Thursday, August 7, 2014

2015 - Planning our next crazy adventure!

So...June 26, 2015 is not real close, but it doesn’t stop me from starting to plan our next big Rahn adventure. We knew we would be returning to Jackson Hole, the Tetons and Yellowstone National park, but wanted to add in some new adventures.  I refuse to go into debt for these big vacations, and the joy of planning is almost as exciting as the actual trip, so I don't mind starting early...and I don't mind sharing my tricks.  

It's taken me about 8 years to finally figure out how to work the system, and I've gotten a lot of advice and asked a lot of questions.  We originally had a Disney Visa card and were accumulating Disney dollars for our trips to WDW and our Disney Cruises.

Our First Disney Cruise - 2008
Then we realized there was a whole new world out then when we traveled to Hawaii and Jackson Hole for the first time... 

Jackson Hole in 2009
Hawaii in 2010
We were continually flying United Airlines out of Dulles to our destinations. We were spending lots of money for tickets to fly to the same places. We discussed and know that we will be flying and visiting new destinations for as long as we are able. So....we enrolled in the Frequent Mile program for United (all 4 of us) - and started accumulating miles for each flight we took. We flew to Hawaii (purchased the tickets) and were then able to fly to Vancouver the following year for half the price because of the accumulated miles we had in our mileage Plus accounts.  

Vancouver and Alaska in 2011
Wyoming and Montana - 2012
Walt Disney World - 2013

Barcelona, Spain - 2014

 United Airlines gives you options to buy tickets with your miles.
 You can get: 
  • Saver Awards - 12,500 miles per ticket and $5.00, so 25,00 miles roundtrip and $10.00 per person 
  • Standard Awards - 25,00 miles per ticket and $10.00 , so %0,00 roundtrip and $20.00 

When I made this discovery and figured out how the Mileage Plus awards worked, I was pretty excited. But, not all flights offer Awards tickets and it is a tedious task of monitoring the flights to see if Award tickets pop up. An Awards ticket might be available one day and disappear the following day, never to reappear. Also, accumulating miles into our accounts was a long process.  

I then figured out that you could double dip! When you rent a car, you can earn Airline miles if you register your Mileage Plus account with the rental car agency. So...we started accumulating extra miles for all of our rental cars.  Then...I also figured out that Hotel reservations can also earn airline miles if you register your Mileage Plus number at registration. Various restaurants also offer airline miles if you buy gift cards through the United site. 

Still...wanted more miles.... :) and I decided to bite the bullet and get the United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa Card! 

We had been getting credit card offers  from United for about the last 5 years. It was only last year that I actually opened one and read the fine print. Because we have mileage plus accounts, we received an offer to open a Visa account and get an automatic 50,000 miles (one or 2 free tickets worth), then add a user and get another 25,000 miles automatically (another ticket or 2), then 1 mile per $1 spent and 2 miles per $1 if purchasing United tickets. You can also get free luggage, and priority boarding.  

I got the Visa card right before buying our tickets to Barcelona, Spain - we earned lots of miles for flying and also got double miles for the cost of the tickets.  If you pay the bills, and don't accumulate debt on the Mileage Plus Visa Card, then it is a great deal for accumulating  miles to get the Awards tickets. 

So fast forward to this week. We have LOTS of miles and looking to next summer.....I have  been spending countless hours on the United site logged in with my Mileage Plus number that is registered to our Visa Card looking for awards tickets. 

I started talking to others and searching for United miles tips and tricks....I found out that if you search award travel with a Mileage Plus Visa number you will get extra award tickets offered to you.   I was then told to look at one-way tickets and you will have more options.  I was given advice to search neighboring airports, and they might have awards tickets that the more popular airports don', I continued to search! 
I had enough miles for 4 one way tickets, and so with the fear that the tickets might disappear, I bought them. 4 one-way tickets to Jackson Hole next summer using the Standard Award tickets - $22 and 100,000 miles.  

Another trick that I learned was that when you buy tickets through United, you get the option to "buy" more miles at a hugely discounted price to add to your miles plus account.  So, I bought our Jackson Hole tickets for $22 and also bought an additional 3,000 miles for each of us at about a 75% discount than if I was trying to purchase miles outright.  

I then started looking at our 4 accounts to see what miles we had and how many more we needed to get 4 more awards tickets for tickets back to Dulles. We all had at least 14,000 miles still available. I started searching all available airports in Wyoming and Montana, Salt Lake City, near Glacier National Park and then....using Google Maps....I ventured into Canada and check out the Calgary area. 

I've probably spent about (total) 5-6 hours of off and on searching using GoogleMaps and the United site looking at various airports and checking for Awards tickets for the return dates that we are thinking.  
I found EXACTLY what I was looking for! 4 return Saver Award tickets (12,500 miles and $5) from Calgary, Canada to Dulles one one our possible dates. It was about 10:00 at night and Don was camping in the woods of Pennsylvania. I went to bed thinking about possible itinerary changes and how we could make it work and the exciting new places that we could visit. The next morning I woke up, logged into United to look at the tickets again - Don would be home that afternoon and I would buy the tickets after running everything by him. And...the Saver Award tickets were GONE - no longer available at all for any of the dates! Ugh!!! THey had been replaced by Standard Award tickets (25,000 each person) .  No other airports anywhere were offering Saver Award tickets because it was peak season, and planes would fill with full-paying customers.  

So..back to the drawing board of how to get about 30,000 more miles quickly, before these Standard Awards disappear.  

I probably spent about another 3-4 hours crunching numbers for 4 tickets. I was now set on flying out of Calgary and visiting Glacier National Park and Banff National Park in Canada back to Dulles.  

My trip-planning - beat United at it's own game Brain was in full gear: 
  • what would be the original cost without any awards for 4 one-way tickets Calgary to Dulles?  
  • I need to beat that price! 
  • How much would it cost to buy additional miles from United to bring each of our 4 accounts up to 25,000 miles? 
  • Could I transfer miles between us (for a fee) and get 3 Awards tickets and purchase one? 
  • Could I do 2 Awards tickets and 2 purchased tickets? 
  • Still checking neighboring airports for sudden Award tickets 

I've figured it out and am awaiting the final results to post - all the while having my fingers crossed that the Awards tickets from Calgary to Dulles don't disappear in the next few days! 

The best bet and cheapest alternative to full price tickets that I have found is - buying additional miles to bring all of our accounts up to 25,000 miles - then when all is done and validated/verified, I will buy 4 Standard award tickets (25,000 miles and $64 -  due to flying out of Canada) one-way from Calgary to Dulles. 

All done and over with, I will have saved close to $2300.00 if I am able to get these tickets in the next couple of days. Fingers crossed!! 

Stay tuned for the results and our planned itinerary that is in the works for our Wild West Adventure in June/July 2015.