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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!
Tina is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Tina for sharing her story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Tina Harlow. I started dabbling in miles and points in 2010. I got more serious about it when I discovered Million Mile Secrets in 2012.
What was the goal of your trip?
To take my 77-year-old mother to England – her birthplace and childhood home. The majority of my mother’s relatives live there, but she had not been back since 1976. As a result, my siblings and had no concept of our mother’s life in her younger days. And we did not know our relatives on her side.
I wanted to do this trip for years. But my father had been ill and I knew she would not be comfortable leaving the country. After my father passed away, I knew this trip would be healing.
The trip was in April 2016. I needed 120,000 United Airlines miles to cover airfare for me and my mother. And another 25,000 miles for my flight to the state where she lives so I could travel with her each step of the way. So I needed a total of 145,000 United Airlines miles to get us there.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
Since I had been dabbling in points for a while, I already had 97,000 points from various cards over the years. I was able to earn the remaining points I needed within 3 months.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
I had never participated in a hotel points program, so I turned to Million Mile Secrets for some answers. One of the posts suggested the AMEX Starwood card and provided the secrets for getting the maximum points possible. I signed up and got 30,000 Starwood points. My husband signed up as well and received 30,000 points.
So I had 60,000 Starwood points to spend! And that number was growing as I put as many of my expenses as possible on the card.
By the time I was ready to book, I had 70,000 Starwood points that, if I planned well, would completely cover our lodging for the entire 2-week trip.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I went through the Starwood website. I was able to see all of their available hotel partners in London. And how many points were required for each stay. This made my decision very easy!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
It was only after I had enough points to completely cover airfare and lodging that I contacted relatives to make arrangements to see each of them. They were all so kind and gracious and insisted that we stay with them. So, in the end, I only had to cover 3 nights of lodging, leaving me tons of points for future adventures!
In addition to this great news, I learned that my brother who lives in yet another state, was able to get the time off work to join us. Cool!
But that meant we had to accommodate for him as well. The hotels worked with us.
The Sheraton Grand London Park Lane hotel upgraded our room to a larger one for a small fee which was waived since we had to wait a few hours to check into our room. And the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel added a bed at no extra charge. The relatives graciously found space in their homes for a third person.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Our first night, we stayed at the gorgeous Sheraton Grand London Park Lane hotel. The look on my mother’s face when our taxi pulled up to the hotel was priceless. I think this was the nicest place she had ever stayed!
The staff was wonderful and we received excellent service. We went to high tea that afternoon in the Palm Court Lounge and felt like queens! I will note the hotel was undergoing renovation at the time, so they were requiring less points than usual. The renovation did not impact us at all.
The location was perfect. We walked to Piccadilly Square where my mother had her first hairdressing job when she was just 16 years old. The building she worked in is now a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
We wanted to make sure we had the right building so we chatted with the staff at Ripley’s about the history. We were delighted when they gave us free tickets so we could explore the building. This was a really neat experience for my mother.
We found a UK-based sandwich shop franchise called “Pret A Manger” which turned out to be a jewel on our travels. The food is natural, healthy, delicious, and affordable. We enjoyed breakfast there each day while we were in London.
The money I saved in airfare and lodging allowed me to purchase inexpensive flights to Spain so we could see more relatives. We were only in Spain for a few days but it was just as memorable as the rest of our trip.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that taking a risk can open us up to miracles!
After a couple of days in London, we took the train to stay with some relatives outside of the city. They took us to many wonderful places, but the highlight was visiting my mother’s childhood town of Wimbledon.
She remembered her old address. We were shocked and delighted to see the house was still standing.
We stopped the car and got out to take some photos. I did not want to freak out the residents, so I knocked on the door to let them know what we were doing. It was midday on a Monday so we did not expect anyone to be there.
A woman answered and was so welcoming and friendly. She invited us in and took us on a tour of the whole house.
It was so wonderful to see my mother recognize the same latches on the windows of her childhood room and the back garden where she played at the age of 10. This experience brought the worlds of my mother and I together in a way that I cannot explain.
In two short weeks I met 49 relatives; none of whom I had known prior to this trip. If I had not made this trip, it is highly possible this family connection would have been lost to future generations.
I feel a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I was able to provide this trip for my mother without having to incur debt. In the past, I would have left England believing that I would never have the opportunity to visit these relatives again.
The points and miles hobby has given me a new perspective. I WILL visit again and I next time I will take my husband and two children with me. I can’t wait!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
I am not an attorney, a doctor, or the CEO of a large company. I am a child therapist and my husband is a carpenter. After pulling off this trip, I believe that anything is possible.
Million Mile Secrets is an incredible resource. If there is something you really want to do, just make it happen. Don’t put it off.
I’ve heard too many people say, “I wish I had…” Live without regrets by making the most of the opportunities life has to offer now!
Want to Share Your Story?
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note! Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!