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How I Used Miles and Points to Fly My Parents to Scotland

Dec. 26, 2019
Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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This article is being updated.

I have been earning miles and points for about six years now, and they have helped my family of eight to travel to more locations than we would have ever thought possible. My wife, our six children and I have been to Yellowstone, Disney World, California, Spain, New York City, Portugal and more.

We’ve also occasionally helped some of our extended family learn how to use miles and points to travel. I think this is one of the true joys of miles and points — to connect (and continue to connect) with family and friends.

» Learn more: 10 tips for family budget travel

Sending my parents to Scotland

My stepdad has always been very excited about his Scottish heritage. We have several clans in various branches of our extended family tree. He takes a birthday kilt walk every year (walking one minute for each year of his life, all in his Mackenzie tartan). I knew a trip to Scotland would make for a once-in-a-lifetime memory, but it’s also something they probably would never be able to plan for themselves.

Originally, I was going to plan with my mom to make this a surprise for my dad, but after a bit of planning, we realized that there would be no way we could keep this a secret. Not only was it tricky getting him to take time off of work, but we also knew that planning the trip would be something he would really enjoy. We didn’t want to take that away from him — and sure enough, he soon had a huge AAA map pinned up with potential sights to see.

Booking the flights

Once the trip was out in the open, my mom gave me a range of dates that would work for them and I started looking for flights. After checking through a few of the options, I booked the flight using United MileagePlus miles, with some of the miles transferred in from my Chase Ultimate Rewards® account

» Learn more: The 5 best Chase transfer partners — and 4 to avoid

I wanted to make sure this would be a trip to remember while ensuring my parents had a comfortable trip that minimized jet lag, so I booked them in business class. Here’s the itinerary we ended up with:

  • Cleveland (CLE) to Washington-Dulles (IAD) on United.
  • Washington to Dublin (DUB) on Aer Lingus.
  • Dublin to Edinburgh (EDI) on Aer Lingus.

The tickets in business class were 70,000 United MileagePlus miles per person each way, and taxes and fees were minimal.

Using travel benefits on the trip

I paid for the flights, but my parents planned the whole trip and paid for their own lodging and activities. I helped them use hotel credit cards to pay for some of the lodging costs. They did end up spending points for a few of their lodging nights, though many of their nights were booked with cash through Airbnb.

» Learn more: Why I prefer Airbnbs over hotels — and how they save me money

They booked almost all travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® since it earns 3x points per $1 on all travel purchases. And it’s a good thing they booked with this card, since one of its top benefits is car rental insurance, and that came into play on the trip.

Like many cars in Europe, their rental came with manual transmission. My dad has some experience driving a manual transmission car, but the combination of minimal experience, a six-speed stick shift and narrow roads in Scotland led to automotive disaster. During their week and a half in Scotland, they managed to burn up the rental car’s clutch and blow out one of their tires. Budget charged them over $900, but my mom’s Sapphire Reserve reimbursed the whole amount.

The beauty of miles and points

A trip like this is one of the things that I like most about the world of airline miles and credit card points. We’ve had several “once-in-a-lifetime” trips as a family that were either almost free or substantially reduced in price thanks to miles and points. To be able to play a part in this trip for my parents was an added bonus.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

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