Reader success story: How these TPG women got $23,000 in value on a points trip to Europe
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Jennifer Croce, who used points and miles to book a trip to Spain and Portugal with her mother and godmother to celebrate their retirements next fall. They calculated that they'll be getting over $23,000 in value from their rewards!
We will be using primarily Delta and Marriott Bonvoy points. We will be using ~300k Delta points, a good chunk of which came from my Delta Reserve bonus, to cover about $15k in airfare, making the points worth just over $.05 each. We found that all flights from our area connect through Atlanta, and the point redemption was about half of any other airport within 2 hours at one specific small airport (98k points for Premier Select vs 160k-200k at all other airports, including direct from ATL).
We will then use 440k Bonvoy points to cover our hotels for 11 nights, which should be approximately $8k, so only $.02/point, but that also isn’t factoring in any Suite Nights or other upgrades that I have available with my Titanium status and certificates. Many of the Bonvoy points are also from our Bonvoy Brilliant Amex.
We will also be using Enterprise points for our car rental, but that is pretty minimal.
Jennifer shared that they'll be flying out of Brunswick, GA (BQK) and staying in hotels like the Le Méridien Barcelona, The Westin Palace Madrid, Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza in Seville and the Sheraton Lisboa.
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Jennifer's booking strategy
Jennifer's story highlights several award travel strategies. First, Jennifer was flexible with her departure airport. She shared that she searched for flights out of Brunswick (BQK), Jacksonville (JAX), Orlando (MCO) and Atlanta (ATL). But, she found that starting in Brunswick was significantly cheaper than the other cities. Although she didn't need one, this serves as a great reminder to consider positioning flights if you live in a more rural area.
She ultimately got about five cents in value per Delta SkyMile, well above TPG's valuation of 1.41 cents apiece. Although premium-cabin awards on Delta-operated flights often don't get the most bang for your miles, it was worth it in this case. So, always compare all your booking options.
Related: Everything you need to know about maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets
Now, you might argue that $5,000 for a premium economy ticket to Europe sounds high, and I'd agree. However, even if the tickets cost $2,000 apiece (what premium economy flights to Europe normally go for), Jennifer would have still gotten over two cents in value per mile, which is great.
It's also important to point out that Jennifer was able to book three award tickets at this rate. If she would've booked through a partner like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, she might've been able to save some miles but she likely wouldn't have found three award seats on the same flight. When booking through a program with dynamic pricing like Delta SkyMiles, there usually aren’t any capacity controls.
Related: 12 tips for using frequent flyer miles for family travel
Next, Jennifer redeemed 440,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for 11 award nights across several Marriott properties, again yielding a value above TPG's valuations. She strategically picked brands where she'd be able to maximize her Titanium Elite status benefits like free breakfast and Suite Night Awards. For instance, for the nights in Lisbon, she was torn between the Sheraton Lisboa and Memmo Príncipe Real, a Design Hotel. However, she wouldn't have been able to redeem Suite Night Awards or get complimentary breakfast at the latter as Design Hotels don't offer these benefits.
Had Jennifer been spending more time in each city, she would have been able to stretch the value of her points even further by taking advantage of Marriott’s fifth-night free perk.
Related: TPG readers reveal their favorite points hotels in Europe
How Jennifer earned her rewards
Jennifer explained that she earned most of her points and miles through credit card welcome offers. To boost her Delta SkyMiles balance, she picked up the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, which is currently offering new cardholders a welcome offer of 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 in purchases on your card in the first six months of card membership.
Meanwhile, Jennifer earned a large chunk of Marriott Bonvoy points through the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. It's currently offering a welcome offer of 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Among the cards' benefits are 25 elite-qualifying night credits per year, which helped Jennifer fast-track her way toward the next Elite status.
That said, there still are ways to earn points and miles without traveling or signing up for a new credit card. For instance, you can earn rewards by shopping through an online portal or participating in a dining rewards program. It could also make sense to buy points and miles in some cases.
Related: How to choose the right credit card for you
We love this story and want to hear more like it! Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.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.
And if you haven't already, make sure you join the TPG Women Facebook group, a safe space exclusively for women to ask questions about all things travel, with an emphasis on points and miles. In this group, women share tips for safe solo travel, discuss how to maximize travel rewards and get the opportunity to network with fellow women travelers.