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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! From time to time 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!
Recently, I posted a success story from Caroline, who took her family to Ireland at a huge discount using points and miles. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Burl, who overcame his fear of flying (at least in part) thanks to his interest in award travel. Here’s what he had to say:
My entire adult life has been hampered by a terrible fear of flying. To give you an idea of how intense that fear can be, in 2011 I abandoned an amazing three-week adventure through Central Mexico with my wife, because I couldn’t even get myself onto the first flight. Fortunately, my outlook has changed a lot since then, and I wanted to share the story of how award travel played a role in enabling me to confidently board a plane.
I started graduate school in archaeology a few years ago, with fieldwork promised in Southern Italy. I was stressed out knowing that my position would require a lot of flying, but after the Mexico debacle, I was determined to work through it. I began researching every aspect of air travel with the idea that normalizing the entire flight experience would ease my mind. That’s when I found TPG.
Given my aversion to flight, I hadn’t paid much attention to travel rewards previously, but soon I was hooked. I enjoyed reading reviews of business/first-class cabins and other premium experiences, but I was most interested in all the tips and tricks to maximize business travel. Turning flying into a game helped me get used to it; instead of thinking about air travel only when it made the news (like after an accident), I was thinking about the different airlines, routes, seat configurations, elite benefits and more.
I made it to Italy, and even traveled with my wife beforehand to make up for the Mexico trip. Having learned about routing rules, we were able to spend three days in Montreal during our outbound trip. I also picked up the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and a few others, and started earning points through sign-up bonuses and spending. However, my anxiety persisted. Reading about flying was one thing, but actually doing it was another. I felt slightly better about it, but irrational fears are hard to pin down, and anti-anxiety meds were the only way I made it through the flights.
In April, I was offered a chance to attend an archaeological field course high in the Argentine Andes. I was conflicted about the trip — anxious about flying and traveling abroad alone, but also excited about everything I’d get to experience. Ultimately, I decided to go for it.
I had an easier time than normal at the airport, thanks to the TSA PreCheck I got a few months ago after signing up for Global Entry. The flight itself started off rough, and I leaned on my usual defenses: medication, noise-canceling headphones and white-knuckling the armrests. But then I woke up somewhere above the Andes and was greeted by a sunrise over Aconcagua, the tallest peak outside of the Himalayas. For the first time I can remember, my excitement outweighed my fear, and the journey no longer felt like a monstrous wall to climb. I was glued to my window for the rest of the flight.
The trip turned out to be a great success! Apart from the field course, I had a few extra days to hang out in Buenos Aires, so I booked a stay at the Anselmo Hilton. I was able to check in early (8:30 am) thanks to the Gold status I got from my Hilton HHonors Surpass Card. It was Sunday morning, and the legendary San Telmo market was raging outside, so I took a shower and hit the ground for over 10 miles of exploration, followed by the finest steak of my life. I was also able to check out an exhibition at the national library with manuscripts from one of my favorite authors. It was exhilarating (for a book nerd, at least), and I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t get on the plane.
Now, I’m not saying that TPG solved my anxiety issues. However, it was one of the tools I used to help myself get over them, and I really do feel like I’ve gotten over them, as air travel has gained a degree of normalcy in my mind. Soon I’ll be graduating, and I’ll have a good amount of points, miles and know-how to put toward an awesome vacation. I wanted to send this note to let you know that what you do is helpful even beyond the elite status, upgrades and free travel. Thank you!
As someone who loves to travel, I’m fortunate to feel pretty comfortable on an airplane (when there’s enough legroom, that is). Like most frequent flyers, I’ve had a few uneasy experiences in the air. However, I know that flying is incredibly safe, especially when you board a flight in the US. When I hit turbulence, I try to just take in the scenery and remember all the wonderful aspects of air travel. As Burl discovered, there’s nothing like the amazing views you get from a plane to help soothe your nerves.
Travel can be intimidating in other ways, like going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, being by yourself, or even just booking a complicated award for the first time. One of my prime motivations in starting TPG was to help people get out there and see the world, and confronting any anxieties you may have about travel is an important part of that. I’m grateful to have played a part in Burl’s trip to Argentina, and I hope his story will inspire you to overcome whatever is standing between you and your destination.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Burl for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future 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!
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