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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.
Chad and Rhonda are 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 rewards 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?
My name is Chad, and together with my wife Rhonda, we have been busy earning miles and points for about 3 years.
2. What was the goal of your trip?
The main goal of our trip was to travel to Europe and see as many new places as possible, especially Oktoberfest in Munich.
We also knew that we wanted to visit a few other areas in Germany and Switzerland since we’d never been to those places before, and kind of let the prices of hotels and flights dictate the specific routes we’d go on.
We were able to find a great deal on a flight to Venice for the Venice Film Festival, and then later traveled to Lake Como, Interlaken, Zurich, Stuttgart, Munich, and Frankfurt.
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
Many of the points we redeemed for this trip came from various rewards programs that had been filling up for at least 3 years.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
We used a combination of American Airlines miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Marriott, and Hilton points. We estimate these miles and points got us over $17,000 worth of travel!
One of our favorite redemptions was being able to fly First Class on a Boeing 747 from Dallas to Venice. We each redeemed 85,000 American Airlines miles to book a one-way flight on British Airways. And although the taxes of around $1,000 for each of us were pretty steep, we were still pretty happy with the value we got, especially considering the fact that the seats usually go for more than $5,000!
For our flight back home, we each redeemed 57,500 American Airlines miles for Business Class seats, with ~$200 in taxes. The seats normally would have cost $2,500, so we were also pretty happy with the value we got from our airline miles.
Our stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points came in handy as we were able to redeem 183,000 points for a hotel stay at the Victoria Jungfrau hotel. For our other hotel stays, we also redeemed 105,000 Hilton points for a total of 8 nights at a few different Hilton hotels, including 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Zurich. And we also redeemed 180,000 Marriott points for 4 nights at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.
In total, we estimate our hotel points saved us nearly $8,000!
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
For a trip like ours, we’d recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. These cards are great because with the Sapphire Reserve, you can earn 3X points per $1 spent on dining and travel. And with the Hilton Ascend card, you can earn 12X Hilton points per $1 spent directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
We’d also recommend any card that earns American Airlines miles, like one of the following:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
I used ExpertFlyer to set alerts for a few flights that would fit our schedule and then booked the flights directly on the American Airlines website.
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I originally tried searching for Hilton hotels because I had a large stash of Hilton points. But as we got further into the trip planning process, we realized that Hilton hotels were not available in some of the cities. So, we ultimately ended up booking through the Chase travel portal and Hyatt websites.
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Planning the middle segments of our trip was the most challenging. When we first started planning the trip, pretty much all we knew for sure was that we’d be starting in Venice, and ending in Munich.
Planning the logistics of the middle segment of our trip (train schedules and how to get around to the different cities) became easier though, once we found the website seat61.com. It was a fantastic resource for European trains, and we were able to use the site to purchase our tickets in advance.
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Here are some recommendations for the cities we visited.
Venice, Italy: I’d highly recommend staying at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. It’s a wonderful property that sits on its own 40-acre island, so there’s plenty of room to explore. We stayed in a detached building away from the main hotel and found it to be very peaceful and relaxing.
You can also learn to travel like a local on the Vaporetto or Water Bus. Buy a multi-day pass to save money, and also study the maps and schedules to figure out the logistics of which ones to take.
Lido Island is also fantastic. We went during the Venice Film Festival and had a blast! It’s the world’s oldest film festivals, and very easy to purchase tickets on-site to film premieres.
Lake Como/City of Como: Here we’d recommend renting a car and driving up the lake to Bellagio where you’ll find a small shopping area with a few stores and restaurants. You can also rent your own boat or tour the lake if you like, which we highly recommend because it’s a great way to get a wonderful view of the lake.
Interlaken, Switzerland: Stay at the Victoria Jungfrau hotel if you can! It’s located in the heart of the city, and although it is an older resort, it has gone through some renovations to keep it modern!
If you do stay at this hotel, everything will be located within walking distance. You can also take the Interlaken Funicular to the “Top of Interlaken” to enjoy wonderful views of the peaks and lakes surrounding the city.
Also, everything in Switzerland seemed to be a lot more expensive, so if you can, try to grab a hotel that offers free breakfast.
Zurich, Switzerland: We were very pleased with our stay at the Park Hyatt Zurich. It’s a beautiful modern hotel within walking distance to the old town area, where you’ll find a wide selection of shops and restaurants to fit any budget.
Stuttgart, Germany: We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Stuttgart NeckarPark, which ended up being within walking distance to the Mercedes Benz Museum. It was the best car museum we’d ever visited, and wound up spending several hours there!
Definitely make a trip to the old town area which is located near the local train station, visit Esslingen for the shop and restaurants, and if you have time, you have to try a restaurant called Palmscher Ba in Esslingen am Neckar!
Munich, Germany: We stayed at the Hilton Munich City because it was located close to Oktoberfest. We also loved the fact that it was situated over a mainline subway stop. It’s what we used to get around town, and being so close to our hotel we were able to purchase tickets from our hotel concierge!
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned that we absolutely can book a trip on our own, and even with minimal luggage, still manage to survive 3 weeks of traveling across Europe! We had traveled quite a bit in the past, but this was by far our most favorite!
We also learned that with the aid of miles and points, we really can afford to take a big “trip of a lifetime” much more frequently thanks to all the cash we were able to save.
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!
I would tell anyone not currently involved with this hobby to immediately jump in and start earning points, even if that means just starting out small with a single credit card! You’ll quickly be hooked once you find out what’s possible with miles and points, and will want to earn more and more points to redeem for that dream vacation of yours.
Finally, make sure to look at sites like Million Mile Secrets for the best ways to redeem those points for an unforgettable trip!
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