We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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!
Patrick 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 Patrick Shepherd and I’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby for 6 years.
What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of my trip was for my wife and me to visit a work colleague of hers who had been transferred to Singapore. I also wanted to visit my uncle’s grave in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took us ~1 year to ensure that we had enough miles and points to do this trip.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
My wife and I collected:
- United Airlines miles
- British Airways Avios points
- IHG points
- Hilton points
And we also used the annual free night certificates we received from The Hyatt Credit Card (that particular sign-up bonus is no longer available).
Which cards (max 5) would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
And the United℠ Explorer Card card currently has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 United Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements. Plus a $100 statement credit after your first purchase! This is good deal, because you can book Star Alliance partner award seats with United Airlines miles.
The Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card currently offers up to 100,000 British Airways Avios points after meeting minimum spending requirements. And you can use the sign-up bonus to book flights on partner airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Iberia, Japan Airlines, and more. British Airways has a distance-based award chart, so shorter award flights are very economical.
The AMEX Hilton cards are also excellent. There always seem to be opportunities for new cards which earn points you can use for all Hilton hotels across the globe.
How did you search and find the award flights?
Searching for the awards flights wasn’t difficult. I used the United Airlines website.
I booked round-trip award flights so I could take advantage of a free stopover and free open-jaw (this benefit has been replaced by the excursionist perk). I did have to look for the seats very early, ~11 months before the trip, because we were booking lie-flat Business Class seats. My wife has back issues, and couldn’t sit in a coach seat for the ~15 hour flight from New York to Tokyo.
Of course, because of miles & points, we don’t travel in coach on flights of 5+ hours anyway. Business Class is so much better! I checked the leg from Newark to Singapore and booked that first, which involved a 4-hour layover in Tokyo.
During our flight, we had a good dinner, then laid down the seats and went to sleep. And because we were in Business Class, we could take advantage of the private showers in the lounge in Tokyo when we landed! After a shave, a shower, and a trip to the buffet, we were good to go for our next leg.
We were flexible on where to have our stopover on the return trip, but we did want it to be in Europe. So we had to figure out how to get from Singapore to Bangkok. We used British Airways Avios points to book one-way award flights on Cathay Pacific in coach. This is where we utilized our open-jaw benefit.
We began our return trip to the US from Bangkok on a Thai Airways flight to Frankfurt. We were the only passengers in Business Class, and we got the royal treatment from the attendants dressed in traditional Thai clothing!
From Frankfurt, we flew Swiss Air to Vienna, where we used our free stopover.
After 4 nights in Vienna, we flew Swiss Air to Stockholm, where we caught a SAS flight to Newark. One of the perks of Business Class on the SAS flight was the purser mixing cocktails of your choice in front of you!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
In Singapore, we stayed for 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Express on Clarke’s Quay, which is in the heart of the city! It wasn’t luxurious, but it was very adequate. In Bangkok, we used Hilton points to stay 3 nights at the upscale Millennium Hilton Bangkok. Then we traveled up country to Kanchanaburi on our own dime.
On our return, we stayed 2 more nights in Bangkok at the Grand Hyatt Erewan, a luxury hotel in the business district. For this stay, we used the 2 free annual award nights we got with our Chase Hyatt cards (the card has a different sign-up bonus now). In Vienna, we once more used our Hilton points to stay in the heart of downtown Vienna at the Hilton Vienna near Stadtpark.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of booking the trip was planning the return flights. We had traveled west from Newark to Asia. And we continued to travel west on our homeward leg, so we actually circumnavigated the globe!
Because we were flexible, I just kept looking at all of the possibilities. The flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt was nonstop. And the flight from there to Vienna was less than an hour, so those are the flights I ended up reserving.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
I would highly recommend a trip to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It’s a wonderful place to visit with photo ops at every turn.
A trip along the Chao Phraya River at night is quite dramatic. We took one of the smaller dinner cruises aboard a converted teak rice barge. It was a delightful evening with the Loy Neva Rice Barge serving a several-course dinner, and providing us with live Thai dancing and music. They even came to the Millennium Hilton and picked us up at the dock!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned I can be more patient in the East than I am in the West. And I can walk a lot farther in cities and in jungles than I thought possible.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
To anyone who is contemplating a similar trip, I say, just do it! This was a trip of a lifetime that we would not have been able to afford if I had to pay for the trip with cash.
I say set the time aside to plan, and then take the trip of your dreams!
Want to Share Your Story?
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send us a note! We would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!