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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.
Jeff 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! And take a look at our list of best travel rewards credit cards to learn how you can take a similar trip!
1. What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Jeff, and I stumbled upon Million Mile Secrets a few years ago when I was in the market for a new credit card, and I’ve been busy earning more and more points ever since!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of the trip was to cross out a few more items on my bucket list:
- Sailing on the Whitsundays
- Swimming with dolphins in New Zealand
- Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef
- Cruising on the Milford Sound!
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It only took me a few months to earn enough points for this 6-week trip. Having a small business helped accelerate my points-earning ability because I was able to put a lot of business expenses through my credit cards!
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
I used points from several different programs, including United Airlines, British Airways, Etihad, AMEX Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and American Airlines.
To fly from Los Angeles to Sydney, I used United Airlines miles I earned on the United Explorer Card.
Thanks to travel partners, I transferred my AMEX Membership Rewards points to British Airways and Etihad, so that I could book Business Class flights within Australia on Virgin Australia and Qantas.
And to fly to New Zealand, I redeemed American Airlines miles I had earned on the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. I did also earn a $700 travel voucher from American Airlines for volunteering to step off an oversold flight, which helped pay for my return ticket home.
Pro tip: You can also earn more points if you use the British Airways shopping portal. It may seem slow to earn extra points this way, but short-haul flights on British Airways can be found for as low as 4,500 points for a one-way flight, so every little bit can help!
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
One card I’d recommend is The Platinum Card® from American Express. I love the fact that this card offers a credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, gets you complimentary Gold elite status with Hilton (free room upgrades and free breakfast), and comes with Priority Pass airport lounge access!
Priority Pass is one of my new favorite perks because it has given me access to some amazing lounges, many of which have had wonderful meals at no extra charge! For instance, in Melbourne, I had a nice steak dinner at the Urban Provodore restaurant, churros and sangria at Bar Pulpo, and then relaxed in the Plaza Premium lounge…all for free!
I’d also recommend the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card because it offers an annual free night award (valid for any IHG hotel that costs 40,000 IHG points or less), and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card so that you have access to a number of travel partners as well as the ability to book through the Chase travel portal.
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
I read an article titled “10 Tips for Using Miles and Points to Travel to Australia” and a few other similar articles to get started. Then, I checked availability and pricing with each of the major airline alliances.
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Most of my accommodations were booked through the Chase travel portal. I stayed at the 5-star Amora Hotel Jamison Sydney for just 12,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per night, and also enjoyed my stay at the Chateau on the Park – Christchurch, a DoubleTree by Hilton, for just 7,000 Ultimate Rewards points per night!
And since I had a free night certificate with IHG, I redeemed it for a night at the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, where I was also treated to an upgraded room with a Lagoon view, which would have cost around $360 had I paid cash.
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The flight to Sydney was going to be about 15 hours long, so I wanted to book a seat in Business Class to make it a bit more comfortable. Unfortunately, I only planned ahead a few weeks ahead, and on that short notice, I wasn’t able to find Business Class availability on United Airlines.
I did get lucky though, because I ended up with an entire row of seats to myself in coach!
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
My favorite activity was definitely swimming with the dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand. I got to swim with 3 different species – Common Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins, and Hector’s Dolphins (the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world). They were very friendly, curious, and playful. There was light snow on the ground that day, so the water was extremely cold, but it was definitely worth it. It was an experience I’ll never forget!
For my visit to Australia, I really enjoyed my trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I got to hold a koala and hand feed kangaroos!
I also did sailing trips through the Whitsunday Islands, the Milford Sound, and the Great Barrier Reef, which were all a lot of fun. The views from Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach were incredible!
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I can’t really say I learned anything about myself on this trip! I mostly just enjoyed the activities I participated in.
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!
With miles and points, a big trip to Australia and New Zealand is a lot more affordable than you would think! Even from a points perspective, the costs were very reasonable. And both countries have excellent public transportation, making it very easy to get around.
There is a LOT to see and do, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I would highly recommend spending as much time as possible on the south island of New Zealand. The scenery is stunning, and I can’t wait to go back!
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