Avios Save The Day – Family Holiday Travel Troubles

As if holiday travel isn’t stressful enough – get this: today was the day that my brother was supposed to return back to the New York area from South Carolina so that he could spend Christmas with the family. Back in November, he had originally booked a $206 round trip flight on American Airlines from Charlotte to LaGuardia before remembering that his same exact itinerary would be bookable for just 4,500 Avios each way.

About an hour after booking his paid ticket on American Airlines, he went ahead and booked the same flights using his British Airways Avios, hoping to cancel the paid American Airlines flight right afterwards. American Airlines only has a free 24-hour hold policy (not a free 24-hour cancellation policy that he had been used to with his primary airline, United). When he saw that he was “stuck” with a non-refundable paid ticket on American Airlines, he refrained from hitting the “cancel” button all together… or so he thought.

Thinking he was in the clear, he also went ahead and canceled his award ticket reservation, and his 9,000 Avios were immediately redeposited without penalty (another reason why Avios are so awesome). His only loss was $2.50 in taxes each way.

Fast forward a month to today, Anthony is about to print his boarding pass and make the 2.5-hour drive to Charlotte when my phone rang with him on the other line in a panic…

“Ang”, he said. “I have a problem… my flight was canceled.”

Thinking he was talking about the bad weather in NYC I said, “Oh wow, well just have them rebook you on another.”

“No, well… I must have hit cancel by mistake on my paid ticket last month. I just called the airline to plead for a reinstatement on an honest mistake, but the current fare is $700 one way”, he responded with a hint of nervousness in his voice.

“Ugh. Hold on… DON’T Pay the $700. Let me see if there is any availability using Avios. Don’t get your hopes up though; after all it is peak holiday season. I can’t imagine there being any saver award inventory”, I tell him.

I did a quick flight search using the British Airways portal, and to my surprise there were 7-award seats available for the flight he needed tonight! 4,500 Avios and $2.50 later, he had a boarding pass in hand. Avios truly saved the day.

Not only do Avios allow you to make excellent distance-based redemptions, but there’s also no close-in fee for last minute bookings, which is a win in itself.

Lessons Learned:

  • First, please for the love of travel, be mindful of your travel reservations. Sometimes waiting until a a few minutes before leaving the house to check in and print your boarding pass is not the best way to find out that you indeed have a canceled ticket.
  • Be extremely aware of each airline’s 24-hour cancellation policy. In the future (Anthony, I hope you’re reading this), book your American Airlines travel for the same price through an online travel agency, such as Orbitz, that offers a 24-hour risk free cancellation policy.
  • Reach out to someone who can help. I’m grateful that my brother called me to help him through this. If you’re unsure what to do in a similar stressful situation, reach out to someone you know who is travel-savvy. If you don’t know anyone personally, many of the bloggers are only a tweet a way and are usually very willing to offer sound advice (here’s me on Twitter).
  • Lastly – always have a safety stash of Avios for frantic moments like this.

The easiest and fastest way to get Avios is through credit card sign-up bonuses. The first one that obvious comes to mind is the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Avios after a low minimum spending requirement.

Another thing to keep in mind is that British Airways is a transfer partner in both the American Express Membership Rewards program and the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

An American Express option is the The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPENwhich comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months. Membership Rewards points can be quite lucrative if you take advantage of an occasional transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios. For instance, with the current 20% transfer bonus, 30,000 Membership Rewards points would transfer to 36,000 Avios.

Two other other Membership Rewards cards include:
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and The Platinum Card® from American Express. Also, see related post about the awesome perks related to this card). Both of these are personal charge cards.

Moving on to Ultimate Rewards cards… two of my favorites are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Visa Card (40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 in 3 months) and the Ink Plus® Business Card  (50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months).

Have you ever had a “save-the-day” moment where your miles truly rescued you or someone in your family? If so, please share your story below! Safe and happy travels to all!


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  1. Brandon says

    I’m amazed there was last-minute award space available around holiday season. It doesn’t seem to be something to rely on, but in your situation, it worked out. That is why I hate last-minute award booking fees. The airline can’t sell the plane ticket anyway in those situations, they might as well give it away to frequent flyers. Also, I don’t understand AA’s 24-hr cancellation policy. Did your brother have to pay any cancellation fee or not?

  2. says

    @Brandon: I agree! He ended up losing the $206 entirely from what I understand. I will advise him to call AA or Chase to see if anything can be done, but it sounds like he might have to eat the loss…

  3. says

    @Hilde: Yes, they transfer 1:1 to Avios. You can book your flight using Avios by logging onto your British Airways Executive account. American Airlines is a partner and flights can be booked easily online.

  4. Hilde says

    The British Airways Executive account is the “free” account that holds the miles, I assume. No British airways card required?

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