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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.
I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! Every so often I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!
Early this month I posted a success story from Chris, who took a trip with his girlfriend to visit Japan for the first time. Two weeks ago I changed things up with an unsuccess story from Mark, who learned the hard way why it’s important to bring the right credit card with you to the airport. Today I want to get back to the sunny side of award travel with a story from TPG reader Jake, who used travel rewards to plan a lengthy honeymoon trip around the world. Here’s what he had to say:
18 months ago, my best friend agreed to marry me! While she went to work planning an incredible wedding, I set my mind on planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to follow it: our 25-day honeymoon around the world. As recent college graduates, a lofty global adventure seemed financially daunting. However, months earlier I had signed up for a few credit cards to stockpile some travel rewards and cash back, knowing a honeymoon was (hopefully!) around the corner. Once the engagement was official, I kicked my efforts into full gear.
I dreamed, read, researched, made and canceled reservations, and checked The Points Guy more times than I care to count. Over the course of nine months, my (then) fiancée and I applied for a total of 25 credit cards (using the 91-day strategy) and acquired more than one million points and miles to make our dream honeymoon a reality.
One year later, our adventure began. We started out with a modest award flight to Cancún (at half the normal cost thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass). We spent a week there relaxing at our parents’ timeshare (thanks Mom and Dad!).
From Cancún, we embarked on a whirlwind four-day journey, starting with a flight in American Airlines domestic first class to New York, and a night at the Intercontinental Times Square using one of our IHG free night certificates from last year’s Into the Nights promotion. That saved us a few hundred dollars, and the room was the nicest we had stayed in (at least, up to that point).
Next, we flew to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific’s business class on the 777-300ER. Neither of us had flown in a premium cabin before; the experience was to die for, and the crew even brought us a box of chocolates and a card they all signed to congratulate us on our marriage! After another free night at the Intercontinental Hong Kong (which again saved us several hundred dollars), we flew Malaysia Airlines business class to Kuala Lumpur and ultimately to Bali (on TPG’s recommendation). In total, those four legs of flying cost us just 50,000 AAdvantage miles each (after the 10% mileage rebate from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard).
We split our time in Bali between an AirBnB (paid for with miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus), the Conrad Bali (paid for with 100,000 points from the Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass card) and the Ritz-Carlton Bali (paid for with 100,000 points from the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card). We also received free breakfast from the Conrad and Ritz-Carlton thanks to my elite status from the two co-branded credit cards.
At the end of a magical week in Bali, we hopped on a short Tigerair flight to Phuket, Thailand (paid for with Arrival miles). We spent two nights at the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, enjoying the scenery at Maya Bay and the Phi Phi Islands. We then redeemed JAL miles (transferring points we earned from the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex) for a flight on Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui. We redeemed one of our two free night certificates from the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card at the Conrad Koh Samui, which was without question the most magical hotel we’ve ever seen or visited!
We then flew Bangkok Airways again to Bangkok, where we spent 36 hours meeting tigers, checking out the floating markets and enjoying a lovely stay at the Millennium Hilton on the river. The free lounge access we had thanks to my Hilton HHonors Gold status fed us breakfast, cocktails and a light dinner, so we barely spent any money at all.
On our return trip, we took advantage of a United Airlines award sale to fly home in business class using 70,000 miles each (earned from our United MileagePlus Explorer cards and Chase Sapphire Preferred card). From Bangkok, we flew on a Turkish Airlines A330 to Istanbul, where we briefly visited the extraordinary lounge and enjoyed a Turkish coffee before continuing on to Cairo.
During our brief time in Cairo, we toured the pyramids and Sphinx, the Egyptian museum and other legendary attractions. We finished the night with a Nile View room at the Ramses Hilton and cocktails in the hotel lounge — again, complimentary. The following morning we flew to Frankfurt as part of the same United award and briefly explored the city during an eight-hour layover. Finally, we flew nonstop on a Lufthansa 747 back home to Los Angeles, arriving well rested and excited to tell friends, family and loved ones about our globetrotting honeymoon.
All told, we spent less than $1,000 to enjoy long-haul business class travel on some of the world’s premier airlines, and a number of luxury hotels along the way. The money we saved allowed us to splurge on other adventures that helped make our trip even more incredible and unforgettable. I get goosebumps just writing about it!
It was the most incredible trip of our lives, but I now realize that it doesn’t have to be just once in a lifetime. While we hope to never honeymoon again, I’m already hard at work scheming our first anniversary trip to Paris, Cannes and Cinque Terre. Without your help, none of this would have been possible. Thank you for all that you’ve shared. My wife and I are forever grateful!
Jake’s story is a great illustration of how much value you can get out of award travel when planning ahead. He began accumulating points and miles before the trip (or the wedding) was even on the books. Points and miles make a bad long-term investment, so you don’t want them collecting dust in your accounts for too long. However, getting started early will help you secure the flight and hotel awards you want. Of course, there are also plenty of opportunities to book great award travel at the last minute.
Jake and his wife also did a great job maximizing bonuses and benefits from some of the top travel rewards credit cards. They put free night certificates from IHG and Hilton to good use, as well as the elite status earned from the Hilton and Ritz cards. 25 credit card applications in nine months is a lot (even when split between two people), and I wouldn’t recommend such an intense strategy to everyone. However, if you stay organized, make full payments on time and keep tabs on your credit score, the risk is low and the rewards are high (no pun intended).
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Jake for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course), and I’d like to do the same for you.
Again, if the 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 by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). You’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you! 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.
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.