2020 started out as a year full of travel and excitement for me and my family. There was a lot to look forward to. Most important, of course, was the birth of our son early in the year. Our family of two was now a family of three.
The rest of 2020 was going to be a fun year. We had two international weddings to attend – one in France, the other in Greece. Both international flights were going to be in business class, so there was a lot to look forward to there. With a new baby in tow and plenty of points and miles, we had visions of a seemingly Instagram year of travel with our new family.
But then, of course, the pandemic happened and all of our plans for 2020 changed dramatically. By now, I thought my son would have been on multiple flights and even visited multiple countries. It didn’t happen and it’s unclear when we’ll next get on a plane.
That’s not to say my son hasn’t gotten to travel at all though. We’ve done some shorter local trips. During the summer, we also did a long, multi-day, cross-country road trip to introduce my son to my parents. But our plane trips haven’t happened and it’s unclear when they’ll happen again.
In today’s post, I want to quickly recap some of the trips that didn’t happen in 2020 and think about the plans I have for some of the points and miles I used to book these trips. Whenever travel does start happening again, you better believe we’ll be on the first planes we can get on. We’ve got a lot of points and miles to burn.
Greece Trip – Booked Via Aeroplan
The first big international flight we had planned was to Greece for a friend’s wedding. Our son would have been 6 months old at this point and this would have been his first long-haul flight.
I booked this trip via Aeroplan for 57,500 Aeroplan miles each way, which meant that it cost 115,000 miles to fly round trip from the US to Greece. For the two of us, then, it cost 230,000 Aeroplan miles. I got these Aeroplan miles by transferring over American Express Membership Rewards points.
Aeroplan is part of Star Alliance, so it has good partnerships with different airlines and a pretty decent website for figuring our award flights. Our trip to Greece would take us from Chicago to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines in business class (to get to Chicago, we’d snag a cheap positioning flight from Minneapolis). Then after a layover in Istanbul, we had a short flight on Aegean Airlines from Istanbul to Thessaloniki. I was actually looking forward to this layover in Turkey because Turkish Airlines has a really fancy lounge at Istanbul airport that I wanted to check out.
We would have spent about 10 days in Greece, spending a few days in Thessaloniki and then making our way to Athens for a few days. The plan was to use Hyatt points or use some free night certificates we had to stay at Marriott hotels.
The planned return trip took us from Athens to Krakow, then our long haul flight was a business class flight from Krakow to Chicago on Polish Airlines. This isn’t the fanciest business class product, but the videos I saw for it looked pretty nice, so I was looking forward to checking this out.
Infants travel free for domestic flights, but for international flights are not free, even when booked with points and miles. What you have to pay depends on the program that you book your flights with. In this case, I booked with Aeroplan because it got us to Greece, and at the time, they only charged $100 for lap infants.
Recently, Aeroplan made some massive changes to their award program that I think actually made it better. Namely, they changed up their award chart, but importantly, they got rid of fuel surcharges, which opens up a lot more partner airlines that used to be out of reach given their massive fuel surcharges.
I have 230,000 Aeroplan miles stranded between two Aeroplan accounts, so I’ll definitely be booking something with these points at some point.
France Trip – Booked Via Virgin Atlantic
The second big international trip we had planned was to France for my cousin’s wedding in October. We booked this flight the previous year using Virgin Atlantic miles.
The plan was to take a connecting flight from Minneapolis to Detroit, then fly on Delta One from Detroit to Paris. This business class flight cost 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles each way, which was a sweet spot in the Virgin Atlantic reward chart. Virgin Atlantic also made sense because it has low fees for lap infants – only 1,000 miles at the time, I believe.
This flight was canceled because I obviously couldn’t fly to France. The canceled flight means that I’m left with a bunch of stranded Virgin Atlantic miles. Normally, having a bunch of Virgin Atlantic miles isn’t a bad place to have stranded miles, Unfortunately, just a few days ago, Virgin Atlantic dramatically devalued their award chart, making my Virgin Atlantic miles worth much less. I’m going to have to think about what I’m going to do with these miles.
Our Unused Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass has always been seen as the best domestic travel benefit. It lets you fly two people for the price of one ticket, whether that ticket is booked in cash or with points. What this means is that if you have the Southwest Companion Pass and a decent amount of Southwest points, you can fly two people for free. Lap infants fly for free also, which means that my Southwest Companion Pass would fly three of us for free anywhere that Southwest flies.
What makes the Southwest Companion Pass even better is how long it lasts. When you earn it, you get it for the rest of the year that you earned it in plus the entire next year. Previously, my wife had earned the Southwest Companion Pass, earning it at the beginning of 2018. This allowed us both to fly for free with Southwest in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, we made it so that I earned the Southwest Companion Pass, giving us a fresh new companion pass for 2020 and 2021.
Since getting the Southwest Companion Pass for 2020 and 2021, I’ve flown a grand total of 0 times. It’s a bummer because it’s basically been wasted and it’s unclear if we’ll even be able to use this stretch of our companion pass ever. If things improve, maybe we’ll be able to use our Southwest Companion Pass towards the end of this year. I’ll say that If that does happen, we’ll probably fly somewhere every weekend.
Plans For These Points
I currently have a lot of points stuck in two airline programs – Aeroplan and Virgin Atlantic. I’m fine with where my Aeroplan miles are and I’m confident I’ll be able to use them again without issue. Aeroplan now lets you combine miles between family members, so that makes my Aeroplan miles even easier to use. Chase is also planning to add Aeroplan as a transfer partner, so Aeroplan will probably be a program I’ll continue to use, especially since their lap infant rates are very low.
Virgin Atlantic, on the other hand, is a disappointment. With their recent devaluation, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my stranded miles. I’d like to avoid transferring in more points, but it’s possible I’ll have to do so in order to book something with my current stranded miles.
Finally, with my Southwest Companion Pass, it’s basically just a lost year or two. If we can get any use out of it, that’d be great. If not – oh well, it happens. The plan at the end of this year will be to have my wife get the Southwest Companion Pass again, with the goal of having her get it in early 2022. We’ll then continue in our fifth year of having the Southwest Companion Pass (that assumes, of course, that the Southwest Companion Pass still exists by then – the world of travel rewards changes so fast that you can’t count on anything far off in the future).
Anyway, that’s just a quick recap of some of the trips I had planned this past year and what ultimately happened with them. I’m still waiting for the opportunity to take my first international business class trip. We’ll see what this coming year holds!