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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 Zach, who navigated a last-minute cancellation and kept his trip on schedule with the help of travel rewards. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Caroline, who took her family to Europe at a huge discount using points and miles. Here’s what she had to say:
Last fall, we found out that all the plumbing in our house needed to be replaced. Fortunately, we had the cash to pay for it in our emergency fund, but in a true moment of making lemonade out of lemons, I realized we could leverage that expense into some free travel! The British Airways Visa Signature Card was offering a large sign-up bonus at the time, so our new pipes netted us an extra 75,000 Avios to go with the amount we earned on spending.
In total, we had enough points for seven one-way tickets between Boston and Dublin (thanks to your tip about maximizing the British Airways award chart). After cross-referencing Aer Lingus award availability on United’s site and speaking with a very patient customer service rep, I was able to book a nine-day trip to Ireland for five passengers! The Avios didn’t cover everything, so one round-trip ticket was paid for with my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, and the final one-way return was booked via United using some miles my husband had banked.
To reposition my parents from their home in Kentucky to Boston, I remembered your tip that Delta miles never expire. I still had some SkyMiles from when I lived in Atlanta, so I topped off my account by transferring some Membership Rewards points, and bought two round-trip, nonstop saver tickets from Cincinnati. After purchasing tickets to get my own family to Boston (from Houston), our final cost to fly all five of us to Ireland was less than 30% of what we would’ve paid in cash.
Of course, airfare is only part of the equation, and we still needed nine nights of hotel rooms for our group. Before our plumbing went south, we had signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from Amex (with a no longer available sign-up bonus of 30,000 points), so we splurged on our first night in the country and booked two rooms at the Westin Dublin. We then took another recommendation from TPG and booked two rooms at the Sheraton Athlone. Since we made our reservation before the hotel changed from Category 1 to 2, we used just 8,000 points total for two weekend nights. All in all, we got over 1,200 Euros of value from getting the card.
We also got the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card with a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points. Using those points along with others we earned by maximizing Hilton promotions over Christmas, we were able to book two nights at the Hilton Dublin at the end of our trip. We paid 30,000 points per night for two rooms, redeeming 120,000 points total for more than $1,000 in value. The hotel was in one of our favorite areas of the city, and helped create a perfect end to our trip!
I thought I had done pretty well with maximizing points, miles, and value, but there were still several nights of hotels to pay for. Fortunately, along came the IHG Postcard Extravaganza! My family alternated between gentle heckling and utter bafflement at the sight of me filling out all those index cards, but it was all worthwhile. Between my husband and I, we earned enough points to cover two rooms for two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Belfast (less than an hour from Giant’s Causeway and several Game of Thrones sites). We also booked two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express near Boston Logan upon our return — one using points alone, and one using the Points + Cash rate.
In total, we booked two rooms for nine nights, and only paid out of pocket for one night! I was so excited to be able to do this for my parents, and to create this multi-generational family memory. We couldn’t have afforded it without using your tips to leverage our points and spending. Having the majority of the trip paid for with points helped me relax and enjoy myself without worrying about pinching pennies on other trip expenses. It also meant my darling parents weren’t fretting about us spending too much money on them, and they got some serious bragging rights with their friends about the trip their kids planned for them. Thanks, and I couldn’t have done it without you!
This story illustrates how important it is to identify the sweet spots offered by each loyalty program. There are plenty of options for getting to Europe in economy, but it’s hard to beat flights on Aer Lingus for just 25,000 Avios round-trip. Caroline’s awards were less efficient because of the miles burned on positioning flights, but her family was still able to score hugely discounted flights overall. Similarly, they got excellent value out of the discounted rates for weekend stays at low-level Starwood properties.
It’s also important to take advantage of promotions when they come around. A lot of readers scored extra points during last winter’s quirky Priceless Surprises promo from IHG, but there are more routine opportunities to pick up extra points, like IHG’s upcoming Accelerate promo, or the targeted Starwood promo that rewards stays through November. All these bonuses are low-hanging fruit, and it pays to take advantage when you can fit them into your travel plans.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Caroline for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her 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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