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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Sarah, who used points and miles to book a month-long global adventure. Here’s what she had to say:
A couple of years ago I became an avid follower of TPG with the goal of booking an around-the-world trip using miles. After following a lot of advice and maximizing rewards on each purchase and trip I’ve made, not only will I be flying around the world (mostly in business class) on miles, all of my hotels are covered by points too. If I paid cash, this trip would have cost over $27,000. Instead, I’ve spent $168 out of pocket.
The majority of my flights were booked on Star Alliance partners via United. Apart from Ultimate Rewards points, I got the United MileagePlus Explorer Card when it had a 50,000-mile bonus, and earned more miles by using online shopping portals and the MileagePlus X app. The total taxes for my primary six-segment flight booked through United came to $314.36, which I covered with Barclaycard Arrival miles. After booking my main itinerary, I just had a round-trip flight within Australia (booked on Qantas with AAdvantage miles) and one more Star Alliance flight to book.
There was some luck involved along the way. My first card when starting this process was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and seven months later the Chase Sapphire Reserve was introduced. Between the two, I earned 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points in sign-up bonuses alone over the course of about eight months. That helped cover several hotel stays booked through the Chase travel portal, including an overwater bungalow at the Sheraton Maldives and two nights at the Peninsula Hong Kong. Using sign-up bonuses from a couple of hotel credit cards, I’ll stay in some more amazing properties like the Park Hyatt Sydney and the St. Regis in New York City.
I depart in September for what I hope will be the trip of a lifetime. My itinerary takes me to San Francisco, Sydney, Cairns (to see the Great Barrier Reef), Hong Kong, Bangkok, The Maldives, Dubai, Prague, Vienna, Munich (for Oktoberfest), Lisbon, and NYC. It wouldn’t have been possible without TPG!
Sarah’s story underscores two important tenets of award travel. First, a diverse rewards portfolio gives you more options when you’re ready to book. Her itinerary required a large balance of points and miles, and using them efficiently would have been more challenging if they had all been accrued in one or two programs. Earning a mix of transferable points, airline miles, hotel points and cash-back rewards gave Sarah the flexibility to get a redemption value she was happy with for each leg of her trip.
On the other hand, you should try to avoid spreading your rewards too thin, since they won’t be of much use below a certain threshold. That brings me to the second point, which is that credit card offers are a great way to boost your loyalty account balances quickly. Sarah’s trip was kick-started by bonuses from the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards, and several others were instrumental in covering her flights and hotel stays. It’s important to maximize the rewards you earn through travel and everyday spending, but be ready to jump on a strong sign-up bonus when the opportunity arises.
Using points and miles for a trip around the world takes time and effort, but it’s totally doable. Some airlines still offer round-the-world awards that let you circle the globe at a fixed mileage cost, though they come with various restrictions (like which seats are eligible or the total number of segments allowed). Alternately, you can put your itinerary together one flight at a time; that approach will likely require more research, but it lets you take advantage of favorable routing rules (like United’s Excursionist Perk). For more ideas, check out TPG Contributor Ravi Ghelani’s account of how he planned and booked an epic eight-month trip around the world.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Sarah for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her 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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 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 Sean Pavone Photo / Getty Images.
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