Reader Success! A Completely FREE Viking River Cruise Trip in Europe! Plus, United Airlines Business Class Award Flights!
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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.
Julie 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?
My name is Julie, and I’ve been involved in miles and points for around 7 years now!
2. What was the goal of your trip?
For this trip, I decided to make another trek down to Europe. Although I have traveled to Europe many times in the past, I wanted to explore a new region this time around. I ended up taking a Viking River cruise to Eastern Europe from Budapest to Bucharest.
3. How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It only took me roughly 1 year to earn enough miles and points for this trip.
4. Which points did you save to take your trip?
I used primarily United Airlines miles, Hilton points, and some perks I received through the Viking River Cruise referral program.
For my flights, I was able to redeem United Airlines miles to fly Business Class to Europe. This was largely due to earning 50,000 United Airlines miles after applying for the United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card and meeting the minimum spending requirements, as well as a limited-time promotion where I was able to purchase United Airlines miles with a 100% bonus.
For hotels, I redeemed Hilton points for 2 nights at the Hilton Budapest, and 3 nights at the Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel.
My Viking River Cruise also ended up being completely free of charge because I met the requirements for their referral program, which basically stated that if I had at least 13 qualified referrals in the same calendar year, I would then be eligible for a free river cruise for myself!
5. Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
I would recommend the United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card, The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, and the Hilton Honors American Express Card.
I live very close to a United Airlines hub so I’m able to make great use of my United Airlines miles, and the Hilton AMEX cards will always have a spot in my wallet because of perks like complimentary hotel elite status, which means I can almost always count on a free breakfast included with my hotel stay!
6. How did you search and find the award flights?
The flights were booked on pretty short notice because I was waiting to receive my award for the Viking River Cruise.
Once I received the award certificate though, I just used United Airlines’ website to search for available award seats, and was fortunate enough to find Business Class award seats!
7. How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For Budapest, I chose the Hilton Budapest because I had stayed there before and knew it would be great.
Bucharest was new for me though, so I just randomly searched for hotels, and ended up booking the Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel because it had good reviews.
8. What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Everything actually went pretty smoothly for this trip, and I can’t think of any real challenges we had!
If anything could have made things easier though, I’d recommend hiring a driver or local guide in Bucharest to see sites outside the city if you want more options.
We were able to see pretty much all of the places we wanted to see, but there was some local construction going on, so that caused some delays in our trip. So in this case, having a local guide could have at least given us a few more options when we found out there would be a delay.
9. Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
There is so much to see in Budapest! I’d recommend visiting the wineries in Etyek, the Hospital in the Rock, Shoes on the Danube, and the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble Performance.
For Bucharest, I really enjoyed visiting Bran Castle, Peles Castle, and Brasov. The Village Museum was also quite a sight to see, and you won’t be disappointed with the restaurants in the city.
10. What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that I really enjoy learning about the history of other countries and better understanding the day-to-day life of the locals.
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 thinking about taking a trip or jumping into the miles and points hobby, I would say you absolutely should DO IT! It’s not worth it to keep waiting, and you should just go out and take that trip before it’s too late. Jump in now and live life to its fullest!
Miles and points really saved me quite a bit on this trip, and it could do the same for you. So make that next dream vacation a reality!
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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! :)