Point Me to First Class with Devon Gimbel MD | Travel That Matches Your Values with Dr. Erika Moseson

55. Travel That Matches Your Values with Dr. Erika Moseson

Mar 18, 2024

One of the reasons we love travel is that when we experience different cultures and meet new people, it enriches our lives. But how do we balance our desire to see the world with the negative impact of our footprint on the environments and communities we want to experience?


Dr. Erika Moseson is a Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Physician in Portland, Oregon. She’s also the host of the Air Health Our Health podcast, about the air we breathe and how it impacts our environment and communities. Erika loves travel, but she’s also concerned about the climate implications of the travel industry and wants to explore how we can experience the benefits of travel while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.


Flying has a huge effect on the climate, but tune in this week to discover some simple ways you can pursue your travel hobby while mitigating the environmental impact of your trips. We’re also discussing how Erika has been able to use points to book some amazing economy travel experiences that allow her family of five to see the world with freedom and flexibility.


To be the first to know when my Points Made Easy course reopens for enrollment, join the waitlist here!


What You’ll Learn from this Episode: 

  • How Erika became concerned with the environmental and social impact of tourism.

  • Why points travel isn’t only about luxury travel and first-class cabins.

  • The environmental impact of travel and the community impact of short-term rentals.

  • Why carbon offsetting and other similar schemes aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

  • 2 simple ways you can mitigate the environmental impact of each trip you take. 

  • Why home exchange is a special way to experience the world without the negative community impact of short-term rentals.

  • How to start taking a holistic view of your travel, taking responsibility, while still doing what you love.


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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.

Devon: Welcome back to the podcast everybody. Today, I have another fantastic guest joining me. We are going to dive into a topic, and potentially more than one topic, that has not really yet been covered in depth on the podcast yet. 

But first, let me introduce you to Dr. Erika Moseson. She is a Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine physician in Portland, Oregon. She's also the host of the Air Health Our Health podcast about the air we breathe and how it affects our health and communities. She also serves on the Environmental Health Policy Committee of the American Thoracic Society, and is an American Lung Association health professional for clean air and climate action. 

She loves travel but is also concerned about the climate implications of a great deal of the travel industry and is interested in exploring how we can achieve the benefits of travel while working overtime to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Erika, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. I'm so excited to have you here.

Erika: Well, thank you for having me, this is great. I've been listening and learning a lot. 

Devon: Wonderful. So as I said, one of the topics that we have not really covered in depth yet on the podcast that I thought you would be the perfect person to kind of introduce and to talk about is kind of this idea of values based travel. I think so many of us who love travel, one of the reasons is it's so enriching to our lives personally when we're able to get out into the world, meet different people experience different cultures and places. I think that that's a really beautiful thing. I'm obviously a huge advocate of that, especially to the extent that points can help us do that. 

But one of the downsides of travel is that it can often have very real negative implications. I think there are a lot of us who are kind of grappling with that tension of where's the intersection between doing this thing that we love so much and might be so enriching to us personally, while also being really aware that this is not just some zero sum game. Like where our travel has no impact on the communities around us or the world around us. 

I would really love to hear just kind of your thoughts and your take on someone who's also a lover of travel, but does a lot of work in this space about the impacts that travel can have on our environment in our communities. 

Erika: Yeah, absolutely. It's a thing that I've been thinking about for a long time since, actually, I think when I really started thinking about it in a larger scale was when I was actually living and working in Germany. Shortly after college and before medical school, I was doing some cancer research in Germany. I ended up living in this house with these amazing German roommates in something called the von gemeinsam, which is truly a special experience. 

It was so interesting because it was during the Bush administration and during the Iraq War, and all these things were unfolding in Baghdad and all these things. All I was doing was spending all this time in this area that had recently, in the last just the century before, been torn apart by war. Just thinking that it was amazing that I was living.

If you'd gone back to the 1940s and said hey, American girl’s just going to trot over and live with a bunch of Germans no big deal while this war was going on, it would have just been unimaginable. Some of these people are some of my best friends. I'm going back to Germany this summer because I'm now ich bin jetzt Patin [inaudible]. I'm the now the godmother of a sweet little German child who's a dear friend from this time. 

