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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 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!

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Kal, who used points and miles to pay for ten days in Nicaragua with his girlfriend. Here’s what he had to say:

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Kal used Ultimate Rewards points to book inexpensive stays at hotels like the Hyatt Place in Managua.

My girlfriend and I just got back from an amazing ten-day trip to Nicaragua. Using strategies we learned from TPG, we were able to pay for 100% of our travel costs!

We booked our flights from Bozeman, Montana to Managua using the [since reduced to 35%] 50% airfare rebate on the Business Platinum Card from American Express. By redeeming directly through Amex, we avoided all the higher taxes and fees that you often see on international award flights, plus we each earned about 6,000 Delta miles in the process. We were able to take advantage of our lounge access from the Platinum Card in Atlanta and Minneapolis — airport food is expensive, and every little bit helps!
 
We arrived late, and used 15,000 IHG points for one night at the Holiday Inn Express in Managua. The next morning we flew to the Corn Islands, where we spent three days scuba diving with sharks, sting rays, sea turtles and more. To pay for our La Costena flight from Managua to Big Corn Island, we used the $300 travel credit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
 
After diving, we headed back to the Pacific side of the country to explore a few of the volcanoes there. We rented a car for six days, which we covered by redeeming roughly 30,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles. We hiked the Crater Trail on the Mombacho Volcano, swam in the Laguna de Apoyo Crater, and saw lava bubbling at the bottom of the Masaya Volcano with the sun setting in the background. We spent our final three days learning to surf at Playa Maderas in San Juan del Sur — that is, my girlfriend surfed, while I spent most of the time falling on my face!
 
For hotels, we used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book three nights on Little Corn Island, three nights in Granada and two nights in San Juan Del Sur, all at smaller bed and breakfast properties. Our last night in Nicaragua cost just 5,000 points, which we transferred from Chase to Hyatt for a stay at the Hyatt Place in Managua.
 

We saved roughly $5,000 using your strategies, which made it much easier to afford food and activities. None of this would have been possible without TPG, so thank you for everything you do. We had an unforgettable trip, and already have our eyes set on the next one!

Kal’s story is a good example of why it’s important to diversify your travel rewards. His itinerary involved redemptions through five different loyalty programs, and he wouldn’t have been able to book those awards so efficiently if his points were concentrated in just one. On the other hand, you won’t get far by having only a small number of points in lots of different programs, so you shouldn’t spread your points and miles too thin. I recommend focusing on transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, since they give you access to multiple airline and hotel programs from a single source.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and others like it are great for covering miscellaneous travel expenses that you’d otherwise pay for out of pocket, but there are other factors to consider when paying for a rental car. I recommend using a card that offers a primary collision damage waiver, since that protection from loss and damage trumps the opportunity to pay with miles. That said, you can get the best of both worlds by presenting a card with primary coverage when you pick up your rental, and then completing the transaction with your card of choice after returning the car in pristine condition.

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Kal and his girlfriend took in a good mix of adventure and relaxation. Photo by Kal Tucker.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Kal 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 John Coletti via Getty Images.

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