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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!
Jim and Lindsay are 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?
We are the Rodaks (Jim and Lindsay) from Pittsburgh. I (Jim) got my first card in May of 2016. I had read an article on miles & points, which led me to do research into what I thought was a scam or something not available to the general public. And I eventually stumbled onto Million Mile Secrets!
While the website layout and artwork has changed over years, the excellent content hasn’t. Million Mile Secrets’ step-by-step beginner’s guide was all I needed, and I was off.
After prodding my wife on the merits of discounted travel for us and our 2 boys (2 and 5), we both began applying for cards! Now here we are with 25 cards between the 2 of us! And we haven’t looked back (neither has our credit score!). I am the CEO (new cards, research, redemptions, etc.) and she is the CFO (Queen of the Spreadsheets!).
What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of this trip was to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Last year, we both applied for the Chase Fairmont cards (no longer available). So we still had 4 free nights to use that were expiring. We wanted to use them in Hawaii, but it didn’t make sense to travel all of that way for just 4 nights. So we ended up visiting Barbados!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We collected miles & points for ~1.5 years for this trip. We had previously taken other trips where we used either a hotel award or award flight. But this was the first trip where we paid for hotels & flights exclusively with miles & points.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
Unfortunately, you can no longer get the Chase Fairmont cards. However, if I were starting over, I would get Chase cards that count against the “5/24 rule” first. There is nothing better than having lots of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at your disposal by applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and the Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Those points could take you almost anywhere.
When I first started, I applied for 4 cards that were not affected by the Chase “5/24” rule. And it left me only able to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. But I learned from my mistake when it came time for my wife to start.
We wisely applied for 5 Chase “5/24” cards for her first! Also, hopefully Accor brings back the Fairmont card at some point so other readers can take advantage of their wonderful hotels.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Chase Fairmont card (no longer available)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express for Global Entry (TSA Pre-check), Centurion lounge access
- Chase Sapphire Reserve for Global Entry (TSA Pre-check), Priority Pass lounge access
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
How did you search and find the award flights?
Pittsburgh is a fairly limited airport. For this flight, we knew we had American Airlines miles and Delta miles to use (from the AMEX Delta cards). We searched both of their websites for the best flight combination, which ended up being American Airlines.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Searching our hotel accommodations was also easy, since we knew we had our Fairmont free nights to use. We reviewed the list of hotels on Fairmont’s website. And then called to use our certificates at the St. James Royal Pavilion.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
While in Barbados, take in the local restaurant scene. Try the Barbados Cutter Fish sandwich and the Barbados Rum Punch. We had dinner 3 nights on the ocean! The Beach Club, Cin Cin by the Sea, and Lone Star all utilize Barbados’s beautiful coastline.
As part of my wife’s birthday present, we also arranged for her to receive spa services in our room by the balcony overlooking the ocean, which was very relaxing for her.
Lastly, take the scenic route from the airport. You’ll drive through the country’s beautiful rolling sugar cane fields (we originally though it was corn until our drive corrected us!).
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned that this hobby pays off! And it’s worth the extra hassles of getting the most from your resources and credit card spending. My wife jokes that before every purchase she makes, she starts to get nervous worrying about whether or not she is using the correct credit card. Do we need to meet a bonus? Is the purchase a bonus category? If not, use the Chase Freedom Unlimited!
In the end, the extra thought, research, spreadsheets, etc. are worth it when you can enjoy 4 days in paradise for a minimal amount of money.
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 wait to get started, even if you make a mistake like I did, where you applied for the cards in the incorrect order or your wife uses the wrong card. Any miles & points are better than none!
There’s something in this hobby for everyone. My wife’s dad refuses to get cards with annual fees. But, he loves his Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. And we love the referral bonus! Some people just want lounge access, TSA Pre-check, Global Entry, or other benefits. Not everyone has to take it to the extreme by getting new cards frequently.
Make sure you take the time to get organized before you arrive at your destination, because you don’t want to worry about the fine print while you’re in paradise. For instance, I waited until the morning of checkout to square up the hotel bill. I had purchased a Fairmont gift card when they had a Black Friday sale. The front desk clerk was not sure how to process the gift card, and we were running late to catch our flight. Luckily, the gift card was able to be applied to the bill. But I forgot to use our Fairmont President’s Club dining & spa certificates (worth $100), and it was too late to apply them once we got home.
We owe a big part of our success to your website, updates, and knowledge! Thanks, Million Mile Secrets!
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!