Just all I could hope and pray was that one day my children are going to be able to study abroad in Baghdad with just not a care in the world. Right? With a similar idea that how can we build like a more peaceful world? In Germany and in European Union after the Second World War, they built this program called Erasmus where you take young people who are kind of the most open we will ever be and just send them around to the different countries to go study abroad.

This is funded by the governments to help prevent war basically, to have people travel and go live and speak another language. I think that's something that we really need globally, especially right now what we're all struggling with this. So the value of the importance of travel and immersion is so strong for me. 

But on the other hand I also suffer from what they call flugscham. I'm embarrassed about getting an airplane and burning a bunch of fossil fuels in the sky where it's not just like the CO2 emissions. It's also like the jet trails. You're emitting ozone literally all over, literally kind of one of the worst ways to be burning fuels. Just kind of wrestling with that.

So I don't have the answers. I mean, I think I we try to push aviation to be more green whenever we can, but also just recognizing since I have this privilege and ability to do it, it's part of my values need to be any chance there is a way to try to make this better and to expand opportunities I need to take it. To make sure that when I do travel, there's a strong reason for it. That we're going to make the most of it. Right?

Devon: Yeah, you just mentioned a little bit about how that factors into your decision making about travel. But I'm wondering if you can give us any more examples about are there concrete things that you have done, or that you think people can do in general if this is something that we're concerned about? Sort of mitigating the impact of our travel on the environment when we do choose to go and explore the world.

Erika: I think it's really hard. So we actually wrestled with us a lot, even trying to plan our national meeting in the American Thoracic Society and are continuing to wrestle with it. Because I think we've all seen in the news that carbon offsets are not exactly what they cracked up to be. There's a lot of greenwashing. It's hard to really know what you're doing. 

So when people are trying to say oh, don't worry, we're going to like buy our way out of this. It's not really clear that that's helpful. There's maybe options with things like renewable energy credits. There are some experimentation going on with different fuels, hydrogen technologies, that sort of thing. 

I think concretely now what we try to do is take a more holistic picture of our lives and say okay, like travel is going to be a high fossil fuel time, but maybe my husband and I tried to be intentional about taking public transit when we can. When we get to our travel destination, we're trying to be a lot more take the public transit system, which is also just more fun when you travel. You get such a more immersive experience. Or if we're going to rent a car, trying to prioritize electric vehicles or really trying to think about how can we kind of have a holistic view of this trip. 

Then the other thing is lengthening trips. So, for example, if we're going to go somewhere to visit my sister who lives in New York, let's do other things with that flight. Let's not make it like a quick one week trip. Let's, if we can, expand it to three weeks. There's a lot of privilege and work constraints that other people can't do that. But let's expand it. Let's go. We're taking that flight. Okay, let's get an EV and go see the Finger Lakes. Let's go visit anyone else we know who's around there. Let's drive over to Niagara Falls.

If there's anything else that we would do with this flight, kind of viewing it as the flight, then let's kind of expand it. Or one thing I've started doing is if I have to go somewhere for a meeting to go talk about clean air and climate change and burn fossil fuels on my way there, which always feels pretty hypocritical. But like we were going to Washington DC. We're like is this a place that would be a family trip? Is this a place that we want to go one day with our kids? Why not now? You’ve got to go, let's go. So Washington DC. Our kids had a great time for Washington DC. 

Went for the meeting, stayed for a week. Took them to see all the sights, did all the things. We even went to a little climate protest on Capitol Hill together as a family, which, again, felt kind of hypocritical but whatever. So we had a meeting in Hawaii. We're like this is great. We'd love to have the children see this. So similar thing. We expanded it and just the whole family went. Just to kind of be intentional about it. If we're going to do this flight, let's make it worth it. That's what we're trying to do right now. It's imperfect, but it's what we got. 

Devon: Yeah. I think it's so important for us just to name that imperfection. Like I agree with you. There are a lot of times where obviously, especially for me for what I do, one, I just I love travel. Two, I actually love the, it used to be for me, I only loved the experience of the destination, and getting there was just sort of like the means to the ends. 

