TPG readers reveal their very first points and miles redemptions
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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.
We’re all dreaming of the trips we’ll take once the coronavirus outbreak has settled down and it’s safe to travel again. In the meantime, many of us have been reminiscing about old flights, honeymoons and family vacations for inspiration.
In that vein, we asked TPG Lounge members to tell us about their very first points and miles redemption, and the response was incredible — you all love a good trip down memory lane! For some, it involved digging deep into the vault or remembering lean or difficult times; others who are new to using points and miles had recent big wins (and a few failures) to share.
Here are some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).
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The good old days
Some TPG readers are true veterans in rewards travel, citing first-time redemptions with airlines and loyalty programs that no longer exist. It sure makes us long for simpler times, when award rates were cheap and fixed and it was easy to redeem miles to fly the Queen of the Skies — the Boeing 747.
“120,000 miles redeemed for TWA first class from San Francisco (SFO) to London Heathrow (LHR), then Athens (ATH) to San Francisco in the summer of 1990. Best trip of my life up to that point, made better by meeting my future wife while traveling on it! There was an awkward moment at the end of the trip when my future wife asked if I would be willing to change seats so that we could sit together. She was shocked when I told her I was in first class, and I promised that on a future trip we would travel in first together — we did so on our 10th-anniversary trip returning to Greece!” — Tom A.
“Somewhere around 1996, when I moved to Hawaii and switched from Northwest to United. Maui (OGG) to Munich (MUC) for 50,000 miles round-trip in economy, so nothing special. But those were the good old days, when for every two paid flights, even for consolidator prices, I got a free one.” — Peter P.
“Used Alaska Airlines miles to fly from Seattle (SEA) to Cairo (CAI) on British Airways (before the “fuel surcharges”) in business class. First time flying business internationally in 2000. I wish we had used the free stopover to stay in London for a few days. Arriving in Egypt at night with jet lag was rough. The best mileage trips ever were the two times we flew from Seattle to Sydney (SYD) in the nose of the Qantas 747 in 2004 and 2007.” — Sally W.S.
“Really a great redemption in first class to Greece with Northwest Airlines, so that gives you an idea how long I have been playing the points game.” — Judith K.
“I used to annually use American Airlines miles and copay for upgrades to business class on AA in the ’80s and ’90s for all my trips to London. I could always get the day I wanted within a couple of days but that was before the Parker era and miles were usable, unlike the past 10 years.” — Carry B.
“My first flight redemption was probably in the mid ’80s (I joined United and American when they first started the mileage plans) with a flight on United or American from Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 10,000 miles maybe. And I was always upgraded back then. My favorite hotel redemption was back when Sheraton gave 50% off coupons and I stayed at the old Blackrock Sheraton on Maui.” — Barbara P. D.
“Pan Am. Four first-class round-trip tickets from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Athens with a layover of a few days in Miami (MIA). August 1991. Two months later Pan Am’s program ended. I used 95% of our miles. Rest went to Delta. Grand Bretagne Hotel in Athens, The Colonnade in Miami.” — Carla P. B.
“Round-trip Atlanta (ATL) to Paris, in first class (back when there was only first class) on Delta. The flight wasn’t full so the flight attendant gave us two jars of caviar to go. Worth it.” — Nancy N.G.
“5,000 points with Western Airlines first class Los Angeles to Honolulu (HNL). In the early ’80s I did this every month, because you earned points on award tickets. Los Angeles to Honolulu was just over 5,000 points, so I could do it in perpetuity until Delta bought Western.” — Charlene A.
“First domestic: Northwest from New York to St. Louis (STL) (hometown), connecting in Detroit (DTW). First international New York to Paris on Continental. Domestic redemption was not a good value (but the only way I could go for an important event) and the trip to Paris was definitely worth it.” — Christine C. L.
“Air Tran! Had some rare work flights that earned a free ticket. Went Atlanta to Los Angeles to attend the Long Beach Grand Prix. Absolutely worth it! I’m a Delta loyalist now, but really enjoyed my time flying the Tran.” — Andrew F.
