Poof Went My Frequent Flier Points

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Using Points

Traveling on points is great…until it isn’t.

Beware traveler, the American Airlines points you use for flights and for hotels are managed by two different entities and cancellations come at a cost.

A recent trip booked from Berlin to San Francisco had us staying overnight in Chicago because direct flights on points were unavailable.  “Check back with us,” said the friendly awards agent.  In fact he suggested we be persistent because courtesy holds for points travel do expire and the seats open up again.

And so we did.  And we were victorious. Mostly.

A direct flight from Berlin back to San Francisco had opened up for two days later than we planned.  That was okay. We would enjoy two more days in Berlin and a much easier return home for the same number of points.  Now all I needed to do was cancel the overnight in Chicago and get the points back in my account.

Not so fast…

I asked the agent to cancel the hotel at O’Hare that we also booked using American Airlines points since we now had a direct flight.

We can’t do that, he apologized, giving me a number for “American Airlines Car and Hotel Awards.”  Turns out it’s an entirely separate entity and the cancellation and point reinstatement terms are onerous.  The hotel reservation was more than three weeks away but cancelling and returning the points to my account would cost $150.  (Changes to a reservation cost $30.)
Cancel within five days and you can kiss those points good-bye.

Let’s do the math.  The one night in Chicago would cost 7300 points. A recent article in Smarter Travel  puts the value of a frequent flyer mile at between one and two cents.  So let’s be generous…7300 x .02 = $146, less than the cost to put them back in my account.

Unlike booking vacation packages where hotel and flights are managed together, use your points carefully.  Changes will cost you, said the perky AA car and hotel agent and she obliged me by sending the online reservation agreement with the small print.

PS: We thought we might give this room away to a friend of ours who was headed to Chicago. They didn’t even let us do that. Ironically, the friend happens to be an early-retired American Airlines pilot.

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