Have you ever gone out for drinks with Bitcoin billionaires? It’s an incredible sight to see them squirm when the bill comes. Somehow their net worth is incalculable, yet somehow they can barely scrap enough cash together to cover the check. “Can we split ours?”, is a common query by the crypto-bros. They used to be all over Old San Juan, but I haven’t seen them lately since their crypto dreams went down the tube.
The second most obnoxious people to go out with is probably we, the points hustlers. I’m at the top of that list because I’m always trying to make sure that I get the best value and because I despise tipping (see I’m Not Tipping Uber Either! & Do You Tip UberEATS? I Didn’t). While I hate on the crypto-bros, the truth is that we points nerds have plenty in common. Neither of us likes to use cash. We both love looking at our virtual currency while trying to convince ourselves they are worth something. How many times do you refresh AwardWallet? And without warning, our swag lifestyle can come to a crashing end. #devaluation #toomuchHODL
So how’s this relevant? As part of my planning for the upcoming #NoCollusion, No Albania for TPOL Trip Report, I wanted to use points to book flights in and around Poland, Macedonia, Albania, Slovenia, Switzerland, Spain, and Israel. (If the bookings go according to plan, I will have hit 79 UN countries and surpassed the 100 count needed to join the controversial Traveler’s Century Club. Checkout the novel interactive Where’s I’ve Been Map.) While Eastern Europe is cheap to visit, flights in the area aren’t the same bargain as an EasyJet trip out of London. Using my favorite booking tool, ITA Matrix, I was surprised to find that tickets for the 1 hour flight from Ljubljana to Tirana go for $236. I’m sure Adria Airways is lovely but that’s not a nice price. With a quick Google, I learned that Adria is part of Star Alliance and that a flight using Avianca LifeMiles is only 8,000 points and $55. I inputted that into my notoriously colorful trip planning spreadsheet and moved onto other portions of my itinerary. So far so good.
$194 for a terrible route that will take 27 hours and 30 minutes or $368 direct on LOT. Unlike above, I found no relief with LifeMiles.
Using SeatGuru, I learned that this route is serviced by my least favorite plane, the 737 (see Ethiopian Business JNB-ADD: The Worst Flight Experience). Max or no max, who would spend 42k for that?
Flustered by the lack of options, I began to mentally prepare myself for the 27.5 hour journey and the agony of having to take out my credit card to pay for it. Luckily, I’m too cheap to give up so quickly. I jumped back to my bus-schedule spreadsheet and started thinking about how I could solve this puzzle.
Like the scene from The Usual Suspects, the answer was right in front of me. Why haven’t you checked the Wiki airport site for each of these destinations? There may be another points carrier that flies to Warsaw or there may be a discount carrier that does.
I Googled Tel Aviv Airport, went to the Wiki site, hit Control-F ‘Warsaw’ and found five options. The first was El Al, an Amex transfer partner! Could points rescue me again? I joined the El Al’s Matmid club and found that a flight would cost me 18,000 MRs. That’s not so bad. But I didn’t stop there. I checked the remaining discount carriers on the list. Boom! Wizz Air, a Hungarian airline, flies direct from TLV to WAW for $117! Without hesitation, I took out my credit card, inputted my personal information, and hit book!
And then I got an error message from Verified by Visa. I tried another card and got another error message. After verifying with Chase that I have never driven a Chevy Caprice and that I did not go to Jackson Polytechnical University, I made the booking.
As a thrifty traveler, I often think points first. When that doesn’t work, I usually turn to the Matrix. Here, the worst thing I could have done was burn my Lifemiles for a short and underwhelming flight (see Buyer’s Remorse: A Case for Hoarding Points). The next bad alternative would be to pay cash for a miserable flight. Fortunately, my penchant for pennies is why I’m flying direct for what Litecoin is worth now.