4 bucket list trips I’m booking this year using points and miles

May 6, 2021

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On Dec. 19, 2019, I wrote a blog post about my 2020 trip plans. Rereading it, I have to laugh because I just assumed I’d be able to hop on a plane whenever I wanted and visit these amazing destinations that I didn’t seem all that excited about. I very much took these potential trips for granted. Needless to say, I was wrong in more ways than one.

Over the last year, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for travel and my definition of a bucket list has changed greatly. I’m no longer taking any travel for granted, nor am I being selective in the destinations I put on my bucket list — because every single trip could be the last one before another disaster strikes. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that the world can turn upside down and our once-coveted passports can no longer get us into all the incredible destinations we used to have easy access to.

With that in mind, my 2021 travel bucket list contains a bit of everything: beautiful islands that I’ve wanted to visit forever, historic destinations that are off the beaten path, one of the most popular tourist hot spots in the world and a quiet reprieve where I hope to reunite with family members I haven’t seen in years.

Here are four bucket list trips I’m planning for 2021 and how I’ll get there using points and miles.

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In This Post

Palawan Islands

Lagoon in the Palawan Islands, Philippines
Lagoon in the Palawan Islands, Philippines. (Photo by saiko3p/Shutterstock)

About eight years ago, I wrote an article for another site about the Palawan Islands. I had just learned about this magical place, dubbed the “Maldives of the Pacific,” and was surprised to find very little points and miles content about it. After the story was published, I got tons of emails applauding me for highlighting this destination but also concern that it would be exposed to mass tourism.

Luckily, the Palawan Islands have avoided this fate, so I’m excited to finally visit at the end of the year. Of course, it will all depend on whether the Philippines reopens to vaccinated tourists. When it does, I’m ready!

How I’ll get there on points

Traveling to the Philippines using points is fairly easy, though not entirely necessary. The dry season is October-May and I’ve seen fares between San Francisco (SFO) and Cebu (CEB) for $614 round-trip. At this rate, I’m comfortable using Capital One Venture miles for airfare.

El Nido Resorts has several properties in Palawan that look amazing and are reasonably priced compared to places like the Maldives. For example, you can book three nights a the El Nido Apulit Island Resort for under $2,000. This package includes an overwater villa, airfare between Manila (MNL) and Cebu, intra-island transportation, all meals and non-motorized water sports. It’s essentially an all-inclusive vacation and on par with what you’d pay at some high-end resorts in Los Cabos and Cancun.

For a more affordable option, I’m considering the Sunlight Eco Tourism Island Resort, which offers rates as low as $170 per night for an overwater villa and daily breakfast. This is definitely another Venture miles redemption since chain hotels are nonexistent here.

Related: 5 ways Capital One Venture is winning the credit card game

Uzbekistan

Miri Arab Madrassah, Bukhara, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Mir-i-Arab Madrasah in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. (Photo by Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images)

Last year I added Bukhara as my “next destination” on my bio page. Every once in a while, someone reads it and emails me asking me for booking advice and this year I may finally be able to do it. I’ve wanted to visit Bukhara for years. It’s been on my dad’s bucket list forever and he always talks about the city’s historical significance and beauty, so I’ve always wanted to take this trip with him.

My plan is to start in Tashkent and make our way to Bukhara to see the Po-i-Kalyan complex, among other sights. From there, I may even squeeze in a visit to Tajikistan. I’ve heard wonderful things about it from people who have visited and lived there. It sounds like a research-intensive trip, so I may put that off for another time. But 2021 will hopefully be the year when my dad and I finally travel to Bukhara.

How I’ll get there on points

Getting to Uzbekistan on points won’t be cheap, but ANA Mileage Club is probably my best bet. Round-trip economy fares to Tashkent (TAS) cost 80,000 miles, while business class is 136,000 miles. That’s significantly cheaper than Aeroplan, LifeMiles and United MileagePlus.

While I don’t have enough Membership Rewards for a business-class award, I can make it work. This is a trip my dad and I are taking together, so I’m sure between the two of us, we can generate enough points via card welcome offers, especially considering Amex’s current card bonuses.

While there aren’t many points hotels in Uzbekistan, I did find a Courtyard by Marriott in Tashkent that’s bookable for just 5,000 Marriott points per night. I still have my welcome bonus from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, which will cover about 15 nights at this hotel (not that I’d stay there that long).

In Bukhara, there are lots of guest houses and boutique hotels for less than $60 per night. The Hotel Malika and Ark Hotel are good options. Far from luxurious, but their locations are superb.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Paris

Eiffel tower in Paris
(Photo by SosnaRadosna/Shutterstock.com)

Calling Paris a bucket list item when I’ve already traveled there numerous times sounds like a stretch. But over the last year, it seemed so out of reach that it may as well be a bucket list destination again.

I’ve been yearning to visit Paris so much over the last year that I watched Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” twice. I’m excited to finally see the real thing. My last visit was in 2016 and since then, I’ve transitted through Charles de Gaulle twice. Both times, I’ve thought, “I’ll stop here next time,” not realizing what an impossibility that would turn out to be in 2020 and part of 2021.

France is set to reopen in May, along with the rest of the European Union. My goal is to make this trip happen for late August and maybe even work in a side trip to Dublin and Edinburgh. Fingers crossed!

Related: A week in Paris with round-trip business class for $400 out of pocket

How I’ll get there on points

Award travel to Europe will be challenging in the summer months, so I plan on going in the early fall. My favorite award is ANA’s 88,000-mile business-class ticket. It costs about half of what you’d pay with fellow Star Alliance carrier United.

As a Membership Rewards transfer partner, ANA miles are fairly easy to earn. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is currently offering enough miles to cover this award (with plenty left to spare): Earn 125,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.

Related: Review of the Business Platinum Card from American Express with 125K welcome bonus

New Zealand

New Zealand
Milford Sound, New Zealand. (Photo by Southern Landscapes/Getty Images)

I have family members all over the world and last year, we talked about having a summer reunion in Turkey. But upon further reflection, it’s time for a new location that everyone hasn’t been to multiple times. We’ve settled on New Zealand. It’s close to my Australia-based family (they make up the bulk of our group), a manageable distance for those of us based in California, and appealing enough to convince our U.K.-based cousins to fly out for a reunion.

Not being able to see family has been the toughest part of this pandemic and we’re all eager to reunite as soon as we’re able to. Being able to check another country off our collective bucket lists? That’s just icing on the cake.

Related: Turkey is open to tourists – here’s how to get there on points and miles

How I’ll get there on points

My favorite way to get to Australia is using Alaska miles, which offers reasonable redemptions rates and a free stopover on one-way awards. I could book a Fiji Airways flight to Nadi Airport (NAN), stop over for a few days and continue to Auckland. It would cost just 55,000 Alaska miles each way in business class and I already have the miles saved up thanks to a sign-up bonus from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card.

I have several Airbnbs bookmarked that can accommodate a large group. I plan on charging the entire booking to my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and using the miles to offset my family’s portion of the expense.

Related: My dream trip to New Zealand on points and miles

Bottom line

Since the pandemic, I’ve had a chance to really think about what a privilege travel is and it’s made me more mindful of where I want to go. I don’t just want to off-handedly consider attending yet another “Gilmore Girls” fan festival — I want to plan it because I’m excited about it. I’m not just contemplating a trip to Paris because it’s easy — I’m reveling in the planning process. Lastly, I no longer dread the idea of visiting a destination and staying with family — I want to bring them along for the ride.

Featured photo by Max Topchii / Shutterstock

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