We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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. If you would like to be inspired by more stories like this one, take a second to subscribe to our newsletter! Or check out our guides to learn how YOU can start booking vacations with miles & points!
Reader Kevin took advantage of offers for The Platinum Card® from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to save BIG on an amazing vacation to Asia!
1. What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Kevin, and I’ve been involved in miles and points for 6 years. I’ll admit it’s not something I was always super serious about though, because when I first learned about this hobby I figured I could never earn enough points to make it worthwhile, like being able to book First Class seats or something really luxurious.
However, I started thinking about giving this hobby more serious thought after meeting a few colleagues of mine who were able to reach elite status with some airlines and hotels. In trying to accomplish what they did, my initial strategy was basically trying to travel as much as I could so that I could earn as many airline miles and hotel points as I possibly could.
Probably was really pushed me into considering this hobby seriously though was when I took a ski trip with some friends. We started talking about miles and points and travel, and then one of my friends told me he had earned over half a million points! He shared that he was able to earn a significant amount from a welcome bonus on an American Airlines credit card, which was one of the strategies he used to book big travel.
This blew me away because up until that point, I had never really considered using credit cards. In fact, I didn’t really believe in the whole idea of using credit cards period!
He then told me about Million Mile Secrets and the fact that there were many, many more ways to earn points outside of just traveling. Since then, the rest is basically history, and I haven’t paid full price for travel in ages!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of this trip was to visit Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My fiancée and I also really wanted to check out Halong Bay, Phuket, and Angkor Wat.
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took about a year to earn enough points for this trip.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
I wanted to keep things simple for this trip, so I focused on earning just AMEX Membership Rewards points and Starwood points. I figured that I’d have flexibility in choosing multiple airlines with AMEX points. Plus, because a friend of mine had introduced me to Scott’s Cheap Flights. I received daily emails on mistake fares and other great deals that sometimes showed up in the AMEX travel portal.
In the end, I redeemed 85,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points and ~30,000 Starwood points (now equal to 90,000 Marriott points), which was enough to pay for most of our flights and about half of our hotels.
Scott’s Cheap Flights notified me of a great deal on a round-trip flight to Thailand for $550 a person. I ended up booking this through the AMEX travel portal for just $125 per person.
I was able to use points to book 3 nights at the Le Meridian Angkor in Cambodia. And then another 3 nights at The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa, Phuket.
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
For this trip, I applied for The Platinum Card® from American Express. Besides the lucrative sign-up bonus, it was wonderful having airport lounge access because of this card!
I also applied for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It was awesome being able to redeem the welcome bonus points for free hotel stays!
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
I used Google Flights to find available seats. I love that the interface is really easy to use, and I was able to find the same deals through the AMEX Travel Portal.
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We split our hotels pretty much 50/50 between Airbnb’s and Starwood hotels.
Our Starwood hotels were booked directly through the Starwood website, all of which ended up being absolutely wonderful. But I’d have to say that we were more impressed with some of our Airbnb stays. For instance, one weekend we were able to book a Junk Boat to take us around Halong Bay, which was something I had no idea was possible through Airbnb!
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part was getting in touch with Airbnb when one of our stays was overbooked. In the end, we did end up being able to find a place to stay though.
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Definitely go off the beaten path! There’s no fun in waiting in line for hours at the more touristy places just to see a reclining Buddha for instance, at least not for us. We ended up having even more fun venturing into the less crowded, and less touristy areas.
Try also waking up as early as you can because it can help avoid the busy rush hour of other tourists. We did a few things super early at 5:00 am and 6:00 am, and while it was pretty tiring, it was also well worth it to avoid the herd of tours later in the day!
Finally, talk to some of the locals because more often than not they will know the best places to visit! While we were getting a foot massage, we were told about a fantastic boat tour not far from where we were. We gave it a shot and it ended up being a wonderful experience!
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that I really enjoyed the food and culture from all the places we visited. And I realized I’m a huge fan of Vietnamese coffee and beer!
I can’t wait to make a return trip because of all the wonderful, kind, hardworking people we met in Southeast Asia!
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!
If you’re looking to plan a similar trip, I’d recommend planning as far in advance as possible and take advantage of refundable tickets if you can. The reason for this is because it can wind up saving you a lot of money if you end up finding a much better deal for a flight later on.
If you’re looking for ways to maximize your points balance, don’t forget about shopping portals that many airlines offer, like United Airlines, Southwest, and American Airlines. Just go to their shopping portal, buy the things you normally would, and you’ll receive additional bonus points for your purchase!
By far the fastest way to earn miles and points though is through credit card welcome bonuses. But you should only do this if you pay your bill in full every month! Just make sure you’re responsible with credit cards, and you can always just start out slowly. And if annual fees are a bit too scary for you, you can always start with cards that either have no annual fee, or cards that waive the annual fee for the first year.
Finally, many credit cards require a minimum spend amount to earn the intro bonus. If you’re worried you won’t spend enough to meet the minimum spending requirement, you can always time your credit card application with a large upcoming purchase you were going to buy anyway.
Want to Share Your Story?
If you’d like to be considered for our Reader Success Series, please send us a note! We would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!
If you enjoyed this article, please take a second to subscribe to our email newsletter!