“My first ‘real’ redemption was in 1993 — Cleveland (CLE) to Detroit to Amsterdam (AMS) to Athens. This was for my honeymoon, so I pulled out all of the stops and got first-class seats (I booked too late, and they weren’t available, but I pleaded, explained my situation, and Northwest Airlines ended up giving me the seats). On the way out, things were AMAZING. We were the front two seats in the 747 nose (still have the photo the flight attendant took). Had an eight-hour layover in AMS, so we toured the city for the day.” — Nelson P.
“About 10 years ago, used 148,000 Continental miles to fly round-trip Lufthansa first class from Newark to Singapore (SIN) via Munich. It seemed like a good deal at the time and it was a great trip!” — Laura H. W.
Being with loved ones is priceless
Many TPG readers redeemed points for the first time to take their loved ones on vacation or travel to an important event. A few turned to miles for last-minute flights when there was an unexpected death or family emergency — a good reminder that points and miles are the best insurance policy.
“Over 20 years ago, 20,000 Alaska Airlines miles from Oakland (OAK) to Bellingham (BLI). Last-minute super-expensive flight for a family member’s death. In the same situation, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was either that or not support family because we had no money for tickets.” — Leslie B. Y.
“Jogging my memory here … boy. 2007. Flew my whole family (two adults, three young children) Los Angeles to San Francisco using American Airlines miles. Grand Hyatt, used Hyatt points, got upgraded to a suite for three nights. Switched to Hilton Union Square down the street using Hilton points for another three nights. I know I had a couple of free night certificates. I don’t remember the points, too long ago. Spent time just showing the kids the city. Would do it again, just to see my kids that young. Priceless.” — Vic V.
“Norfolk (ORF) to Guam (GUM), Guam to Tokyo (NRT) and Tokyo to Norfolk using the old version of the United Excursionist Perk. The Tokyo to San Francisco leg was on United’s 747-400. I paid 130,000 miles each for my sister and me to fly in business class for the whole trip, minus one domestic leg that didn’t clear the waitlist. Fantastic deal. 100% would do it again.” — Matthew P.
“My first was actually not that valuable but it got me to a friend’s wedding I wouldn’t have made it to otherwise. Then about 18 months ago I got into the points and miles game along with an increase in work-related travel so my first ‘real’ redemption was upgrading a bargain coach fare on Aer Lingus in business class (this year in January before travel shut down). Needless to say, it’s ruined me a bit and I am now assuming that I want business class on my next trip to Europe which will probably be in fall 2021 or 2022.” — Jennifer H.
“October 1990, American Airlines, San Francisco to New York-JFK (I have no idea how many miles it was). About 5 a.m. I got a call from a hospital near where my parents lived that my father had died. I got on the phone to AAdvantage and they got me on a nonstop that afternoon with an open return. I can only imagine what that would have cost in dollars.” — George M.
“Not first redemption but first travel credit card perk of going to Disney and using the lounge at Orlando (MCO) for breakfast on our departure day. Felt pretty great. First redemption was 30,000 points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for a last-minute flight to see my best friend in London during her study abroad with a day-long stopover in Ireland that I used to visit another friend. I went for a long weekend from Boston and it was worth every mile. Such a fun trip.” — Zoe G.
“Newbie here. One way Seattle (SEA) to Marseille (MRS) in 2017 for four of us in Delta One for 70,000 miles each. First time in international business class. We loved the experience, but my kids also enjoyed the Icelandair return flight in economy.” — Kristen W.
“I got a credit card that offered to double your miles after the first year. I put all of my spending on that card. After a year, I took a road trip with my son. We went to Salt Lake City (SLC) where we did Lagoon, a water park and the aquarium. Then we drove to the Grand Canyon. We rode mules and went on a sunset tour. Every part of our trip was covered: hotels, gas, food, tours, souvenirs — the miles basically worked like cash back. I would do it again. My son still talks about the mule ride.” — Staci J.