I think one of the amazing things about points, at least for me and my travel experience, is that I actually love getting to my destination. I love being on airplanes when I can do it in a way that's very comfortable. I like exploring airports. I like having access to airport lounges and just being able to find that quiet place to rest in between flights. 

So I am also incredibly cognizant of okay, these decisions and these actions are not completely without consequence. For my personal life, it's a value add that I sometimes now have more opportunity to jump on a plane somewhere very far away and not have to spend, not have to build a month or two month long trip around it. 

But at the same time, like you said, I think there is also that acknowledgement of just the contradiction or that it can sometimes feel hypocritical to say hey, I'm holding both of these values. That I really love and advocate for travel, and I also acknowledge that this is not always just an amazing thing for all of the parties involved. 

So I think hearing your take on this and not asking of ourselves to achieve perfection in one direction or the other like not saying okay because travel may have negative impacts in these areas then the solution is that just everyone should stop doing it unless it's actually fundamentally necessary for their lives. I don't think that's the answer. 

But I also don't think it's the answer to say well, I don't really experience these negative impacts therefore, I don't need to care about this. I think your approach at looking at this topic a little bit more holistically and finding some of that middle zone to say okay. If we are going to make these decisions to travel, if we know that there are some negative impacts to it, how can we be mindful of that and try to build into our travel some aspects that are going to maybe lessen those potential negative impacts?

I think being able to take this more holistic view where you said we're not just looking at what is this individual flight? Or what are some actions that we can take to attempt to offset the impact of this individual flight? But how can we incorporate in a more holistic view of our travel about how can we turn this into also an educational opportunity for our children? Or, like you said, turn this into a trip that isn't just about flying in one day and flying out the next day if I do have to travel for work. 

I really think that more holistic view is really helpful for those of us when we are trying to make sometimes these challenging decisions about how do we incorporate in some responsibility into our travel plans. 

I know one of the things that you have also talked about is just thinking beyond the flights themselves, the potential impacts of flights themselves, is what it actually looks like when you are actually on the ground, when you are in a place in terms of having some of these value based travel decisions. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about things like family sharing economies. Your experience with home exchange?

Erika: Yeah, so the introduction I had to home exchange was actually through my parents who had started doing it. It was really special to see. So we went to Spain. My dad was really wanting to learn Spanish. They actually stayed in Spain for quite a long time. But they went and stayed in someone's home on the southern coast. Then they went and stayed, then they had a home in Granada that they stayed in, and it was just so special. 

Because I think a lot of times, we really worry about the impact of things like Airbnb and Vrbos and these short term rentals using up housing stock, especially in these historic areas. It's one thing if it's a town that was really built for seasonal recreation, and maybe most of the cabins are, I don't know. But these things where you have these historic cities like Granada, like Mexico City, like all these places that now what is good family home has now been turned into a short term rental. 

I think a lot of times you stay at those places, and they're very sterile. It's like some generic decoration that's like live, laugh, love, or something on the wall or whatever or some generic poster about the town that is obviously not a true home where someone lives. Versus the idea of using a home where someone is, and they also love traveling. So they're traveling somewhere else. You're using their home. 

Actually because I travel with kids, and we do like to kind of immerse in a community. It's not that we haven't done our share of Airbnbs and Vrbos, but I'm kind of, we're starting to get into it now. So far we've actually just been on the hosting side. But we've had a lot of people just kind of come stay with family. It helped one family come basically stay in the neighborhood because their family was nearby, but didn't have enough room in their house. So our house was full. The toys were played with while we were off visiting our family for Christmas. 

Then same thing in the summer. When we're gone, we'll have people stay because we're going to go to Germany to meet my goddaughter. So two of the three weeks of our trip, our home’s already occupied by people who want to come see the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon. It's nice. Then we also have pets. So our kids feel better if someone's going to be like living in our home petting our kitties.

Devon: Yeah, I love that as an option. One of the things that I think about because I also have two young kids. We, I feel like as a family, are finally starting to get to the age where we're considering let's take them out and actually do what I consider to be a little bit more, quote unquote, real trips. Let's not just focus on going to a resort where it's really easy to just let them swim for a week, even though that's beautiful and wonderful and fun.

