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Today’s travel question comes from reader Doug, who is trying to get his family of 5 from Los Angeles to Traverse City, Michigan this summer.  His question:

I love reading your blog and the time has come to see if you can help me out.  I’m trying to get 4 or 5 of us from LAX to Traverse City Michigan this August (2016).  I have an almost 2 year old that we could technically fly as a lap-child, so that’s an option, but if I can swing that 5th seat I think it will be easier for all of us.
Unfortunately, my flight days are not flexible and I’m trying to fly at pretty much the peak of summer travel season (Aug 5 depart and return on Aug 13).
Flying directly to TVC on American or United seems to be impossible due to outrageous costs and very limited flights.  So my plan was to fly SouthWest to Grand Rapids, spend the night, and then drive up the next day.
Unfortunately (again), it doesn’t look like my spending is going to be enough to get me the tickets.  I think I will end up with about 100k Chase points based on my usual spending patterns. I have no manufactured spend ability since they shut down credit card loads of my Redbird.  My credit card sign-ups are limited because I have or recently cancelled most of the useful ones.
So any tips you have on how to get us 4 (or 5) tickets would be much appreciated!
Here’s my current points situation:
Wells Fargo: 43,000 – I plan to cash these out to cover rental car costs (btw, we would be renting a car even if we flew directly to TVC)
Capital One: 15,000 – I plan to use these cover the hotel in Grand Rapids
United: 75,000
American: 46,000
Chase: 70,000
SW: 8,000
SPG: 45,000
Delta: 2,000
Main cards I have: Capital One Venture, Wells Fargo Propel World, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, SPG Amex, Barclay Aviator

Summary

Traverse City is a beautiful place and August is probably a great time to be there.  I remember driving through Traverse City on my way back home from jumping in all 5 Great Lakes in a single day and just being in amazement at how BLUE the water was there at that particular part of Lake Michigan!

(SEE ALSO: #DiveInAllFive – Jumping in all 5 Great Lakes in one day [VIDEO])

michigan-beach

Unfortunately, August is a great time to be there, and so everyone wants to be there then.  And Doug is learning that when you’re not flexible on your dates or your location, the price you have to pay increases (whether that be with miles or points)

But, just like we helped Jennifer with her trip when all seemed lost (SEE: Vacation…. SAVED!), there’s a few things that we can do for Doug.

Here’s my thoughts

Here would be a few of my recommendations to look into.  Some of these may have already been considered and discarded, but this is just a walk through my thought processes when looking at a trip like this.autoslash

  1. You’re already planning on renting a car, so make sure to use Autoslash to get the absolute cheapest price.  Autoslash lost in the championship round of my Top Travel Hacking March Mayhem bracket(to Award Wallet), but it’s still the absolute best way to get a deal on rental cars

(SEE ALSO: “You got a great deal-I’ve been renting these for $100 / DAY!”)

(SEE ALSO: Why you’re foolish to rent a “standard” car)

  1. Consider splitting up the family.  I don’t know if this is feasible in Doug’s situation, but it’s something to consider.  I always do all my award searches for 1 person, and then work my way up from there.
  2. Traverse City (TVC) is a super small airport, so Doug is smart to look at flying into Grand Rapids (GRR), a 2 hour drive away.  The option of flying to Detroit (DTW), an additional 2 hours away (4 hours total) may already have been considered, but if it hasn’t, I’d definitely take a look at that.  Depending on where Doug lives in Los Angeles, there are several other airports out there that might have availability
  3. Consider one-ways.  You might not have enough miles to fly 5 people roundtrip from California to Michigan, but you could fly outbound on United and return on Southwest (for example).  Depending on your rental car situation, you may have the option to do an “open jaw

Specifically, I found the following option for 5 people on United

united-detroit-lax-availability

(SEE ALSO: Don’t believe United’s lying award calendar)

Yes, 2 stops and all day flights aren’t IDEAL, but it’s always possible that you could get a fortunate schedule change which would open up better flights.  Here are two cases where that worked out for people, and I also used the same technique to get 16 extra hours on our trip to Rome!

Remember don’t transfer SPG miles to United – that’s one of the worst transfer rates out there!

What about you?  Any other suggestions for Doug and his family?  As always, if you’d like me to help with a travel problem for YOUR family, you can reach me at dan at pointswithacrew dot com

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