My friends Mary and Michael want to visit Redmond, Oregon over Labor day weekend later this year. Mary asked if there was a good way to get there from the San Francisco Bay area for under $250 r/t per person. And she wants to leave on Friday night and return Monday morning.
She has a clear destination, time frame, and budget, and she is starting her search early. Good job, Mary! Holiday travel is normally the most tough to secure good deals on. Generally speaking, just finding reasonable routing/availability is gold.
My first step would be to look on ITA Matrix to find all available routes.
Routes and Cash Fare
The cheapest roundtrip is indeed close to budget at $266, but requires an overnight layover in LAX, which isn’t ideal. Furthermore, there are no evening flights to RDM (Redmond) within their budget. The best value is a morning flight on Friday @ $307 (that is all in, including taxes).
If she could only leave on Friday night, there are many routes with reasonable layovers for around $350-400 on Alaska Air that can get them there before midnight. Furthermore, there are $364 direct flights on UA.
If she went the cash route, she could secure her United or Alaska Air tickets now and even get refunds if the price drops.
However, let’s explore the point options where higher value opportunities may exist.
The United flight would cost 20k miles r/t pp, if saver availability exists. Normally domestic United flights are 25k r/t, but this flight is under 700 miles. One United credit card can normally yield 50,000+ points, which would be enough for both tickets. Several Chase Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus can transfer points instantly to United, so those are good options as well. They have the benefit of often having 50-60k mile sign up bonuses as well as the flexibility to transfer to other partners like Hyatt, Southwest, British Airways, Singapore, etc. I recently wrote about my recent transfer to United here.
Alaska Airline miles costs 25k miles r/t pp and one Bank of America card can get you 25k+ miles. Pretty straight forward, but AS miles are worth more (as I’ll explain later).
Alaska Air is a British Airways Avios partner, so you can use Avios miles. However the pricing is distance based and each segment prices separately. I use Wandering Aramean’s Avios pricing tool. Since the best option is a one stop in Seattle, the total price would be 7,500 (SJC – SEA/PDX) + 7,500 (SEA/PDX – RDM) = 15k pp, each way. Although 30k roundtrip seems high, BA points are relatively easy to come by with their credit cards sign up offers.
And finally, American Airlines is another partner, so you can use their points to fly on Alaska. It only costs 25k r/t per person and availability seems to be plentiful. You can get AA miles from their Citibank credit cards.
So What? Cash or Points?
A quick cent per mile analysis shows that only the UA redemption comes close to my target CPM of 2. Using any other miles would not be the best use of points for this particular flight.
As you can see, only the UA flights get close to that CPM. 1.8 is actually not bad for a UA valuation.
To save money for other expenses, I would recommend for them to sign up for a United cc or the Chase Sapphire Preferred now, because they need some lead time to get the card, meet the minimum spend requirements, etc. And with one credit card, they would save more than $700.
I wish Mary and Michael a delightful time in Oregon.