Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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!
Monica Schiller is sharing the 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 Monica and I love traveling. I started collecting miles and points as a hobby in 2012 after my first long-haul flight to Hong Kong when I realized there had to be a better way to fly than to sit in the middle seat of coach for 16 hours!
I have been to 26 countries and counting. I own Monica Schiller Nutrition & Wellness LLC, a virtual nutrition coaching company, which allows me to help people develop a healthy relationship with food, whether they are home or constantly traveling for work or pleasure.
What was the goal of your trip?
I wanted to immerse myself in Japanese culture and food, my favorite on earth! And also, briefly be a guest of the Great Leader, Kim Jong Un when traveling to the DMZ in South Korea.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I collected the miles & points for this trip in 1 year!
Which points did you save to take your trip?
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
How did you search and find the award flights?
I do all my own research to find and collect points, including being opportunistic about credit card offers. In terms of finding awards, I’m pretty good at finding basic awards. But for more complicated trips, I work with Kam from Award Advocate who always manages to put something great together based on the points I have collected.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
This was one of the more difficult trips to plan. Japan has an amazing and efficient public transportation system, and perhaps the kindest, most helpful people. But researching details and maps that don’t always translate well into English was a challenge.
I looked into redeeming points to stay at western brand hotels, but given the nature of my trip, and the prevalence of lower cost but excellent options in the major cities that I went to, I ended up not using points for the accommodations.
In Tokyo and Kyoto, I stayed in boutique hotels recommended by 3 separate friends who had just gone to Japan. In Tokyo, I stayed at the Royal Park Hotel – The Shiodome and in Kyoto, I stayed at the Sakura Terrace Gallery. As a treat, I went to Hokkaido for a week and stayed in 2 different Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) that had hot spring pools and super yummy traditional Kaiseki dinners.
Since Korean Air let me do a stopover on the way back to the US for no extra charge, I stopped in South Korea, where I stayed at the Plaza Marriott Hotel in Seoul.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
There were 2 challenges.
One was finding a Ryokan in Hokkaido, despite few of them speaking much English at all. Ryokans are found all over Japan, and range considerably in price and quality. I found a website (Ryokan Collection) which was very helpful in providing useful information in English.
The other issue I ran into is I had planned a trip to the DMZ during the week in August 2017 when Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un got into an escalating Twitter war about nuking each other. Tours of the DMZ are only given through the United States military, so I was in contact with the tour company each day leading up to the tour to make sure it would still run. It did, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Kyoto – The train station! Seriously, eat at the train station, it doesn’t matter where. The food is all amazing!
Everyone knows the day trip to Nara (which was cool), but also consider taking a day trip to Obubu Farms in Wazuka (one of Japan’s premier tea regions). You’ll learn about various Japanese green teas, and take a beautiful tour of the surrounding tea fields.
Just driving around Wazuka blew me away. There are rolling hills upon rolling hills of tea bushes in perfectly manicured shapes and styles. It’s like visiting a work of art.
Tokyo – For anyone who has seen Lost In Translation, getting a nice city view at the Park Hyatt Tokyo bar was a fun experience. The sushi was all SO fresh, and walking around to get a feel for the city without planning anything in particular was one of the best aspects of Tokyo.
Hokkaido – This is home to the largest, most epic flower fields (rivaling Netherlands) – rent a car and drive around, and you will be sure to find some.
One big surprise was that Hokkaido is also home to the biggest, most delicious cantaloupes. They are sold in stores and in stands along the rural, winding roads.
Stopping for a smoothie on a scenic drive was so relaxing. I have to also mention the fresh lavender that is made in Hokkaido, and of course, the extremely delicious ice cream that is made out of that lavender (I’m not even an ice cream lover)!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
One of my favorite aspects of this trip was learning all about Japanese food and continuing to research techniques I can use to maintain a healthy approach to eating. I learned so much about the various green teas, including the famous matcha tea, and its many health properties at Obubu Farms, which I highly recommend. It is often difficult to go on a trip and avoid overindulging because of the FOMO we have about the seemingly once-in-a-lifetime foods we encounter.
Japanese foods are some of my favorites on the planet. But I found that by pacing myself and just having a few bites of something, I was still able to enjoy the food without feeling utterly stuffed every single day!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Once you fly Business Class on a long-haul flight (especially on one of Korean Air’s A380 planes), it is SO difficult to go back to flying coach. The time and effort invested in collecting miles and points will be rewarded tenfold the first time you find yourself sitting in a Business Class seat being asked if you would like to start with a fresh cocktail or a eucalyptus scented towel while the rest of coach is still boarding.
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!