Over the River and Through the Woods–To Grandmother’s House (With Avios) We Go

I’ve been told I sometimes fall into fits of hyperbole, so I’ll be cautious when I say this:

By far, the absolute biggest news of 2014 has been the birth of Mini-Milenomics.  She’s perfect in every sense of the word, from the top of her head the the tips of her tic-tac-toes:

Tic-Tac Toes

The #1 question we’ve been fielding from family and friends is “When can we meet her?” Family from all over can’t wait to see the first grandchild/niece/baby in 10+ years. The problem is that we’ve got the family in Upstate NY, Melbourne, FL, and our good friends just outside DFW.  There’s also her Uncle who moved to Charlotte, NC. The easiest way to visualize the family is on a map of course:

We’re looking at a point to point map here. 4 Distinct destinations, with over 15,000 miles round trip to fly to all four.  Not only does it make no sense to fly back and forth to LAX from all of these places, but I’ll spend tons of miles on all those extra return trips.  In an incredibly ambitious goal, I’m looking at ways to reach all four of these destinations in one trip.

Doing the ‘Leg’work

Flying with a 2 month old, the last thing I want to do is have flights with connections. I’ll be looking for nonstop options whenever possible. Breaking the trip at each stop along the way helps to limit the time flown to shorter “hops,” and will hopefully mean flyers seated around us won’t be too upset about a Baby-on-Board. I want to see what my options are to string these flights together into one trip.

I’ll start looking at routes from each of these cities, DFW, MLB, CLT, and BUF to identify as much overlap as possible:

Created using www.flightconnections.com
Click for Larger Image. Created using www.flightconnections.com

For more on creating routing maps, see this post.

Working off of the map above I see that there are flights along the east coast which link MLB and BUF through CLT. This is great news, and means that I can construct a trip which hits all of my cities with non-stop flights.

There are nonstop options between:

  • LAX-DFW (AA, DL, and UA)
  • LAX-MCO (Alternative to MLB) (AA, DL, UA, VX)
  • DFW-MCO (Alternative) (AA)
  • BUF-LAX (No direct flights, All carriers fly w/1  stop)

I want to create a “Ring” shaped path to eliminate backtracking if at all possible. Looking at the above, a routing for this trip has started to emerge. LAX-DFW-MCO//MLB-CLT-BUF. Anything else, Say LAX-DFW-CLT-MLB-BUF entails backtracking.

I’ve included two of the more direct flights from BUF-LAX, one going through ORD and one through MSP. Additional options include JFK, ATL, DTW, LAS, and more. I’m trying to eliminate as much backtracking as possible.

As for what miles I should use for this, it looks like I’m going to be heavy on Avios. Every city I’m visiting is serviced by AA/US and two of these four destinations are flown exclusively by AA/US (MLB-CLT and CLT-BUF).

Looking at the above map, you would think I should start my search with LAX-DFW, since that will be my first flight. However, I always suggest starting with the hardest to find flights first. In my case this is the MLB-CLT and CLT-BUF nonstops. There are so many options for LAX-DFW and DFW-MCO which means I will waste time searching for those easy flights only to have to throw out days that won’t work with the limited availability of the small market CLT flights.

Starting my search for MLB-CLT the lack of space for 3 becomes apparent:

MLB-CLT Feb & Mar

CLT-BUF has limited options as well:



Flying into CLT on the night of the 5th and out on the morning of the 7th means one day in CLT.  I’d ideally like just a bit more time in CLT. The solution I came up with was to search for 2 seats from MLB-CLT.  This popped up an option on March 4th, which gives us 2 days in CLT.

I don’t enjoy the idea of not having my third seat, and having to carry an infant without a seat restraint–but I’m confident something will come up, and I’ll be able to book a third seat happen, possibly on another day.  Because I’ll be booking that leg with Avios, I can always cancel and rebook without worry. (For more on this strategy, including an amazing tip, be sure to read Tyler’s comment below.)

I’ve put down these dates into my spreadsheet, and start looking at options for LAX-DFW and DFW-MCO. After all my searches the following is my list of available days:

Updated Matrix

For a Return from BUF I’m currently looking to use Skymiles.  The new 2015 program changes allow one way flights, which means I can book a flight home for 12,500 Skymiles, which are my absolute cheapest miles to earn right now. There are plenty of options with Delta that would work around the first/second week of March:

BUF-LAX Flex Search

An Itinerary Emerges

I’m currently looking at:

  • LAX-DFW with Avios (10k) 2/27
  • DFW-MCO with Avios (7.5k)  3/1
  • MLB-CLT with Avios  (4.5k) 3/4 (possibly including one lap child, 450 Avios) Be sure to see this great Tip from Kenny!
  • CLT-BUF with Avios (4.5k) 3/7
  • BUF-MSP-LAX with skymiles (12.5k) 3/10

Total is 26,500 Avios plus 12,500 Delta Skymiles per person, for a total of 39,000 miles.  4 Destinations for the price of 1.5.

