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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Steve, who used points and miles for flights and nine nights in hotels with his family:

Over the last three years, I’ve taken my family on three vacations using all (or nearly all) points or miles. I think this most recent one was my best yet. My wife, daughter, infant son, mother and I all flew from Boston (BOS) to Albuquerque (ABQ) via Atlanta (ATL) and then home from Salt Lake City (SLC) on Delta. I used 80,000 SkyMiles to book the four ticketed passengers. The flights were going for around $425 each when I booked, so I got about 2.1 cents per mile, besting your valuation of 1.2 cents.

We stayed at four hotels on our trip: three nights at the Hyatt Place Albuquerque Uptown (5,000 points per night); two nights at the Hampton Inn in Farmington, NM (10,000 points per night); two nights at the brand new Hyatt Place Moab (8,000 points per night); and two nights at the Hyatt Place Farmington/Station Park just north of Salt Lake City (5,000 points per night).

Each stay beat your valuations, but the Hyatt in Moab was the best. It was going for about $475 per night, but instead of spending $950, I used 16,000 Hyatt points — a value of a whopping 5.9 cents per point.  All of these hotels also included free breakfast, and given my Hyatt Explorist and Hilton Gold status, we got a few other perks thrown in.

Although I am a Hyatt loyalist, I knew I would need 20,000 Hilton points for the Hampton Inn. I took advantage of my complimentary Hilton Gold status (thanks to my Platinum Card® from American Express) and signed up for various points promotions last fall. Then I booked just three nights at various Hilton properties on work trips to earn the necessary points. 

In addition to the hotels and flights, I was able to use my Priority Pass membership (again via my Platinum Card) to bring everyone into The Club at ATL for breakfast (and mimosas for the adults!) on our 2.5-hour layover. I also got coffee/tea/cookies for the group at the Delta Sky Clubs in BOS, ATL and SLC — although I did not pay the extra money to bring them all in with me.

The vacation was a success, and the only major expenses I incurred were the rental car and airport parking, both of which I put on my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card so I could at least earn double points. I really appreciate all the information I’ve learned from this site, without which I would not have been so successful at maximizing everything for a wonderful family vacation.

Planning ahead makes it easier to use your rewards, since you have more time to identify and earn the points you need, and a better shot at finding award availability you want. Steve recognized early that he needed Hilton Honors points, so he was able to earn them with minimal effort. Without that foresight, he might have been stuck paying cash or redeeming rewards less efficiently. When you plan out your own future awards, be mindful that rates can fluctuate — a hotel property could change award categories, for example, or the cost could simply go up in a program like Hilton Honors, where rates aren’t fixed to begin with.

Travelers disagree about what constitutes proper lounge etiquette, and one question I often see raised is whether taking food from a lounge is appropriate. Some lounges provide to-go cups and containers; if they’re offering, then you should feel no compunction about packing a reasonable amount of food for yourself. Apart from that, I think it’s fine to take something small like a soft drink or a bag of chips, especially if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to snack on site. Taking food for others is where the question gets dicey for me, and collecting drinks and snacks for the whole family is pushing it. If you regularly travel with others, consider ways to share lounge access so you don’t have to raid the buffet.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

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 Steve 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 small 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!

Featured photo by timon studler / Unsplash.

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2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.