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Living with credit, Rewards

Confessions of a first-time credit card rewards redeemer

Julie Sherrier

Due to the nature of my job as editor of hundreds of articles on how to maximize credit card rewards programs, you’d think I’d become adept at playing the frequent flier miles/points credit card game. Not.

In fact, after almost a decade of accumulating miles/points here and there on one frequent flier program (American Airlines AAdvantage) and on a newly acquired Capital One Venture card, I have never redeemed them for a “free” flight. I always saved them, thinking that someday I would really, really need to use them for emergency airfare.Karma edition

That emergency happened last week. Eleanor, a very close friend’s mother who was like a second mother to me growing up, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I haven’t seen Eleanor in two years, and want to see her and tell her once more what an important role model she has been for me.

So on to Expedia I went. I live in Austin, Texas, and needed to get to Newark International Airport as soon as possible. With such short notice, the regular airfares were through the roof. I also tried JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines, hoping to find a great deal. There were none to be found.

Then I remembered I had almost 30,000 miles banked with the AAdvantage program, so I logged into aa.com. Navigating through their mileage redemption portal was a little intimidating as a newcomer, but fairly easy to understand.

I tried to book a flight two weeks out, thinking that availability 14 days out would most certainly allow me to cash in those miles. Unfortunately, there were no flights available where I could use my 30,000 points, so I booked a flight for around $450, which was still a good deal
considering the short time frame. I put the flight on hold for 24 hours.

That night, however, Eleanor took a turn for the worse. I decided I needed to fly out sooner – the following week instead of waiting two weeks. Again, I returned to the AAdvantage redemption portal, hoping against hope that for some wild reason, I would be able to cash in my miles this time for an earlier flight.

To my surprise, I found both outgoing and returning flights within the 12,500-mile “free” range (or 25,000 total round trip). There was a charge, however, of $72 for booking so late in the game, but I was so relieved that my long-saved miles were coming to my rescue that I didn’t mind.

Now my account is pretty much tapped out, but saving those miles after all these years was worth it. Plus, I can restock the account with 30,000 bonus miles if I decide to take advantage of a Citi credit card offer. The Citi card comes with a hefty $95 annual fee after 12 months, though, which I have a hard time justifying.

Either way, I’m headed East — quickly and cheaply — to pay my respects to a family I dearly cherish.

See related: Credit card bonuses playing hard to get

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