TPG Reader Hall of Fame: A foodie's dream around-the-world luxury honeymoon with points and miles
We love hearing about the incredible trips TPG readers have taken, and today's Hall of Fame story is an exceptional one. TPG reader Nada and her husband, Marcus, planned an epic round-the-world honeymoon almost exclusively with points and miles, traveling in high style and staying at some of the world's most aspirational properties. These unabashed foodies focused on four goals: combining luxury with culture and exploration, flying in a wide variety of aircraft, eating "all the things" and maximizing their points for their flights and hotels.
Their itinerary took them from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT), Singapore (SIN), Colombo (CMB), Male (MLE), Doha (DOH), Paris (CDG) and London (LHR). How did they decide on this multi-continent adventure? "We both spent over a decade traveling the world for work and fun and racking up hotel and airline points," said Nada. "When his brand (Marriott) bought mine (SPG) we learned there’s a world far outside our work-travel Westins and Marriotts. Combined, that opened us up to W, Ritz-Carlton and the boutique-like Luxury Collection and Autograph brands."
This, along with both holding elite status with American Airlines (Platinum Pro) and Marriott Bonvoy (Titanium and Gold) guided their research into the best Marriott Bonvoy hotels on the planet and routing options through the Oneworld alliance.
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Honeymoon planning strategy
Nada explained that she and Marcus have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally for work — they're true road warriors and have already seen much of the world. "We're an extremely well-traveled pair. We are both the kids of immigrants who spent summers in our parents' homelands and traveling the world. I became an AA member as a child in the 80s," she said. They'd already traveled a lot together and decided to get married in Punta de Mita, Mexico, and initially began planning their honeymoon to Tokyo and Bora Bora. But things didn't go as expected.
After experiencing much frustration and many late nights on the AA website, they couldn't get award flights and hotel availability to line up. "We spent more time on this than planning our wedding. So we gave up! How would we ever have the epic honeymoon we’d wanted?" Nada recalled.
Related: 8 of the best foodie cities around the world, and what to eat when you get there
"Then my husband remembered — 'You always dreamed of going Round the World — let's do that!'" Because American Airlines no longer allowed booking round-the-world tickets with miles after the U.S. Airways merger, the pair looked into cash fares and quickly decided $15,000 per person wasn't a wise use of funds.
Instead, the couple pieced together a Oneworld itinerary using American Airlines miles with flights on AA, Japan Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines, Qatar and British Airways — and used Marriott points for stays at some of the most luxurious hotels the chain has to offer.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage
Flights and hotels
Nada and her husband chose one of the hardest places to get to — the Maldives — and a stay at the ultra-luxe W Maldives as the focus of their trip. "We plotted our route to and from [the Maldives], making each connection/layover a destination that we got to explore," Nada explained. "The strategy was to think of a layover as a destination and push the airline to give us as much time as possible there. We ended up hitting two places we’ve never been — Tokyo and the Maldives, and two cities we’d been to many times but never together."
Related: The best ways to travel to Japan with points and miles
The pair led off their trip with a flight in American Airlines 787 business class from Los Angeles to Tokyo. In Tokyo, they redeemed Marriott points for a stay at the swanky Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho (Luxury Collection) and took advantage of their time in the city to hit up popular foodie destinations — including the dive bars of Golden Gai and Yakitori Alley.
Their next stop was Kyoto, and to get there they scratched off one of their bucket-list items — the shinkansen (bullet train). While in the city, they used Marriott points for a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and paid cash for a night at the Nazuna Kyoto Gosho ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), complete with a private onsen (Japanese bath) and irori breakfast. "Goalz!" Nada said.
Nada and Marcus' next hop was on Japan Airlines 777-300 in business class from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Singapore. Although their stopover was only for a day, they maximized it by exploring The Jewel at Singapore Changi airport, visiting the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and walking the entire Gardens by the Bay and waterfalls. And, as proper foodies do, Nada reports "[We] couldn’t miss the famous chili crab at Newton Hawker Center!"
Related: 3 ways to do Singapore on points
Following their day in Singapore, the newlyweds flew Sri Lankan Airlines business class from Singapore to Colombo (A320) and Colombo to Male (A330-300), then hopped on Trans Maldivian Airways for the seaplane transfer to the W Maldives.
Related: Your ultimate guide to hotel and resort transfer fees in the Maldives
So was their six-day stay at the W Maldives everything they'd hoped for? Nada describes their experience as "indulgent, personal and memorable. Totally an unpretentious and chill vibe — classic W." Thanks to Marcus' Marriott Titanium elite status, they enjoyed an expansive free breakfast every morning and sampled "incredible" local Maldivian and international cuisine. They did spend cash to upgrade to an opulent overwater bungalow overlooking the lagoon, but since then the W Maldives has made it easier to use points for overwater villas.