Calculating “Value” or, “Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda?”

I always calculate value when using my miles, in order to make sure I’m meeting at least the cost to manufacture my miles. To do so I need to put a fair value on this trip.  Non-stop flights between small markets are usually expensive. How bad? Doing a search for the nonstop segments LAX-DFW-MCO//MLB-CLT-BUF returns this ridiculous pricing:

Value Nonstop OTRTTW

This doesn’t even include a BUF-LAX return, which would tack on another $200:


Does this mean we have a value of $1946 per person for our 39,000 miles, or 4.9 cents per mile? Maybe. I did put this trip together specifically to hit these cities in as little travel time as possible.  However, I’m struggling with calling this a $2000 flight for the following reasons:

  • I could pay just $1014 total and have stops along the way. This would be the minimum value of this trip (2.6 cents per mile).
  • Only with miles would I even attempt to do something like this, 4 destinations all with nonstop flights.
  • There’s a good chance this is too much flying, and a bad idea at any cost. I might be falling in love with the idea of this trip based on an incorrect perceived value.

The thought of traveling all around the country with a 2 month old, hopping from airport to airport is not something I’m confident I really want to do yet. At some point “can I do this?” starts to trump “should I do this?

In theory I could construct unlimited stopovers with Avios, and extract major value–but in practice wouldn’t it be better to spend a week with family in each city? Even if that takes 4 years to fully do? I’m struggling with whether to pull the trigger on this booking; am I stuck doing this because I can? or because I should? I could fly some friends and famil here instead of us traveling to meet all of them.

Alternate Booking

For the above reasons I’ve deicded that this trip would be a little too much travel. The best alternative I’m looking at would Be LAX-DFW-MCO//MLB-CLT-LAX.

Total would be 34,500 Avios per person for this trip.

The benefits of this alternate routing are:

  • 100% Avios flights mean I can change/cancel any/all legs as needed.
  • If we get to  any one of these places and the trip goes south we just book a non-stop flight home and cancel the rest of the legs.
  • Eliminating the CLT-BUF flight means I can book 3 seats on MLB-CLT 3/5 and not have to have an infant-in-lap.
  • I avoid Buffalo in late February, and ORD/MSP on the way home.

Flights back from CLT-LAX non-stop (again, on AA/US) are wide open:


Which makes the whole thing start to look like it has a shot of happening…

I’m still holding off pulling the trigger, but wanted to detail the thought process that goes into a booking like this, and also reach to readers out for information about how much flying is too much with a 2.5 month old.  Anyone with experience? Would three destinations in 10-14 days be crazy? Have I lost my mind?

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Congratulations on the baby!

    I agree, with a 2 month old baby, that is a lot of flying! Perhaps take it easy and enjoy each destination and family more?

  2. Actually, I found that flying with a 2.5 month old is easier vs flying with a squirming toddler. It really comes down to your family’s tolerance (especially baby and mom) of being on a plane, packing and unpacking between destinations, etc.

    1. Great datapoint grrljock. I’ve heard similar from other readers–that once they’re vocal and mobile it becomes much harder to calm them down (babies, not readers).

      1. Yes, I agree with grrljock about the age. We have done 6 trips with our now 18-month old and when he was younger than 8 months it was easier just in the fact he slept more and wasn’t as antsy.

        As a side note, I wonder about your philosophy on NOT collecting/hoarding miles. As we are now a family of 3 and about to be four, I feel that taking trips will require that many more miles. And it is impossible to know what MS methods will remain, say a year from now. This makes me feel that it is necessary to rack up as many miles/points as possible right now to ensure we have enough for family travel in the future, especially given the difficulty of finding 4 award seats on one flight. Wondering your thoughts on that, if 1-2 kids might change your philosophy?

        1. Gustraveler: Just as it is impossible to know what MS methods will remain a year from now, it is equally impossible to know what the programs those miles are in will look like years from now as well. Collecting with a clear purpose is one thing–collecting to collect is something else entirely.

          I have increased the total miles that I’m comfortable holding, in order to make sure I have enough miles for the [now] three of us. I’m not advocating zero mileage balances–far from it. I’m at about 1MM miles in a total of 6 programs so I certainly see a value in holding some miles. I’m against the, “If I can find a use someday I should get these miles today mentality.” I’ve heard from too many readers with 75,000 points/miles strewn about in a dozen programs, thinking they’ll use them all someday, and continuing to collect more.

          My goal remains: have an eye on my *next* 18 months’ worth of travel, and hold/work towards the appropriate miles for those travels.

