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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! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Katie is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you would like to be inspired by more stories like this one, take a second to subscribe to our newsletter!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
Hi, my name is Katie and I have been involved with the miles and points hobby since June of 2017! Before I got into this hobby, I would book my trips like most other people. I’d save up cash all year long, and use sites like Expedia to book hotel stays directly with hotels. I had just 1 credit card that I used for all of my purchases, and I simply redeemed them for statement credits!
As someone who loves to travel and stay at upscale hotels, this was really expensive. And although I did earn points for booking on Expedia, it felt like a really slow way to earn points!
What initially piqued my interest in the miles and points hobby was when my Dad started telling me about all the amazing places he was able to travel to because of his credit cards. He would regularly send me articles from sites like Million Mile Secrets, although I usually lost interest as soon as I read anything about an annual fee! That’s because it just seemed too good to be true, and I wasn’t interested in paying any fees for a credit card.
But my Dad was persistent, and when he started sending pictures on top of the articles, I started to come around. Seeing pictures of his $1,000 per night room at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome, for instance, was convincing enough for me to take another look into this hobby!
What was the goal of your trip?
My husband and I wanted to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary by having a luxurious vacation in Kauai. The plan was to be gone for 11 days while having Grandma and Grandpa watch our 2 boys at home. We had planned on spending 2 days in Los Angeles, 2 days in Las Vegas, and then 7 days in Kauai.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
For this trip, it didn’t take too long. It took less than 6 months to earn the actual points for this trip.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
We used a combination of Hyatt points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and Southwest points.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
We started with the Chase Hyatt card (no longer open to new applicants). Currently, Chase offers The World Of Hyatt Credit Card which has a different welcome bonus and perks.
I’d also recommend either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® cards. Because of Chase’s rules only allowing new card members to have 1 of these cards in the Sapphire product family, both my husband and I each went for the Chase Sapphire Preferred®.
Finally, I’d recommend any of the Southwest credit cards from Chase. Earning the welcome bonus goes a long way towards qualifying for the Southwest Companion Pass, which is a really sweet deal! I applied for 2 Southwest cards on the same day which ended up being approved, and after earning the welcome bonus on both cards I pretty much had enough points to qualify for the Companion Pass already!
Note: It’s no longer possible to have 2 personal Southwest cards at a time. However, you can still open 1 business (the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card) and 1 personal (Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card) to earn most of the points required for the Southwest Companion Pass.
In total, the points I was able to earn on my cards, along with a few perks like annual free night certificates, were enough to cover 1 night at a Hyatt hotel, flights to and from Kauai, and a rental car in Hawaii!
How did you search and find the award flights?
For the flight to Los Angeles and the flight out of Las Vegas, I just booked tickets on the Southwest website. I used a total of ~25,000 Southwest points for these 2 flights combined. And because we had earned the Southwest Companion Pass, my husband basically flew with me for free!
For the flights to and from Hawaii, I transferred points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to United Airlines, and then booked on the United Airlines website.
Overall, the process was pretty easy. Without points, I would have paid almost $2,500 for 2 round-trip tickets. But instead, I paid only ~$22 total in taxes and fees by redeeming a total of 90,000 United Airlines miles.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For our hotel in Hawaii, I just jumped on the Hyatt website to find award nights. Without our points, a 6-night stay would have cost over $3,800+! Instead, we used our Chase Hyatt free night certificates for 4 nights (no longer available with the new World of Hyatt card), and then the remaining 2 nights were covered with 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points which were then transferred to Hyatt, and 25,000 Hyatt points we had earned through regular spending on the Chase Hyatt credit card.
I also took a tip from another reader success story here on Million Mile Secrets and emailed the manager of the hotel in advance, kindly asking if any room upgrades would be possible because we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. He was able to come through and the room we ended up with was amazing!
The hotel in Los Angeles was paid for out of our own pockets on the Priceline website. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Wilshire for around $220 per night.
And finally, for our Las Vegas hotel, I booked a hotel directly through Bellagio for around $250 per night.
I could have paid for those hotels with points, but I wanted to save them for another trip where I could get even better value.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
I had never booked award flights before, so I initially tried to find the best deal I could by searching for cheap award flights. After reading some articles, I thought I could get a good deal flying from the West Coast to Hawaii, but I couldn’t figure out the logistics of it. It also didn’t help that the award flights I did find kept coming up as fully booked and sold out!
I eventually just gave up, found a flight on United Airlines, transferred over my Chase Ultimate Rewards points, booked it and called it a day.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Kauai is absolutely gorgeous and I can’t say enough great things about the island! Before I went, I read the book The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook – Kauai Revealed. I’m so glad I did this, because with all the money we saved on hotels, flights, and car rentals, we were able to spend our money on other activities instead! We took a helicopter ride, went zip lining, and took a catamaran cruise!
If you do take the cruise, I’d recommend departing from the north side of the island, because that way you’ll get to spend most of the time cruising along the Napali Coast.
The Tidepools Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Kauai was also phenomenal and a perfect way to have spent our anniversary night. We also went to the Luau at the Grand Hyatt Kauai which had great food and unlimited drinks! It’s offered 2 times per week and I’d highly recommend it.
Lastly, there was a great hiking trail that started near the hotel, that will lead you to a cliff overlooking the ocean. It’s an easy hike and you’ll get breathtaking views!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned how much I truly enjoy traveling and seeing the world. I also think miles and points is just such a great hobby and I can’t stop talking about it to friends and coworkers. I think I’ve turned into my Dad! It’s incredible being able to have these amazing experiences, at great vacation spots, all at a killer deal thanks to miles and points!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Kauai is an amazing place that everyone should experience! A number of movies have even been filmed on the island, many of which my husband and I have been trying to watch ever since our trip has ended!
If you haven’t gotten into the miles and points hobby yet, I’d highly recommend it. Start slow and go at your own pace! If it’s any encouragement, I’ve only just begun myself, and yet I’ve had a wonderful time learning all of the fun ways to earn and redeem points!
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