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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 points and miles have helped them get where they want to go. Each week I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own award travel success 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 Michael, who used points and miles to save on a late-planned trip to the path of totality during the recent solar eclipse. Here’s what he had to say:

A group of my friends were going to South Carolina to watch the solar eclipse, but due to scheduling complications, I was only able to confirm that I could join them about a week beforehand. At that point, the cheapest airfare from my home in Boston to Charleston was more than $1,000 round-trip, so I looked at award prices and availability.

Many of Delta’s available routings connected in JFK or LaGuardia, and since I had been meaning to visit my sister in New York, I figured I could see her and then book a flight to Charleston (CHS) from there. Sure enough, award space was available on one of the nonstop JFK-CHS flights. The ticket was pricey at 40,000 SkyMiles one-way, but the cash price was $816. That means I got a redemption value of more than 2 cents per mile — much higher than TPG’s valuation of 1.2 cents per mile.

To get to New York, I booked a Megabus ride from boston for $36.50. I redeemed the Anniversary Free Night certificate from my IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card at the EVEN Hotels New York in Times Square, which is one of the top-ranked hotels in the city on TripAdvisor! The paid rate (including taxes and fees) was $216, so I saved $167 after factoring in the credit card’s $49 annual fee. While I would have loved to use the certificate for a more expensive hotel — like the Crowne Plaza in Times Square over New Year’s Eve — the EVEN hotel fit my needs perfectly for this trip, and the credit was due to expire soon anyway.

I had accommodations and transportation covered in South Carolina, but getting home was still a challenge. Flights from Charleston to Boston were extremely expensive in both miles and dollars. However, I expanded my search to nearby airports and found a nonstop JetBlue flight from Savannah to Boston for 16,700 JetBlue points and $5.60. That meant I had to get to Savannah and spend an extra night there, but I found good options for both.

I had originally planned to drive from Charleston to Savannah, but Amtrak also runs along that route, and I was able to book a one-way ticket for just $22. The ride took under two hours, and helped me avoid the risk of getting caught in eclipse traffic leaving Charleston. For my overnight in Savannah, I booked a night at the Staybridge Suites Savannah Airport for 20,000 IHG points (earned from my card and an IHG Accelerate promotion). The hotel offers free breakfast and a free shuttle to Savannah Airport, which covered my meal and transportation needs before the flight.

In the end, points and miles allowed me to lower the out-of-pocket cost of my trip from over $1,500 to just $96.70. Thanks for all of your help over the years, and for making this trip such a success!

Michael
Michael’s IHG points made it easier for him to stay near (and fly out of) the Savannah Airport.

To measure the value of a given award, it’s important to compare the cost in points or miles with the cash price of a comparable purchase. Spending 40,000 miles on a one-way domestic flight would typically be a terrible value, but if the alternative is buying an $800 ticket, then it’s a solid deal. Use my monthly valuations to help you decide whether you’re better off using rewards or paying cash. If you’re getting a return near or above my valuation, then points are a good option. If the return is much lower, then consider paying cash and saving your rewards for another time.

Michael’s experience is a good reminder that it pays to cast a wide net when searching for flights. If you can’t find reasonable airfare to your destination, check other airports in the area for lower rates. Most airlines and online travel agencies allow you to search multiple origins and destinations at once, but I recommend using Google Flights, which makes the process especially easy.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Michael 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 at the top of this post). 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 Mandel Ngan via Getty Images.

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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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.