Travel points can be used for more than just airfare, so don’t waste them

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: January 20, 2018
  • Published January 20, 2018

In my "real life," I sing in the church choir. So when we were planning for Christmas, one of the children who sings with us waved her hand in the air at practice: "I won't be here because we're flying to Orlando to see Katy Perry!"

I leaned over to one of my fellow nearly-senior-citizens to explain that Katy Perry is a pop sensation as the other kids started to sing "you're gonna hear me roooo-a-a-a-a-r!"

Our friends and relatives Outside are lucky when it comes to touring road shows. On my Facebook feed, I see friends going to see big-name shows in Las Vegas or Seattle. Then there are the big sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl or the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Down in Seattle, there's a lot of buzz about going to see the Seahawks play the Oakland Raiders in London on Oct. 14.

It seems the kids in the choir now are my new cultural arbiters. One of the other youngsters went with her family to see "Hamilton" in Chicago. On impulse, I stood up and said "I'm doing THAT!" After she came back from the trip, raving about the great performance, she started asking me every week, "Well, have you gotten your tickets?"

I "sold" the trip at home as a birthday present to myself — and Christy played along graciously. Ticketmaster sells the tickets for the Chicago production, at the CIBC Theater. If you go during the week, you can get good tickets for less than $200. Back-of-the-house seats in the last row are available for as little as $62. Of course, we went on a weekend — and I wanted some good seats. So, the two tickets were $384 each.

On a grand scale of hot tickets to popular events, that's not an outrageous sum. But still, it put more pressure on me to use points and miles for the air tickets and the hotel. The air tickets on Alaska Airlines cost 32,500 miles each. Then, using Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase credit card, the Kimpton Hotel Palomar cost about 8,800 points per night.

I'm all about collecting miles and points. Whether it's Alaska Airlines miles or Chase points, or Starwoood Preferred Guest points with American Express, these loyalty schemes enable folks to travel more. But it's not enough to just collect the points. You have to use them. That's because the points become less valuable all the time. I've talked to several travelers with more than 1 million Alaska Airlines miles. Honestly, I want to smack them on the head. You have to use the miles! Mind you, Alaska Airlines miles don't expire. But their partners change all the time — and the miles required to get an award go up and up.

Of course, there's more to do in Chicago than just seeing a show. We strolled the "Magnificent Mile" along Michigan Avenue. Every shop you can imagine has an outlet there, including Brooks Brothers, Tiffany, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. I managed to find some black socks, but made the mistake of requesting a bag, which cost an extra 7 cents! Oh — and the sales tax is just shy of 10 percent.

There are a couple of opportunities to "get high" in Chicago: either at the Skydeck at the Willis Center (formerly the Sears Tower), or 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Building. Both views are spectacular.

There's no shortage of great places to eat. Check out The Dearborn, just south of the Chicago River at 145 N. Dearborn St. I opted for the pastrami hash, which was worth writing home about. The Brussels sprouts are what sold me on the dish, but the Gruyere cheese made me want to lick the bowl! The bloody marys were delicious as well. For Sunday brunch, they had a jazz band come in — they were good.

Before our theater visit, we stopped into the Seven Lions restaurant right on Michigan Avenue. We chose the restaurant because it's just a couple of blocks from the theater and features a pre-theater menu between 4 and 6:30 p.m. The steak was delicious, but there are other choices, including Niçoise salad and chicken.

Take an extra day in Chicago to see some of the fabulous museums along the lake shore. There's the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. We chose the Art Institute of Chicago in part because of the museum's big collection of impressionist paintings. There are many works from masters like Renoir, Monet, Manet and Gauguin on display. There also is an exhibition of sculptures by Rodin and lots of other exhibits — but we ran out of time. The art institute is one of those venues where you could spend a week checking out all of the exhibits.

Whether you're thinking about a big game you want to see, a special concert or a Broadway production — go ahead and do it! Burn the points you've worked hard to accumulate. Then rub it in to your friends — and encourage them to do the same!