My grandfather was a huge influence on my life, but in a Mr. Miyagi kind of way. He taught me lessons growing up without telling me that was what he was doing. He taught me division using M&Ms when I was three or four, with his help I bid on stamp auctions when I was 11 or 12. I owe a great deal about how I think about the world to my time with him when I was young.
Last week I learned that his heart had failed. He was in a rehabilitation facility and was scheduled to return home. He was just a couple of weeks from turning 97.
After a brief stop at the hospital he was transferred to a hospice, and I was told he had days or hours to live.
I collect miles because I love to travel the world, and especially to do so in a level of comfort that I couldn’t otherwise afford.
But more generally miles make it possible to be unconstrained in travel. I was able to fly down to Florida right away. Bereavement fares aren’t nearly as helpful as they once were, last minute travel can be expensive, but I simply didn’t need to worry about it.
Often the best award availability is at the last minute as seats that are likely to go unsold are made available on points. I had plenty of options to choose from using a variety of miles if i wished.
Now, I didn’t use points for my hotel nights because the nicest close-by hotel was going for just $67 per night. And I earned miles worth more than the hotel points foregone by booking with PointsHound. I’m a maximizer, but most importantly being able to focus on travel helps to get me through and to protect myself emotionally. If I could think about how to book my hotel, I wouldn’t need to think about things that are much harder.
(The rate on PointsHound was $9 and better than 10% less than the best available offer — and for the same room — as found on the Marriott website. I was focusing on travel but wasn’t clear headed enough to think through or bother with a Marriott ‘Look No Further’ guarantee claim.)
When I first made arrangements to fly I booked a roundtrip. I didn’t know how urgent things were, and it turned out they were worse than I had been told.
Sunday morning, sitting beside my grandfather, he took his last breath.
I spent the afternoon helping with funeral arrangements, and I took the original Sunday evening return flight home that I had booked. But while I was at the airport I made a booking to fly back the next night. And I pushed forward a business trip. And I managed to connect them all together with an award ticket.
My miles may be for premium cabin travel, but not even worrying if I can get a flight, or what it will cost, meant that I could be there for my family. And it wasn’t just that I could afford to fly when flights were expensive — it also meant I was able to meet the obligations at my job so that they didn’t become obstacles to being with my family. I could take pretty much any non-sold out flight I wished, because I had points.
As I said I had lots of ‘saver’ award options to choose from. But I’ve always valued “standard” or “rule-buster” style awards just for the peace of mind of knowing I could always have a flight.
Those aren’t as useful as they once were. Other than American’s AAdvantage program, which retains double miles pricing for nearly all of those awards, airlines have jacked up pricing to buy out of capacity controls. Often such awards cost triple. And some airlines like United restrict the availability of those awards to elites or co-branded cardholders. I’ve predicted that an American-US Airways merger would spell the end of the ‘double miles’ award for good.
Sometimes this hobby is a game. How smart can I be? What sort of arbitrage opportunities can I figure out (or learn from others playing the same game)?
Sometimes this hobby can be trivial. I do enjoy a complimentary massage at the Thai first class spa, a Mercedes or Porsche drive across the tarmac in Frankfurt flying Lufthansa first, and the smirk of a Singapore Airlines flight attendant offering me Dom Perignon or Krug when I ask for champagne.
But sometimes it is also meaningful. And to me, more meaningful than ever. Because I had the opportunity to be by my grandfather’s side as he died, the opportunity to be strong for my grandmother who survives him, and the opportunity to arrange my own affairs such that I could spend more time with my family both supporting them and being supported.
Oh, I will still visit here even though the funeral is today. I need the distraction. I handle these things by keeping myself busy. And I get by with a sense of humor that might even border on the inappropriate. Is it wrong that I’ve taken solace in all of the points I’ve earned helping family make their hotel bookings, or being thrilled that I’m getting to pay for the catering?
Miles, points, and the techniques of travel that mean so much to me, but that can sometimes seem to trivial in importance, have taken on a new even more special meaning in my life. And I’m very grateful for that, for them, and for all of the support that I’ve received.
I don’t often review my posts before publishing them. I assume that today there are more typos than usual. I can’t re-read what I’ve written, and my eyes well up too much to edit my thoughts. Nonetheless sharing them helps. And it will get easier every day.