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!
Abhishek 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 Abhishek 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 Abhishek Mohanty. And my family includes my lovely wife Lipsa and my little princess Aishani.
It all started in August 2016 when I was fascinated by the hype surrounding the Chase Sapphire Reserve and accidentally stumbled upon Million Mile Secrets and a few other bloggers while researching the benefits of the card. Before that, I had little knowledge of transferable points and their benefits. And coincidentally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve became my first travel card.
What was the goal of your trip?
My wife and daughter had been away for me for over a year to take care of my ailing father-in-law. So I wanted her to forget the hardship from the last year and feel special.
The whole intent was to celebrate our daughter’s 4th birthday. To make the trip special and help my wife feel relaxed, I took up the responsibilities of Aishani (no wonder then I realized how difficult it is to handle toddlers and their constant requests!) as well as the packing for our trip.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I received the 100,000 point sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card (offer no longer available) in October 2016. After that, I started seriously thinking about putting together a special trip for my wife once she was back to the US in January 2017.
With the news of the Marriott and Starwood merger, I applied for the Chase Marriott card with the 80,000 point sign-up bonus. And the 35,000 point sign-up bonus on the AMEX Starwood card in March 2017 was the icing on the cake (offer now expired)!
Which points did you save to take your trip?
By June 2017, I had:
I completed the minimum spending requirements on my new cards using Plastiq to pay rent. Although this method incurred a small fee versus trying to meet spending requirements on completely new expenses.
- 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to Korean Air for flights on Delta
- 36,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to Hyatt for a hotel in Anchorage
In the end, I saved over $3,500 on flights and over $2,000 on hotels while spending less than $500 on Plastiq fees for rent payments.
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
Cards with transferable points give so much flexibility. So I would highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred (as the Chase Sapphire Reserve no longer has the 100,000 point sign-up bonus and the $450 annual fee may not be worth it for people who do not travel frequently) and the AMEX Starwood card – both of these give you a vast list of transfer options.
And for the hotel stays, I would recommend the Chase Marriott card (because you can transfer points from both Starwood and Chase Ultimate Rewards to rake in more Marriott points) along with the Chase Hyatt card.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Now that Korean Air lets you to search for award seats online, it’s much easier to search for flights. I was so glad to have the various guiding articles from Million Mile Secrets at my disposal!
I chose Korean Air because they charge the fewest number of points for Hawaii award flights and there are no change fees and minimal penalty fees for cancellation. They also allow 1 stopover and open-jaw at your destination.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Since I wanted my wife to indulge in luxury at one of the finest properties in Maui (and had a lot of Marriott/Starwood points), my options were limited to Marriott and Starwood.
Maui had lots of options for both of these. But what tilted the scale in favor of Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club was the kid-friendly activity center, as we were also celebrating our daughter’s birthday and wanted her to enjoy it, too.
Though Category 8 Marriott hotels require 160,000 points for 5 award nights in Standard rooms, all the available rooms were Suites. So I had to cough up 185,000 points for a beautiful Mountain View King Bedroom Suite with separate living space and kitchenette. The same room was available for $350 per night.
The activity center was so much fun with a lot of activities for kids and families. We were glad we stayed there.
I booked my Maui stay first. So I was left with using my leftover Chase Ultimate Rewards points for our stay in Anchorage by transferring to either IHG or Hyatt. The Hyatt House Anchorage was closer to the airport. And because our flight to Anchorage landed after midnight, I booked this hotel, which would’ve cost $250 a night in cash. We also loved the the nice breakfast in the morning.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Finding cities that would let me stay within the segment restrictions and also allow me to return directly to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Harrisburg being a smaller airport with the only Delta connections from Atlanta and Detroit).
The other challenging task happened because Korean Air does not give a monthly view of award flights. So I had to first search for award space on Delta and then go back to the Korean Air site and look for the same flights.
The final itinerary of my booked trip started from Minneapolis to Maui with a multi-day stopover in Anchorage and connecting to Maui via Seattle with a 7-hour layover. And finally flying back to Harrisburg from Maui. I closed the first loop to Minneapolis by booking Southwest from Baltimore using leftover Chase Ultimate Rewards Points which cost me around 15,000 points for all 3 of us.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
A trip to Alaska cannot be complete without taking a glacier cruise. I highly recommend the 26 Glacier Cruise by Phillips Cruises and Tours which departs out of Whittier and takes you close to a lot of glaciers. They also have the option of rail transfer to Whittier, which is a bit pricey but worth it. For most of the part the train runs beside backwaters and mountains – just relax and enjoy the enthralling scenery. 🙂
With a 4-year-old, we limited our activities to within 2 hours of Anchorage and avoided any glacier hiking however both Byron Glacier and Matanuska Glacier provided the opportunity to walk up – and both are reached after walking around 1 mile from the parking lot without hiking. Both of these glaciers draw fewer crowds, so we spent a lot of time on photography without worrying about crowding.
Aishani also enjoyed the time spent at the Alaska Zoo which is more like an animal rehabilitation center and less of a zoo. But it had some interesting animals like the polar bear, arctic fox, reindeer, and Amur tiger.
If you are not scared of heights definitely go for hang gliding in Hana! Hang Gliding Maui is a family-owned business that took us for a breathtaking flight over Hana Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and Haleakala National Park.
We also took Aishani on board the Atlantis Submarine which took us down to the seafloor to explore exotic collections of colorful fish, which I highly recommend for families with kids.
Definitely treat your taste buds with local food in Maui and avoid any chains. During our stay, we really loved the food at Captain Jack’s Island Grill in Lahaina (American cuisine), China Boat Restaurant in Lahaina (Chinese), Da Shrimp Hale in Kahului (seafood and crab boil). And I’d also recommend stopping at the various food trucks in Nahiku on the way to Hana!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
In the hustle bustle of daily life, we tend to forget enjoying life. This trip gave an opportunity to enjoy our lives without worrying about any worldly responsibilities. I learned a valuable lesson of life that a family can only be happy if they enjoy the precious moments of life together. This was a perfect trip where we all had fun including our 4-year-old.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
A rule of thumb is award seats are limited and go fast, so plan far ahead in advance.
For people who want to take the plunge into the world of miles & points, leave the fear of failure behind as everyone is a winner in this hobby. By proper planning and strategy, you can visit dream destinations without paying much out of pocket. The more time you spend on the research, the sharper skills you’ll develop and then you can reap the benefits. Always use your credit cards responsibly and do not spend exorbitantly to collect points!
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!