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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money! If you’re interested in reading more articles like this one, please subscribe to our email newsletter! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Paul is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you’re planning a vacation, take a look our list of top rewards credit cards to see how you can book your trip for a fraction of the retail cost!
If you’re just starting out in the miles and points hobby, reader Paul makes a great suggestion – consider applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve. These cards earn flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can help you avoid paying for airfare or hotels!
1. What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Paul and I’ve been involved in the miles and points hobby for about 5 years. The hobby makes traveling much more affordable and has allowed me to travel all around the world much more frequently!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of my trip to New Orleans was to experience a new city’s architecture, culture, cuisine, and people!
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
For this trip, it took me about 1 year to earn the miles and points that I ultimately ended up redeeming for flights and hotels.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
I ended up redeeming mostly Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which I transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest. I also used IHG points for some hotel stays along with some free night certificates I had earned.
I flew on Southwest from California to New Orleans for a total of ~20,000 Southwest points and ~$11 in taxes. The flight originally would have cost me about 27,000 Southwest points, but I was able to change my flight because I had noticed a drop in prices. Without these points I would have had to spend over $400!
For hotel stays, I used mostly free night certificates. My first night was at the InterContinental New Orleans. The room was nice, clean, and very modern, with lots of great restaurants nearby. Without the free night certificate, I would have had to pay ~$236!
The next night was spent at The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I thought this was a a great old-fashioned style hotel. I used the weekend night certificate I earned on my Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. I also got an upgrade to a 1-bedroom suite thanks to the hotel elite status I have from the card, and was also offered the option of either a $15 breakfast voucher, or 1,000 Hilton points. Without points, I would have had to pay ~$280 for this hotel!
For the 3rd night, I stayed at the Hyatt Centric French Quarter Nola. This is another great modern hotel located very close to lively action like bars, nightlife, and restaurants on Bourbon Street. And again, I redeemed a free night certificate I had earned, which saved me ~$203.
For my final night, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express New Orleans Downtown. I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my IHG loyalty account and redeemed 20,000 points for the stay. This was a pretty basic hotel, but using points saved me $125.
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
If you’re starting out, I’d recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. These cards earn flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are great because they’re extremely flexible with a large number of transfer partners, so you can use your points on flights and hotels.
For my trip, I loved being able to use my Chase Ultimate Rewards points for so many things, like flights on Southwest and hotel stays at Hyatt!
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
I just used the Southwest website to search for flights. I like the fact that they have no blackout dates, a great cancellation policy, low prices, and the ability to change flights without any penalty.
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For hotels, I used Award Mapper to find hotels in the vicinity, then I booked directly with the hotels themselves.
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
One of the biggest dilemmas I had was trying to figure out if I needed to rent a car. So I did some searches on Google and found that New Orleans was a very walkable city, and that I wouldn’t really need a car!
It ended up being a great decision not renting a car, because after exploring the city on foot, it seemed like parking was very difficult to find, not to mention very expensive! I saw many hotels that charged $30 to $40 per night just for parking.
I made my way around the city using public transportation, like the streetcars. I only paid $3 for a 24-hour period, and found that they pretty much run 24 hours a day!
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
The French Quarter is the liveliest part of New Orleans. Much of the action takes place within a 2-block radius of Bourbon Street, which is a sight to behold on a Saturday night. I have never seen a bigger street party in my life!
I also enjoyed trips to Jackson Square for the fortune tellers, St Louis Cathedral, and The Cabildo.
I also thought the food was fantastic, especially the seafood. I would recommend staying away from the restaurants on Bourbon Street because they tend to be more expensive since it’s a more touristy area. Once you go out a block or 2 though, you’ll start to see the prices come down.
A few of my favorite restaurants here in New Orleans:
- Couchon Restaurant, located at 930 Tchoupitoulas St
- Gumbo Shop, located at 630 St Peter St. This place has a small, but wonderful outdoor courtyard area, and served the best gumbo meal I ever had
- Mothers, 401 Poydras St. This is a popular casual restaurant for locals to visit, which tends to have long lines at peak hours
- Pat O’Brien’s Bar, 718 St Peters St. This place has dueling pianos, a lively atmosphere, and a great outdoor courtyard
- Café de Mondo, 800 Decatur St. I loved their Beignets, coffee, and live music!
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
For me, I learned that I can’t walk around for too long if it’s too hot and humid. Plus, as with all traveling, there are always scammers around tourist destinations that you need to watch out for. If you run into them, the best thing to do is to ignore them!
On the whole, I found New Orleans to be a very lively and safe city to visit. If I visit again, I’ll have to remember to avoid hurricane season and check the weather to see how hot and humid it might be!
11. What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
For first-timers, I suggest keeping it simple. Stick with Chase Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them to their transfer partners like Southwest and Hyatt for great value! I’d also recommend staying in the Hyatt Centric French Quarter Nola because it doesn’t cost very many points for an award booking and it’s in a fabulous location!
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