Booking a Delta vacation package — reader success story

Sep 27, 2019

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – American Express® Gold Card  

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Paul, who used his transferable points to take advantage of a recent SkyMiles promotion:

I’m new to credit card rewards, having signed up for my first credit card ever a year ago (a secured card from TD Bank because I did not have any credit history). The card offers 3% cash back on dining and 2% on groceries, and after about seven months, TD upgraded it to an actual credit card with the same cash back return. But last month I started thinking about getting a card that earns travel rewards; while cash back is convenient, it doesn’t provide the same excitement of an award flight or a free hotel stay.

So I did my homework and began to research options by reading credit card reviews. I even created a spreadsheet to summarize my spending in the last 12 months and calculate my potential points earnings to see which card would suit me best. In the end, I decided to go with the American Express® Gold Card because most of my spending is dining and groceries, and I was able to get a bonus of 50,000 points (no longer available) after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

At first I had a little buyer’s remorse when I realized how difficult it is to use Amex airline incidental credits, and that the dining credit only applies to a limited pool of options. But it turned out great when Delta offered double the normal value when redeeming SkyMiles for vacation packages. My husband and I were married two years ago, but never had the chance to go on a trip together. Since he grew up in Chicago, we had always wanted to go here so he could show me the city. After seeing the Delta promotion, I got online immediately and booked us a five-day trip there.

The whole vacation package, including flights from Boston to Chicago and four nights at The Drake Hotel, would have cost $1,280. Instead, I transferred 58,000 points from Amex to Delta (50,000 from my bonus and another 8,000 from spending). Those points were worth $1,160, so I only had to pay $120 out of pocket for our trip. Even better, I got my $100 airline incidental fee credit from booking this vacation package. I was surprised, because I thought the credit only applied to things like checked bags or inflight food and drinks, but it turned out a vacation package triggered it as well.

In the end, the final amount for our flights and hotels came to just $20, which is unthinkable to me. The card is working out really well because I’m able to utilize all the credits and benefits, including the frequently overlooked premium roadside assistance. My next goal is to save up enough points for a first-class flight to Singapore. Anyway, I just want to thank you all for your help in the world of travel, points and rewards!

This story exemplifies why transferable rewards carry a premium over points or miles with an individual loyalty program. Award sales, transfer bonuses and other promotions (like the one Paul took advantage of) create opportunities for high-value redemptions, but when you stockpile rewards with a single airline or hotel, you only benefit from promotions associated with that program. If your rewards are portable instead, then you can direct them toward whichever program offers the best return when you’re ready to book. You can still score outsized redemption value with rewards from a single travel provider, but having more options improves your odds of getting a great deal.

When you’re looking for a credit card to maximize your everyday spending, it helps to know exactly what you’re spending on. Paul analyzed his purchases from the previous year to sort out which card would be most rewarding, but if you can’t commit to that level of precision, it’s worth looking over at least a few months of statements to get a general sense of where your money is going. You can also use a money management app like Mint or Albert, both of which let you choose how spending is categorized (so you can track purchases according to the credit card bonus categories that interest you most).

Related: A guide to earning transferable points

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Paul a 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, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

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

Note: American Express will discontinue roadside assistance and premium roadside assistance on all of its cards effective January 1, 2020

Featured photo by Philip Rozenski/Getty Images.

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