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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.
Adam is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you’re planning a vacation, take a look our list of top travel credit cards to see how you can book your trip for a fraction of the retail cost!
1. What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
Hi, my name is Adam, and I’ve been in the miles and points hobby for about 4 years now.
2. What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of this trip was to travel to New Zealand and Australia.
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took about 1.5 years to earn enough miles for this trip. We ended up redeeming about 120,000 Alaska miles each way for 2 Business Class tickets between Auckland and Los Angeles.
We earned miles with the following methods:
- Flying on airlines. We don’t fly very often, but every mile earned helps!
- Earning bonus miles by using the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card
- Earning bonus miles by using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Doing some of our shopping and earning bonus points through the Alaska Airlines Shopping Portal
- Enrolling in the Alaska Airlines Dining Program to earn bonus points for the places we already dine at
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
We redeemed Alaska Airlines miles for the flights and then Starwood points (now Marriott points) for our hotel.
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
If you’re looking to take a trip like ours, there are a few cards we’d recommend:
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card – This is one of my recommendations for a few reasons. You can earn a nice welcome bonus and you get an annual companion certificate with the card. The annual fee is also reasonable at just $75. I’ve found that the miles are great for international travel on partner airlines.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Outside of a nice intro bonus, I like this card because you can transfer points to Alaska Airlines, and if you transfer at least 60,000 points, you can get a 25% bonus. So if I transfer 60,000 Marriott points to Alaska Airlines, I’ll end up with 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles! And did I mention the free night award on your cardmember anniversary?
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
We knew that we wanted to fly to Auckland, and since we had a TON of Alaska Airlines miles, we figured we could easily book an award flight! But we found out that getting to Australia and New Zealand is actually pretty difficult on miles and points. So we had to be very flexible with our travel dates.
We also had to figure out the details of booking an award flight with partner airlines. We learned that booking through Alaska Airlines is limited between designated regions. We knew that Emirates was a partner of Alaska, and that they flew to New Zealand. But we also had to know that Alaska only allows you to book Emirates if you’re flying out of the continental US. We also found it very difficult to find and book award seats in First Class, so in the end we gave up and decided Business Class would be fine.
We needed 120,000 miles each way though to book Business Class on Emirates. We didn’t have enough miles for this, so we had to get a bit creative. We did spend the 120,000 for Business Class from Los Angeles to Auckland, but on our return flight we actually flew out of Sydney in Cathay Pacific’s Business Class offering, which required only required 60,000 miles.
I will say to anyone thinking of the same flight, be cautioned that these are long flights! We didn’t really mind though, because flying in Business Class on Emirates we found it was just as good as many other airline’s First Class offerings. Not to mention we had a giant bar we could visit!
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We are loyal Starwood/Marriott guests, so we always try to book an award stay at Marriott hotels if possible. We booked 5 nights at the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park with the 5th night being free thanks to their 5-night free rule when booking with points. These rooms usually go for over $500+ per night, so we were really happy with the value we got from the points!
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
I’d say the hardest part was finding award availability on the routes we wanted. We spent a lot of time researching travel blogs like Million Mile Secrets and Expert Flyer to find award availability.
Sometimes though, it helps just to Google exactly what you’re trying to do. In my case, I searched a lot with the phrase “Using Alaska miles to get to New Zealand and Australia.”
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
The best thing to do in Auckland is to bungee jump off the Auckland Harbor Bridge. It’s absolutely amazing, and New Zealand is probably the safest place to go bungee jumping because they have an impeccable safety record! Plus, because the jumps are done off a public bridge, they are highly regulated and really do put safety first.
Definitely visit Mount Wellington peak if you are in Hobart, Tasmania. You can take a tour all the way to the top, and then bike all the way back down. It’s a fantastic way to see the mountain and the city, and maybe best of all, requires almost no physical effort since the biking is all downhill!
I’d also recommend the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. They’re absolutely gorgeous, and you can go on one of their guided tours.
For Melbourne, I’d highly recommend a restaurant called Tonka. It’s modern Indian cuisine, which I‘ve had before, but this was by far one of the best places we’d eaten for the entire trip!
For Sydney, we loved the Blue Bananas electric bike tour of the city. You’ll go all around the city, including over the harbor bridge. And the biking is not very strenuous since you’ll be on an electric bike!
We also did a spectacular food tour of Sydney’s Chinatown, called Taste Tours Chinatown.
Bondi and Manly Beaches are also a MUST! They’re absolutely beautiful and you really can spend an entire day there.
For a day trip outside the city, I highly recommend the Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tour, which leaves from Sydney and takes you to various wineries in wine country.
Lastly, another one of the best meals we had in Sydney was at a restaurant called Chin Chin, which is an Australian take on Asian food.
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that I LOVE bungee jumping!
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 make a similar trip, here are a few tips!
- Make sure to take advantage of all of the different ways to earn miles and points, because there’s more ways to earn points outside of just using your credit card for purchases.
- When it comes to flights and hotels, give yourself plenty of time to research exactly where you want to go and how to get there. If you’re planning on redeeming points, plan far in advance so that you know if you’ll be short on points.
- First Class award seats can be difficult to find, especially on partner airlines! If you’re having trouble finding availability, your best bet might just be to book Business Class seats instead. Sites like Seat Guru can be helpful in checking out the layout of the airplane so you can choose the best seats.
- Check to see if your seats will be lie-flat. On a long 15-hour flight, you might be a lot more comfortable with these types of seats. But this just depends on whether you think you’d need it to e comfortable for the flight. Personally, I could never fly in coach for an international flight because I get very uncomfortable!
- Use miles and points blogs and websites to find the best ways to book trips
- Consider a professional service to help you maximize your points for the best itinerary possible. We’ve used some of these in the past, like Points Pros, when we just couldn’t find an itinerary that worked for us. Usually, you just tell them where you want to fly and what miles you have available, and then they’ll figure out the rest! You pay a nominal fee, of course, but it can be worth it!
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!
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