We are really excited to start showing our kids more of the world now that we feel like they can walk for more than five minutes without collapsing and actually start to understand where they are, and that there are different places and what there is to see and learn about these different areas that they're learning about in school. 

From a very practical level, I think everybody thinks about this. When you travel, you obviously need somewhere to stay. So I think for most of us, we're thinking about the very traditional options is there a hotel? If you are traveling with a larger group or you have a family, especially like in Europe where the room occupancies of hotels is microscopic, then you start thinking about okay what are sort of the Airbnb or the short term rental options? 

Because, again, I think that's what's accessible. It's what's practical. It's what a lot of us are familiar with. I also think it's really interesting to start asking ourselves to expand our view of okay. Maybe that is still what makes sense for us on some trips, but where could we also look at this idea about what are our other options that are available? 

One of the things that I was thinking about is you were describing these experiences that your family have had with home sharing and home exchange is that when it comes to some of our values, one of the places that I sometimes feel torn is that when you're in this game of points and travel, obviously a lot of the players are these huge national or international corporations. 

Like how much more money does Hyatt really need to make from me and my family staying in a Hyatt Hotel, even though I love their program, and I love their properties. I don't go to bed at night, oftentimes, feeling I'm so glad that I'm making Jeff Bezos more rich when shopping on Amazon, even though that is sometimes the most convenient thing for me and my family. 

I think this comes back to this idea that for those of us who do want to start or continue incorporating our values into our travel decisions that it's not all or nothing. As a small business owner, I'm a huge proponent of small businesses, and I want to support those. I can't do that 100% of the time. 

But one of the things that came up for me when you were talking about home sharing home exchange is one of the massive benefits of that is, I think, being able to circulate money in local communities. Where even in a place like Paris or in Madrid, we're always going to have options in places like that of the Hiltons, the Marriotts, the Hyatts. 

But when we are able to, and it makes sense for us, to be able to use some of these other accommodation options or where we're choosing to eat or where we're choosing to make purchases. To be able to mindfully decide where can we really support local aspects of this community and circulate our money more locally rather than just in these huge corporations I think is something that can be really, really fulfilling as well. But what is your take on that?

Erika: No, I absolutely agree. I mean, it's why when I travel, honestly, I don't usually like staying at hotels. So although after learning from you, we did stay for three nights at the Hyatt Niagara Falls because I learned how to do the point transfer thing, which I've never done. I was like all right, that was nice because there wasn't much else to use. 

But I do like kind of going and staying in a neighborhood and going grocery shopping in the area and traveling that way in a much more immersive experience. Having the kids go to the playground and play with the local kids and everything. Yeah, trying to not have my money going to the big chains and everything but the smaller restaurants. That is a potential benefit of travel. 

I think just kind of, I don't know the extent to how much it's helpful to kind of be mindful of what the impacts are. But I think a lot of times people feel defensive. Like I think our first reaction is to feel defensive about anything we're doing if anyone points out, or if we even think about the negative impacts? Like we were talking before we started recording, but living under an airport takes a toll, right, on people's health. There's increased premature deliveries. There's the noise issues. 

So just being mindful, I think, is a way of kind of respecting our impact in the world. Just understanding like there are costs to what I'm doing. So it is on me to, overtime, start to think about how can I decrease these? So if I'm using someone's home, am I using it respectfully? Am I trying to do it in an exchange way where I'm not taking it out of circulation for local families, but I'm partnering with a local family to facilitate their travel? So that's where just kind of trying to slightly make adjustments maybe each year to walk more softly.

Devon: Yeah, I think that's a great point. For people who are listening to this and maybe this is the first time they've ever heard of this concept of like home sharing or home exchange, can you give us a little bit more information about how does someone even get started in that if they're interested? Are there certain platforms online that you have used or that you think are really useful for that? Just how, for those of us who are like oh, wow, I didn't even know that I could do this. How do we begin to kind of dip our toe in this pool and not get completely overwhelmed from the beginning?

Erika: So seeing my parents do it for years was good. They've actually kind of laid off a little bit because now they're mostly just traveling around and hanging out with the grandkids in various cities. So but was kind of made me realize okay this is possible, and everyone seems normal and not crazy. 

