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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – United MileagePlus Explorer

One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives: the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced, and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

Moving forward, I want to share these success stories with all of you more often, to help inspire you the way you inspire me! So every other week or so I’ll select a story that catches my eye and post it here for everyone to enjoy. Two weeks ago I posted a story from TPG reader Ryan, who is taking a month long trip around the world later this year, paid for almost entirely with points and miles.

Today I want to share a story from TPG Readers Mark & Katie, who used their travel rewards to book an incredible sounding trip to Seoul and Tokyo this summer. Here’s what they had to say:

Mark and Katie will be flying in business class on the 787 Dreamliner to Seoul and back from Tokyo! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

We’ve been reading TPG and following you on social media for about a year and a half now. After seeing your most recent post about reader success stories, we thought we’d share ours, since we’re taking our first ever award trip and it’s all thanks to you!

We’ll be traveling to Seoul and Tokyo this summer, and all of our airfare and hotel accommodations has been taken care of using miles and points. We challenged ourselves not only to book business class round-trip awards, but also to find long-haul routes on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Luckily for us, Star Alliance gave us plenty of options, including United, Air Canada, and ANA. 

Because Star Alliance was the obvious choice, we knew exactly which points and miles we needed to earn. We both got the United MileagePlus Explorer card (back when it had a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles) and the Chase Freedom card, and we got one Chase Sapphire Preferred card (when the sign-up bonus was 50,000 points back in November of 2013, with an additional 5,000 points for an authorized user).  

We netted 215,000 points and miles through sign-up bonuses, and then put ALL of our spending on the Sapphire Preferred, making sure to utilize the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal as much as possible for online purchases. We hoarded and saved for just over a year, and finished with almost 350,000 total points and miles between our Ultimate Rewards and United MileagePlus accounts. We also had about 25,000 Hyatt points from various stays, including some at MGM properties in Las Vegas.

With all that, we were able to book the following:

• Two business class tickets from Seattle-Vancouver-Seoul with Air Canada on the 787 Dreamliner.
• Two business class tickets from Seoul-Tokyo on Asiana Airlines.
• Two business class tickets from Tokyo-San Jose, CA with ANA on the 787 Dreamliner. 
• Four nights at The Grand Hyatt in Seoul. 
• Five nights split between The Park Hyatt and The Hyatt Regency in Tokyo. 

If it wasn’t for your posts and knowledge, we would have never been able to execute such a detailed plan. We’re very excited for this vacation, and even more so because it will be 90% free! Thank you a thousand times over, and happy travels!

One thing that I think trips up a lot of new award travelers is that you need a bit of patience. Earning the points and miles you need isn’t really that difficult, but you do have to put in some time and effort to plan your trip, find award availability that works for you, and book your travel. It’s all worthwhile though; as Mark and Katie demonstrated, the payoff for developing a plan and seeing it through can be huge. Their trip could easily cost $20,000 if they paid cash, but they’re paying only a small fraction of that.

Poolside at the Grand Hyatt Seoul

I love this story, and I want to hear more like it! To thank Mark and Katie for sharing their experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending them a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on their travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

If the tips and strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination, or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me (and the whole TPG team) with your own award travel success stories by emailing and putting “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, and a gift card to jump-start your next adventure (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course).

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.