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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!
Janeal 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!
1. What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
Hi, my name is Janeal and I’ve been earning airline miles for 10 years now, but have not had any real success stories with redeeming them until this past year!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
I wanted to do something special for my husband’s 50th birthday. He had always wanted to go to Machu Picchu, so it seemed like a great opportunity to redeem some miles for a trip!
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
The points we redeemed for this trip took ~18 months to collect.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
I transferred 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines for 2 one-way tickets in Business Class from Boise to Lima. I had also earned 60,000 American Airlines miles from the welcome bonus on the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, which I redeemed for another 2 one-way tickets in Business Class for the flight back home to Boise.
For the hotel, I redeemed some points I earned on a Wyndham Rewards Visa card, and paid for everything else in cash.
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
I’d recommend either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or Chase Sapphire Reserve® because you have a lot of redemption options with multiple transfer partners, which is great when you’re looking for fights to book. We upgraded to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® a year ago and feel that the card is well worth the annual fee because of perks like the $300 annual travel credit, reimbursement for Global Entry, and Priority Pass airport lounge access.
You can also look at the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, especially because you currently have the opportunity to earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after meeting certain minimum spending requirements. These are the same flexible points that you can redeem with many of Chase’s travel partners!
6. How did you search for and find the award flights?
To get an idea of which airlines had a good product for flying in Business Class for flights to South America, I read several different travel blogs. After deciding on United Airlines, I just jumped onto their website and began searching for award seats.
I was only able to find a single Business Class award seat available. I booked that for my husband because it was for his birthday, and then booked a seat for myself in coach.
Then, I remembered reading on Million Mile Secrets that on a United Airlines flight, it was possible to book seats in coach with miles, and then be placed on a waiting list for a Business Class seat if you had enough miles. I called to be placed on that waiting list, and within a week, I made it off the waitlist and was confirmed a seat in Business Class.
For our flight back home, I initially booked seats in coach, before remembering that American Airlines allows you to change your reservation free of charge if your destination and travel dates remain unchanged. Because of this, I decided to see if I could change our itinerary to fly in Business Class instead. For the next month, I continued to check websites like ExpertFlyer and American Airlines for available award seats in Business Class.
About 2 weeks before our trip, I was finally able to find some award seat availability. I called American Airlines and successfully changed our reservations to Business Class with no change fees!
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I had earned points from a welcome bonus on a Wyndham Rewards Visa card to book a room at the Hoteles Costa Del Sol for the night we’d be landing in Lima. It was close to the airport, which ended being perfect because we landed late at night and were completely exhausted. We also had an early flight the very next morning to Cusco so it was nice not having to worry about finding transportation to and from the hotel.
The rest of our hotel accommodations were booked through hotels.com. We found that hotels were pretty inexpensive in Peru, so I didn’t want to redeem any points for an award stay. I figured I could save my points and redeem them on another trip at a more expensive hotel.
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Maybe surprisingly, the hardest part was the fact that my husband had to get time off from work. Everything else in terms of planning the trip was relatively easy because of all the information available online, which helped me in finding flights, hotels, and how to earn and redeem points!
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
We did a 2-day Inca Trail Trek which was amazing! It was beautiful being able to hike through the mountains. We saw plenty of amazing Incan ruins, were provided wonderful meals from the company conducting the hike, had a knowledgeable guide, and also had a fun time socializing with other couples in our hiking group.
We also saw Machu Picchu for the very first time, and I have to say I got a little misty-eyed from this experience. It was a really special experience entering the city where the ancient Incas first did as they traveled from Cusco.
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I think I learned that spending so much time reading about miles and points was really worth it considering the trip would have otherwise cost us quite a bit more cash. I had been reading and learning so much over the years and it felt great being able to finally put that knowledge to use, not to mention how great it was seeing how much my husband enjoyed the trip! He was really impressed with the Business Class seats, and was grinning from ear to ear when we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. He works incredibly hard to provide for our family, so it felt wonderful being able to something just for him.
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 thinking about traveling somewhere, it can really be helpful to talk to others who’ve been there before! I didn’t know much about Machu Picchu, but the more I read about it the more I wanted to go!
I’d also say that redeeming miles and points is a skill and it can take some time to learn the ropes and become an expert. Try not to feel too frustrated! It can be a bit of trial and error at the beginning, but just try to learn from any mistakes you might make!
Finally, if you do decide to travel to Peru, I’d recommend going some time in October. The weather we had was gorgeous, there were no crowds, and we were able to make reservations for pretty much all of our flights, tours, and hotels, just a month in advance! If you try to make reservations during peak travel season though (June through September), you’ll have to make the reservations many more months in advance, and possibly deal with more crowds.
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