TPG Reader Hall of Fame: Honoring mom with a dream trip to Greece using points and miles

May 8, 2020

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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

The great thing about points and miles is that you don’t need to be an expert — or particularly wealthy — to use them. All you need is a destination in mind, some creativity and flexibility.

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TPG reader Allison describes herself as a “small fish in a big pond” when it comes to points. As a non-profit employee, she said that any way that she can save money, she’s “all here for it.” But she decided to take everything she’d learned by reading The Points Guy over the years to plan the surprise trip of a lifetime for her younger sister, Lindsey.

Allison said that she and her sister took family vacations with their parents when they were younger. But after losing their mother to breast cancer in 2011, and their father having health complications that limited travel, they decided to travel as much as they could.

(Photo courtesy of Allison Ellis.)

The two sisters take trips often, which they call “Sistercations.” They started small by taking quick, local spring break trips. They then branched out by visiting Atlanta for a long weekend, then to Jamaica in 2015. They also visited Ghana, Amsterdam, and took several trips to New York City and Disney World. But for Lindsey, her dream destination was Greece.

Related: The best ways to get to Europe using points and miles

“When our mom was sick and in-home hospice,” Allison said, “they’d watch ‘Mamma Mia’ literally over and over again with the nurses. As soon as it was over, Mom would grin and say, ‘Let’s just watch it one more time.’”

Around October of 2019, Allison decided that she would honor their mother and surprise her sister with the trip of a lifetime in March 2020. How did Lindsey take the surprise?

“She knew that there was a trip planned,” Allison said, “Because I told her, ‘hey, like you need to make sure that you’re not doing anything during spring break and you need to make sure that you can take off like your Friday classes.’”

“And she was like, what? We’re going to Greece?” Allison relayed. “It was not as glamorous as it could have been, but it was fine. She was thrilled.”

With the secret out, the two turned to planning the trip.

“I work for a non-profit organization and do absolutely no work-related travel,” Allison said. But she did have the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, which offer sizable welcome bonuses that could cover the cost of a flight to Europe. She’d been using the cards for personal trips as well as utilizing the Delta SkyMiles shopping portal.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers

She decided to book her ticket in cash, as she was trying to hit Delta Medallion elite status for 2020. But using the miles earned from bonuses, she booked her sister’s ticket on Delta using 55,000 SkyMiles round-trip. The pair booked tickets from Charlotte (CLT) to Atlanta (ATL) to Rome (FCO) to Athens (ATH) on Delta and Alitalia.

With the flights out of the way, it was time to book hotels. She signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in October to earn the 60,000-point welcome bonus and quickly hit the spending requirement of $4,000 on purchases in the first three months by buying Christmas gifts.

“I looked into [Chase’s] points portal and had read a lot of TPG articles about it, and decided it was the best choice with the lowest annual fee,” she said.

She turned the reigns over to her sister to book the hotels in Greece, which they booked using the Chase travel portal. Allison said Lindsey wasn’t much of a points person before the trip and didn’t even own a credit card. However, Lindsey was amazed that Allison could pay for her trip without using cash.

“I definitely got her into the game,” she said.

The sisters flew to Europe at the beginning of March, just before the coronavirus pandemic had captured the attention of the U.S.

(Photo courtesy of Allison Ellis.)

Before getting to Greece, the two visited Rome during a stopover for some gelato and sightseeing.

They spent a week in Greece, visiting Athens and stopping at the Acropolis. Allison said they got in for free because it was the first Sunday of the month. They then took a ferry for Paros, visited Kolymbithres Beach and Lefkes. They took another ferry to Santorini, spending time in Fira and Oia, and enjoying the experience with sunset dinners and shopping. Finally, it was time to return home on March 8.

(Photo courtesy of Allison Ellis.)

“By that point, COVID-19 was just starting to become a concern in the U.S., and in Italy, it was just in the northern part,” she said. “There were no questions on our flight to Rome, but in going from Rome to Atlanta, they checked our temps and made us answer a questionnaire before boarding.”

Allison says she was stopped from boarding because she had a fever and was finally allowed to board “literally minutes” before the door closed. Feeling unwell after arriving back in Charlotte, she took a test for COVID-19 and luckily tested negative.

That scare aside, Allison feels lucky she got to take the trip with her sister, especially now as much of the world is grounded due to the pandemic.

“It’s definitely going to be a trip we never forget for many reasons,” she said. “Our mom loved a good adventure. She would have loved to be part of this one, too.”

(Photo courtesy of Allison Ellis.)

 

Have an epic points and miles adventure to share? Email your story to info@thepointsguy.com (put “TPG Reader Hall of Fame” in the subject line), message us on Facebook, or tell us about it in the TPG Lounge; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

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