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[TO BE CLEARThis is not written by Dan. He and his wife already have 6 kids and aren’t currently planning to adopt any.]

Some months ago I wrote a post about the best potential options for our adoption trip Costa Rica. Although my wife and I *still* haven’t been matched with any children, we are more and more hopeful that this will happen soon. You can read about the previous travel-related parts of our adventure here:

Given that we have had a few more months to accumulate some miles and research our options more, my game plan has changed a bit.

My previous plan

Before, I was really leaning toward using Delta miles for the flights there and back. The original original plan was American miles, but this is pretty much a pipe dream given the dearth of award space. Can you say LAAme?

Another reasonable option was Southwest. Our United miles are pretty much off the table since they are so much more useful in other ways. But I do have enough in my pocket for a few one-way flights.

I’m also sitting on some Avianca LifeMiles, but I’d like to save those as well. Our stash of Avios isn’t especially useful, given both the lack of non-stop options out of SFO and the horrible state of American’s award availability.

Some constraining factors

One major factor for us is that we may not know how long we are going to be in country. Is it really worth using miles if we end up having to pay a change fee of $150 to $200? Wouldn’t it simply be better to wait until we know when we are able to come home?

I’ve had to think a lot about how to best plan our flights given a reasonable combination of flexibility and cost (in either dollars or miles). Southwest is the obvious choice in terms of flexibility. Their award flights are fully refundable. However, the more I’ve checked, their price point either isn’t as good, or you have to break up the flight into two tickets (not sure what is up with the routing engine). Not ideal. I might call to see if there is a way to price them out. Things might get better as Southwest adapts to their new reservation engine.

southwest sjo-sfo

Getting this on many a Southwest search

The other factor is obviously travel time. Some of Southwest’s connections are through BWI. Not happening when we have to bring 2 or 3 potentially frightened kids back to California.

A case study

While my wife and I were visiting Banff, she read a blog to me of a fellow Lifeline family. They adopted three Ticos, between roughly the ages of 6 and 12.

The family and their new kids bonded really well, and the adoption was finalized nearly two weeks prior to their flights home. They all wanted to get back to the States, but at $200 per ticket, changing 7 tickets just didn’t make financial sense. So they stayed in Costa Rica until their originally booked flights.

Although that seems like an inconvenience, I am actually more worried about the converse. What happens if bonding isn’t going as quickly as it did for this family? What happens if we booked our tickets home too early? We’d be *forced* to adjust the dates.

The best of both worlds

One thing that wasn’t previously part of the equation is that I now have a Business Platinum Card from American Express. I didn’t really expect the card to be obtainable, but when I found a way to offset the hefty annual fee, I bit on the 100,000 point offer.

The beauty of the Business Platinum card is that you can book paid airfare with your Membership Rewards (MR) points for good value. Normally, when you use the “pay with points” option, you essentially redeem your MR for 1 cent each. However, the business Platinum gives you a rebate when you use this benefit, making it far more lucrative. These tickets are also treated as cash tickets, so you actually *earn* miles on them as well.

You have to pick one airline at the beginning of the year on which to use this benefit, so its not as open-ended as it sounds. But this still gives you a lot of flexibility if you pick wisely.

Although American Express is sadly reducing the value of the “pay with points” rebate from 50% to 35% (SEE: The 3 (bad) Changes to the Amex Business Platinum Card – and 1 good one!) , new cardholders (of which I am one) will still be able to get the full 50% rebate through their first card anniversary.

Thus, I think I have the best of both world here. We can use points to cover the cost of the tickets (including taxes and fees), and we can book whatever flights we’d like when we know when we can return home. No worrying about award availability or making a gamble on timing. We might have to shell out a few more points if we wait to book our flights, but it will be worth the flexibility.

costa rica stock a. sutillo cc-2.0

My *new* plan for our adoption trip

Now, the most ideal option for us is booking anything we want going to Costa Rica, making sure we save enough MR points for 4 or 5 one-way return tickets. The airline I picked for the “pay with points” benefit is Alaska, so our routing home will likely be San Jose, Costa Rica – Los Angeles – Bay Area.

Given Alaska’s network, we have our pick of airports in the Bay, but I would like to see if we can fly into Santa Rosa. This would make it easiest for our family to get us. Since we won’t have to worry about award space, we’ll also have our pick of flight times.

My ideal plan is to use AA miles to fly down to Costa Rica, but like I said, this is likely a pipe dream. Thus, we’re either left with using Southwest or Delta miles for the flights down, or we could fly Alaska and use the “pay with points” benefit for this portion as well, if we have enough MR points.

And we hope it is soon!

My wife and I have now been in the adoption process for 3 1/2 years. We did spend roughly 14 months of that “on hold” for various reasons, and many of the other months were due to unforeseen delays. We are hoping and praying that we will be matched soon and will be down in Coast Rica this summer.

Featured image courtesy of A. Sutillo under CC 2.0 license

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