3 Years In and Reader Kevin Has Already Saved $20,000 With Miles & Points
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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!
Kevin 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 Kevin Cho. I’ve been collecting miles & points for ~3 years. It was a total accident (or fate?) that I fell into this rewarding hobby.
I was living in Southern California, and one day I was perusing through my favorite football team’s message board (Go Bears!). Someone had written a post saying we could get free flights up to the bay area from Los Angeles for all the Cal football home games that year by signing up for Southwest’s 50,000 point credit card bonus.
That was interesting enough, but someone replied to that post saying there is also this amazing little thing called the Southwest Companion Pass. And you can qualify for it by signing up for only 2 cards! This really got my attention because I was getting married in a few months. My (now) wife and I were planning to do as much traveling as possible before having kids.
I began reading various blogs (such as this one!) and learned the ins and outs of miles & points. I worked my brain overtime imagining all the wonderful traveling we would get to enjoy without breaking our bank accounts! Fast forward 3 years, we have traveled to many of our dream destinations, while saving well over $20,000 along the way!
What was the goal of your trip?
When we started out, we had 3 main travel goals during the first year of our marriage:
1. Various domestic getaways (Las Vegas, San Francisco bay area, New York, Seattle, etc.) that we would call our “Mini Moons” during the first few months of our marriage.
2. Take our honeymoon to Europe for 2 weeks (Rome, Florence, Santorini, and Paris).
3. Visiting South Korea to see the in-laws who couldn’t make it to our wedding
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It was a really great timing to start planning out our miles & points strategy because we had a ton of wedding expenses we were paying for. For example, I paid our caterer with 2 different credit cards so we could maximize the Chase Freedom quarterly bonus on the first $1,500 of expenses. And we got 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the rest of the bill with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Because of this great timing, we basically had all our miles and points in ~5 months.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
- Southwest points & the Southwest Companion Pass
- US Airways & American Airlines miles
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- Hyatt points
Which cards (max 5) would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
The Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred is a must for anyone who wants to travel. I would recommend starting with either of these 2 for any trips.
The Chase Hyatt card has been amazing for us because we got 4 free nights (we both got the card) at Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome ($3,500 value!) and 2 free nights at Park Hyatt Busan. The sign-up bonus has changed since then, but you can still get amazing value for a relatively cheap annual fee with this card.
For domestic travel for 2 people, especially on the west coast, you can’t beat the value of the Southwest Companion Pass.
How did you search and find the award flights?
I used ExpertFlyer for finding award flights on American Airlines and their partner airlines to Europe. I ended up finding partner award seats on Air Tahiti Nui to Rome and out of Paris. I had to call to make the reservation, but it was a breeze since I knew exactly which flights on which airline were available on the dates that we wanted.
For Southwest flights, since every available seat can be booked with points, I just used their website. It was so easy.
For the South Korea flights, we found a great Cyber Monday deal for direct flights on Singapore Airlines for ~$700 each round-trip, which is amazing!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Finding award availability for Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome was a bit tricky at first, because we were looking in the summer peak months initially. But we ended up delaying the honeymoon a few months and things got much easier. I used the Hyatt website to make sure award nights were available on the dates we wanted.
After my wife and I booked 2 nights each separately, we called the customer service to combine the 2 separate bookings into one.
Hyatt’s customer service was great. We basically did the same for our stay at Park Hyatt Busan months later.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Because most trips were planned far in advance, we had relatively few challenges. But because we planned far in advance, the biggest challenge was waiting for the trips to begin! To solve that, we went on shorter domestic weekend getaways using the Southwest Companion Pass.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Here are some of our recommendations for each city:
Rome: Eat a cannoli. Anywhere you get it, it’s going to be so good. Also, don’t forget to enjoy a cup of espresso every single morning, afternoon, and evening.
Florence: Visit Mercato Centrale (a big food court & market). It’s a fun place to eat, drink, and shop. Also, do a Vespa tour in Tuscany!
Paris: Hot chocolate at Angelina – the best hot chocolate you will ever have. Also visit L’As Du Falafel; even if you think you don’t like falafel, you will crave it forever after visiting this place. And get your portrait drawn by a local artist.
Santorini: Rent an ATV and drive around the island. And find a good spot to enjoy the most beautiful sunset in the world.
South Korea: Visit Jeju Island (you can fly there in less than an hour from Seoul for only ~$50 each way) and eat Black Pork Belly. Then enjoy the beautiful hike around the island on the Jeju Olle Trail.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
My wife and I used to think traveling is something you do when you don’t have kids. However, in our travels across the globe, we’ve seen so many families traveling with kids of all ages. Sure, it would be a different kind of trip with kids, likely requiring much more planning and work, but we learned it’s a choice we as a family can make in the future to continue to travel and see the world because we know it’s totally worth it.
And luckily, we know how to do it without going broke!
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 those who haven’t started yet: Why aren’t you doing this already? Do you hate free travel?
If you are new to miles & points, start by earning transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points or AMEX Membership Rewards points. I’ve seen too many people who sign up for airline or hotel specific credit cards, and then get stuck with miles or points they can’t redeem for their specific travel goals.
Finally, I’d like to actually offer a word of caution for those traveling to Paris. When you see people gambling on the streets (and you will) with seemingly silly or simple games and some people make it look like they’re making EASY money just walk away. YOU are the one they’re after.
Everyone is in on it together. They’ll use diversion tactics, play dumb, sweet whispers in your ear, etc. to get you to cough up all the cash you have. Trust me, just walk away. Go get yourself a falafel at L’As Du Falafel instead
It’s never too late to start making lifelong memories at a HUGE discount!
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!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)