So the one I use is HomeExchange. My parents would use Love Home Swap, which I think they merged. For anyone who's into points, it's a point based system. You can use it. So it's like you don't have to be, I think people think about that movie, The Holiday where like people are like swapping directly. You can do that. You can set your value of your home. They kind of give you a recommended value of your home. You just kind of take some pictures. It's kind of like an Airbnb. You just put them online.

They kind of encourage you. They're like it's fine if it looks lived in. You'd put in all the quirks. You're like kay, if you come stay here, you’ve got to feed my cats. Or there's cats, like FYI. If you're allergic, not good. Then you just kind of say what you're looking for. You kind of say how many people you tend to travel with. Then people can just search for you. 

I mean, it's very similar to, honestly it's very similar to like an Airbnb or Vrbo platform, right. You're address isn't out there until there's an exchange, and they approve you. You have to like do. There's security checks. The platform has been okay, there's this money. So then I'd come back, make sure the house looks good. No one made off with anything, right. Then I give them their money back. 

So it feels reasonably secure. Also we don't have that much like valuable stuff. It's not like I've got like treasure troves of jewelry, or our TV is over a decade old. So I don't really know what people would like the long con would be worth to come to our home to steal. So.

You can look at people's reviews. Most people would say oh, they were very respectful. They were great. I know I'm pretty sure my parents never had a bad experience. They host a lot of people. I loved the two places we went and stayed with them. We even got to meet the family in Granada because they were just, they weren't staying so far away. So they came over and showed my son where to play. It was really cute. 

Devon: That sounds really incredible. One of the things that I was really curious about as you were talking because you mentioned that if someone's going to come and stay in your home, for example, that they have to put down a deposit first. Beyond that, is there any actual money exchanged? Like is this similar to a short term rental where you can price out your home and say for a week stay in our home in Portland, Oregon, it costs this much? Or is it truly just an exchange platform?

Erika: Yeah, you're not supposed to as far as I know. I think the ethic is, and you get points. So it's like people who have like an apartment in the middle of Paris thinking you're going to charge like 500, 600 gazillions of points a night. Actually before, once you finalize the thing, you get the points so you have something to go travel with. I'm not aware of any way of buying them or anything like that. I also think that they'll kind of give you something. If you're really close to getting something, but you're just short 50 points, the home exchange platform is like fine. Because, again, they're not worth cash. So it really is an exchange. 

You can agree on a cleaning fee. So, for example, we have a big house because we're a family of five. So you can kind of ask, be like hey it is what it is. We'll kind of like clean it and do whatever, but it's just us. If you want it professionally cleaned. Some people after COVID or whatever, for whatever reasons or just feel better about it, then some other people have been oh, we'd prefer. Well, we'll pay you for a cleaner and stuff. 

So doing that. But, again, it's you pay someone to clean a house it’s, what, couple hundred bucks for a week versus like $2,000 or whatever it Airbnb for a week would be. It's great because we know our neighborhood. So we can just tell people like go here, go here. Oh, how old are your kids? 

That’s one thing that’s been fun it's when I found out how old the kids were. One of my kids made a little card and like made some Lego figures that he thought the kid would want to play with. It's sweet. This is the best playground for that age. I think it's just a better travel experience. 

Devon: Yeah, and I think for so many different reasons. I think about how limited sometimes your options become for accommodations when you are traveling as part of a larger group. If you're a solo traveler or you just have one other person with you, I don't think there's a lot of limitations in terms of places where you're going to fit or options you're going to have.

But once you do start traveling with more people, whether it's your own children or you travel with your aging parents or just other people where you're trying to book accommodations for a group of people, your options can very quickly become very limited and/or exorbitantly expensive depending on where it is that you're looking to go. So I think to have these types of home exchange, home share options where, again, because these are real, actual homes, they tend to much more easily accommodate larger groups of people. Also people who are at very different ages or stages of life.