“TWA from Los Angeles to St. Louis to visit my grandma.” — Barbara E.
“I’ve been a Southwest Rapid Rewards member for so many years, when you got a free flight after flying a certain number of segments. I probably got a free flight to either Dallas (DAL) or Las Vegas (LAS). On another note, one of our best rewards was about 15 years ago when I transferred points to Southwest Airlines and five of us went to Disney World. Saved so much money at that time on flights.” — Joyce K. H.
“My husband, two daughters and I went to Italy. We got welcome bonuses on two cards and moved available points around. I had to call directly to get tickets. The agent told me he never had gotten four tickets on points for same flight — this was USAir about 10 years ago.” — Anne B. R.
“My first redemption was to buy a ticket for my best friend to travel from Dallas (DFW) to Anchorage (ANC) for her mother’s funeral. I was new to the game and just began to accumulate American Airlines miles. She couldn’t afford to go otherwise and a super nice agent found a round-trip ticket that worked to get her there and back nonstop for 25,000 AA miles. Probably my favorite redemption because I know it meant a lot to her.” — Stacie C.
“As I remember I bundled 150,000 British Airways and American Express Membership Rewards points for two round-trip business-class seats on the BA 747 upper deck from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to London then London to Paris (CDG). It was about 25 years ago and a fabulous trip! I took my sister and we traveled around Europe for three weeks before returning to London and then home. Nice memories.” — Phillips M.
“20,000 Northwest miles, standard award round-trip from Seattle to Washington National (DCA) to visit my grandparents. I was a kid and didn’t have money for a peak-season ticket, but knew I’d been earning miles since birth. Totally worth it.” — Michael K.
“It was three round-trip first-class tickets for my wife, daughter and me from Newark to Honolulu for 240,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Made my wife a believer in the nonsense of having more than five credit cards” — Cyrus S.
“Going back to California from South Carolina in 2007 after taking care of my grandfather for two months, using his miles actually; that was my first redemption. I didn’t want to be away from my husband for our first wedding anniversary. Using my own miles, it was to buy a ticket for a friend traveling from Chicago (MDW) to San Diego (SAN) in 2012 as the flight was the only stumbling block to her attending. She had squared everything else away. I used the welcome bonus from a Southwest credit card for her.” — Maryann V.
“Flying the family free on Southwest to Orlando and then staying at the Swan for free for a Disney vacation. At the time it was a good redemption. Now the points have changed and I don’t think it’s worth it anymore.” — Casie P.
“My son and I flew first class fro Philadelphia (PHL) to Los Angeles on points. I never told him we were first class until we started to board. He was thrilled.” — Eileen K.
“United domestic first class overnight on a ‘p.s.’ aircraft San Francisco to Newark and back the same way. There are a few planes of this configuration that old United used to fly between New York and San Francisco, with nice lie-flat seats. Paid with United miles from our United credit cards. We saw “Hamilton” on Broadway with the original cast. My wife was about six months pregnant. Best flight I’d ever had. Hotel was a Hilton Garden Inn, I think, maybe fashion district. Think I paid cash for that. Trip rating: 5 stars! Highly recommend. They don’t call it p.s. anymore (they didn’t even then in 2017, actually) so I’m not sure the easy way to identify these planes when booking without looking at the seat map. But they’re worth it.” — Daniel P.
Related: The best travel rewards credit cards
When cash was tight
“I used 33,500 Delta SkyMiles plus $200 from Seattle to Austin (AUS) in domestic first class for my cousin’s bachelor party. I didn’t calculate a redemption rate because I didn’t know much back then, but it definitely saved me money at a time cash was a bit tight. In that regard, it was the perfect redemption.” — Michael B.
“Probably wasn’t the most cost-effective redemption but I was able to take my sister to New York City to see Hamilton. Using Delta Skymiles to pay for our flights made the price of our Hamilton tickets a little easier to swallow.” — Nikki K.
