Early next year, Daniel, Michael, my husband, and I are going on an epic trip Down Under…specifically Australia (Sydney), New Zealand (Queenstown, Auckland), Fiji, and Hawaii (Honolulu). Our trip is 16 days, and I couldn’t be more excited for it!! It’ll be our first big ‘dem flyers trip together!

This is a breakdown of what we’ve booked so far and how we’ve paid for it:

Qantas SFO-SYD business class (Daniel and Michael)

62,500 American Airlines miles + $26.40 per person

125,000 AA miles + $52.80

Virgin America SFO-LAX and Virgin Australia LAX-SYD economy class (Esther and husband)

25,000 Virgin America points + $35.40 per person

50,000 VX points + $70.80

Delta SFO-LAX and Virgin Australia LAX-SYD economy class (Esther and husband)

50,000 Amex Membership Rewards points transferred to Delta miles + $30 transfer fee + $27.60 per person

100,000 MR/DL miles + $115.20

Park Hyatt Sydney

30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Hyatt points, per night

120,000 UR/Hyatt points

Air New Zealand SYD-ZQN

$157.59 per person – $100 Amex Offer for Amex Travel ($100 off $500)


[hotels in New Zealand TBD]

Fiji Airways AKL-NAN-HNL

$547.40 – $128 Orbucks per person

$2189.60 – $512 Orbucks

InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa

30,000 IHG points per night

60,000 IHG points

[second hotel for Fiji TBD]

Alaska Airlines HNL-SJC (Daniel)

12,500 British Airway Avios + $5.60

12,500 British Airway Avios + $5.60

Esther’s grandfather-in-law’s condo in Honolulu

Family duties

Family duties

Alaska Airlines HNL-OAK (Esther and husband)

12,500 British Airway Avios + $5.60

12,500 British Airway Avios + $5.60

So many flights to SYD?!

Ok, let’s back up. You may have noticed that it appears that my husband and I have TWO flights each from SF to Sydney. The LAX-SYD part is even on the same Virgin Australia flight. Yes, we have managed to clone ourselves so we can enjoy Sydney 2X as much and cover more ground in the short amount of time we have there. And somehow in Sydney we will manage to condense ourselves back into two people for the rest of the trip.

No, that’s not possible (yet). As much as I would love to clone myself 100 times and send the rest of myselves around the world and leave one to work and pay for everything, there is only one of me and one of him, and therefore I need to cancel one of those extra flights.

clones-clones1Source: makeameme.org

Why are there duplicate flights in the first place?

This is where the embarrassing story begins. Several months ago, Daniel was trying to help me think of ways to get myself to Sydney, since he and Michael had already booked Qantas business class using AA miles (I had just wiped out my AA balance for a Japan Airlines first class redemption, so sadly that was not an option for me). He informed me that LAX-SYD flights were only 25,000 VX points one way (40,000 roundtrip). I was shocked by how “cheap” that was, but I didn’t have 50,000 VX points yet, so I had to somehow manufacture the points. I had obtained 2 Virgin America Visa Signature credit cards with signup bonuses of 30,000 points each, but for a long time I had only had 30,000 points deposited, with the other 30,000 missing. That is another story itself, which I will tell one of these days (travel hacker drama).

Anyways, I thought I had filed the information about LAX-SYD being 25k points in the back of my head, but one day after a particular infuriating and sad phone call with Comenity and Virgin America, I was chatting with another travel hacker friend about how I still needed to book my LAX-SYD flights but didn’t have enough VX points because Comenity/VX had dropped the ball on me. I must’ve been blinded and incapacitated by my emotions from the phone call because I completely forgot how many VX points LAX-SYD required. I went to the Virgin America Elevate Partners website to check:

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 7.26.20 PMSource: virginamerica.com

Mistake #1: Not reading/clicking carefully or double-checking

I told my friend it was 40k VX points + $130 per person and I only had around 45k VX points at the time and since I always need to book for 2 people, there was no way I could get to 80k anytime soon. (NOTE: my HUGE, COSTLY mistake was not clicking that little teeny tiny “One Way” radio button!!!! He didn’t think to question me, so he didn’t double-check.)

Given that we erroneously thought the flight was 40k VX points, he recommended that I look at Delta. Delta is 50k points SFO-LAX-SYD with $27 fuel surcharges. For only 10k more points, I would get SFO-LAX and the fuel surcharges were much lower! I don’t collect Delta miles, and I honestly have never stepped foot on a Delta plane in my life. In order to get Delta miles, I needed to create a Delta account, and transfer Amex Membership Rewards in. I did the first step, then signed into Amex, where I saw that I only had 97,000 Membership Rewards points. FML. My friend said Delta availability is unpredictable, and I should book as soon as possible.

