An all-star Seychelles redemption that wasn’t meant to be — reader success story

Jun 28, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post makes reference to a number of routes that are currently suspended but are expected to resume as travel picks up again.

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Matthew, whose advance planning and hard work allowed him to book an incredible luxury getaway to the Seychelles on points and miles. While COVID-19 ultimately forced his family to cancel the trip, there’s still a lot to celebrate about this booking:

“Everyone uses their points a little differently. I am looking for premium cabin travel to beach destinations as far away as possible and I need it for my entire family — myself, my wife, and two now-teenage boys — which means I need longer lead times to acquire the miles and points and the right alignment of routes and hotels with wide-open availability.

In 2013, I put the entire family in Cathay Pacific first class for a wonderful inaugural trip to Bali. In 2016, we flew Star Alliance first class and visited Thailand and China. For the third and what may be the final installment (the kids are soon off to college), I was able to once again use miles and points to book a blockbuster summer 2020 trip to Seychelles.

My wife and I have held a few Citi and Barclays cards over the years in order to acquire the 600,000 American Airlines miles required to book the air part of the trip (75,000 miles one-way for business class USA-Africa). As a regular United Airlines flyer, in fact, I am not sure that I have ever earned an AAdvantage mile by actually flying on AA. I tracked award availability trends last summer, and I booked the flights at 331 days out (as allowed by AA policy).

For the outbound, I was able to secure a one-stop itinerary from my home airport on what TPG Awards recognized as the best international business class product – Qatar Airways’ Qsuite. I booked four seats via the American Airlines website, with the IAD-DOH-SEZ itinerary allowing enough time in Doha to plan for a layover tour. I was even able to get seats in one of the center “pods” for the family.

For the trip home, I found a one-stop itinerary through Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways (but not via the AA website). Etihad operates AUH-IAD using a 787-9 Dreamliner.

Seychelles is an amazing beach destination, but it has surprisingly few points hotels. My wife and I each picked up a Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which offers a 150,000-point welcome bonus*. Using the fifth-night free perk, I was able to book two Garden Villas for five nights for 320,000 HH points each at the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort. Other useful Aspire card benefits for this trip were Diamond status for my wife and I (free breakfast and other perks), plus a $250 Hilton Resort credit.

It was a dream trip but not meant to be: Due to COVID-19, Etihad canceled our SEZ-AUH flight. I called AA and canceled the others, and also the hotel reservations, with a full refund for all. I’ll be on standby to try my luck again for 2021.”

*after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening

It’s sad when you have to cancel any trip, but my heart goes out to Matthew and his family who had to cancel what sounds like a picture-perfect vacation. While I’m impressed with the redemption he pulled together, I’m even more impressed with how he did it. Whether your goal is to fly in a premium cabin to a faraway beach or a short economy hop somewhere closer to home, there’s a lot you can learn from Matthew’s approach.

For starters, he clearly did his homework. He knew exactly what miles he would need years in advance and he even knew exactly what day the award calendar opened up so he’d be able to get first crack at it. This kind of timing is especially important if you’re looking to score multiple award tickets or to fly in a coveted premium cabin — even more so if, like Matthew, you’re doing both.

The legwork Matthew put in also helped him maximize his travel with the two airlines he chose, by knowing that Qatar’s center-quad Qsuites configuration is perfect for a family of four and that a long layover would’ve let them explore Doha in the midst of their trip. Same goes for Etihad, where Matthew knew that he wouldn’t find these awards on the AAdvantage website. But that didn’t stop him from finding and booking the seats he wanted.

Instead of accruing points randomly with no plan in mind, Matthew built his credit card strategy around the specific points he needed for his trip, from racking up 600,000 AAdvantage miles with a series of Barclays and Citi cards to opening up two different Hilton Aspire cards (one for him and one for his wife) to get free hotel nights in an otherwise expensive destination. Not many people can be this flexible, changing their brand loyalty from one trip to another to suit their destination.

Further Reading: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! 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; due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy.

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