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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Matt, who used points and credit card benefits to save on a recent trip with his wife. Here’s what he had to say:

My wife and I wanted to go to Banff and Lake Louise for our honeymoon, but we were recent college graduates without much money, so we went with a more affordable option. Fast forward 10 years, and we decided it would be the perfect tenth anniversary trip. I had the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, but only used it for cash back, not knowing the potential benefits of Ultimate Rewards points. I started reading The Points Guy about a year ago, and came up with a plan.

I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points, as well as the United Explorer Card with a targeted bonus of 60,000 miles. I used my card to pay for the cheap outbound flights we found, and then we used the United miles to book our return flights, saving us hundreds of dollars. The free checked bag benefit on the Explorer card also saved us $100.

There aren’t many hotels with points redemption options in Banff National Park, but I was able to use Ultimate Rewards points to book four of our seven nights through the Chase travel portal. This included two nights in a Gold room at our dream hotel: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. By using points on this trip, we saved nearly $3,000!

We didn’t necessarily get outsized redemption values, but our points made our dream vacation affordable and allowed us to splurge in other areas. My only two regrets are that I should have gotten the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and that I didn’t start getting points sooner. Our trip was a month ago, and it’s the best trip we’ve ever taken! It wouldn’t have been possible (or at least not nearly as enjoyable) without your help.

You’ll generally get the most value out of transferable points by redeeming them with airline and hotel partners, but depending on your travel plans, that might not be an option. If you’re headed to an area where major loyalty programs don’t have a strong presence, you can still use points to cover your flights or stays by booking through a credit card travel portal like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Banff is a good example, as the town only has three hotels you can book with conventional programs — Marriott, Best Western and Accor Hotels each have one property there. In contrast, Chase and Citi both offer over 20 properties covering a wide price range in Banff proper. As Matt notes, you won’t get top dollar using points this way, but it’s better to have below-average redemption options than to have none at all.

Last August, Chase began limiting sign-up bonuses for Sapphire cards by making applicants ineligible if they had already received a bonus in the previous 24 months. Since Matt signed up for the Sapphire Preferred card, he’ll have to wait two years before he can earn a bonus on the Sapphire Reserve card. However, he could upgrade to the Reserve card if he thinks it’s a better fit. The opposite is true as well: If you already have the Reserve card but you think you’ll get better value from Sapphire Preferred, you can downgrade your account and save yourself the higher annual fee.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Matt 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; 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 image by Jeff Wallace via Flickr.

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