Rule #1 of using miles and points: be pragmatic. Sometimes a redemption appears horrible on paper but still makes great sense.
I’m in Vienna, Austria for the weekend and the trip came about at the last possible moment. I was in Frankfurt and needed to travel the 386-mile journey on (ideally) a specific flight to meet up with my friend John.
Purchasing same-day tickets can be brutally expensive. The cheapest non-stop flight was 278EUR one-way (round-trip was about the same price, but not cheaper). The particular flight I wanted was 437EUR or about 472EUR r/t with the return I needed. I was a bit surprised at how much Austrian or Lufthansa can extract for last-minute tickets considering the route is often 99EUR r/t if purchased a week or more in advance.
Anyway, I tried everything–hidden city, throwaway returns, etc…but the price just did not budge much from the amount above.
So I thought, well I better just use miles.
Doing the Math: Points or Pay?
Aeroplan miles have no close-in booking fee, but do carry a fuel surcharge. The price would be 12,500 miles plus 124.90CAD in taxes/fees (91.50USD), of which 59.70CAD (44USD) was a fuel surcharge.
United would have been the same price without the 59.70CAD (44USD) fuel surcharge, but would have carried a 25USD close-in booking fee due to my Premier Gold status (50USD for Premier Silver, 75USD for non-elites). Since I have a bigger supply of Aeroplan miles and value the flexibility of leaving points in Chase Ultimate Rewards, I leaned toward booking with Aeroplan.
If I am being honest with myself, I value United and Aeroplan points equally at 1.5 cents each — I’m simply not willing to pay more for them. So let’s take the 258.51EUR ($284.30) price of the ticket and do some math.
The value of 12,500 miles at 1.5 cents is $187.50. Add the $91.50 in taxes/fees and we come to $279, almost equal to the cash price of $284.30. So it was a wash.
Even though I can normally extract far more value out of a points redemption when redeeming for premium cabins, I simply did not want to spend extra money this weekend.
So I booked with Aeroplan.
This was not a sexy redemption nor a particularly valuable one. In fact, it was the worst Aeroplan redemption I have ever made for myself. But it did make sense for me and that is the beauty of using your miles. Ultimately the only thing that matters is how much you value your miles. I performed my own cost/benefit analysis and determined that using miles made more sense than conserving them for another trip.