I went through that phase where we had to be very mindful of staying in places that would accommodate two different kids not at all overlapping napping schedules. Just like what are the logistics of trying to be in a space. Even as four people with too little people who have very, very rigid and like non-overlapping napping schedules. I think, obviously, one of the benefits of that type of platform is just the comfort is just more options, more availability when it comes to accommodation.

The way that you're explaining it where there isn't also that cash exchange, but that the program itself has its own points currency. That's how you're booking a lot of these different opportunities to be able to, again, defray what can be one of the highest costs of travel, which is accommodations for people. It's really great to know about these expanded options that people have. 

One of the other things that you and I were kind of chatting about before. I've probably said this a million billion times. I will continue to say it a million billion times. I think one of the best things about points is just that it does give us so many more options. Options about places that we want to travel that maybe we wouldn't be able to travel if we didn't have points. The frequency of travel can increase if we have points. The way that we travel and the comfort that we travel in can definitely change as we have points.

But one of the things that I think I have not done as good a job as I really want to with this podcast is really emphasizing that point, no pun intended, that I do not think that points should be or are only good in terms of using them for, quote unquote, luxury travel or premium cabin travel. Just because that is one option, I definitely don't think that that needs to be everybody's option. 

I think that when I named this podcast Point Me to First Class, I never really intended or I never wanted people to think that, again, the whole focus is how can we only use points to fly Lufthansa first class. That's the only thing that we should all be doing. Or how can we only use points to fly XYZ airline in business class with a family of 12.  I can help you do that for sure. I really like doing that. But points is so much more than just a couple of individual aspirational flight or even aspirational hotel stays. 

I know that one of the things that you've really used points for is finding the utility of points for economy travel. I want to celebrate that and highlight that. So I'm really curious if you can just share with us, again, what does that look like for you and your family to really be able to implement points for some amazing economy travel?

Erika: Yeah, and I think it's mostly just the logistics of trying to move five people from point A to point B. I think you've touched on this too, on a schedule that's not insane. So I have three kids. So it's like I think when we're all in our 20s traveling wherever, we can do planes, trains, and automobiles to like to have like a $200 trip around the world or whatever. But you just can't do that with like three kids, all of whom have their own preferences and melt down melting points and everything. 

So when you're actually trying to get tickets, and the other thing that are also potentially refundable or flexible. Because you never know what's going to happen with sickness, school schedules, and that sort of thing. The really big benefit about even if your points redemption is only like 1.5 to two cents, you get all those points back versus when you're having to buy these super strict economy fares. Even if you can get it super cheap, it's you can't change this even if you are bleeding from your head. That's it. This is it, or you use it or you lose it.

So that's a thing I've appreciated in terms of decreasing the anxiety of booking is when I'm booking it with points I'm like worst case scenario, like literally walking onto this plane, I can just cancel the flight, and we can get all the points back. If my kid, whatever, is feeling sick or something that we have to cancel because with five people, that just comes up more. 

The other thing was kind of mentioning, again, having three kids is expensive. So even, for example, when we went to Washington, DC and turned it into a family vacation, my flight was reimbursed because I was going for a meeting from work. But I got all of the kids and my husband to and back from Washington DC. The redemption, I think the flights were, I actually put a spreadsheet together to actually be able to answer some of these questions for you. 

So I think it's like the points price, it was only like about a one cent redemption. It came out kind of like exactly even, although it was on a bonus category. So I'm not really sure how to characterize that. But we got everyone there and back. Granted, it was it was a pretty high points price because the cash price was I think it'd be like $2,400 or $2,500 to fly everybody, but we got them all there and back on points. So that was a benefit to me. Because that was just money we didn't have to spend.

Then for me, like even just coming up looking into 2024 in flight. So, for example, going to Germany. Those were an amazing redemption. I totally learned how to do that from your podcast because I was mostly one of those portal booker's. So the transferring thing and learning about transfer bonuses, so for Germany next summer. Then I learned about, I literally listened to your podcast about like booking in Europe and whatever. So I was looking out however many days out. 

So I got our flights, all of us too, on Air Canada on flexible trips. Then, again, I'd also listened to the episode about being able to do the 5,000 point little extra leg, and there was a 20% transfer bonus. So I think I was like 176,000 points or something for over, I forget how much it would have been for refundable tickets. But then also including like flying into Frankfurt and then getting that little like 5,000 point thing where like a week later we're going to go to Berlin. Being able to do that, and I think that was like a 5.2 cent redemption value or something bananas.

