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Honeymoon Travel with Points and Miles

by on July 23, 2014 · 28 comments

in Arrival Plus, Barclays, Capital One, Starwood, TPG Contributors

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Today, TPG Contributor Jason Steele offers his insights on how to use points and miles to make the most of your honeymoon.

Planning vacations with your travel rewards is what this hobby is all about, so how is planning a honeymoon any different than a normal vacation? As you’ll see below, I make the case that a honeymoon is unlike any other vacation you’ll take, and using points and miles to do so is one of the ultimate challenges.

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Here’s why:

1. You can’t “be flexible” with your travel. The first rule of award travel planning is to “be flexible”. While this is important advice on how to find scarce award seats, it’s nearly useless when it comes to planning your honeymoon. You can’t just tell your future spouse to pick a wedding date based on airline award availability, and most couples aren’t going to be happy choosing a destination solely based on where available award seats pop up.

2. You might not be able to build your reward balances in advance. In addition to flexibility, award travel is often about planning your trips far in advance. Couples often choose their wedding date with plenty of time to find award tickets, but not necessarily enough time to earn the points and miles needed.

3. There’s no room for error. Normally, I would have no problem booking a vacation on an island within a hurricane or typhoon zone, or to a place that has a history of political trouble. After all, travel is an adventure, and we wouldn’t see much of the world if we confined ourselves to the safest, most reliable destinations. Besides, you can always cancel or postpone a trip if the timing isn’t right.

But a honeymoon is an entirely different type of vacation. You don’t want to start your marriage with a series of travel disruptions or an “adventure” riding out a hurricane or a political uprising. Nor do you want the added stress of worrying about contingencies when you’ll already have plenty of other things on your mind in planning the wedding itself.

Given these considerations, let’s take a look at strategies for using award travel options to book your honeymoon.

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tips for planning a honeymoon with points and miles

1. If you have airline miles, focus on the air travel first. Air travel is going to be the most critical part of your award trip, and the part that needs to be planned furthest in advance if you’re going to use points and miles. Airlines make very few award seats available at the lowest mileage levels, especially to popular tourist destinations. My advice is to start thinking about honeymoon destinations soon after you have a wedding date, and look for award space right away.

2. Don’t worry too much about business and first class. You might imagine jetting off on your honeymoon in business or first class, but you can’t plan your trip around that idea. In my opinion, you’re better off booking an award trip to your preferred destination in economy class and saving your cash and rewards for other expenses, rather than letting premium cabin availability cloud your choice of destination. My wife and I flew in economy class on our honeymoon, and we were too excited to know the difference. Besides, you can take consolation in the fact that many of the new style business and first class cabins don’t even allow couples to sit very close to each other, which is never a problem in economy.

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

3. Splurge on hotels. When people think about travel rewards, they often think about airline miles first. Yet hotel points are perfect for honeymoon travel. First, major hotel programs such as Starwood, Hyatt, and Hilton offer awards valid for any available standard room with no blackout dates or capacity restrictions, so couples can plan their award travel around their wedding date, not the other way around. In addition, honeymooners tend to spend a lot more time in the hotel than other travelers, so you’ll want to stay somewhere nice. Thankfully, hotel points can be especially valuable when redeemed for luxury properties at vacation destinations.

4. Consider fixed value credit card reward programs. Both the Capital One Venture Rewards and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus offer double miles for all purchases, and miles are worth one cent apiece as statement credits towards travel rewards. This type of fixed value rewards program has several advantages. First, there’s no need to worry about award availability, since points are redeemed for paid travel. Second, you can use the points on any airline or hotel, so you’re not limited to a specific award program. Couples can use these cards to pay for their weddings and other expenses during their engagement, and on their honeymoon itself. They can then claim their rewards after they return for any airfare, hotel, car rental, vacation package, or even a cruise that’s paid for on the card.

5. Think about air travel passes. Whether you arrive overseas on a paid or an award ticket, you can book an air travel pass to maximize travel at your destination. Since honeymoons tend to be longer vacations, air travel passes are ideal for those who want to visit more than one place. Furthermore, honeymooners tend to seek far off islands and resorts that can be very expensive to reach. The beauty of air travel passes is that the price is fixed based on the distance flown, and unlike award travel, availability is virtually unlimited. My wife and I used an air travel pass when we went to Brazil on our honeymoon, and it allowed us to visit some very remote and exotic destinations while saving us a tremendous amount of money.

