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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.
Ryan 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
1 . What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
Hi there! My name is Ryan. I’ve been using miles and points to get “Big Travel with Small Money” since 2012. And over the past 6 years, I’ve earned over 2 million points, saving many tens of thousands of dollars on travel!
My journey with the miles and points hobby originally started when I needed to get a root canal. When I saw how much it was going to cost me, I started looking for ways to make that money back. While searching online for credit cards with large cash-only welcome bonuses, I came across Million Mile Secrets along with a post explaining how miles and points could be so much more valuable than regular cash back.
I dove into the miles and points hobby and have never looked back since then. I do run a blog called Travel Freedom, where I detail all my travel experiences and how I use my miles and points. Please feel free to check it out!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
For our honeymoon, my wife and I wanted to spend 2 weeks in Hawaii to celebrate the big occasion. By using miles and points (along with a little bit of luck), we were able to book almost everything on our trip for pretty much just the cost of taxes and fees.
Hawaii has been one of my most favorite places to visit. My grandparents lived there when I was a kid! Hawaii stood out as a great location for our honeymoon because of the relatively short flights from the West Coast, so we could have more time to relax or embark on some adventure on the island. It made the perfect getaway for a stress-free celebration!
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
The wonderful thing about flying to Hawaii from the West Coast is that you don’t need to redeem many points to make it happen. It took us just 3 months to earn enough points to cover our flights and hotels, and that was from opening just 2 credit cards! We did also get a bit lucky because we were able to stay at a friend’s timeshare in Maui for free for an entire week!
Outside of that free week though, we were able to book a round-trip flight for the 2 of us, along with 6 nights in hotels. We flew Alaska Airlines and paid only ~$22 for taxes and fees, spent 3 nights at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, and 3 nights at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach hotel after flying on an island-hopper to Oahu.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
The only points we used were Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I like to think of these as the king of travel points, because they’re so flexible. Plus they have so many transfer partners.
And it helped that we were able to take advantage of the bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. This intro bonus alone covered our flights and hotel stay at Hyatt. When we applied for the card, it was offering 100,000-point bonus. That deal is no longer available, but you can read about the current 50,000-point offer, which is still a great deal!
Our 3 nights at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, were booked using free night award certificates and points earned on the Chase Ritz-Carlton card (no longer available). Speaking of the card, it’s too bad it’s no longer available for new applicants. It’s such a cool card being solid metal, and weighing in at over a full ounce!
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
If you’re looking to travel from the West Coast to Hawaii, you’ll have a lot of options. And there are a lot of credit cards whose intro bonuses can be worth multiple round-trip flights! Here are some I would recommend:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
After you earn the intro bonus on these cards, don’t forget you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to many of their travel partners! For example, you can transfer your points to British Airways, where you should have enough for 2 round-trip flights, and still have plenty of points leftover.
And if you’re wondering which Chase hotel partner is best, I’ve always found Hyatt to be a great option.
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
The process for booking an award flight from the West Coast to Hawaii is a bit different than booking a regular flight with cash.
For me, I started on the American Airlines website by searching for available “Economy MileSAAver”Alaska Airlines flights directly to and from the islands we wanted to visit. Once I found availability on the dates we wanted to travel, I transferred 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my British Airways account.
After writing down the specific dates and flights numbers, I called British Airways to book those exact flights. I found I had to call because the British Airways system does not show flights on Alaska Airlines, even though they are airline partners. It’s an added step in the process (as opposed to simply booking online and paying cash), but it’s totally worth it given the amount of cash you can save. Plus, it’s sometimes fun to have a conversation with an agent who has a British accent!
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We had the option of staying at a friend’s timeshare while in Maui, so that was an easy choice for us. Outside of that, we also decided to stay at a condo in Kihei because we found it to be a great home base while staying in Maui with a lot of excellent beaches nearby.
For our last 3 nights in Maui, we knew we’d be staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua because we specifically got the Chase Ritz-Carlton card for that specific purpose.
We did have to do a bit more searching for Oahu. Since we had some Chase Ultimate Rewards points leftover, we started looking for hotels that partnered with Chase. We found IHG, Hyatt, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton hotels among our top choices. We ended up choosing Hyatt because we found it gave us the best value for our points. It cost us 12,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per night, and also included breakfast!
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
I’ve been planning vacations to Hawaii pretty much every year since 2012, so I didn’t find it too difficult. If anything, it was tough trying to figure out which activities we could do in the time that we would be there. Fortunately, this time we stayed long enough to do a majority of the activities we had planned.
The only other challenging aspect of the trip was finding flights that worked well with our schedules. But besides that, the rest was pretty easy.
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Maui is my favorite place in the world. Its got plenty of beautiful beaches, fun and challenging hikes, waterfalls to explore, great snorkeling spots full of sea life, and plenty of amazing food to be had at various restaurants.
My favorite beach would have to be Maluaka Beach in Makena. It’s located in front of the abandoned Makena Resort, and it has nice sized turf for both swimming and riding waves. If you can’t make it to this beach, Ulua beach is another great one to visit.
For a good snorkeling spot, I would recommend Honolua Bay. It’s just north of Lahaina in an almost enclosed cave. I’ve been here and I’ve seen turtles, eels, octopus, and an assortment of tropical fish!
And for food places, try Thai Mee Up! It’s in a food court across from Costco in Kahului. They’ve got the most delicious Pad Thai! We usually end up eating here multiple times every time we visit Hawaii. So if you’re going to be on Maui, don’t miss it! It’s very close to the airport, so you can visit right after you land.
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned how having an amazing honeymoon does not have to be expensive! My wife and I had the perfect vacation and were able to save thousands of dollars in the process.
I also learned that I love teaching others about the miles and points hobby so that they can also have the honeymoon of their dreams! To me, it’s such a no-brainer. You can earn a lot of points given how expensive weddings can be. And you can also cut down on costs by doing things like booking trips with points instead of cash!
Recently, I was able to help my sister-in-law use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to book her upcoming honeymoon flights, and it felt great being able to pass on my knowledge of the miles and points hobby!
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 interested in traveling and have a good credit score, take advantage of all of the great offers and intro bonuses on credit cards! Travel can be really expensive, so it really behooves you to take advantage of how valuable miles and points can be. Take advantage of your good credit and save cash on your next trip!
Earning points through my travel credit cards has changed my life in ways I never would have expected. I’ve been able to visit Hawaii regularly on an annual basis, and flown across the country for a first date, ultimately marrying that person years later! 10 years ago, I never would have thought this would have been possible because of how expensive it would be without points.
So if you have an itch for travel, go for it! And if you’re interested in reading more of my travel stories, feel free to read my blog at Travel Freedom!
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!