Using Points and Miles to Save on International Adoption Travel

Jun 13, 2019

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In 2013 my wife and I made a life-altering decision and began the long process of international adoption. It took roughly four years before we met our three kids for the first time and went from being a couple to a family of five overnight. Fast-forward another 21 months to today, and it’s hard to imagine our lives before the kids were a part of them.

Adoption has many challenges, but one that faces you from the outset is the immense cost. The typical international adoption costs anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000, or more, and travel costs are a part of that sum. Travel may not represent a huge portion, but using points and miles to cover the costs provides welcome savings.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Family Travel

Leveraging Air Miles Makes Adoption Travel Easier

Adoption travel has a few elements that make it different from your typical trip (including the sudden growth in the size of your family). First, you may have little time from when you find out you are matched to when you must travel. It could be just several weeks. Depending on the country, you may also have to make multiple trips. You’ll also need to book a one-way ticket for your child (or children, in our case) when they return home with you.

It’s never too early to start your award-travel research. Some important questions to consider:

  • Which miles would be best for the flights I need?
  • What are the change and cancellation fees?
  • What is the award availability now? Are there a good number of close-in options?

The first question might seem like a no-brainer, but it never hurts to check. In our case, I wanted to use Southwest Rapid Rewards points for our return flights, not realizing that Southwest only sporadically publishes fares from San Jose, Costa Rica, to the San Francisco Bay Area. I took a gamble and locked in tickets for the only date that could possibly work, hoping our kids’ adoption would be finalized by then.

Related: Best Airline Credit Cards for Families in 2019

This choice prevented another issue from arising — change or cancellation fees. Flexibility is a critical element of adoption travel. The adoption timeline varies by country and isn’t always known. Your agency will be the best source of details on the typical process. In our case, the gamble paid off. Yet it actually wasn’t a gamble, as I could cancel the award tickets anytime, which was the primary reason I chose to use Southwest Rapid Rewards.

(Image by Ian Snyder)

Researching award availability should be your focus. Start early. Check the general number of seats available, and if many are available close-in. You may have as little as four to six weeks from the time you are matched until you travel, depending on your specific adoption process. I highly suggest banking miles that can be used for last-minute award space and also for one-way awards.

Some program suggestions:

  • American AAdvantage: No date-change fee. However, there is a $75 close-in fee if the date of travel is within 21 days of your original booking date. This fee is waived for elite members. Cancellation fees are also reasonable for multiple tickets on the same PNR (passenger name record with details about the travelers and itinerary).
  • British Airways Avios: Change/cancellation fee of only $55. (Alternatively, you may forfeit the taxes.)
  • Singapore KrisFlyer: Change fee of $25 for Singapore Airlines/Silk Air flights, $50 for partner-operated flights. Miles are easy to accrue through Star Alliance partners or transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards points to KrisFlyer at a rate of 1:1.

Diversify into a couple of programs and keep your options open. Collecting a transferable currency is the most ideal. Given the length of the international adoption process, accruing enough miles and points will probably not be the difficult part.

How to Approach Lodging

Here is where things can vary wildly. Depending on the country, your stay could be anywhere from seven days to two or three months. Since every country and process is unique, I cannot make any concrete recommendations. However, I can give you a general strategy to cut the cost.

The first thing you need to do is talk with your agency. They may already have specific hotel recommendations, or at least areas to suggest. Start there with your research and run options by them. They will be facilitating the trip, and you need to make sure your plans will work.

If you do find chain options where award stays are possible, total the number of points you will need and determine which credit cards you could apply for to cover the stay.

Related: The Best Hotel Chains for Families

If a longer stay is required, choose lodging that offers convenience and the amenities you need, even if it means opting for a non-points hotel. Here are some tips for booking Airbnbs. Using a card, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, that lets you redeem miles as cash back to cover expenses coded as travel on your credit card statement is also a strategy to consider.

Our boys on the beach in lovely Cahuita, Costa Rica. (Image by Ian Snyder)

Our Personal Case Study

We had some unique aspects to our travel when we adopted our three kids from Costa Rica. For starters, you are expected to be in the country for six to eight weeks, which is a major hurdle. A parent can travel back periodically if required for work, but we decided it would be best if we both stayed the whole time.

The length of the stay proved challenging in terms of figuring out how to save on lodging. There would also be five (briefly six) of us, and finding a hotel that wouldn’t feel cramped was impossible. Plus, we couldn’t afford more than about two weeks of hotel with the points we had. Ultimately, we decided to use our agency’s recommended apartment-style hotel, which proved to be a good choice, but didn’t save us any money.

But we did save on flights. Through the use of United miles for our flights to Costa Rica (graciously gifted by a friend, even though we were going to use our own) and Southwest Rapid Rewards for the flights back, we cut our air travel costs to only the taxes and fees of these tickets, saving at least $1,600.

Another final note is to allow enough connection time if you aren’t flying directly back to your home airport. On arrival in a connecting airport, your kids’ immigration paperwork will need to be processed for entry into the United States. Budget a little extra time.

(Image by Ian Snyder)

Bottom Line

International adoption is a challenging process from the moment you decide to adopt into daily life once you’re home. But it is extremely rewarding. I cannot imagine life without our three kids.

This post has focused on international adoption, but much of the same strategies can be applied to domestic adoption. Here are some additional resources you might want to read:

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