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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 email@example.com; 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 Burl, whose interest in award travel helped him overcome his fear of flying. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Dirk, who used travel rewards to help him book a memorable weekend trip with his girlfriend. Here’s what he had to say:
I started getting into travel rewards about a year ago. Having just gotten a job out of college and with a girlfriend who shares my love of travel, it was only a matter of time before I started searching for ways to travel inexpensively. Thankfully, my cousin tipped me off to your site.
My first chance to earn a lot of points was from last year’s IHG Priceless Surprises promotion in 2015. As you laid out in your article, I mailed in 94 postcards and earned about 60,000 points. I then opened the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card when I got an increased sign-up bonus offer, and after a few stays I had over 150,000 IHG Rewards points in a matter of months. I didn’t have a goal in mind at the time; I just figured the right opportunity would present itself.
My girlfriend and I have been dating for almost 3 years, and we planned a trip to visit Washington D.C. over Labor Day weekend, since we’ve always wanted to go there. She’s obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, so I devised an awesome plan to propose to her on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. After the ring purchase and other expenses, I didn’t have a lot to spend on a room for the weekend, so I decided to go ahead and use the points.
I looked to see what hotels IHG offers in the area, and immediately found the InterContinental Willard — an awesome 1850s building right in the heart of downtown. The Willard has tons of history, and Abraham Lincoln was even smuggled into it for a few days due to assassination threats, only adding to the magic of the proposal weekend.
Rooms were going for 50,000 points, so I had enough for three nights. I got a redemption value of about 0.6 cents per point, which isn’t amazing (based on TPG’s valuations), but I was happy to book it. I didn’t have miles to cover our flights, but we bought our airfare with a recently opened Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to earn more rewards and to help meet the spending requirements.
The week before our trip, I called the Willard and told them my plan. Since the IHG card gets me Platinum Elite status, I figured I might as well see if we could get an upgrade. The agent I spoke with put a note in our reservation, but I didn’t think the upgrade sounded likely.
On Friday, September 2, we headed over to the Lincoln Memorial. Everything went perfectly — the Lincoln inspired proposal speech, the awesome memorial in the background, and a photographer there to capture the moment for us. And most importantly, she said yes!
After taking photos, we headed over to the Willard to check in. Turns out we were upgraded to a suite, complete with a king bed, 2 bathrooms, and a living room area with a view! The hotel also provided us champagne, chocolate strawberries, and a cheese and cracker spread each night we were there. Later I realized the suite would have cost about $800 per night, so thanks to the upgrade, our 150,000 IHG points got us $2,400 worth of hotel room, for a much better value of 1.6 cents per point!
In the end, it wasn’t an extravagant vacation, but it was one that we’ll obviously remember forever, and that was made possible in part thanks to your suggestions about how to use our points and elite status. After that experience, we’re hooked! We already have enough points for flights and hotels for a trip to Italy next year, and we have our eye on earning points for a honeymoon next.
Thanks for all your help!
It’s easy to criticize travel providers for service failures, but it’s also important to give praise when it’s due. The Willard clearly went way beyond expectations to take care of Dirk and his girlfriend during a special occasion, and I commend them for the extra effort.
It’s hard to say whether they would have been upgraded without having IHG elite status, but it certainly didn’t hurt. You can earn hotel status as a standard benefit on many co-branded credit cards, making it easy to get perks like bonus points and late check-out, and to improve your chances of scoring an upgrade. I wouldn’t expect champagne and fruit during every stay, but you’ll be treated better in the long run as an elite member.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Dirk 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!
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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