I saved $1,000 on school interviews — reader success story

Oct 16, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Daniel, who redeemed points for flights and hotels on two recent trips:

I am a veteran, longtime TPG reader and dental school applicant. As someone with a limited budget, I knew the costs to attend dental school interviews could be prohibitive. Thankfully, I heard about the Hilton Honors Military Program and reached out to my state contact to apply. Within 10 days, I received 100,000 points. The process was smooth and allowed me to nearly cover hotels for two dental school interviews that would have cost $450 with taxes and fees. I was short 5,000 points, so I used the Points & Money option for one hotel; at $17.88, that was cheaper than buying points for $30.

I also booked my flights using points and miles. For one interview, I used 12,500 AAdvantage miles to book a one-way flight going for $400, and 8,000 SkyMiles to book a Delta flight going for $152 on the return. For the second interview, I transferred 6,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my Southwest Rapid Rewards account, and booked a round-trip flight for 13,642 points instead of $234.

In all, I spent $22.40 in taxes and fees for award flights and $17.88 on one Hilton stay, when the out-of-pocket cost would have been over $1,000. While I appreciate reading about the aspirational redemptions on TPG and the monthly points and miles valuations, I also appreciate reading about how to make use of what you have. Award travel eased the financial burden of traveling to dental school interviews, and I don’t know if I could have asked for a better use of points and miles.

The aspirational awards Daniel mentions are a strong incentive to earn points and miles, since the prohibitive cost of premium flights and hotel suites means they may be inaccessible otherwise. Those high-end experiences tend to also offer high redemption values, but if you prefer a more conservative approach to travel, another worthy use of rewards is to simply minimize cash expenses. Daniel may not have gotten top dollar for his Hilton points, but he kept about $430 in his pocket that he would have had to spend otherwise. That said, you should still avoid redeeming at far below average value unless it’s an emergency — better to pay cash now and give your rewards an opportunity to save you more down the line.

Hilton’s military program (and others like it) naturally aren’t available to everyone, but there are plenty more ways to boost your loyalty accounts quickly. Credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest and easiest way to earn a chunk of points all at once, but you can also rack up rewards steadily by spending on cobranded cards and using shopping portals for online purchases. Finally, when you’re paying cash for flights and hotel stays, make sure you register for promotional bonuses (like Hilton’s current offer to earn up to triple points through Jan. 5, 2020). Those bonuses typically require enrollment in advance, so don’t wait until after your trip to seek them out.

Related: Best ways to earn points with the Hilton Honors program

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 Daniel 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 by brightstars/Getty Images. Edit by The Points Guy.

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