“I traveled for work for two years (from 2005 to 2007) for my first job after college, during which time I used points and miles to take several holiday weekend trips with friends. However, my first major redemption was also my first international trip in October 2007. I used 150,000 Northwest miles to book three round-trip flights between the U.S. and Europe for myself and my two best friends from college. ” — Shana G.
“Delta from Los Angeles to Sacramento (SMF) in economy. Nothing glamorous, but it was last minute and cash prices were through the roof. In retrospect I’m very proud of my past self.” — Stephen O.
“I think it was back in 2005. I was a poor ob-gyn resident and we had enough miles for me and my husband to fly to Peru. A two-week trip to go to Machu Picchu, the Amazon, etc. I think it was 35,000 miles per ticket direct from New York to Lima (LIM)!” — Andrea B.
“I believe my first redemption was Curacao in 2011. Welcome bonus from my American Airlines credit card was enough for two round-trip tickets so I ‘paid’ for the flight for my friend and she took care of the hotel.” — Kristen L.
“The welcome bonus on the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard got two tickets from Washington, D.C to Phoenix (PHX), Phoenix to Indianapolis (IND) then Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. Not a glamorous international destination, but it got myself and my boyfriend to our home states for December holiday travel. Still a win in my book!” — Haley L.
“I was in college and broke so I redeemed Marriott points I had earned during my consulting internship on like a week in a very inconveniently-located Courtyard in Paris. Looking back, I can’t believe it was only three months of earning and I got that many nights during a very peak travel time! I’m proud of my college self.” — Olga L.
“American Airlines coach to Europe, 20,000 AA miles each way off-peak; we couldn’t afford the $1,200 ticket per person for four people. Would do it again in a heartbeat!” — Kenny B.
Celebrations and aspirational redemptions
Many of our readers went big and used some of the best award chart sweet spots to fly in luxurious premium cabins and stay in bucket-list destinations.
“70,000 Alaska Airlines miles (transferred from Marriott): Japan Airlines first class from Los Angeles to Tokyo. While in Japan, used points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve to stay at Park Hyatt Tokyo. Would absolutely do it again.” — Jennifer W.
“I used my Chase Ultimate Rewards points for hotels in London and Edinburgh (EDI) last August for my husband’s big birthday. We stayed at Fraser’s Suites on the Mile; it was a great location and hotel. We also stayed at The Rubens at the Palace while in London, very different hotels. Fraser’s was more my taste, but we had great experiences at both. Also, Edinburgh in August is quite lively with the Fringe Festival; we were not expecting that outside our door every day!” — Rhonda G.
“Flew to New Orleans with a Delta SkyMiles card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (no longer available)! Used the Delta card to pay for the flights and the Barclaycard to pay for food and hotel. My girlfriend and I doubled up on the Barclaycard offer so we got double the points to cover our costs. The trip was totally free. The only thing I would’ve done differently is wait and hoard the points for a once-in-a-lifetime trip (like Bora Bora, Maldives, etc)” — Kem G.
“Back in 2008, I didn’t know anything about miles and points but had a ton of them from a mortgage that came with points. Having no money due to said mortgage, but really needing a vacation, I used them to fly to Peru with my partner at the time. Big real redemption: 2017 business class Austin to Sydney and back. I couldn’t believe it pulled it off and paid $900 for $27,000 of cash fare! It was our first time in business class, it was an amazing experience and made that very long-haul travel so much easier.” — Miriam M.
“Minneapolis (MSP) to Hong Kong (HKG) Delta One redemption prior to dynamic pricing at saver (or whatever it was called) level. Included two rides in the upper deck of a B747 in 2013. Hands down, I’m going to miss that ride.” — Matthew S.
“We redeemed for first class on Lufthansa on a 747 from Washington, D.C to Frankfurt (FRA), so we also got to spend time in the First Class Terminal at FRA. It was awesome and worth it a thousand times over. Used Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United.” — Anna M.
