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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. Please also send me your stories about award travel mistakes or trips gone wrong. In any case, if we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!
Last month I posted a success story from Tim, who took advantage of a great flight deal to plan a trip to Hong Kong with his son. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Adrian, who used travel rewards to book a Christmas vacation for his family. Here’s what he had to say:
Until recently my wife had never been to New York, but it was on her bucket list, and I figured experiencing the city together would be a great Christmas gift to her and our family of three. Thanks to the wealth of information, guidance and encouragement I’ve gotten from TPG, we were able to make the trip this year at a greatly reduced cost!
Over the past two years I’ve been traveling for business, mostly flying on Southwest and staying with Hampton Inn. I’ve earned Rapid Rewards and Hilton HHonors points in the process, and I wanted to begin leveraging the rewards from my business travel for personal use outside of work. During a flight last April, I found an offer for 50,000 points from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card, and I was able to get instantly approved on my iPad from the air.
Within a month, my wife and I met the spending requirement and earned the sign-up bonus. With that in hand, we decided to go for the Southwest Companion Pass by applying for a second card. In July we found another offer for 50,000 points (this time from the Southwest Plus Card), and once again we met the spending requirements and earned the bonus within a month. Combined with my previous spending and points earned on business flights, I fairly easily earned the Companion Pass.
With the momentum of success and a little more confidence, I started expanding my travel rewards portfolio. My goal was to have additional flexibility on our trip to New York, and to get a leg up on planning an international family trip in 2017. I knew the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was one of TPG’s all-around favorites, and that Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel programs or redeemed for fun activities, so I decided to apply.
In September I saw a sign-up bonus for 40,000 points (plus 5,000 more for adding an authorized user). Shortly thereafter, Chase released an even better offer of 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months) plus 5,000 for the authorized user. Following TPG’s advice, I sent Chase a secure message online to request a match to the better offer, and they responded by making an adjustment to my account for the additional 10,000 points!
For our flights to New York, I redeemed 16,266 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for my round-trip ticket from Denver to LaGuardia. I then leveraged the Companion Pass for my wife’s ticket, and our son (already taking his fifth round-trip domestic flight at less than one year old) came along as a lap child. Altogether, the three of us flew for just more than 16,000 points and $11.20 in security fees!
I wanted to surprise my wife with a special experience on her first trip to NYC, so on our first night I chose the Conrad Hotel New York. I decided to pay for that room out of pocket, but I booked it through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal to earn 3 points per dollar on our stay. It’s a gorgeous hotel and the staff are exemplary; my wife loved the room, which had a separate living room space where our son slept in his crib for his first night in the Big Apple.
I redeemed Hilton HHonors points for our second and third nights at the Hampton Inn Times Square–Central. It’s a Category 8 property, and unfortunately it cost 70,000 points per night since we were there during peak dates. The cash rate was more than $300 per night — that’s not an amazing redemption value, but I was okay with paying a premium for the location.
We also redeemed Ultimate Rewards to pay for a few extra luxuries and actitivites during the trip, like sedan service to and from LaGuardia, and cruise tickets booked through the travel portal. These redemptions also weren’t the best value for our points, but they helped keep our cash cost down and allowed us to splurge a bit on things we might not have enjoyed otherwise.
My personal takeaway from our trip is that it’s okay not to blow all my points to cover every last expense, and instead I can embrace the benefits of leveraging points to offset costs as I see fit. This approach worked well for us since we have our eyes on future travel, and covering some expenses with cash actually helped us take advantage of bonuses (like 3 points per dollar at restaurants on the first Friday of the month).
In all, I’m happy and grateful to have given my wife the opportunity to experience New York (she already wants to go back), and to experience the lights and atmosphere of the city during the holidays. We were taken aback by the view from Rockefeller Center and loved exploring Central Park. Seeing the Statue of Liberty was particularly special — my father-in-law has memories of it from when he immigrated to the United States long ago, and it meant a lot for us to be there together with our son. So, a heartfelt thanks to you and all the contributors that helped make this possible by sharing your knowledge, tips and experiences!
The Southwest Companion Pass is perhaps the most valuable travel reward out there (and is certainly the most popular among TPG readers). Adrian’s experience is a good example of why that’s the case, as he and his family were able to fly round-trip from Denver to New York for about $227 worth of Rapid Rewards points. It’s hard to beat a free companion fare on award tickets, and the pass is becoming even more useful with Southwest’s expanding route network, including some international destinations.
As Adrian pointed out, some of his award redemptions didn’t provide great value, but they weren’t bad. I list Hilton HHonors points at 0.5 cents apiece in my most recent monthly valuations. His stay at the Hampton Inn Times Square offered a return of closer to 0.4 cents per point, but as Adrian also pointed out, it got his family a hotel room in a prime location during peak travel dates. My valuations are meant to be used as guidelines, not as the law. The important thing is to have the kind of travel experience you want!
That said, I prefer to redeem my Ultimate Rewards points by transferring to travel partners like Hyatt and United. While you can get 1.25 cents per point by redeeming through the Chase Travel Portal, I think you’re better off using miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to cover those miscellaneous travel expenses.
Check out these posts for more info on how to get the most out of your points and miles:
- Redeeming Ultimate Rewards for Maximum Value
- 8 Hilton Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions
- Top 10 Ways to Maximize Barclaycard Arrival Miles
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Adrian 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!
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