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Advice from a soon-to-be groom

Finally, I spoke with a fried of mine, William Nagle, a points and miles enthuiast who is currently planning his own honeymoon. He offered the following suggestions:

  • Call hotel agents and ask for advice on ways to redeem points.  William found that hotel agents are very friendly toward newlyweds, and are happy to help you get the best value from your award travel.  We also learned different ways to redeem points with SPG that we were unaware of, such as Starwood’s SPG50 awards.
  • In the event that award space is unavailable, look for award space a day or two out from today.  This will give you at least some idea how much award space the airline will open as they get closer to the flight date.
  • Have a backup. If there is no award space and the promise of it opening up closer to the departure date is promising, purchase a refundable plane ticket and wait to see if the award space becomes available. The purchased ticket is insurance so that you’ll be able to take your trip either way, but you’ll get your money back (dependent on the airline policy) if the award space opens up.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.dovertime.com dovertime

    I wrote a 8 part series on how I used points and miles for our 3.5 week honeymoon road trip! The trip was amazing and it was my first big splash into the points and miles world (particularly with decent hotels). We often think about reliving the honeymoon someday!

    http://www.dovertime.com/blog/2013/12/30/honeymoon

  • Andy

    My fiance and I are currently planning our honeymoon now and it involves no relaxation at all!!! We are fairly adventurous when we travel and prefer to be on the go as much as possible.

    Starting in Chicago and flying into London on United, via miles (30k United + UR transfer).
    Staying at London Churchill via 4 free nights (1 Hyatt card each).

    Taking chunnel to Paris.
    Not sure which hotel we are staying at yet, might need to pay out of pocket.

    Flying Paris to Venice, I suspect via EasyJet :(
    Staying at Venice Hilton Milono Stucky (2 weekend night passes)

    Train from Venice to Florence
    Not sure which hotel we are staying at yet, might need to pay out of pocket.

    Train from Florence to Rome
    Staying at Comfort Inn Bolivar via Choice Privileges points

    Departing from Rome back to Chicago (via Madrid) using American points.

    Still have a few nights that maybe we can get some points and book with.
    We know our wedding will cost quite a bit and so we are paying it off early with credit cards which has been great.

  • dcsells

    Very good advice. Don’t forget, though, to put all those wedding expenses (including but not limited to honeymoon travel) on cards with mega-bonuses for high thresholds. You may never again spend $20,000 in three months without batting an eye! Even if someone else (e.g., bride’s parents) are generously paying for some or all of it, see if you/your spouse can work out an arrangement with them where you put everything on your cards, and they pay you back.

  • Naks

    Another thing– let the hotels know that it’s your honeymoon. Even on points we were able to get free bottle of champagne and other awesome touches.

    We did splurge on business class on trip back (think of when your honeymoon is a lot of travelling, it’s nice to relax) which we really enjoyed.

  • Mike

    I am getting married in about 5 months on NYE and can speak very well to this. I disagree with a few things in this article. If you are smart and plan well and get the right sign up bonuses you can have everything. The total cost of my wedding is probably close to 60k, so you can reach sign up bonuses on every single major credit card. If you have a one year engagement period and start planning aggressively you can KILL it.

    We are going on a 2 week honeymoon immediately afterwards in California down the Pacific Coast Highway. I booked free first class tickets (Chase Ultimate Rewards with United) and free Starwood rooms for 8 of the 13 nights we will be away (I am staying at a Starwood whenever physically possible, but need to stay at a few non-Starwood properties along the way out of necessity).

    How did I do it? We are getting married at a Sheraton. Starwood runs a wedding special where if you are getting married at one of their properties you get a sign up bonus of Starwood points in addition to the regular points you earn on money spent at a Starwood property, and on top of all that you get Starwood points for every dollar your guests spend staying over at the hotel.

    For example, to use a round number, if your wedding contract at the hotel is worth approximately $30k, you get 30k Starwood points up front on signing the contract (Hilton has a similar program, but the bonus points come after the wedding so they are useless for the honeymoon). After the wedding is over, you receive an additional 60k points as a Starwood Preferred member, PLUS Starpoints on every dollar your guests spend staying at the hotel. We are having a NYE wedding of 200+ people, so I think we will benefit from this a lot. If you pay for that $30k with an Amex Starwood card, you’re going to earn an additional 2x points per dollar. So that $30k venue expenditure can literally translate into well over 100k Starpoints!

