We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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!
Mark 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 Mark 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 Mark Arvidson and I have been involved in miles and points for almost 10 years.
It all started with Northwest Airlines points I got for a house refinance. That translated into an upgrade to Business Class on a trip to Thailand. I was hooked. It is hard to fly coach over the pond when you have been in the front of the plane, especially when it’s free!
What was the goal of your trip?
To send 7 family members in Business Class to Europe and tour for about 3 weeks. We stayed in some classy hotels for almost free (as we can’t seem to outrun taxes and fees).
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We collected the points over a 2-year span, with the last year focused on hotel cards because the free nights needed to be used that calendar year. We also wanted the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard to offset our Eurail train tickets.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
With subsequent Citi AAdvantage cards, we were able to increase those totals. We also did the same with United Airlines. And patiently collected the miles we needed for 2 round-trips in Business Class.
For hotels, we got:
- Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express
- Chase Hyatt
- Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Citi Hilton Reserve
On arrival we all stayed in Zurich at the Holiday Inn Express for free courtesy of the Chase IHG card each of us had. A highlight was our stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome for 2 free nights, courtesy of the Chase Hyatt card.
Our time in Italy in the Cinque Terre was wonderful with a stay in an Airbnb house we rented on the coast in Vernazza. The food and hiking were unsurpassed.
We also rented an apartment in Florence through Cross-Pollinate.com and were very pleased with our accommodations. It was within walking distance from the train station and lots of museums.
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
How did you search for and find the award flights?
When it came time to book the flights, I tried to put the itinerary together on my own but got frustrated with all the moving parts. Fortunately, I ended up contracting with Kam at Award Advocate who got us over the pond within one day for a reasonable fee.
One half of the family went on Iberia from Los Angeles to Madrid to Zurich. And the other half went on Iberia from Los Angeles to Miami to Madrid to Zurich. We arrived within one hour of each other, nice. Flat-beds and premium lounges are the way to go!
The other family of 3 went on Air Berlin from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf to Zurich and arrived the next day. Air Berlin has a very nice Business Class as well. We then traveled by train on a 21-day Eurail pass purchased with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card so we could get $500+ credits for each adult.
Fortunately, the 2 kids were eligible to travel for free with a paid adult pass. The only other flight we did was a one-way from Paris to Prague, courtesy of British Airways Avios points from the Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Accommodations were driven by internet searches within the miles and blog community.
Getting between train stations and hotels was easy with Uber. They were everywhere we needed a ride if we did not use public transportation.
Also, using WhatsApp kept all the family connected through free Wi-Fi. And we were also able to upload lots of pictures to share.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
We had planned on flying through Istanbul on the way home and going on the free tour with dinner sponsored by Turkish Airlines, but someone tried a coup and the airport closed.
United Airlines was gracious in re-routing us through Frankfurt instead, and we had a nice flight home on Lufthansa in Business Class.
The upside for staying at Hilton was my Diamond elite status got us upgrades to nice suites, access to the club floor with amenities and free breakfast (except for the Waldorf). Moreover, I was able to get Diamond elite status by matching my IHG elite status I achieved strictly by having the Chase IHG card.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
One of our favorite places to visit was Murren in the Swiss Alps.
Hotel Alpina is a simple hotel that hangs on the cliff overlooking the Lauterbrunnen valley. We did lots of hiking to mountain huts where we were rewarded with a bowl of hot soup or a cold glass of apple cider.
In addition, we loved the Via Ferrata trail that hugged the cliff thousands of feet above the valley floor. While not for young kids or those with a fear of heights, with a harness, carabiners, good hiking boots and a sense of adventure, we had the hike of a lifetime.
Hiking the Italian Riviera was also spectacular along the many trails of the Cinque Terre. We went city to city with a stop for gelato at every opportunity.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned how fun it is to experience different cultures and foods. Flexibility is key and the family bonding was great.
Besides exploring cities and museums, we enjoyed the easy conversations on the trains as we criss-crossed the European continent and the chance to read some good books en route. Languages, different currencies, and train schedules made for a grand adventure.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
All in all, we saved a boatload of cash even though Europe is expensive and that made the trip much more pleasant.
I especially appreciated not having a giant bill when we came home from the premium flights and upscale hotels. It was an amazing trip for 5 adults and 2 kids with 2 families enjoying the countries of Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, on a trip we could never afford otherwise.
So, thanks Million Mile Secrets for the all the recommendations and tips that contributed to a family trip of a lifetime! Three weeks in Europe by train with the family was a magical experience and flying Business Class round-trip was sweet. With a little planning, prudent spending on credit cards, and having a dream to be fulfilled, anyone can do what we did. Just incredible!
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!