Travel Rewards Pitfalls to Avoid

My obsession with travel rewards began as Ben and I prepared for our trip this summer to the UK. We just got back and had an amaaaaazzzing time. We went to Scotland, York and Manchester, all for the first time, and fell in love with that part of the world (especially Scotland). We are already planning our next trip.

We got to our 100,000 point goal in time to use the points. But we could only take advantage of about 70,000 of the points because of a few mistakes that I made. And that use of the 70,000 points didn’t include a seat upgrade, which was my main goal.

Today, I want to highlight some lessons I learned, so you can avoid similar problems in the future.


Pitfall #1 – Not booking through the correct airline.

Because we were traveling to the northern UK, I knew that we would take American Airlines/British Airways to get there.  American Airlines and British Airways are travel partners, so you can use points interchangeably.  As I got ready for our trip, I got the American Airlines Citi card to take advantage of the 30,000 bonus miles.

When we were purchasing the tickets the same flight showed up under American Airlines and British Airways. We chose to purchase under American Airlines because the flight was cheaper under them, despite being the exact same flight.

While you can use American Airlines miles to upgrade on British Airways miles, I didn’t realize you can’t use British Airways Avios miles to upgrade on American Airlines. This becomes a big deal based on pitfall #2, but the main lesson here is to make sure you know how to use your points on partner airlines.  Had we booked that same flight on British Airways we could have been good to go and had all 100,000 points available for seat upgrades.



Pitfall #2 – Transferred 67,000 points to BA without doing my research first

To compound pitfall number one, I had transferred the 67,000 points from our Chase Sapphire card to British Airways Avios points before I realized I wouldn’t be able to use them for a flight upgrade. That meant I was stuck with 67,000 Avios points that couldn’t be transferred back to Chase Sapphire.

Luckily, I could still use Avios points for hotels, meals and experiences, even if I couldn’t use them for my flight. These points ended up paying for an unbelievable hotel room in Manchester for the final two days of the trip, which was well worth the points.

But me being me, I compared the Avios points we used for the hotel with the points we would have needed using the points we had on Chase Sapphire initially.

The hotel we stayed in cost us 67,000 Avios points plus $105. That same hotel room under the Chase Sapphire rewards program only would have cost us 38,476 points. So I basically threw away 30,000 points with that premature transfer.  We’d have been better off keeping them and using the points for another hotel, flight etc.

Had we stayed at the hotel that Ben really wanted to stay, it would have cost us 60,774 Chase points. By contrast, it would have cost us 158,300 Avios points, which is why we didn’t stay there. Lesson learned: while Avios and other airline points may be great for flights, they may not get as much bang for your buck when using them for other amenities like your hotel or meal.


Pitfall #3 – Not getting in the upgrade line early enough

Upgrading seats is based on availability. Since our trip was in the height of travel season, the chances of us being able to upgrade were always low. When I called about three weeks before our flight, the representative said there weren’t any upgrades available but we could try again when we got to the airport.

At the airport, the desk attendants said there was only one seat available and five people in line in front of us. He said depending on the types of rewards we had, we would’ve needed to be in line 7-21 days in advance.

This is a reminder that you should research your airlines specific rules about when you’re able to upgrade and whether time restrictions exists on your requests.


Pitfall #4 – Not knowing about American Airlines

While we didn’t get to upgrade to Business class seats on American, we were able to get in the exit row, which gave us plenty of room. In addition, the coach section of the plane was completely empty, which meant many people had an entire row to themselves. (They got first class space without the first class price.)

On the plane, though, I remembered something my brother had mentioned – that different airlines have different amenities. On this American flight, Ben found it hard to sleep because the three big TVs near the front of the cabin were on the entire time. That also meant we didn’t have much choice in the entertainment that we watched.

My brother doesn’t like flying American. He prefers Delta or Lufthansa when flying to the states. Unfortunately neither airline flies direct to Manchester, so they weren’t an option for this trip. But it was a good lesson to learn for the future if we fly into London or when we head back to Germany.  The lesson here is to pay attention to what you like and don’t like about your airline experiences. When you have the option of using your points for different airlines, the amenities can make a big difference.


So those are the pitfalls that I ran into this trip. You may have experienced other snafus on your trips. The great thing is we don’t have to make all of the mistakes ourselves. So I would love to hear your experiences. What travel rewards pitfalls have you learned to avoid?  Email, message or tweet me at the links below.