    EVERY POINTS COLLECTOR SHOULD GET MARRIED AT A STARWOOD HOTEL!!! Stay away from the banquet halls and country clubs. You’re spending the money anyway, why not structure this so you can travel for free? I have so many Starpoints left over from this that I am already planning several trips for the next year.

  • http://www.dovertime.com dovertime

    This is insanely awesome!!!!!

  • Bill

    To add to this:

    I am getting married in September and can attest with a little planning you should be fine for most of your trip goals.

    I already had some points prior to getting engaged with UR, but other than that not much.

    We are doing 2 weeks in Hawaii, flying first class on AA and united. Staying 13 nights free at hyatt hotels, grand club rooms and some regular rooms. Applied for the diamond challenge so I will temporarily be a diamond for my whole trip.

    We signed up for AA cards which were easy to get the 75k miles we needed for 1 way. United card with some additional UR points got the united flight.

    Hyatt we used the remainder of my UR points for some nights along with both signing up for the hyatt credit card to get 4 nights paid for.

    2 weeks of rental cars were from the hertz amex daily getaways this year.

    I think the total cash value of my trip is something like $17,000-$20,000 and I have paid a total of about 400$ with fees, and buying the amex daily getaway stuff.

    There are certainly ways to do this, just make sure you pick a place early enough so you can book flights the day they come available online for awards. Definitely could have split my stays up to non hyatt hotels but I had the points and at the time it seemed like my best bet. If I did it again I might have looked into some other programs as hotels you have more time to decide on booking, even now I could book hotels. Flights are so critical time wise though, so get on those cards asap so you have miles to book as soon as they are available.

  • Lynn

    I’m getting married in September and going to Southeast Asia on points in November. Can’t wait!

  • sam miller

    I’m getting married in 10 days and this post got me incredibly excited for my upcoming 3 week honeymoon. Since my fiancee and my relationship started as two years of long distance between Dallas and New York, we naturally gravitated towards the pointing community. By the time we landed on a wedding date (14 months in advance) our point coffers were pretty flush and we were geared up to start searching for airline award availability.

    Using pre-devaluation United miles (transferred from Chase UR) we’re flying business from JFK to Vietnam on EVA and then on to Italy on Swiss before returning home on Lufthansa. United’s flexible stopover policy allowed us to redeem this “round trip to Italy with a 10 day layover in Vietnam” for 120,000/ticket.

    On the hotel front, we found Hyatt points to have the most utility. We’re staying at the Park Hyatt Saigon (12k/night), the Hyatt Da Nang (12k/night) and the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong (redeemed a free night from the credit card). I love the fixed value cards recommendation like the Barclays arrival and Capital One which came in very handy for boutique hotels in Italy.

    The honeymoon for someone in the pointing community is definitely different from every other vacation. It’s the opportunity to fully maximize all the skills and lessons learned. Thank you points guy for helping to make this dream of a honeymoon a reality!

  • dcsells

    “Honey, I know you wanted to get married at that scenic mountaintop vista. But this Sheraton conference room has a lot going for it, too.”

  • Shana

    Awesome! I did something similar for my wedding 1.5 years ago, except it was at a Hilton (there were no Starwood wedding properties in my city). I used the Hilton Citi Reserve card and got the two free weekend nights plus about 100k points which we used for our summer vacation (booked before the devaluation)!

  • Marnie

    When I planned my wedding, it took an entire year to plan. I had to put down a lot of deposits, never mind that the most expensive single item besides the venue was my dress which I bought 9 months in advance. I used my United Card for just about every single purchase.

    We booked an open-jaw ticket using points to Thailand and return via Singapore. The only thing we didn’t use points for were the hotel rooms due to the hotels we selected and our registry was our honeymoon (we already lived together and had what we wanted): Peninsula (Bangkok), Ritz Carlton (Singapore), and private villa in Bali. However, our points got us to Southeast Asia and in-between countries.

  • Marnie

    I like this!