Related: 6 reasons to pick the W Maldives over the St. Regis
Their journey wasn't over yet, as the pair still had two iconic cities and business-class flights to enjoy en route home. From Male, they hopped on Qatar Airways to Doha — originally the trip was booked in Qsuite on the 777, but due to an equipment swap they ended up on the carrier's new A350-900 instead. "We survived," Nada said, "[but] if you’re an AvGeek, be prepared for unexpected equipment changes that may impact your coveted seat choice." The couple did get their wish to fly Qatar 777 Qsuite between Doha and Paris, however.
Related: The ultimate guide to Qatar Qsuite
In Paris, the couple made the most of their time by redeeming Marriott points at the Hotel Banke (Autograph Collection) in the 9th arrondissement — which Nada describes as "just off the beaten path but still in the heart of it all."
Paris provided an opportunity to take in the Louvre and enjoy the romance of the city and, of course, the food. They shopped and ate oysters on the Rive Gauche, and held hands under the lights of the Champs-Élysées — as one does in the City of Lights.
Related: Maximizing points and miles to get to Paris
From Paris, they hopped on the short flight to London on British Airways, and again maximized stopover rules for an overnight stay at the St. Ermins (Autograph Collection). As it was the holiday season, the city was bustling, and Nada recalls their short stay fondly. "We walked the stunning Christmas lights down Regent and Piccadilly [and] had dinner at Kutir (Chelsea), one of the best (Indian) tasting menus ever. Then the next day we explored the Abbey, Palace and Big Ben/Parliament."
Related: How to use points and miles to get to London
Lastly, the couple achieved what Nada describes as "the cherished flight of our lives" — upper deck on the Queen of the Skies. The British Airways 747-400 is now one of the last Boeing 747s you can fly in the world, which made this experience all the more special.
All told, Nada and her husband spent 295,000 American Airlines miles each for their flights, and 680,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for their hotels, plus some cash for taxes and fees, the ryokan in Kyoto and the overwater bungalow upgrade in the Maldives. Had they paid cash, the bill for their honeymoon would have clocked in at well over $40,000. Nicely done!
Related: Maximizing redemptions with the Marriott Bonvoy program
Takeaways from the trip
Nada doesn't hesitate to share the lessons she and her hubby learned from their honeymoon. Here are a few of her tips:
- We learned that saving miles and maximizing partner alliances can pay off. Don’t waste miles on domestic flights and pick an alliance that goes everywhere you want to.
- Status goes a long way for upgrades, perks and amenities. The little perks add up; priority attention alone is so valuable.
- Marriott suite night awards are for suckers. Not ONE hotel accepted suite nights. Save those for a Tuesday at the Sheraton Parsippany.
- You have to call Qatar to unlock access to Qsuite. It shows blocked on the apps.
- Not all reservations agents are created equally — even at the Platinum desk. Definitely do your research online, then call. But know that sometimes you will get a dud and you will need to say thanks, hang up, and try again. You will eventually find someone who demonstrates enthusiasm over your adventure and will work hard to help you make it happen. It took a lot of calls to find all these flights. (Note: All hotels were booked on the Marriott/SPG/Bonvoy Apps.
- Have your luggage delivered where you can. In Japan we traveled light, shipping our luggage from the Tokyo hotel to the airport while we did three days in Kyoto with just a carry-on. It will be wrapped and reliably waiting for you at the airport.
- Upgrades. I never found the comfort value worth the dollar value of an upgraded seat for only 10 hours of my life because I’m really good at recovering from jet lag. But we slept — hard — on these overnight flights and that left us maximizing day hours in each location. Best night's sleep was in Qsuite with their velour pillows, blankets, traditional cuisine and signature mint limeade.
- No matter how busy your travels, stop and smell the roses. Whether in Paris for the fifth time or Kyoto for the first— go off the beaten trail. Skip the private guide and taxis. Ride public transportation. Eat like a local. Interact. See things, experience the life.
Nada also has some wise words for those who are "doing it all for the 'gram." "I do a lot of ‘gramming but I made it a point to stay off social media and indulge in the moments, for myself and my new relationship. Otherwise, you find yourself engaging in reactions and responses to your posts throughout the night and missing out on the delights right in front of your face. The world back home will always be just the same as you left it and frankly, people’s curiosity just isn’t worth satisfying."
Related: Maximizing points and miles when planning your wedding and honeymoon
Most important of all, she says, is finding your perfect travel partner. "Everyone warned us that three weeks of nonstop travel together would tire us, make us weary of travel for a while and make us sick of each other (an AA reservations agent joked that while struggling to find adjacent seats). But we walked away ready to plan our next trip and I realized I found my Bourdain. I could never love him more."
Spoken like a true foodie and travel junkie, Nada — and your photos are making us hungry! Congratulations to you and Marcus on creating the perfect honeymoon with miles and points.
Have an epic points and miles adventure to share? Email your story to email@example.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.