Success! Snorkeling Underwater Ruins, Exploring Hidden Beaches and Sampling World Class Water Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese!
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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!
Christian is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Christian Nommesen, and I have been collecting miles and points for ~5 years. I first got involved by googling “how to pay your mortgage with a credit card.” And that led me down a few rabbit holes and connected me to sites like Million Mile Secrets.
What was the goal of your trip?
My wife’s sister, living in Italy, just had a new baby. We wanted to visit her sister, see Italy, and attend the baptism of baby Mickey. I also hoped to visit the world’s smallest republic, San Marino, and hit up Malta if possible.
Our entire family traveled to Italy in the middle of summer using airline miles. United Airlines somehow quoted $18,000 if we paid cash!
My wife, 2-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, and I made the trip. My daughter and I stayed for 2 months and visited Malta, San Marino, Sicily, and other locales (Vatican, Pompeii, Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast). We stayed in free hotels and used Airbnb while I worked remotely.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It really didn’t take that long, probably ~9 months.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
For this trip, we saved United Airlines miles for flights and IHG points for a hotel stay. I also used Airbnb credits I earned for being a super host.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
I recommend opening a Schwab checking account and using the debit card to make withdrawals, since they reimburse 100% of all ATM fees. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is great for getting to enjoy lounge access before the long flights.
There are so many good cards with great offers, it really depends on which card works for your goals. Definitely use a card that has no foreign transaction fees, and a card that gives bonus points for travel.
How did you search and find the award flights?
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We mostly stayed with Airbnb. First, I sorted all the available accommodations in the area by what I needed (reliable internet, air conditioning, a view, etc.).
Once I had that list narrowed down, I booked based on the best reviews and value. For one portion of the trip, we were able to rent an entire Italian Villa for our family and my wife’s parents!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Because I work remotely during US business hours, I had to line up all my travel dates so that I didn’t miss any work. I had to make sure I was online Monday morning US time, and online until end of the business day each day. This meant mostly traveling on weekends or evenings.
In the end, my boss didn’t realize I was out of the country.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
The mozzarella cheese made from water buffalo milk near Itri, Italy, is so incredible. They actually massage the free roam animals, and believe happy animals make the best cheese.
We stayed a couple weeks in Syracuse, Sicily. I recommend going to a local toy store to buy a mask and snorkel and exploring the ancient underwater wall surrounding the city. One hidden gem we found is a small cove at the south end of Spiaggia di Serapo beach.
The main beach was jam packed with what seemed like millions of people. But a very short swim (or water walking on tippy-toes) gave us this little beach in a cove all to ourselves. It was amazing that we could see all these people in the distance and still enjoy some tranquility. We went back there often.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that almost anything is possible. And you have to take some risks to accomplish the really big stuff. You don’t have to have every detail planned, but a basic outline and some flexibility will go a long way.
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 rent a car, make sure to take pictures of the car from all angles before taking off. They tried to charge us for existing damage!
Start now, dream big, and make it happen. Plan, keep track of your points diligently, and trust God.
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! :)