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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 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 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 Yvonne, who used AAdvantage miles from a number of different sources to take her family on vacation.
Today I want to share a story from TPG Reader Peter, who recently set (and met) his goal of earning a trip to Australia. Here’s what he had to say:
I used to have a lot of excuses for not taking advantage of loyalty programs: “I don’t fly enough to earn airline miles … I only stay a few nights a year in hotels … I like using my debit card for all of my purchases.” I’m sure you’ve heard them all. However, after reading a fair number of TPG success stories earlier this year, I figured I’d give travel rewards credit cards a try (though admittedly with a heavy dose of skepticism).
My main skepticism stemmed from my financial situation. I had a handful of cards already, but with the exception of the Amex Everyday Card, most of them were useless. I have decent credit, but I’m a young MBA student and I only spend around $25,000 on credit cards annually. I figured this was nowhere near enough to earn significant rewards. I was wrong!
I began by setting a goal: I wanted to visit Australia. My plan was to spend up to two weeks there, hitting Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and perhaps a quick flight over to Perth for a few nights. I wanted to at least cover my airfare, but I assumed I would still have to spend a significant amount of money on hotels and other travel (wrong again).
My first step was to put away the debit card. I had been swiping it for every purchase, wanting to keep a close eye on all my spending. It was tough to let go of that habit, but I’m glad I did. I signed up for the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, and received a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in three months. I also got an offer for 25,000 AAdvantage miles from DirecTV.
These two bonuses netted me 75,000 AAdvantage miles — enough for a round-trip economy ticket booked through American, and potentially on American Airlines own metal starting in December. On my desired travel dates in mid-May 2016, a round-trip ticket would cost almost $1,700 flying from my home in West Texas — even more when flying to or from hubs other than Sydney. This netted me a redemption value of around 2.2 cents per mile.
With airfare taken care of, I then set about accumulating hotel points. I read TPG’s review of the Park Hyatt Sydney, and immediately signed up for the Hyatt Credit Card to earn two free nights at any Hyatt property worldwide after spending $2,000 in first three months. Using these for a weekend stay will net me a value of $1,411. I also got the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which helped me earn points between the sign-up bonus and several stays this summer. That’s enough for one night at the Brisbane Marriott Hotel and two nights in Sydney at the Courtyard Sydney-North Ryde. I’m tacking on an additional night in Sydney using the annual Category 1-5 free night certificate that came with my card.
At that point I had accumulated enough for six free hotel nights and a free round-trip flight (plus taxes and fees), all while spending around $5,000 on credit cards (that I was already going to spend). However, I wasn’t done. I signed up for the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, which will help me pay for two nights at the Holiday Inn – Perth City Centre, where I’ll use the Cash + Points rate of 30,000 points + $40 USD per night. It’s not the most glamorous hotel, but two nights in such a central location was hard to resist.
Finally, I got the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. I love Starwood properties, and after hitting the recently increased signup bonus (including some recent stays), I accumulated 36,000 Starwood points. I haven’t decided where I’ll use these, but I’ve got my eye on the Category 5 Westin Melbourne (where weekend rates are around $317 or 12,000 points per night).
The trip won’t be entirely free; I’ll need to purchase a one-way flight to Perth, but those start around $169 in economy on Virgin Australia. Of course, I’ll also still be paying for food and ground transportation. Brisbane to Sydney might be slightly pricey, but there are cheap flights or train tickets to be had in the $100-150 range.
My total haul includes a free round-trip flight to Australia (into Sydney or Brisbane, then returning from Perth) plus 11 hotel nights, at a cost of around $100 in taxes and fees plus $80 spent on the Cash + Points IHG reservation. My total credit card spend for all these rewards was $9,000 over the course of 8 months, all on purchases I would have previously put on my debit card.
I know these redemptions may not speak to everyone, but I feel as if this is phenomenal value, and should be enough to persuade even the most skeptical of potential travelers. Researching top rewards credit cards is a worthwhile investment, and I cannot endorse it strongly enough! I’ll be able to travel to a new destination, mainly thanks to reading TPG and staying on top of just a few very reasonable sign-up bonuses.
I’m no longer surprised when I hear skepticism about award travel. Even people who have seen firsthand what you can get out of loyalty programs and credit card sign-up bonuses seem reluctant to join the club. I can sympathize; I’m usually a bit dubious of “free” stuff as well. However, the reality is that if you’re willing to put a little time into getting a few rewards cards, keeping your accounts organized and planning a trip, you can explore the world at a massive discount.
Peter is now a believer, and he has an awesome trip planned to show for it. It’s helpful to set travel goals, partly because it helps focus your earning strategy, but also because you can book further in advance. Peter did a good job targeting cards that would help him meet his goals, and did well to get the Starwood Amex card while it had the increased sign-up bonus. Now is a great time to visit Australia (and New Zealand) thanks to the strong US dollar. I had some incredible experiences there during my first trip in 2014, and I’m sure he’s going to enjoy it.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Peter 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, 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 email@example.com 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!
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