Off the Beaten Path: How Emily & Ian Used Miles & Points to Take a 100-Mile European Trek!
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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!
Emily & Ian are sharing the newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to them for sharing their story!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
We’re Emily & Ian, and we got into the miles and points hobby ~2 years ago. Since then we’ve taken some incredible trips, including hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 100-mile hike through France, Italy, and Switzerland last summer! It was such an amazing experience that we were inspired to start a blog, TMBtent, to help others plan a similar adventure!
What was the goal of your trip?
Our goal was to get off the beaten tourist track and away from the typical sights you’d find in a guidebook. The TMB takes the hiker through remote and spectacular terrain, as well as charming hamlets you might never otherwise visit. By traveling at a walking pace, we would be able to see these incredible places in a more intimate and less rushed way.
Another great part of a long-distance hike in a foreign place is the opportunity it presents to meet interesting people from all over the world. Since you’re hiking with the same people, you establish camaraderie with your fellow travelers. We had so many great conversations with hikers from everywhere from the Czech Republic to Australia!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We collected miles and points for ~18 months prior to taking the trip.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
We used United Airlines miles to book our flights and took advantage of the Excursionist Perk to visit London for free on our way home. We also used the Chase Travel Portal to book hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards points that otherwise wouldn’t be available using miles and points.
We ended up only spending ~$700 total for our flights and hotels for the entire 17-day trip!
Which cards (max 5) would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
We definitely recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve card for this trip. You’ll earn points that can be easily transferred to great airline partners, such as United Airlines and British Airways, while also having the flexibility to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards hotels and other travel expenses.
We also made great use of the complimentary Priority Pass membership, stopping at lounges in every airport we visited. Not only did this save us money on food and drinks at the airport, but it also provided a welcome respite from the hectic terminal on long travel days.
We also recommend focusing on cards earning points that you can redeem at a fixed value. Such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which earn statement credits for travel expenses. These are perfect for Airbnbs and boutique hotels!
How did you search and find the award flights?
We searched for award flights on the United Airlines website. They have one of the easiest websites to navigate, and we were able to take advantage of the Excursionist Perk, netting us a free 4-night stopover in London on the way home.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We camped most nights on the Tour du Mont Blanc (check out our guide to camping on the TMB for more information). On the nights we weren’t camping, we splurged on nice hotels we booked through the Chase Travel Portal. We really appreciated a soft bed and a hot shower after a few nights camping out!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
It was difficult to find detailed and reliable information about camping (many hikers choose to stay in huts rather than camp) on the route, which is the main reason we decided to start our website, TMBtent. In the months leading up to our trip, we made it a weekend hobby to do research about the tour. Planning and logistics are always more enjoyable when coupled with happy hour! A flexible mindset was also very valuable while on the trip!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Take a rest day in Courmayeur, Italy, and stay at the amazing Hotel Maison La Saxe! Courmayeur is bursting with great restaurants, incredible mountain views, and a fun atmosphere. Maison La Saxe is a cozy hotel set in a 300 year-old house. The staff is warm and friendly and the breakfast spread is unforgettable!
We only stayed at a few mountain huts on the tour, but we’d highly recommend spending a night at Rifugio Bonatti. This hut is set in a spectacular location that is truly away from everything. This is a quintessential TMB experience that is guaranteed to provide lively conversation, delicious food, and lasting memories!
In all of the little towns we stopped at along our hike, one of our favorite things to do after we’d set up camp for the evening was to stroll into town and explore the local artisanal shops. Shopping for dinner became an event in itself, as we worked our way through each town’s cheese vendors, bakeries, and fruit stands. Not only did this save us money (compared to dining out), but we also got the chance to talk to locals and learn about the regional flavors.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned that we LOVE doing long-distance hikes as a form of international travel. Our experience was rewarding and unlike any other traveling we’d done in the past. The long days spent on the trail cultivated many new creative endeavors, such as starting a business!
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 hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, be sure to check out our site for everything you need to plan a similar trip. For those just starting out in the miles and points hobby, don’t worry about getting the best value or most complicated redemptions. Instead, just make sure to use your points to plan the trip that meets your travel goals.
Miles and points are valueless until you redeem them, so resist the temptation to stockpile them for years and years. We use an Excel spreadsheet to track all of our credit cards and minimum spending requirements. And we use AwardWallet to keep track of our miles and points balances.
Use a system that works for you, but staying organized is critical and alleviates a lot of the stress of planning your trip.
Finally, never underestimate the power of award travel, as you can unlock experiences that would have never otherwise been possible!
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!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)