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!
Andy 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 Andy 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 Andy and for many years I collected miles for my work travel, but I really got involved in it as a hobby starting in January 2015.
I had just purchased expensive airfare for a destination wedding and I guess you could say my new year’s resolution was to never pay for plane tickets again! Two years and many trips later I can say I have kept that resolution and I am completely hooked.
What was the goal of your trip?
My goal was to travel more often while spending less money. I always like to have at least 1 future trip planned so we always have something to look forward to.
For our first Mexico trip, I wanted to enjoy a nice getaway with my wife for our 10th anniversary. We have also wanted to visit Europe for quite a while and just booked that trip for June of 2017.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
By March of 2015, I earned the Southwest Companion Pass which we enjoyed for the rest of 2015 and all of 2016. Since then, most of our focus has been on earning as many Chase Ultimate Reward points as possible.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
With my previous Southwest points balance and the Companion Pass 110,000 points, we had enough to cover the flights for 3 trips to Mexico, a girls weekend for my wife to New Orleans, and a week at Disney World with the kids.
Our 2017 trips include taking the kids to Mexico (also Southwest points) for their first international trip over spring break. And our Europe trip which was booked with 120,000 United Airlines miles I had from work travel.
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
I started with 2 of the Chase Southwest cards to try to get the Companion Pass quickly. Since then I have focused mainly on cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. For people just starting out I would recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred in combination with the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
For all of the Southwest flights, I used their website. I like using the low fare calendar view to see which days have the cheapest fares & points prices.
For the Europe trip I used the United Airlines website with a multi-city search. While the routing rules have been tightened a bit, we did take advantage of both a stopover and open jaw, stopping in Barcelona for a few days before flying on to Rome and then returning back to the US starting from Venice – all for only 60,000 miles per ticket!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For two of our Mexico trips we called Hyatt directly because we wanted to use our free night certificates and points (transferred from Chase). For the rest of the trips we did most of our research on TripAdvisor.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The only challenging thing about these trips has been planning around my wife’s work schedule. She works for the local school district and doesn’t have vacation days during the school year.
Fortunately there are several longer breaks and of course she is off in the summer which helps. That was one nice thing about using Southwest for the flights – there are no blackout dates with their program. Combined with the Companion Pass it made it easy to get great value.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
In Puerto Vallarta I would recommend going into town and walking the Malecon boardwalk. We also did a Canopy River tour that included an awesome dune buggy or ATV ride and zip lining over the river which was a great time.
From Playa del Carmen we toured the Cobá ruins and enjoyed learning about the Mayan history. I would recommend booking a tour that includes a cenote swim as that is such a unique experience.
For Disney World, we recommend making the character dining reservations immediately at 6 months out from your trip. If you don’t, it might be very tough to get a reservation for the popular restaurants. We particularly liked Be Our Guest. Try the gray stuff, it’s delicious. 😉
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
While family trips are always great, we learned that having some time for just the two of us to get away from our busy schedule of work, kids activities, etc., is really helpful to destress and relax.
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 usually share 2 pieces of advice.
First, start with a goal in mind. Once your goal (or goals!) is clear, it is usually pretty easy to decide what points currencies to focus on to make it a reality. For maximum flexibility a program like Chase Ultimate Rewards is ideal, especially for a beginner.
Second, think beyond credit card sign-up bonuses. While those certainly are a good way to acquire a lot of points quickly, there are other great options like shopping portals and maximizing category bonuses among the cards you do have.
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!