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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 David, who took advantage of some Starwood Preferred Guest promos to earn points for a stay in Punta Cana. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Christopher, who recently took an epic award travel vacation to Southeast Asia with his wife. Here’s what he had to say:
I had been using miles to travel for about a decade, but I kicked things into a higher gear in 2012 when I started following The Points Guy. You helped me plan a 19-day points junket through France, Italy, Greece and Ireland, but I wanted to top that experience when my wife and I set out to plan a trip for our 5th anniversary. My wife loves Thai and Vietnamese food and culture, so with your guidance, we set our sights on Asia.
In the summer of 2014, we bought a condo in the Washington, D.C. area that needed renovations. We took advantage of those expenses by earning sign-up bonuses for several rewards credit cards, including The Platinum Card from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. We then maximized our remaining expenses by putting charges on our Amex Everyday Preferred card (for the 50% points bonus).
Having completed the renovations last January, we were able to use our points (along with rewards and elite status we already had) to travel this winter more than 20,000 miles in 24 days through Japan, China, Thailand and Vietnam!
We started by flying business class from D.C. to Tokyo on United, using miles from our United MileagePlus Explorer cards, as well as some points transferred from Ultimate Rewards. For most of our flights in Asia and our return to the States, we took advantage of a 40% transfer bonus from Amex to British Airways to give ourselves a huge pool of Avios to work with, and did our best to book (on JAL, Cathay Pacific and others) before the devaluation last April. We filled in the gaps with a few short-haul flights booked through Amex Travel. All told, we took 11 flights (seven in business class and four in coach), and only spent about $500 in taxes and fees.
As a former InterContinental Royal Ambassador, I had about 400,000 IHG Rewards points stored up. We used the Points + Cash trick to get the last bit we needed, and redeemed for 21 nights of accommodations (including five InterContinental hotels with suite upgrades and Club access). We spent three nights (including New Year’s Eve) in a suite at the InterContinental Hong Kong — a room that was going for around $3,200 per night when I booked it! Once again, we used Membership Rewards points to book our last few nights.
The planning got deep, and we enlisted an Excel spreadsheet to keep up with the details and make sure we paid our cards on time. We probably could have been more efficient — for example, we had to change a few of our flights through British Airways, and ended up paying the peak rate for some awards. Still, I estimated the cash price of our trip at nearly $45,000, which means we got around 4.4 cents apiece for the roughly 1,050,000 points we redeemed. We have enough points left to pay off our Amex bill for miscellaneous trip expenses, but at one cent per point, TPG says it’s not a good value!
The trip was incredible! We celebrated Christmas with friends in Tokyo, hanging out in a smoky Jazz bar and singing karaoke until the wee hours before an early sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji Market. We visited the Forbidden City, scaled the Great Wall of China and skied the slopes in Badaling. We devoured chicken knees and Singapore noodles at the Temple Street Night Market, sunbathed practically alone on Mai Khao Beach, admired the intricate mosaic of Wat Arun and took a Tuk Tuk death ride at night through the streets of Bangkok.
We popped a $1,000,000 (VND) bottle of champagne, surveyed Saigon from atop the Bitexco Tower, rode bikes through rice paddies and snaked our way in a gondola through tiny creeks in Bến Tre. We bartered with street merchants in Hanoi, kayaked and sailed on the Dragon’s Pearl Junk to a private island and had an intimate barbecue dinner in a cave. It was truly the trip of a lifetime — so many memories, experiences, cultures, foods and lifestyles to savor.
I want you to know that your posts helped us skin many cats. No, we didn’t eat one (though we saw a restaurant serving dog in Hanoi, and it smelled wonderful). We could never have afforded this trip without your help, so thank you for all that you do!
One thing that impressed me about this story is how early on Christopher and Shannon set their plans in motion. They started earning sign-up bonuses in the summer of 2014 — roughly a year and a half before their trip began! Their early work paid off, as they were able to take advantage of a large transfer bonus and book flights through British Airways prior to the devaluation. Planning far in advance can certainly help you maximize your rewards, but don’t worry if you’re working with a tighter schedule — there are plenty of opportunities to book award travel at the last minute as well.
Not every award trip has to be an epic million-point journey, but if you’re going to go big, then it pays to stay organized. Juggling itineraries, frequent flyer accounts and credit card payments in your head can lead to mistakes, and those mistakes can eat into the value of your points and miles. Christopher and Shannon smartly kept track of their travel plans and finances in a spreadsheet, and there are plenty of travel apps and other tools you can use. Whichever system works best for you, go with it!
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Christopher 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!
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
- 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®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- 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