Island Hopping With United Miles — Reader Success Story

Jul 22, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Sietse, who crossed an item off his award travel bucket list:

My girlfriend and I love traveling and visiting new places, especially on points and miles. Earlier this year, we decided to book a summer trip to somewhere new and warm using some of the miles we had accumulated over four years of long-distance dating. 

I’m based in Beijing this year, and while brainstorming where to go, we searched United’s award chart and found some incredible sweet spots. For example, United charges just 17,500 miles each way to fly in economy from anywhere in North Asia to anywhere in Oceania — including places as far-flung as Fiji, Tonga, the Marshall Islands and Tahiti (over 7,000 miles away from Beijing). What made these redemptions especially appealing was United’s Excursionist Perk, which lets you visit two places for the price of one!

We ended up booking our award trip to Palau and Micronesia. We spent five days in Palau touring the stunning Rock Islands and marveling at the marine wildlife. We then continued on to Chuuk, Micronesia, where we dove to some astonishing World War II shipwrecks. Both countries were new for us, and both wowed us with their rich traditional history and island hospitality. To top it all off, on our way to Palau, we were even able to build in a free daylong layover in Seoul to visit my girlfriend’s grandmother.

This trip was extra exciting because it meant flying on the United Island Hopper — an AvGeek’s dream! This fascinating flight has been at the top of my travel bucket list, and we followed TPG’s advice and scored window seats for the journey. Cash prices would been over $2,500 each — far too expensive for our student budgets. Thankfully, I was able to use some miles from an elevated bonus for the United Explorer Card, while my girlfriend transferred points from her Chase Sapphire Reserve account. It was the trip of a lifetime, and we’re grateful we could use points to make it happen!

Most award charts feature sweet spots that offer outsized value; this story is a great reminder that many of them have nothing to do with getting to or from North America. Many sweet spots (including the one Sietse used) take advantage of geography and how airlines delineate different global regions. For example, American Airlines includes both Russia and the Canary Islands in its Europe region, so you could cross the continent from Moscow (SVO) to Gran Canaria (LPA) for 12,500 miles each way in economy. Similarly, ANA lumps Africa and the Middle East into a single region, so you could fly round-trip from Tel Aviv (TLV) to Johannesburg (JNB) for 30,000 miles in economy or 55,000 miles in business class — on Ethiopian Airlines, for example.

Other sweet spots stem from distance-based pricing between city pairs that are close together but might otherwise prove expensive, such as British Airways flights within the Caribbean. Those short hops may cost hundreds of dollars despite covering only a few hundred miles; instead, you can book them for as little as 4,000 Avios each way. The takeaway is that you may be ignoring award travel opportunities that aren’t strictly germane to your plans. I encourage you to pay attention to what’s available when booking your next trip — consider where you’ll be, and ask yourself where else you could go from there using points and miles. You may find a gem you hadn’t noticed.

Related: Two Months Across the South Pacific Using Award Chart Sweet Spots

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 Sietse 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!

Featured photo of Jellyfish Lake in Palau by Olivier Blaise / Getty Images.

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