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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.
Ed 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!
A big thanks to him for sharing his story!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Ed Cleek, and together with my wife Betty, we’ve been actively collecting airline miles and hotel points for ~7 years.
Just a few months ago I made the decision to switch to earning more Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and so far have opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card.
I have a pretty good stash of airline miles, even after our trip. I have earned 500,000+ American Airlines miles, 100,000+ Alaska Airlines miles, and even some British Airways Avios points. These were earned from a combination of credit card welcome bonuses, regular spending, as well as actual revenue flying. Together, my wife and I have earned approximately 900,000 American Airlines miles in the 7 years we’ve been doing this!
What was the goal of your trip?
We wanted to circumnavigate the globe in Business and First class. We called it our “around the world” trip, but I don’t know if it truly qualifies as such. We did fly all the way around the world, so in our minds it counts!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It didn’t take long. I first got the idea ~3 years ago when I opened the Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card. It had a very nice intro bonus at the time of 100,000 British Airways Avios points.
Over a 16-month period, I put the vast majority of spending onto that card and wound up earning a total of 175,000 British Airways Avios points. And because I spent at least $30,000 in a calendar year on the card, I also earned the Travel Together Ticket. Also, my wife and I each earned the welcome bonuses from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, as well as the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. So we had a big stash of American Airlines miles. Last year, we also earned the intro bonus on the Cathay Pacific Visa Signature® Card of 50,000 bonus Asia miles (offer no longer available).
Which points did you save to take your trip?
For the trip, I used American Airlines miles, British Airways Avios points, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and Hilton points.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
I would recommend figuring out where you want to go, and how you want to get there. For instance, do you want to take a more economical approach and fly in coach, or do you want to fly in luxury in Business or First Class? Also figure out which airlines and hotel chains serve the area and go from there.
If you like flying on oneworld alliance partners as much as we do, I would recommend cards that earn American Airlines miles. So for instance cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, as well as the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. The Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard® and the Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® are also excellent choices.
The British Airways Visa Signature® Card allowed us to fly from Boston to London in Business Class. And from London to Singapore in First Class, all for the price of essentially 1 ticket! That’s because we had earned the card’s Travel Together Ticket. We did have to pay around $1,800 in fees for those flights, but that was just a fraction of what the tickets would have normally cost!
How did you search and find the award flights?
We spent lots and lots of time at the computer! We also registered for airline award programs through American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Japan Airlines so we could lookup their award flight information.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Finding hotel accommodations was fairly easy, at least it was supposed to be. I had enough Hilton points to cover most of the 16 nights we would be spending in hotels. But somewhere along the line, we decided to change it up a bit.
Instead of staying at Hilton hotels the majority of the time, we only spent 3 nights at a Hilton – the Conrad Macao in Macau, China. We had a 3-day stopover in London, but because we’ve been there a few times we wanted to stay away from the city. We went out to Salisbury for 1 night and Windsor for 1 night.
I basically just got on TripAdvisor and started reading hotel reviews. I never choose anything that has less than a 90% recommend rate when using the site. I used TripAdvisor to choose hotels in Salisbury, Windsor, England, Singapore and Hong Kong.
I always find hotels that look interesting and are affordable, then get on Google Maps and find what area the hotel is in, as well as use Google Street View to get a feel for the neighborhood. The hotel we stayed at in Hong Kong was the T Hotel. It is a training hotel and restaurant for Hong Kong’s Hotel and Tourism Institute and is run by students.
At the time of our trip, I believe the hotel was rated #13 on TripAdvisor out of more than 700 hotels in Hong Kong! And it was considered a 4-star hotel! The deciding factor after reading their reviews was the price because it was only $99 per night!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part was booking flights using 3 different award programs and coordinating travel dates, which would have been fairly easy had we been looking for award flights in coach. But because we wanted to travel in Business Class, it took a lot of time and effort finding available award seats.
Our home airport is Northwest Arkansas Regional. We flew from there to Boston on an American Airlines flight to spend the night with our youngest daughter. We’ve found there’s almost always an abundance of Saver Award flights to Boston. So booking that flight was easy. We were fortunate to find available Business Class award seats from there to London. The biggest surprise though was when I found First Class award seats from London to Singapore!
I had never seen something like that before, so I decided to book it! It cost me nearly all of my British Airways Avios points, but it was worth it for the First Class experience!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Get out and explore the neighborhoods. Don’t stay in tourist areas. Eat in neighborhood pubs and cafés. Take the local transportation, whether it be bus, subway, tram, or taxi.
You will get a much more realistic experience of wherever it is you are visiting. Talk to people and learn about their lives and culture.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
Even though we’re just an old married couple from a small town in the Midwest, we can find our way around just about anywhere in the world without having to have our hands held by a tour guide. One of our daughters says she is in a constant state of anxiety and panic whenever we take off on a trip until we text her that we’ve made it back home!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Don’t be afraid of the challenge. In the 7 years since we started doing this type of travel, we have been to Hawaii 9 times, London 3 times, and France twice! We’ve also been to the Netherlands, Greece, Italy and now this “trip around the world” took us to England, Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong. All of that entirely in Business Class and First Class! The total cost of our trip was less than $5,000!
Without miles and points, the airfare alone would have cost us over $45,000. And we have learned so much! The rewards of traveling to different parts of the world are priceless. We are constantly amazed when we are watching a movie or TV show and see some place we have traveled! For instance, watching the royal wedding recently, it was surreal that we were in that exact spot in the chapel where the wedding took place just 2 weeks before!
Want to Share Your Story?
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send us a note! We would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points! And if you want to get more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please sign up for our email list!