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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, The Platinum Card® from American Express

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 info@thepointsguy.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 Josh, who scored a trip to Spain courtesy of Chase Ultimate Rewards and a timely fare sale. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Ben, who used points and credit card benefits to make a trip to Mexico much more affordable. Here’s what he had to say:

Ben and his girlfriend smartly used travel credits instead of miles for one of their flights.

As a college student, I sometimes found it incredibly difficult to save enough money to go on a vacation. But thanks to you and your crew (and a few credit card sign-ups), I was able to take my girlfriend to Puerto Vallarta in December at a price we could afford, despite booking our trip less than a month before departure. 

Booking international airfare on short notice and during the holiday season was a challenge. Our best options were to fly Delta on the outbound trip from LAX to PVR for either $288 or 30,000 SkyMiles per person. We chose the cash fare, and covered some of the cost with the $300 credit from my Chase Sapphire Reserve, as well as a $50 credit from my Gold Delta SkyMiles® Card. That brought our total outbound flight cost to $226.

We booked the return flights with Southwest Rapid Rewards points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. The award was only 6,400 points and $57 in taxes and fees per person. The cash fare was only around $160 per person, but I had a few thousand Southwest points that were going to expire soon anyway, so we chose the points route.

I narrowed our hotel options down to Hyatt and SPG, since I had earned 100,000 points from the Sapphire Reserve card and 35,000 Starpoints from last year’s elevated bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest Card. I went with SPG after finding what seemed to be a good redemption, and it turned out to be a GREAT redemption.

I booked an award stay for six nights at the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort (a Category 2 property) for a total of 22,000 Starpoints. The cash rate for the garden-view room I booked was just over $200 per night, which would have been a great redemption value by itself. However, thanks to my SPG Gold status from my Amex Platinum Card®, we were upgraded to a newly renovated Club Level Ocean View King room upon arrival. That room, which came with complimentary breakfast and afternoon hors d’oeuvres with a wine pairing, was going for $300 per night for the dates we were there. For six nights and a total of 22,000 Starpoints, we enjoyed over $1,800 in hotel accommodations and amenities. 

We had a terrific time in Puerto Vallarta. The money we saved on flights and hotels allowed us to spend more on experiences like getting massages on the beach, horseback riding, taking a jet ski out in the bay, and playing with baby tigers and leopards at the zoo. My card benefits also allowed us to enjoy a few other perks, like the VIP lounge in PVR (thanks to my Priority Pass access from the Sapphire Reserve) and group 1 boarding on our outbound flight. 

Thanks again for opening my eyes to so many strategies for traveling on a budget!

One important aspect of award travel is learning when you should pay cash rather than redeem your points and miles. Ben and his girlfriend sensibly decided not to book awards for their outbound flights, because they would have been getting a poor redemption value of less than one cent per mile. Using his $300 Sapphire Reserve travel credit to help cover the cost was a much better option, especially since he only had a few more weeks to redeem it. If Ben had waited until after his December statement had closed, any remaining credit would have been lost.

Similarly, booking Southwest awards for their return flights helped salvage Ben’s Rapid Rewards points, which might have expired otherwise. Even if you’re not getting a good redemption value, it’s better to get something for your rewards than lose them entirely. Knowing the expiration policies for each loyalty program will help you avoid being caught off guard, and give you more opportunities to take steps that will keep your account active.

Finally, Ben’s story is a great reminder that there are great properties out there at the lower end of hotel award charts. For ideas of where to stay on relatively few points, check out these suggestions for Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, IHG and Club Carlson.

Ben and his girlfriend enjoyed this view of the beach from their hotel.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Ben 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, 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). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, 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 Westend61 via Getty Images.

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  • 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®
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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