  • http://www.twototravelandtango.com Two to Travel and Tango

    My wife and I got married a year ago, and we did our honeymoon to New Zealand, in the peak of their summer, with points and miles. So I’d love to add a few tips for anyone planning a honeymoon.

    1. Be as flexible as you can. We sat down and decided where we would want to go, and it wasn’t just one destination. New Zealand excited us. Vietnam and Cambodia did as well. And so in my searches for flights, we had a rule- whichever one open up first, is where we’re doing our honeymoon. When two business class tickets to Auckland opened up on miles, we were ready to book!

    2. If you want to use miles, book early. We booked our flights 11 months out. That’s way in advance, but it also then made it easier to nail down rooms on points, and get good rates (I went back and rate compared) than if we had waited.

    3. Every hotel you go to, repeat after me when filling out the reservation request: Looking forward to celebrating our honeymoon with your hotel. At every hotel we stayed at throughout those 3 weeks, we either got a room upgrade or a bottle of wine. It also was a great conversation starter with the front desk agents and just added to the fun of the trip. So when booking, write the magic words in the “other requests” column.

    I think that’s it from our side. Have fun. Oh, and if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, pay your caterer on the first Friday of a month. The bonus 3x a dollar on that day, very nice when you are paying off a large order!

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Great advice, #3 especially!

  • http://LukeRB.com/ Luke Bornheimer

    Wow, the caterer tip is awesome, in addition to #3. Thanks for adding your tips!!

  • James

    I disagree with the ‘You can’t “be flexible” with your travel’ comment, you definitely can. Why does your honeymoon have to be immediately after the wedding?

    I got married four months ago didn’t go on ours straight away, and there are a reasonable number of advantages. Aside from more flexibility, it also means you have a chance to de-stress from the craziness of the wedding and tiding things up before heading off, so you’ll be more relaxed. Many places will treat you as a newly-wed for up to 6 months.

    In our case we went three months later, which is a fairly long time, but that was due to the in-flexability of my wife’s job – since she’s a teacher, we got married in one set of two-week school holiday and went on the honeymoon the next.

  • http://www.twototravelandtango.com Two to Travel and Tango

    Of course! Happy to help. We’re actually writing a top honeymoon destination post, so this helped get our minds jogging with some tips for our own blog post!

  • mjtaxpro

    Do groupon getaway purchases count as travel expenses for redeeming capital one venture or Barclay arrival points?

  • Carles Latorre

    do not be sad by flying easyjet. I’m from Barcelona, and I can tell you that the worst low cost airline in Europe is by far much better than the best “flagship” carrier in the US.

  • David

    Congrats on your marriage!

    Does United still allow a free stopover policy now? and can I book only one way award ticket or it has to be round trip award per booking?

  • sam miller

    I believe the stopover policy is still in place. I’m not sure if you can use the stopover policy with a one way ticket.

  • anon

    Or just have the wedding in city hall and pocket 60k.

    You’re welcome!

  • David

    Thanks! so I have to book round trip to maximize the stop over benefit on United, right? I was sad since AA eliminated their stop over benefit.
    By the way, do you mind if I email you (or if you could please email me at apadulu at yahoo dot com, I need your advice on my upcoming honeymoon to Europe. Thanks in advance.

  • John

    Hi Carles, I am planning my honeymoon soon to Europe, do
    you know any cheap but reliable airplane or train from London to Paris, from
    Paris to Zurich, from Zurich to Milan, and then from Milan to Rome. Any advice
    on good website that many European always use to look for reliable and cheap air
    and train fares? (e.g.: in here people use kayak.com or expedia.com). Thanks in
    advance!

  • mwwalk

    Don’t forget, you can use Avios to take the Eurostar train. It used to be 4500 one way, not sure now.

  • ABeagleKnots

    I would add that a honeymoon is the one “once-in-a-lifetime” event that when needed justifies paying for the high-point “Anytime” awards that readily available when the low point awards are gone.

  • http://stjohnfun.com Shaun Stjohnfun

    Wow, great ideas for using points! Or you can book your honeymoon to the location that you and your fiancee want to visit using points for the flight, relax, and use your CC to earn more points to use on a later trip. http://stjohnfun.com has great ideas for restaurants and activities if you choose #stjohn as your honeymoon destination. Good luck guys!

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