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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader James, who used points and free night certificates to book a memorable trip to Hawaii. Here’s what he had to say:

This past Christmas I took a spectacular vacation to Maui with my boyfriend using points for the flights and hotels. I planned on asking him to marry me, so I wanted a perfect trip to pop the question. By a small “mirAAcle” I was able to find saver level award space on American Airlines for the dates I wanted, and I redeemed 90,000 AAdvantage miles to book two round-trip tickets from STL to OGG. I had accumulated those from sign-up bonuses on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and the Barclaycard Aviator Red Card (which I unfortunately signed up for when it only offered 40,000 miles).

For our hotel rooms, I used 160,000 Marriott Rewards points for five nights (with the fifth night free) at the Marriott Wailea Resort, which was renovated last year and is absolutely stunning. I earned those points from the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from Amex (with the 1:3 transfer rate to Marriott). The room rate was around $600 per night, excluding tax, so I got about 2 cents per point in value from that redemption.

We then stayed four nights at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua with the help of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and 60,000 more points. The original sign-up bonus for the card was two free nights, but after sending a secure message to Chase I was matched to the higher bonus of three free nights. A standard room here the last week of December was over $1,000 per night, so the sign-up bonus was worth over $3,000. All told, we saved well over $10,000 in flight and hotel costs and experienced a truly unforgettable trip. It wouldn’t have been possible without the tips and advice I’ve learned from this site, so thank you.

Oh, and by the way, he said yes!

Ritz-Carlton Kapalua
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is a great deal for 60,000 points per night. (Photo courtesy by Ritz-Carlton)

Last May I lowered my valuation of American Airlines miles due to a persistent lack of saver award space. Some routes had greater availability than others, and the AAdvantage program still offered good value on partner flights, but even the airline itself acknowledged that improvements were needed. To American’s credit, saver availability has increased in recent months, but those awards often involve bizarrely inconvenient routing, so they’ve really just swapped one problem for another. I’m hopeful the program will get its act together soon, but for now it seems to be pushing frequent flyers away more than drawing them in.

The merging of Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards (which includes Ritz-Carlton) has been a boon for award travelers, especially because you can transfer points freely between the two programs. The Ritz-Carlton award chart tops out at 70,000 points per night, and since each Starpoint gets you three Marriott Rewards points, you can book top-tier Ritz-Carlton properties for 24,000 Starpoints per night. That’s an exceptional value considering Starwood’s own award chart goes up to 35,000 points per night. If you don’t have free night certificates like James did, SPG is a strong alternative for booking Ritz-Carlton awards.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank James for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories 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. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Feature photo by courtesy JW Marriott

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