Mistake #2: Hasty decisions made in an emotionally unstable state

I was still reeling from my terrible phone call with Comenity & VX, and several kind friends on Twitter advised me to live chat Amex and tell them the situation. So I did. Amex Customer Service has never failed me, and immediately afterwards I even wrote a blog post detailing how they came through for me in this situation and fast-tracked ~3,000 MR points into my account so I could book right away. If Amex hadn’t been so efficient, this whole mistake probably could’ve been avoided. 😛 But they are friendly and efficient, and I instantly had 100k MR points in my account, which I began transferring to Delta. I was a bit shocked by the screen that said transferring points to a domestic-based airline would incur a fee of 6 cents per point. This gave me pause, and I should have more thoroughly checked all the possible ways I could get to SYD on miles and points. But I didn’t. I was sad, frustrated, and anxious to get this over with. So I paid the $60 to transfer my hard-earned 100k MR points to Delta, effectively wiping out my entire Amex MR balance. :sob:

Do_You_Pay_A_Fee_To_Transfer_American_Express_Membership_Rewards_Points_To_An_Airline_04Source: www.millionmilessecrets.com

The transfer was instant and I booked the flights. And then I felt happy, because I felt like Amex and Delta had saved the day, when Comenity and Virgin America had tried to ruin it.

Mistake #3: Not talking over the plans with my original advisor (Daniel)

I told Daniel and Michael that I had successfully booked the ticket, and went about my merry way. A few days or a week later I was chatting casually with my group of travel hackers about the redemption and how I had redeemed 50k Delta points per person but gotten an extra SFO-LAX flight out of it for no additional miles/cost. Daniel noticed this, and he said, “Esther, I hate to break this to you, but I just realized that our lines of communication may have crossed.” What? He then proceeded to explain that LAX-SYD was 25k points, NOT 40k. 40k was for roundtrip. My heart dropped, and I raced to the Virgin America website again and looked. Sure enough, this time I saw the radio buttons and I realized I hadn’t clicked “One Way” in my emotional state of cloudy judgment. @#$LKJ#LK%JLK!@J#!!!!!! I then went back into my Facebook Messenger chats and saw that indeed, just a little over a month ago before all this happened, Daniel had told me how to get my LAX-SYD flight for cheap.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 7.54.33 PM
 Source: www.facebook.com

What to do?

It was too late to cancel the Delta reservation since more than 24 hours had already elapsed. Besides, what would I do with 100k Delta points? I had already paid for the transfer to Delta, so I was out 100k MR and $60. To rub salt in my wounds, this promotion was recently announced for a bonus on transfers from MR to VX, and VX Gold status until Feb 2017 for transferring 80k MR (and the stars aligned and Daniel was able to take advantage of it). 🙁 That could’ve been me! But alas, such are the consequences of a series of costly mistakes.

Wait for a flight change to the rescue

Today, I logged in to my Delta account and saw this:

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 8.04.37 PM
 Source: delta.com

OMG!! A flight change!! A flight change!!! You know how much I love those! <insert Snoopy dancing>

First, I made the call to Virgin America to make sure that there was availability for the LAX-SYD flight on Virgin Australia using VX points. Indeed, there was. The rep offered to put it on hold for 72 hours for me, and said that once it was ticketed, I had an additional 24 hours to cancel or change it without any penalties. Then she said, “Oh I just realized you’re actually based in Northern California, so you need to get down to LAX, do you want to add that on for no additional miles and just a recalculation of taxes, probably $5 per person?” and I said, “OMG! Yes!” So she gave me two choices of flight times to LAX, and I picked one that would give us a healthy ~2.5 hour layover to relax in a lounge (and buffer in case there were any delays getting to LAX). She put me on hold and came back with the recalculated taxes…my total cost out of pocket was only $35.40 per person, which was actually less than the $40 originally quoted (not complaining!). I booked it. This whole time I was thinking to myself, “Wow…if only I had just done this in the first place. -_- Good job, idiot. -_-”

Next, I needed to cancel the Delta flight. I was confused by the Accept/Cancel button on Delta’s website because it said I may be eligible to change my flight at no extra cost if I accept, and that I should only hit Cancel if they are unable to accommodate previously purchased Delta Comfort+ seats, Trip Extras. I was afraid to hit either button so I just called in (SkyMiles Representatives 800-323-2323).

Me: “Hello, I received a flight change notice and I actually need to cancel this flight.”
Delta: “Ok…let me see about this flight change…hmm well, it looks like the time hasn’t changed and it’s just a change of the flight number/plane, so to cancel or change this flight it would be $150 per person to redeposit the funds. Would you like to continue?”
Me: (thinking) FML it was just a flight number change… “ummm no I’ll just keep it.”
Delta: “Are you sure? Please be aware that if you do not cancel this flight within 72 hours of departure, you will not receive any refund or redeposit of the miles. Are you sure you don’t want to just cancel it now?”
Me: “No it’s ok, I’ll keep it.”

The Plan

This story isn’t actually over yet, because I still have 2 flights and I still need to do something about it. I received advice from multiple people to just be patient and wait it out. Since the trip isn’t for at least 4 more months, there is a non-zero chance of a real flight schedule change, and that’s when I’d pounce and attempt to cancel my flight, with as many HUCAs as I can bear. In the meantime, I won’t hit either the Accept or Cancel button…

Another major lesson I learned from these unfolding events is that if I had just focused on building up my AA balance and booked the same flight as Daniel and Michael, I wouldn’t have had any of these problems…as an SF-based flyer that loves going out West to Asia, Pacific Islands, and other regions in the Pacific, AA and VX are very valuable points currencies for me to hold.

But…what about those 100k Delta miles?

I could just do something like this… (thanks @sud). 30k one-way to Europe is not bad at all!

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 8.30.11 PM
Source: delta.com

Any other suggestions? 🙂