“American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to Flying Blue for two round-trip tickets at 25,000 miles each. Chicago (ORD) to Berlin (TXL) returning from Madrid (MAD). A few weeks later used redeemed points via the Amex travel portal for two round-trip tickets from Chicago to Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) to Bangkok (BKK) and back to Chicago for 33,000 points each. This was 2015 /16 when cash fares to Europe and Asia were still pretty high.” — Brad P.
“I redeemed American Airlines miles that I had been accumulating since I was 19 for a ticket from Los Angeles to Columbus (CMH) on their brand new nonstop flight to see USA versus Mexico in World Cup Qualifying.” — Alison C.
“Upgrade to United Polaris for our flight to Bora Bora in March — totally worth it, Polaris is amazing, not sure if it was a good deal or not, but now I’m addicted to getting points and trying to get status and miles!” — Jeanine C.
Related: The ultimate guide to Qatar Qsuite
“2010 Minneapolis to Paris first class on Delta. First time I had ever flown first class on a European flight — it was pure heaven and we have done it many times since then on miles. Told the flight attendant that the champagne they served was one of our favorites and she gave me a bottle when we arrived in Paris. Two weeks later on the return flight we had the same flight attendant and she gave me another bottle when we landed back at Minneapolis.” — Aruba A.
“50,000 Alaska Airlines miles for Vancouver (YVR) to New York-JFK in business class on Cathay Pacific. Did that many times over the last 15 years. I’m sure going to miss flying that route on CX.” — Ryan K.
“My wife and I booked round-trip economy-class tickets from Cleveland to Honolulu on United for 45,000 miles each. We were able to redeem for over 2 cents per mile and had an empty middle seat for the nine-hour flight between Chicago and Honolulu. The United Explorer Card covered most of the miles needed for the flight.” — Donald B.
“2003. Upper Class Virgin Atlantic Los Angeles to London. Back then they included a free car service to/from San Diego to Los Angeles. They gave massages on the flight! We used points at three hotels — the Park Tower in London, the Excelsior in Florence and the Danieli in Venice. I was only a lowly SPG Gold at the time and Excelsior upgraded us to a beautiful suite with a huge private deck overlooking the Duomo; Danieli to a suite with an amazing view balcony overlooking the Lagoon. We couldn’t believe our amazing first-class travel on points. We were hooked.” — Wendy A.
“My first redemption since becoming more interested in points and miles was round-trip from Los Angeles to Doha (DOH) to Colombo (CMB) on Qatar Airways in economy. I paid through the Chase portal so that I could earn AA miles. The trip was enough to get me American Airlines Platinum status which worked out incredibly well as the following year I lucked into flying internationally for work. Certainly took advantage of the access to business-class lounges! All-in-all a great use of points for my situation!” — Kyle L.
A few regrets
A handful of TPG Lounge readers recalled their first redemption not as fondly, and wish they’d saved their miles for something else.
“Used United miles to book a roundtrip from New Orleans (MSY) to Newark for Thanksgiving and on the return flight flew first class. Looking back I wish I would have saved the miles to use on a different flight.” — Lindsey C.
“It was hot, sweaty, and I was pretty tight … squeezed in a middle seat and stuck on the tarmac in Phoenix for an hour when it was 100° out.” — Nicole S.
“[Applied] for a Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card a couple years ago and used the welcome bonus to fly round-trip to Paris. In economy. It wasn’t a terrible redemption, but I’ll definitely be going for business or better in the future!” — Josh M.
“I redeemed miles on Song Airlines.” — Chakkrit B.
“A last-minute economy flight from Boise (BOI) to Boston (BOS) for 25,000 United miles from my United Explorer Card welcome bonus to visit my wife during a business trip five years ago. Based on the cash price it was a pretty decent value, but I’ve had way better redemptions since then with transferable points in business and first class.” — Jo B.
“I redeemed around 45,000 Bank of America points (don’t even know what they are called) to do a round-trip JetBlue flight from Boston to Cancun (CUN). Definitely wasn’t a good redemption, but opened my eyes to credit cards being used for miles and got me to research and learn more. Probably how I found TPG!” — Julia K.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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