          1. Certainly true we don’t know how the programs will change, or even if their award charts will disappear (Delta). I agree that you should have goals and work toward those goals with some flexibility due to the fact that you can’t be sure where you might find enough seats. While our family has points in many programs, I have refrained from others like Hilton and United CCs because we are set with other hotel/airline/bank points.

  3. In my experience, it’s almost entirely up to Mom’s travel tolerance and how dedicated Dad is to making the trip as easy as possible (possibly along which side of the family is being visited). At 2.5 months, baby is mostly along for the ride and will take her cues from M&D’s stress level.

    BTW – If one has generous relatives, a 90-minute drive to YYZ instead of BUF gives a bunch of non-stop options.

  4. First of all, congratulations!

    Also, In case you didn’t know, it is often possible to have a seat for your lap child without buying them a ticket. (Though, this being your first trip, you might not want the hassle.)

    Domestically we tend to fly Southwest so that availability isn’t an issue. Southwest allows you to place a lap infant in their own seat, in their carseat, if the flight is not completely booked. I assume AA and UA have the same policy regarding lap infants seating.

    Since you are booking with Avios, domestic cancellations are the negligable taxes only. Book all flights one way, as you normally would. Check right before leaving if the flight is full, if so, keep the ticket for the kiddo. If not cancel the child’s ticket, save the miles, and most likely still get a seat anyway.

    1. Thanks Tyler.

      Wow, I hadn’t even considered that as an option! Fantastic tip, and one I’ll look more into.

      1. Glad you found my comment helpful. You’re getting great advice here from everyone. Having a lap-infant is an oddity both to your travel plans and to the mileage programs. It only lasts two years for you, and the programs act as if you are the first person to ever fly with an infant. (Honestly, please write up another fact filled post with your take on the labyrinth of lap child issues and various carriers and programs, it will do the community a great service.)

        I have three children, 1 still a lap child (but the clock is ticking). At this point, I’m letting award availability determine my international travel. This summer there was/is still? great availability to Asia on Cathay out of Chicago, I was able to find 5 seats in business for us on multiple dates. We’re pairing an AA redemption with a United award within Asia to do ORD-HKT-BKK-PEK-NRT-TPE-HKG-ORD. It is possible and it is actually really quite fun to do these treks with children if you plan them the right way. I took advantage of BA charging 10% miles instead of dollars on one award ticket, the others were put on AA. Last summer we had many stopovers in Europe on an ANA award. Next summer, I plan to burn my AA miles possibly to South America before whatever great devaluation occurs. Enjoy traveling with your child, its a different kind of travel, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    1. Jem: I don’t even have a birth certificate yet! 🙂 All in good time. I think your advice about YYZ is the right way to go when we do fly to BUF. I’d rather be on a non-stop than get stuck in ORD, especially if we’re traveling during the holidays.

      1. No passport might be ok for a couple months, but please tell me she has an SPG account!

        If she’s traveling as a lap infant, there’s no need to donate an extra 10% of an award’s worth of Avios to BA on a domestic ticket. Book for two, then call AA to add her as a free lap infant.

        1. Kenny, Why specifically does she need a SPG account? I’m working on getting her set up, Right now she’s got a CSP, Ink Bold and a Fidelity Amex.

          Great tip about the 10%. Combined with Tyler’s earlier tip I’m ready to make some flights happen.

          1. Low fares and paid tickets = orphan balances. Orphan balances + SPG transfers = award tickets. Both of our kids have precisely 25K AS miles thanks to SPG and DL.

        2. Careful with this approach. The fee for lapchild can be difference when traveling to the West Indies. It’s “cheaper” to pay 10% with BA than call AA and pay “taxes and fees”.

          1. Good to point out, ABC. You should buy the lap child ticket with Avios on any international itinerary, and just call AA to add her on domestic ones.

  5. Congratulations!
    Did you consider going from MCO – BUF; BUF – CLT; CLT – LAX?

    That was my first thought when I saw your cities, even though it involves more travel.

    Although avoiding BUF this winter might be wise.

    1. Haley: Good point, I hadn’t considered it. Especially if I want to just eliminate CLT, MCO-BUF would be a good option. I’d probably go with a paid Jetblue flight since I don’t know if I have the patience for MCO + WN! 😉 There’s just too many options!

  6. For the sake of the rest of the us, don’t be one of those parents who feels the need to drag an infant around the country in an airplane. Bring the family to your place, unless they’re in some kind of financial hardship and don’t have the ability to do so. It amazes me to see folks who would normally consider themselves civilized to then take a two month old baby traveling around the globe in an airplane. It’s not good for the baby, or those who must sit next to your “enjoyment” on the plane.

    1. These images are composites that I made in photoshop. There isn’t a way to show more than one city (yet) on the site.

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