5-star luxury, 1 best friend: How I used credit card travel perks for the ultimate reunion
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Travel goes beyond first-class flights and luxurious hotel suites.
With family and friends forcefully separated, the pandemic has put a spotlight on what travel truly means. So when a long-overdue reunion with a childhood friend was in order, I was ecstatic at even the possibility of traveling together.
However, I also wanted to make sure our getaway was done in style. After all, why not have our cake and eat it, too?
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While our budgets didn’t allow for hotel rooms that retailed for thousands per night, credit card perks and points made that entirely possible. And that’s exactly what we did last month while in Bodrum, in the heart of the Turkish Riviera.
Here’s how elite status and three different credit cards helped us have a luxurious week away in Turkey, all on a relative budget.
Choosing the Turkish Riveria
We decided on the Bodrum region in Turkey for several reasons.
First, we wanted to soak in the stunning Aegean Sea, where there would be fewer American tourists than in Greece and Italy. Flights between Istanbul and Bodrum are also both frequent and affordable, with the one-hour journey less than $100 round-trip, even for last-minute bookings.
As fully vaccinated travelers, there are also relatively straightforward COVID-19 entry requirements for Turkey. Vaccinated travelers simply must fill out a health form and show proof of vaccination.
Finally, but also most importantly, we chose Bodrum for the abundance of gorgeous seaside hotels that were available on points.
The cards that helped us do it
In total, we spent six nights in Bodrum, at three different properties between three different brands: Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. Switching properties was a strategic move so as to not burn all my points with one specific hotel program.
In Bodrum, we stayed at the five-star Susona Bodrum, an LXR hotel in the Hilton portfolio. While technically not on a beach, it is right on the water.
Cash rates retail for over $1,000 per night but I didn’t pay a single cent for either the room or breakfast. (Spending at the spa was another story.)
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
How we did it
Thanks to hotel cards such as the Aspire, you can enjoy some of the same awesome perks that even the most loyal guests experience. First, the Hilton Aspire card comes with Hilton Honors Diamond status which TPG values at up to $3,000.
Since I am not a frequent Hilton guest, I don’t estimate my status to be worth quite as much, but between free breakfasts and occasional suite upgrades — such as our time in Bodrum — it’s well worth it in my book.
Even better, the card comes with an annual weekend night reward for each cardmember year (with more flexibility to use the credit on weekdays through 2021). You can use this award at even the most expensive Hilton properties (think: Conrads, Waldorfs and LXR’s), as long as there is standard award space available.
I redeemed my free night here and used another 95,000 Hilton points to book a second night.
Thanks to Diamond status from the Aspire card, we were upgraded to a junior suite for the first night and a one-bedroom suite for the second night — with our very own plunge pool. (A first for me, and as you can see below, I took full advantage.)
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There is only one Hyatt-affiliated property in Bodrum, and it’s a Small Luxury Hotel (SLH) called the Marmara, perched on a hill atop the city of Bodrum. (Note: Bodrum is both a town and is also the name of the peninsula.)
How we did it
The Marmara Bodrum is a Category 4 hotel, meaning you can use a major Hyatt cardholder benefit: an annual free night certificate for every account anniversary. You can also earn a second free Category 1-4 night award after spending $15,000 in a year.
I used a combination of points (15,000) and a free night certificate for this two-night stay.
And as a top-tier Hyatt member, we also were upgraded to an oceanview room that retailed for about $400 per night. At SLH properties, all World of Hyatt guests are treated to free breakfast, regardless of status.
Ever since TPG published a review of the Bodrum Edition hotel in 2019, I’ve been itching about the possibility of staying there. And it finally happened.
How we did it
Transferable points are a powerful tool. If you don’t have enough points with a specific program, you can easily shift points over from another program. That’s exactly what I did, thanks to my Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
It costs a whopping 70,000 Bonvoy points to stay a night at the Edition, but as mentioned, this has been a bucket list hotel. I didn’t have enough Bonvoy points in my account but I was able to top up my balance thanks to Ultimate Rewards points.
In August, I took advantage of a 50% transfer bonus of Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy points. While this bonus has since expired, those with Amex Membership Rewards points can transfer to Marriott with a 30% bonus through Sept. 30, 2021.
The Edition was absolutely stunning, and easily one of the best hotel stays I’ve ever experienced.
Related: Best hotel credit cards of 2021
After a week away, we got to check several things off our lists. A hotel suite with its own pool. A Turkish breakfast spread larger than either of us could handle. And the white-glove service and hospitality that Turkey is renowned for.
But most of all, I got to spend a week with a best friend, exploring a new city (and country!) and as cliche as it sounds, making memories to last a lifetime. And that was all through the power of credit cards and points.
Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.
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