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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!
Patrick is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Patrick Shepherd and I’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby for 6 years.
What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of my trip was for my wife and me to visit a work colleague of hers who had been transferred to Singapore. I also wanted to visit my uncle’s grave in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took us about a year to ensure that we had enough miles and points to do this trip.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
My wife and I collected:
- United Airlines miles
- British Airways Avios points
- IHG points
- Hilton points
And we also used our Chase Hyatt cards’ annual free night certificates (that particular sign-up bonus is no longer available).
Which cards (max 5) would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
And the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 United Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements (instead of the usual bonus of 30,000 United Airlines miles). This is good deal, because you can book Star Alliance partner award seats with United Airlines miles.
The Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card currently offers 75,000 British Airways Avios points after meeting minimum spending requirements. And you can use the sign-up bonus to book flights on Oneworld partner airlines. British Airways has a distance-based award chart, so shorter award flights are very economical.
The AMEX Hilton cards are also excellent. There always seem to be opportunities for new cards which earn points you can use for all Hilton hotels across the globe.
How did you search and find the award flights?
Searching for the awards flights was not difficult. I used the United Airlines website.
I booked round-trip award flights so I could take advantage of a free stopover and free open-jaw (this benefit has been replaced by the excursionist perk). I did have to look for the seats very early, ~11 months before the trip, because we were booking lie-flat Business Class seats. My wife has back issues, and cannot sit in an coach seat for the ~15 hour flight from New York to Tokyo.
Of course, now we don’t travel in coach anyway on flights of 5+ hours. Business Class is so much better! I checked the leg from Newark to Singapore and booked that first, which involved a 4 hour layover in Tokyo.
After dinner, we laid down the seats and went to sleep. Because we were in Business Class, we could take advantage of the private showers in the lounge in Tokyo! After a shave, a shower, and a trip to the buffet, we were good to go for our next leg.
We were flexible on where to have our stopover on the return trip, but we did want it to be in Europe. So we had to figure out how to get from Singapore to Bangkok. We used British Airways Avios points to book one-way award flights on Cathay Pacific in coach. This is where we utilized our open-jaw benefit.
We began our return trip to the US from Bangkok on a Thai Airways flight to Frankfurt. We were the only passengers in Business Class, and we got the royal treatment from the attendants dressed in traditional Thai clothing! From Frankfurt, we flew Swiss Air to Vienna, where we used our free stopover.
After 4 nights in Vienna, we flew Swiss Air to Stockholm, where we caught an SAS flight to Newark. One of the perks of Business Class on the SAS flight was the purser mixing up a cocktail of your choice in front of you!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
In Singapore, we stayed for 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Express on Clarke’s Quay which is in the heart of the city! It wasn’t luxurious, but it was very adequate. In Bangkok, we used Hilton points to stay 3 nights at the upscale Millennium Hilton Bangkok. Then we traveled up country to Kanchanaburi on our own dime.
On our return, we stayed 2 more nights in Bangkok at the Grand Hyatt Erewan, which is a luxury hotel in the business district. For this stay we used our free annual award nights we got with our Chase Hyatt cards (sign-up bonus no longer available). In Vienna, we once more used our Hilton points to stay in the heart of downtown Vienna at the Hilton Vienna near Stadtpark.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of booking the trip was planning the return trip. We had traveled west from Newark to Asia. And we continued to travel west on our homeward leg, so we actually circumnavigated the globe!
Because we were flexible I just kept looking at all of the possibilities. The flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt was nonstop. And the flight from there to Vienna was less than an hour, so that’s the one I booked.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
I would highly recommend a trip to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It’s a wonderful place to visit with photo ops at every turn.
A trip along the Chao Phraya River at night is quite dramatic. We took one of the smaller dinner cruises aboard a converted teak rice barge. It was a delightful evening with the Loy Neva Rice Barge serving a several-course dinner, and providing us with live Thai dancing and music. They even came to the Millennium Hilton and picked us up at the dock.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned I can be more patient in the East than I am in the West. And I can walk a lot farther in cities and in jungles than I thought possible.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
To anyone who is contemplating a similar trip, I say, just do it! This was a trip of a lifetime that we would not have been able to afford if I had to pay for the trip with cash. Just make sure you document everything you do, and keep track of all your cards. Million Mile Secrets makes it easy to understand what you need to do.
I say set the time aside for doing the planning, and then take the trip of your dreams!
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!