Using up my air miles

When I was working I had teams in India and used to visit quite frequently. Over the years I built up 106,000 Emirates air miles, which are soon running out. This has given me the opportunity to try to use them up and get myself a final trip back to India to see my old friends. This blog is about the challenges that I have faced trying to book. It is a real first world problem story, so if that is going to irritate you, please stop reading now!

106,000 miles sounds like a lot. It would take you over four times around the world. When airmiles first started they would relate to how many miles you could get on a free flight, but these days, they are just points. I think airlines try to give you more so you think you have a big number but they aren’t actually worth as much.

I did lots of research, found some dates in February next year, when the prices are lower, and looked at return flights between Glasgow and Chennai and Delhi. I found that if I could do a flight to Chennai, I could do that with my miles plus airport taxes, and then pay for the return from Delhi. Unfortunately this didn’t work. Turns out that flying into one city in India and back from another does not count as a return, so costs nearly double. It also turns out that you can’t go one way on miles and the other with cash. You have to choose one or the other.

Emirates do what looked like a solution where you can use cash and miles, but when I tried that, the miles were worth very little, and again it was too expensive. But then I received an email telling me that till the end of the week I could buy additional miles with a 35% discount. This would be a solution that could work. I could buy 71,000 extra miles and then fly to Delhi and back using miles alone.

But then I hit technical problems. The website took me through the whole process, as far as taking my credit card details and checking with my bank, before saying “There has been a problem” and dumping me out. Emirates told me I was using the wrong browser, so I changed that but no success. My bank tells me that there is no issue at their end. So now I am sitting here, waiting for “the back end team” to call me back, and hopefully give me a solution before the offer runs out tonight and it becomes too expensive again.

As I said earlier, I know this is a first world problem, and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to even consider a flight to India. I also know that long haul flights have a massive carbon impact, so maybe I should not be going. But India is such a great country, and I have so many friends that I never properly said goodbye to when I left work, due to the pandemic.

Any thoughts?

Why spending a month away is different

We have been in Orkney for a while now. The first couple of weeks were very like any other vacation. We had our sons with us and we went to see all the famous tourist attractions, such as the Ring of Brodgar (standing stone circle) and Skara Brae (neolithic village). It was a great break. But it was not really why we came here, and this week has felt different. It has been wet and windy all month, but this week particularly so. So there has been more hunkering down in front of a fire, and less tourist stuff. I have read a couple of books, and watched some new films. It is very chilled.

But I am not the kind of person to sit still for long, so I have been out discovering the less famous sites in Orkney. It is a quite incredible place, full of history. At low tide we walked across to the Brough of Birsay, where the vikings became Christians and started a monastery. Near Finstown, I climbed down through a roof hatch into Wideford Chambered Cairn, hidden on the side of a hill, where Neolithic people buried their families. We found the ruins of a rare circular church, at Earl’s Bu, next to a Viking drinking hall. Despite sideways hailstones in a gale, I found the Brock of Borthwick, an ancient tower on the edge of a cliff. It feels as if there is history around every corner here.

These are the kinds of places you never have time for in a short vacation, the kinds of places known by locals. And I have found that talking to local people has been another difference. Perhaps also because we are out of season, I feel that we are treated less as outsiders on this trip. I have met fascinating people. I had a personal history education session from a guide at Maeshowe visitor centre. I found out about Stromness in the Royal British Legion Club. The local butcher knows me by name.

I even heard about a place called “Happy Valley” which I have not seen in any of the tourist books, and has no signposts. Orkney has very few trees and has quite a bleak landscape. So 70 years ago, a man called Edwin Harrold bought a cottage on a hillside and over his lifetime, built a special garden around it, with trees, flowers, brooks and waterfalls. When he died, he passed the property on to the council and it is maintained free to visit. I am guessing that few tourists discover this special place, and when I went to see it, I felt there was no-one for miles around.

So it does feel different. Indeed, Mandy & I have been considering staying even longer. I suspect we will decide to come back to civilisation for December, but we do feel privileged to have shared these very wonderful islands for a little while.

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