Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
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!
Vonda and Alan are our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Vonda and Alan for sharing their story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
Our names are Vonda and Alan.
After doing some research into their Rapid Rewards program, I kept reading something about a Companion Pass. So I Googled it, which led me to a post on your website, which I’d never seen before. That day opened our eyes to the world of miles and points.
What was the goal of your trip?
Four years ago, our original goal was to get a couple of free flights to Florida from Wisconsin.
But within a year, things started to grow like we never imagined, and we started getting involved in other airlines and hotel programs. Before that, we maybe took one trip a year via plane.
The last couple of years, we have been taking 4 to 5 trips per year to places like Aruba, Mexico, Las Vegas, Punta Cana, Grenada, and now our new favorite location, Hawaii. We are leaving shortly for our 3rd consecutive trip to Hawaii and will be planning for next year’s trip when we get back.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
For our first trip to Hawaii, it maybe took 6 months to accumulated the needed points.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
We each got the US Airways cards when they were available. We also picked up Citi’s AAdvantage Platinum Select cards. Because we own a couple small businesses, we were also approved for their small business cards.
So I kept transferring my accumulating Ultimate Rewards points into her Hyatt account until we had enough for a week at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. Last year we went to the Grand Hyatt Kauai for 8 days and loved it so much that by our last day there, we vowed to come back this year.
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
We have been using American Airlines miles to fly to Hawaii the last couple years, as we had a couple hundred thousand points. With our future flights, we plan on still flying American Airlines, but will switch to our Citi ThankYou points.
We each got the Citi Prestige when the sign-up offer was 50,000 Citi ThankYou points. And the Citi ThankYou Premier when it jumped up for a short time to 60,000 Citi ThankYou points. American Airlines has gotten so bad with having any saver or business seats to Hawaii. And their anytime awards are 40,000 to 50,000 miles one-way, so I would’t recommend them.
As far as hotel cards, we’ve been very happy with Hyatt’s program. My wife has a card in her name. And a lot of my Chase Ultimate Rewards points go into her account.
I’ve had the Chase Freedom for years, and still put a lot of spend on it for its quarterly 5X bonus. I then transfer those points to my Ink Plus card (no longer available). This my favorite all-around card for its 5X categories
And of course the addition of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has made a great addition to our Ultimate Rewards portfolio. 🙂
How did you search for and find the award flights?
To search our Hawaii award flights on American Airlines, we went directly to American Airlines’ site and booked within a week of them becoming available.
For booking our Southwest Caribbean flights, Southwest’s homepage makes it very easy. We usually book one person’s flight, and after it is completed, it will ask if you want to book a companion. Then we just book another flight for spouse.
We also love you can make changes with no penalty. Just the other day one of our upcoming flights to Mexico dropped 5,000 points, so I canceled and rebooked in 15 minutes. On no other airline can you do that so easily.
Also I heard rumors on this last year, but last month just prior to landing in Aruba, the flight attendants announced Southwest will be going to Hawaii soon. Yeah!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Finding hotel accommodations was easy using Hyatt’s web site.
We also use TripAdvisor a lot to narrow our hotel choice down to a certain location. We’ve found that even if you’re a lower level elite in hotels programs, we’ve still gotten great room upgrades without asking. We got a Executive Beach Front room 100 feet from Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, and on our Hawaii trips been upgraded to pool- or ocean-view rooms.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of planning our trips today is finding enough vacation days from my wife’s work.
We’ve been using our Citi Prestige card with their 4th night free to go on 4-day mini vacations over weekends or holidays so she only has to take 1 or 2 days off. We easily saved over $1,000 on hotel stays last year, making the $450 fee worth paying.
Last October, we stayed at The Barcelo Maya Palace in the Riveira Maya for 4 days for $165 per night for 2 people. This was a 5-star all-inclusive resort on a beautiful private beach.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Go to Shipwreck Beach and trails will lead up the bluffs and along the ocean towards the golf course. I went up there many mornings to watch the sun rise over the ocean, and with the mountains behind you it is a breathtaking sight.
There is also a 6-mile bike trail that follows the ocean starting in Kapaa. We rented bikes right in Kapaa, and spent a couple hours round-trip. I think the bike rentals were less than $20, a great deal considering most things in Hawaii are very expensive!
We also drove our rental car to Waimea Canyon. Views were also great, funny how much the weather changes on Kauai. Left Poipu was sunny, got to Waimea canyon was cool and foggy, then back to Poipu and sun!
We are planning to visit the Na Pali Coast by Catamaran (boat) this year, and heard it is the only way to see it close besides helicopter since there are no roads in this area. We were booked to go last year but the seas were too rough.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
What we’ve learned on these trips is there are so many beautiful places in this world to see and visit, and couldn’t be luckier to stumble onto the world of travel points and miles.
We’ve heard so many people say they hope to travel more when they are older and can afford it, but never see that day. Fortunately for us that day is now. And we don’t want to take it for granted. We never know when our lives may change and not allow us to do this.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Get information, it’s out there!
Whether it’s blog sites like Million Mile Secrets, or guidance from someone who has experience in traveling on points. Most who have been doing it love to help newcomers get their start.
I personally felt great helping some good friends of mine celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They said they wanted to visit Hawaii for the first time. I offered them to help get them there on points, and guided them through the process. They are leaving for Kauai in a few months and saving $6,000!
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!