, to make our air travels and connections a little more comfortable. Between us, we visited PP lounges/restaurants in Dubrovnik, Prague, Chicago, Denver, and perhaps one or two other locations – all as a result of holding credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa card. Philly, Cymber and I also visited the Admirals Club in Philadelphia, which we were able to access as a benefit of Philly’s Citi AA Executive Card.
All in all, points and miles helped us take a unique European trip to a great destination that we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise – plus it helped us with some luxuries along the way! It was incredible to share this experience with family.
(3) A Diamond Suite Upgrade for My Son
This one isn’t the story of a great trip or even an experience together with family, but I got a lot of satisfaction out of it.
Through a series of miscommunications (and probably a mis-step by the apartment complex), son Andrew’s apartment for this term at the University of Arkansas wasn’t ready for him to move in on time. As a result, he had one night in Fayetteville where he didn’t have a place to sleep. In general, this isn’t a huge issue for a college student who has friends with couches. But in this instance, Andrew’s girlfriend was coming from out of state that evening to start a weekend visit. Crashing on a buddy’s couch wasn’t going to be a great way to impress the girlfriend!
I was able to help Andrew by booking a room at the local Hampton Inn, pulling a good rate from my hotel-booking bag of tricks. I put the room under my name, with Andrew as an “additional guest.” This meant that my Hilton Diamond elite status was attached to the reservation.
The hotel staff at the Fayetteville Hampton Inn was great about this, and they even recognized the Diamond benefits by upgrading Andrew and his girlfriend to a suite for the night! They were incredibly appreciative, and Andrew was kind enough to send me a few pictures of the suite.
If this had happened to me personally, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal at all. I was “just” a one-night suite upgrade at a Hampton Inn in a mid-sized city. But this time, it meant a lot. Andrew and his girlfriend were so happy and appreciative to get this nice gift from the hotel. I absolutely loved that my points-and-miles hobby helped give them a special treat. And it reminded me that the richest points-and-miles experiences are the ones where you treat your family.
Have you used your points, miles and/or elite status to make a family trip happen or give your family a special treat? How did it feel? Let us know in the Comments!
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