Using American Airlines Gift Cards for a Last Minute Trip to Attend a Memorial Service

For most of us, most of the time, we have the luxury of thinking through our travel plans maybe months or even a year in advance. Especially if we’re using miles and points to book air and hotel reservations, booking way ahead is a good idea.

But what happens when we have an emergency trip that needs to be booked NOW?

That’s the situation I found myself in just last month. As I mentioned here, there was a death in my family and I wanted to get to Florida for the memorial service.

Here were my parameters:

  • My flight was from San Diego to Florida on specific dates, both on the outbound and inbound.
  • I had to fly into Fort Lauderdale (FLL).
  • I had to land at FLL in the evening so my cousin could pick me up after work.
  • I had to leave late in the day after the Miami Dolphins game. Don’t ask, my cousins are nuts for those Dolphins and luckily they won their game so everyone was in good spirits.

Here’s what I did and how I made my decisions. See what you think!

Even though I’ve flown this route before and are familiar with the players, I still like to check both and Google Flights to see the cash prices, routes, and times. This helps me decide whether cash or miles is the way to go.

Yes, JetBlue has a nonstop, but I’m just not a red-eye kind of traveler. I like my hazel eyes just fine, thank you!

Next, I checked all the airlines for the award seats in economy. I have miles and points spread out in various programs. I do, as I’m sure you do, have a sense of how many miles I’m willing to spend on an award ticket, so award tickets for 40k miles ONE WAY were easily added to the NO THANKS list. No award I checked was reasonably priced on such short notice :(

And I didn’t want to turn this into a mileage run, so routes like Alaska Airlines SAN-SEA-FLL for over $400 were out of the question.

Then as I was checking the cash prices again and saw something decent on American, the light bulb went on.

This trip would be the perfect use of some AA gift cards I had laying around. I have American as my designated airline on my American Express Platinum Charge Card, so each year for my travel credit benefit, I purchase $200 in AA gift cards. Bingo!!

Now here’s one of the best tips I ever received about buying tickets for cash when traveling domestically in the U.S. It came from Adam over at

Buy each leg of the trip separately, both outbound and inbound! This way if there are any issues, it’s much easier to work them out. And from my experience, the prices are the same as buying a roundtrip ticket. This advice has proven to be true more times than I’ll admit to, and I always follow Adam’s rule.

Sometimes, as in this case, you’ll purchase the first leg and then by the time you go to purchase the second leg the price of that leg goes up. Come on, American, I know you’re messing with us! But I can play your game with patience, as I did in this case, and by the following morning the price had come down again and I got the ticket for the original price.

So there you have it. Would you have done anything differently? Did I make a good choice? Let me know!

7 thoughts on “Using American Airlines Gift Cards for a Last Minute Trip to Attend a Memorial Service

  1. Steven

    I was just recently approved for Amex Platinum card. Do you mean that you can purchase AA gift card that will apply to your $200 Amex Fee credit if I choose AA as my airline choice? Will this work with other airlines, ie United?

      1. Steven

        Thank you Grant. Not sure if you remember me. I met you a few years ago when you had your first meet up in San Diego at UTC area. Learn a lot from you that day. Thank you. Wishing more success in the future and happy new year!

        1. Grant

          Thank you Steven, I’m better at remembering faces than names, but I’m heading down to San Diego for the last weekend of April. I’m planning on a meetup. Stay tuned for more details.

  2. Raul

    I keep my AA giftcards stowed away for rainy days. Think I have somewhere around 1,200 in AA GCs. My problem is I have only 2 weeks vacation per year but way more points than I can use up. Been thinking of cashing out other points for giftcards and using them to buy me a drone.

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