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!
Harry 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 Harry for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Harry Campbell and I’ve been racking up miles and points since 2009! So I think that makes me pretty old in ‘miles and points’ years. 🙂
In fact, I still remember the first credit card deal I applied for: an offer for 75,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after signing up for an AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card – and the annual fee was waived for two years!
It was actually a targeted offer for Yale alumni. But I found it on Slickdeals and ended up redeeming the points for $750 in gift cards to all my favorite restaurants. Over the years though, I realized how much more valuable those points can be when you transfer them directly to airlines and/or hotels!
What was the goal of your trip?
My wife is a 4th year medical student at UC Irvine and she got an interview at the University of Hawaii for their medical residency program. So we decided to make a little vacation out of it!
While the goal of our trip was really to get her there for the interview, we also wanted to stay at a nice hotel near the university and get free flights there and back.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
Between my wife and me, we had about a million points saved across all the major credit card carriers and airline/hotel chains, so collecting the miles and points was really the easy part for us. I used to apply for a lot more credit cards for the two of us but these days I focus on the best deals or whatever can help me achieve my travel goals.
The most recent cards I applied for were Chase Hyatt (looking to redeem the 2 free nights at the Park Hyatt New York), AMEX Platinum (love the Centurion lounges and SPG/Marriott Gold status) and Chase Sapphire Reserve (my wife and I were denied because we had too many cards though).
Which points did you save to take your trip?
Because we live in Long Beach, California, we can fly out of Los Angeles or Orange County to Hawaii.
And as any west coast traveler can tell you, Hawaii is one of the easiest miles and points awards because there are so many options! The last time we went to Hawaii, I booked 2 Business Class seats with American Airlines miles, but I really was not impressed with the experience.
This time around, I transferred points from AMEX to British Airways and booked 2 round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to Oahu for just 25,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$11 each. The cash price would have been around $575 for the same round-trip ticket! So we got a value of over 2 cents per point.
Our flights out on November 10, 2016:
- Los Angeles to Honolulu for 25,000 British Airways Avios points and $~11
- Cash price of $618
Flights back on November 16, 2016:
- Honolulu to Los Angeles for 25,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$11
- Cash price of $528
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
How did you search for and find the award flights?
I like searching on American Airlines’ website because it’s easy and intuitive. And you can also pull up the calendar view to quickly see which days have availability at the saver level.
Because our trip was in November, I knew there “should be” good availability booking a couple months out – this is typically “low season” for Hawaii.
One thing I noticed was the availability seemed to change from day to day. Initially, the flights we wanted weren’t available but then I kept checking once a day for a week and eventually found the flights we wanted on the exact dates.
The round-trip flight would have cost 45,000 American Airlines miles on American Airlines. But because the distance from LA to Hawaii is only 2,556 miles, you can actually book this same round trip flight on British Airways for only 25,000 British Airways Avios points per person!
The cash price would have been $528 so we definitely saved some money.
We also got to fly on American’s relatively new A321 airplanes, which has a good coach experience. Every seat has an outlet and USB port for charging and you get your own TV with a large selection of movies, TV shows and games.
The seats in coach aren’t overly comfortable, but even at 6’3″, I can handle a 5-hour flight easily – especially if there’s a movie or two to watch. 🙂
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
When we go to Hawaii, I try to get at least 4 full days. So that means we try to be there for a minimum of 6 days and 5 nights.
I always find travel days are sort of a waste because you can’t get a lot done. And when I’m in Hawaii, I don’t like to rush 🙂
I originally received this certificate when I redeemed 270,000 Marriott points for a Hotel + Air package that gives you the 7-night certificate and 120,000 Southwest points which qualify you for the Companion Pass.
The Companion Pass has been great. But the certificate has proven difficult to use since we rarely stay in the same place for 7 nights! The certificate also expires after 1 year but I was able to email Marriott and have them extend it by one year.
But for this trip, we ended up booking flights that would allow us to be in Hawaii for 7 days and 6 nights so it seemed like a great time to use it. The only problem was the hotel we wanted to stay (Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa) was a Category 8!
Fortunately, Marriott allows you to “upgrade” these certificates to a higher category by paying 90,000 more points (the difference between the Category 1 through 5 package and the Category 8 package) so that’s what I did!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
One of the downsides to traveling on miles and points is you sometimes get accustomed to the “high life” and a regular old city view room just doesn’t cut it, even in Hawaii. At the time, I didn’t have status with Marriott but I figured we had a good chance of an upgrade if I could get it.
I was approved instantly and got my Gold elite status within a couple days of submitting the information. Now normally, Marriott won’t confirm upgrades for Gold members until you get there but I tweeted them ahead of time and mentioned my Gold status and the fact that it was our anniversary and they confirmed our upgrade a few weeks out 🙂
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
One of the great things about Hawaii is there is so much great free stuff to do. The snorkeling wasn’t great while we were there due to high surf.
But the views from the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail were amazing! And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can hike down (shoes recommended) to the double blowhole and pools.
Lanikai Beach area was by far our favorite beach and you can swim, snorkel or just lounge and look at the postcard-like beach scenes.
And if you’re like me, you mainly care about food so make sure you get your fill of poke! Foodland (grocery chain) actually has a great selection of poke and makes for good snacks at the beach/hotel/etc.
We also loved the Asian fusion restaurants and had great meals at Doraku and Lucky Belly. The latter was definitely our favorite and they had an amazing sampler platter of oxtail dumplings, pork bao buns and lobster shu mai! We also had udon for breakfast on our last day at Marukame (they have long lines in the evening).
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
Because the reason for this trip was an interview for my wife, I’d say we learned while it may be tough to be stuck on an island for 4 years, Hawaii is definitely a place we could live. Oahu isn’t a huge place but there really is a wide variety of neighborhoods, people and culture.
Life is definitely slower on the islands but there are plenty of people hustling. And I’m confident that I’d be able to run my business out of Hawaii – just might have to take up a few more outdoor hobbies to take full advantage of all that Hawaii has to offer!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Oahu has 3 major highways. And you can actually get from one side of the island to the other relatively quickly but you definitely need a rental car! Uber and Lyft aren’t nearly as prevalent there as they are in other places and a lot of the best activities are relatively spread out but all less than an hour drive from any point on the island.
We actually rented a car on Turo and had a pretty good experience. It was only slightly cheaper than a regular economy rental car because I opted for the highest level of insurance (most credit cards don’t cover Turo yet). But we also got to zip around in a sweet Volvo convertible!
If you’re getting started with miles and points, I’d say try and start with a nice small win. See if you can get a couple nights free at a hotel or one leg of your flight paid for with airline miles. Over time, you’ll get the hang of things and eventually be able to book a 7-day trip to Hawaii for free without breaking a sweat!
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!