My Move to Billings, Montana and How that Impacts the Mileage Game

Last week our family moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Billings, Montana.  Previously, I was a full-time blogger, and now I’m working full-time with a church.

It’s amazing how a move impacts a mileage strategy.  Some news is good and some news is bad news.

The Bad News

1.  Southwest doesn’t fly out of Billings (or anywhere in Montana).

Since my wife and I both have a Companion Pass, it’s a huge negative.  The closest Southwest city is Denver which is about 8 hours away. That’s a huge inconvenience, but for Christmas we might just be driving down to Denver and flying out of the airport there.  Getting two free tickets out of Denver does provide some incentive.  However, once we lose our Companion Passes (mine this December and my wife next December), we probably won’t be working to get the Companion Pass again.

2.  Billings is an expensive city to fly to and from.

This rules out pursuing any fixed value credit card programs for flights out of Billings.  The flip side is that it does make miles more valuable (even though I’m not getting any more travel out of the miles).

Out of Denver (our previous home airport) we could fly in October from Denver to Buffalo (near where my family lives) for as low as $255 roundtrip. Now out of Billings, the best price is $399.

The Good News

1.  Montana doesn’t have any state sales tax.

If I ever find a good deal online at a store like Office Max or Office Depot, I can purchase the items (earning 5x with Ink Bold) and resell them on Amazon Marketplace.  I’ve done this a few times in the past, but sales tax always eats into my profits.  I’ll be able to do more buying and reselling for the sake of points.

2.  Montana requires stores to cash out gift cards of $5 or less.

This rule only applies to gift card balances that start off at $5 or more, and the balance is used to bring the total below $5.  Since I sometimes buy gift cards as a way to earn points, I’m glad to know that I can get cash for any gift card balance less than $5.  As an example, in January I was able to buy $10 Chili’s gift cards for $5 with my Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2 points per dollar.  Now, when any of those cards get below $5, I’ll just cash them out.

To see if your state has the same rules, check out this page.

3. A CVS store in town accepts credit card payments for Vanilla Reload cards.

I’ve already found a CVS store that will let me use a credit card to buy Vanilla Reload cards.  That’s going to be a great way to slowly start stockpiling miles and points.

The Adjustments

As always, I’ve found a really valuable use for Avios.  Those are nice points to have for limited markets.

Not solely related to our move, but I now think American miles are much more valuable since United started charging for date changes on award tickets.  While American doesn’t fly out of Billings, Alaska Airlines does.

Lesson for you:

I’ve always thought it was important to diversify your miles.  You never know when you’re going to move or when a mileage program might change its policies. In the end, the more diversified you are, the better prepared you’ll be to get through any changes to a program or your personal situation.

Comments

  1. SteveHOU says

    Craig,

    RE: The value of Avios

    I had a similar situation, but in reverse. I recently moved from Champaign, IL to the Lake Conroe area just north of Houston, TX. I have a companion pass on WN and we could and did fly out of MDW, IND, and STL. However, all three were 2+ hrs. drive. AA was the only service in Champaign (CMI) and their prices were very high.
    During our home search, my wife and I flew down to IAH a couple of times on AA using Avios. After we settled on a house we flew down to close and meet with a contractor for remodel work. I flew down once to meet mid-project then later drove my car down and flew back to CMI for the move.
    Using Avios for the above was a tremendous savings and benefit. We couldn’t plan our trips seven weeks out so by booking via BA with Avios we saved the $75 booking fee that AA woud charge, got priority security access and boarding plus free checked bags if we needed it. Tip: When you book your flight on BA you will not get seat assignments until you check-in for your flight without paying a fee. You can circumvent this by finding your AA record locator number via Checkmytrips then going to AA to get your seat assignments immediately after booking.
    Good luck on your new job and new life!

    • says

      Steve,
      It is amazing how the value of points change with a move. It’s always good to have a stash of miles handy.

      By the way, we used to live in north Houston for a couple of years and would head up to Conroe on the weekend. Enjoy!

  2. Rich says

    One possible solution to your SWA problem would be flying Allegiant Air direct from Billings to Vegas and connecting with SWA from there…

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