NSPwife and I have been extremely fortunate. In the past four years, we have visited South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia (twice) and the Maldives. We’ve flown in business or first class most of the time. We’ve stayed at 5-Star Resorts such as the Park Hyatt Hadahaa and Al-Maha. And we’ve paid pennies on the dollar. But one thing that has played true for every trip is that it has been only me and NSPwife (although to be fair, NSPpeanut was around in the belly-days). Last April, NSPwife and I had some of our best friends visiting us in Baltimore, and for the first time we convinced them to apply for some credit cards in order to plan for a trip roughly 12 months later.
We had them sign up for the following:
- 2 x Barclays U.S. Airways credit cards at 50,000 miles each
- 2 x Citi American Airlines credit cards at 50,00 miles each
- 1 x Chase Sapphire credit card at 40,000 Ultimate Rewards
They wound up applying the following week (they needed a week to build up their courage), and of course made a couple errors. They had applied for:
- 1 Barclays U.S. Airways card
- 1 Barclays Arrival Card
- 1 Chase Sapphire Card
- 2 Citi American Airlines Cards
Not the worst mistake in the world, but Barclays was in their last week of issuing the old U.S. Airways card that would fold into American Airlines miles. 8 months later we had one of them apply for another Barclays Arrival card. What was the final haul?
- 150,000 American Airlines Miles
- 45,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards
- $880 Travel Reimbursement
Here was the criteria for the trip: Could not go over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, and must be able to get back to the U.S. relatively quickly – as there were 3 children being left at home with grandparents…for the first time. That left only a few possible destinations: Iceland (OK – so does not follow the Atlantic Ocean rule, but is close enough), Central America and Northern South America. We wound up choosing Costa Rica – a place that had been on my “Top 5 List” to visit for close to a decade. Now it was time to find flights. Our friends were flying from Chicago and we were flying from Baltimore. One thing to note: our friends did not know where we were going, even through the first segment of the trip.
Something I found out: Spring break is tough to get award tickets to Costa Rica. For the life of me I couldn’t find a flight leaving early Saturday that arrived in San Jose by early afternoon. Every flight was going through Miami, with an overnight stay, arriving in San Jose early the next morning. While a night in Miami was somewhat intriguing, as I read more and more on Costa, I needed that extra day. So I waited. And waited. One morning, four Saver AAward tickets became available flying out of DCA at 6:59am, with a 2-hour layover, arriving in San Jose at 12:24pm. That worked. Let’s do it. A nice sale fare got NSPfriends from MDW to BWI for about $100. But the fun with the fares was far from done. Checking daily, ultimately four Business SAAver fares opened up on the MIA > SJO segment. Boom. We’ll take it – for many reasons: first, priority security access is important during spring break. Second, lounge access in DCA would be nice. Third, well, business class seats. With the new AAdvantage award chart, you are talking only 10,000 extra miles per person. So I pulled the trigger with a voluntary downgrade, thinking I would have a fairly good chance at finding availability later to upgrade the DCA > MIA segment.
Roughly a week before our flight date, four Business SAAver award tickets opened up from BWI to MIA at roughly the same time. THIS IS PERFECT. We wouldn’t need to take a car to DCA. We wouldn’t have to worry about potential D.C. traffic. We would be in Business Class the entire time. So I called American Airlines. Whoops – BWI wasn’t considered a co-terminal. There was no way to change DCA to BWI without paying $600 in change fees…well, that wasn’t going to happen. At least I could confirm that we would be on the upgrade list. Wait, no? Why not? It seems that American does not put Award Tickets on upgrade lists, they just can’t do it. Even a supervisor can’t manually change it (or at least refused to with almost a dozen HUCAs). I was told this could only happen at the airport, and with upgrades processing automatically, there was no chance of us getting upgraded. OK – so be it.
We arrived at DCA without issue and proceeded to the Admirals Club.
We got in around 5:50am and was told the bartender would be in at 6am. Around 5:55am, one of the desk agents came back and told us the bartender would probably be late and offered us drinks. Given we were on an international business fare, premium drinks were available.
Four champagnes, a bud light+orange juice and sunrise later, with a quick bagel, we were on way to the airplane. The flight to Miami was quick, mostly filled of sleeping, and we landed in Miami with about two hours before our next flight.
Our friends still didn’t know where we were going, and it wasn’t quite time to tell them. Onward now to the Centurion Lounge…