Handling a Last-Minute Cancellation — Reader Success Story

Aug 17, 2016

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Mara, who used points and miles to book a Christmas vacation to Hawaii with her family. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Zach, who was able to avoid getting stranded at the airport thanks to his travel rewards. Here’s what he had to say:

Zach’s trip to Tel Aviv was temporarily put on hold by his run-in with El Al security. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

I’m writing from Amman, Jordan, but if it weren’t for my miles, I might not have made it here!

I accepted an internship in Jordan this summer, and I decided to spend a few weeks in Israel before starting work. I’ve been an award travel hobbyist for about a year now, and while round-trip flights to Tel Aviv seem to be better value in general, I was able to find a one-way El Al award from New York for 20,000 Amex Membership Rewards points. Getting a good deal is a great way to start a trip, but my plans took a nosedive when I actually got to JFK.

El Al security questioned me for 20 minutes about my trip to Jordan, and decided I had to check my carry-on bag and leave all of my electronics in it. I was then escorted through normal TSA security while my remaining items were inspected in a private screening room for about 30 more minutes. As a professional musician, it was a bit scary knowing that my most valuable possession and livelihood (my trumpet) was in a room with strangers who likely didn’t know how to handle it properly. After this search, El Al security decided that I would not be allowed to board with my instrument.

El Al’s station manager explained that my only options were to not board the flight and get a refund of points, or to have them check the trumpet on a future flight and ship it to me some days later. Any musicians reading this will know that the second option is no option at all if you care about your instrument. After explaining that I couldn’t check my trumpet, I requested the refund and started looking to see what other choices I had.

I popped open my laptop to see if there were any other flights I could catch from JFK to TLV that day or the next. Those last-minute flights were very expensive — even the ones a few days out were around $1,800, which I just couldn’t afford. Prices were a bit lower a week out, but leaving later would have meant missing several concerts I had booked in Israel, and it still would have made a big dent in my finances. It wasn’t a good spot to be in, but fortunately I had an ace in the hole.

I looked for last-minute award space, and saw that Delta had a flight departing just a few hours later with seats going for 50,000 SkyMiles one-way. I had a good chunk of that already from my welcome bonus for the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from Amex; I just had to transfer 15,000 Membership Rewards points to cover the rest. The price was certainly higher than what I had paid originally, but it was one I could afford.

So while I used more points than I would have liked, without miles I would have been forced to alter my travel plans significantly. I did get a decent redemption rate for the award (around 2 cents per point) because the cash price was so high, and this really showed me how valuable points can be when the rare travel nightmare comes up. I hope I don’t get put in a situation like this again, but I take solace in knowing that my miles and points will give me more options when the need arises.

Zach’s story is a great example of how valuable travel rewards can be not only for saving money, but also for making your travels a little smoother. Whether you’re dealing with a family emergency or making spontaneous travel plans, having some points and miles in your account will give you a lot more options. I generally don’t recommend keeping rewards for too long, but it’s good to hold some in reserve precisely for situations like this.

The cost of airfare tends to increase dramatically close to departure, but you can sometimes find saver-level award flights at the last minute. Even if you have to book a more expensive standard award, you’ll typically pay much less of a premium when using miles rather than cash, which makes the extra cost a bit more palatable.

Travel rewards helped Zach (and his trumpet) stick to his original schedule.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Zach for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course), and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). You’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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