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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!
Scott is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Scott for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Scott. My girlfriend Kim and I have been involved with miles and points starting with getting the Southwest Companion Pass ~3 years ago and haven’t looked back since! We’ve flown to Aruba, the Bahamas, Mexico, and all across the US using points.
What was the goal of your trip?
I’m a dentist and time off is not something I tend to get a lot of. The office I was working for was bought by a big corporation, so I decided it was time to quit and do some traveling. Kim and I are both pretty adventurous so we wanted to get out into nature as much as possible.
To accomplish this, we planned a 2.5 month trip where we would go from Dallas (where we live), to Michigan, then Seattle, Hawaii, Alaska, Las Vegas, Florida, Cuba and Belize! We started a travel blog to document our adventures and how we booked our travel using all of the tips and tricks we’ve learned from reading Million Mile Secrets. 🙂
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We’re always looking for the best deals and new ways to accumulate points. For this trip, we had points from cards we opened 2 years ago and some more recent ones we just hadn’t found a good use for yet. This trip ate up almost all the points we had in store but it was easily worth it!
Which points did you save to take your trip?
For this trip we ended up using:
- 50,000 British Airways Avios points from the Chase British Airways card
- ~58,000 Southwest points and the Southwest Companion Pass for all our Southwest flights
- 70,000 IHG points from the Chase IHG Rewards Select card and the free night certificate
- 135,000 Hilton points for our Hawaii hotel
- The free night certificate from the Chase Marriott Rewards card
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
I think the cards that were most useful for our trip were the Chase British Airways card, which allowed us both to get from Seattle to Hawaii and then from Hawaii to Alaska for nearly free.
I’d also recommend the Chase Southwest Premier and Plus cards, which we used to get the Companion Pass and points for award flights from Dallas to Detroit, Detroit to Seattle, Seattle to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Ft. Lauderdale, round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Havana, Cuba, round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Belize City, Ft. Lauderdale to Detroit and Detroit back to Dallas!
We also had the Citi Hilton Reserve card (no longer available). We pooled our points from both getting this card in order to book 5 nights (using the 5th night free perk) at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. We even got upgraded because of our Hilton Gold elite status!
The Chase IHG Rewards Select card also got us some valuable nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Waikiki, Hawaii, the Holiday Inn Express in Anchorage, and the Holiday Inn Express at the Sea-Tac airport.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
I searched for the flights to Hawaii using the advanced search option on American Airlines’ website and ended up finding the flights I wanted on their partner Alaska Airlines. I had to call to book with British Airways Avios points but the whole process wasn’t too difficult. I started with this flight and then booked our Southwest flights around our Hawaii and Alaska plans.
For the Southwest flights, I used the low fare calendar and map search tool on the Southwest website to find the best dates and cheapest rates. I also booked during a big Southwest sale which helped for getting the most flights with the least amount of points.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
A lot of searching using the Hilton and IHG websites. We also stayed at Airbnbs in Cuba and Belize. We have family in Florida and Michigan so we were able to stay with them for those portions of our trip.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Trying to book different flights and hotels with different airlines and hotel chains while getting the most out of all of our points.
Being super organized and taking notes on what rates or flights were available on different dates made it easier to evaluate what travel dates, routes, and accommodations would allow us to best use our points.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Like I mentioned before, we’re both pretty adventurous so we found some really amazing activities that we’ll never forget.
On the Big Island of Hawaii, we highly recommend hiking out to the active lava flow. It’s a pretty good trek but well worth it!
We took an Alaskan Cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver and can’t say enough good things about it. If there is any way you can take a boat up to the edge of a 350-foot tall glacier you should do it!
In Cuba we went on a tour to Vinales where there are an abundance of tobacco farms for making Cuban cigars. The country there was beautiful and our favorite part of our time in Cuba.
In Belize we stayed on Caye Caulker, an amazing little island 40 minutes away from Belize City by boat. Go on a full-day snorkeling trip with Caveman Tours. We swam with sharks, loggerhead turtles, manatees, stingrays and more all in one day! The food in Caye Caulker was amazing as well. Our favorite place was a little local place called Meldy’s. Get the burrito and thank me later. 😉
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned that people are genuinely nice everywhere you go. Traveling to new places and experiencing new things rejuvenates your mind like nothing else. We’ve both agreed that we need to make regular international travel a staple of our lives. Life is too short to not see as much as you can.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Start your planning early and stay organized. Research the benefits of your cards to make sure you’re getting the most you can from all the perks. Get Global Entry if you’re traveling internationally and hate lines. If you haven’t gotten on the points and miles train yet, what are you waiting for? You can get so much for free with just your regular everyday spending – get started!
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!