Then coming back on Air France because I learned all about the like discount for kids and all this sort of stuff. Both of them, there was a transfer. It was a 20% transfer bonus. So for Air Canada, we were able to transfer even less points to get there. Then the same for Air France, there was a transfer bonus. So I did the Air Canada was a transfer bonus from Chase. Coming back, Flying Blue was a transfer bonus from Capital One. It was literally just our sign on bonus for the Venture X card. I just transferred it straight over. That was like a 7.8 cents redemption or something bananas.

Then you know because I also feel like when you're just looking at one way you don't really quite get the full thing because no one really would book that cash. So even when I looked for like a comparable like round trip cash flights for all of us, it still would have been close to around $10,000. That was like $11,000 for refundable flexible, round trip. Still for those points, it's still like a four cent redemption or whatever. So, for me, it's that would have always been like the big expense of that trip. 

Another nice thing is it's just such a nice itinerary. Like I was literally able to pick the flights that like leave at the best time. Like we're going to spend a night in Paris on the way back. All this stuff where it's like I would not have picked those flights if I were paying cash. 

Recently I had one episode where my sister's getting married, and there was kind of a last minute plan to go to Mexico City. Just again, when I looked at the flights, my heart kind of sank because it's it right after Christmas. We've spent a lot of money. It was like $900 round trip. I was able to transfer, I think I transferred there was an Air Canada bonus. 

So I transferred 11,000 to the Air Canada program, got my flight there. I have the United card. So I get like the discounted saver fares or whatever. So then I only needed like 20,000 points to get back. So, again, it was like I got the whole flight for free. So it was just all right. This is a great hobby.

Devon: Yeah. I think there are so many great things that you pointed out that I think we can, again, really celebrate about using points for economy travel. I think one of the things that I always have been like so flabbergasted by and I hope never changes in terms of we always see changes in the points in miles world is I think one of the best benefits of points, like you said, not only can you book things and then if your plans change, you need to cancel them, you get the points back. That is much less onerous than when you are trying to book a lot of these cash fares. 

But I also love this ability to mix and match and book one way flights. Because, like you said, for the most part, if you're going to be booking any flight in cash, it is going to be so much more expensive if you try to piece together one way legs or one way itineraries versus booking an entire itinerary round trip. 

There are a couple of points programs where you do get a better deal if you are booking an entire round trip itinerary using points, but that's actually the minority of frequent flyer programs or airline programs. Really, the majority of programs will price out a round trip points flight as just twice what two one way itineraries or one way flights costs. 

I really love this ability, like you said, to mix and match, especially going to someplace like Europe where there are lots of different airlines that run routes between the States and Europe where you can book, like you said, on through Air Canada for one way, and then you can go through a totally different airline, totally different booking program to come home. 

Because, again, thinking just about options that expands your options so exponentially than if you are really tied to a single airline. Where you find a great itinerary on United one way over, but if you're booking in cash, again, you really have to book that round trip ticket to get a decent deal. Maybe there are not great options for you to come home. 

So I think that there are so many amazing deals to be had booking economy travel. Again, one person, five people using points. Especially if you are trying to move a larger group of people, just the nature of award availability. There's almost always more flight award seats available to book on a given flight in economy or Premium Economy than there is going to be in business class. 

So just from the perspective of having, again, more options, more choices available to you. I think being able to use your points for economy travel can be such a great option. 

One of the things that we have for us is coming up again, we're tied. If we want to travel with our kids and we don't want to be completely disruptive to their schedules, we are kind of tied to their school vacation schedule when we're thinking about taking them places longer than a weekend. 

So we have our kids’ Spring Break that's coming up that I planned, of course, whatever it was down to the day. The minute that a lot of these booking calendars opened up. We knew that we wanted to take them to Costa Rica. There are only a few direct flights even in between Chicago and where we're going in Costa Rica. 

Again, because of the nature of I think it's just the time that we're traveling, the fact that there are not a million different airlines flying a million different routes there. Whenever there's decreased just inventory, I feel like airlines can and do price their cash prices through the roof. 

Even round trip economy, regular economy tickets for us on direct flights from Chicago to Costa Rica were pricing out at like $2,400 a person. That's like no bells, no whistles. Nothing fancy. If I didn't have also United credit card, I'd probably still have to pay you know to check the bags and do all of that stuff. 

Again thinking about close to $10,000 in cash for round trip economy tickets for what I'm sure would be a very lovely vacation, but I'm just not. I could just could not stomach that personally. I just think of so many other things that that cash could do. So for us, I very easily booked those flights in economy where it's going to get us there. It's a direct flight, and it’s saving us so much money. 

So again, I'm also obviously a huge proponent of flying more premium cabins when you're able to or if that is even something that you want, but I never want to ignore how many potential possibilities there are to do really, really incredible things with points for economy travel. So thank you so much for sharing your different travel plans, your experiences, and also highlighting, I think that amazing opportunity.

Whenever you can take advantage also of a transfer bonus, it is really incredible to me how points cheaply you can book flights, especially some of these long international flights. To leverage a transfer bonus and to be able to book from the US to Europe. Sometimes we can see prices as low as like 11,000 points one way per person in economy. 

Like you said, one credit card bonus. If I can cover five people flying one way from the US to Europe or vice versa, I don't think anybody's going to argue that that is not an amazing use of points whatsoever. 

Erika: Yeah, and I think a lot of people are probably who do this hobby are probably in the situation my husband and I are in. Most of our income is W2 income. We do have some small business stuff on the side, which does allow us to use business credit cards, but we don't have massive spend that we're going to be able to put on them. 

So when I hear people talking about I've got a million points in this currency and a million points in that currency, I'm never going to get there, which is fine. You know what I mean? But I can still travel if I'm doing kind of the economy redemptions. I did look into seeing whether I could get us business class flights to or from Europe. I just like laughed out loud. I mean, it was like basically one seat would have used up our entire points inventories. I was like well, okay. Maybe one day.

Devon: Yeah. I think this just comes back to kind of the whole theme of this conversation about just being really aware of just what are your values? What are your priorities when it comes to travel? How can points impact and influence that and just help you express some of those values. 

If the point is we want to get out. We want to see the world. We want to have these experiences as an individual person or as a family. Points can help make that possible then I consider that an amazing win. Whether or not you're getting, quote unquote, low or bad redemption value for your points or some amazing redemption value. 

Because I think sometimes we, we meaning me, can get very caught up in those numbers and feeling like oh my gosh. If I'm not taking full advantage of my points then I really shouldn't do this. I shouldn't book this trip, or I shouldn't use them in this way. I think that, ultimately, at the end of the day, these points just exist for us to have the experiences that we're looking for. So those don't have to look identical between every single one of us or even identical between all of our trips and all the travel that we choose to make. 

So Erika, just thank you so much for joining me here today. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your perspective, your thoughts on all of the things that we've discussed. This has been so enjoyable for me. I know people are going to take away so many great pearls from this conversation. For people who are interested in learning more about you and what you do in the world, where can people find you after this podcast?

Erika: Yeah, well, I also host a podcast. It has nothing to do with credit card points. So I'm not sure how of interest it would be but it's called Air Health Our Health. So, again, just as a reminder, I'm a lung doctor and an ICU doctor. So we're in our fourth season. Interview a lot of people on the air we breathe and how it affects our health. 

I have a couple of travel related episodes. One called pregnancy, planes, and pollution, which is about the impact of living under an airport. Another one about kind of some noise impacts that was part of a PM2.5 episode. So yeah. I do a lot on climate and health. So yeah, Air Health Our Health. It's on Instagram, Facebook, and then there's a podcast. It should be wherever you get your podcasts. Let me know if not, and I'll put it in that feed too. 

Devon: All right, and we'll include all of that information in the episode show notes. Again, Erika, thank you so much for joining me today. Everybody, thank you for listening to another episode of the Point Me to First Class podcast. I will see you back here again same time, same place next week. Have a great week, everybody.

Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.

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