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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.
The information for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Carlos is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you would like to be inspired by more stories like this one, take a second to subscribe to our newsletter!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Carlos. I’ve been collecting miles and points with my wife, Sophie, for the last 3 years. We started a YouTube channel, Volpe Where Are You, where our mission is to show everyone how amazing travel is, and what it can do for you. Thanks to miles and points we were able to achieve our dream of quitting our jobs to pursue our passion, and explore the world!
What was the goal of your trip?
The goal of our trip was to be able to leave our 9 to 5 day jobs behind, and go on a trip around the world. We don’t know when it will end, but we aren’t really thinking of that right now.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We have earned millions of miles over the last 3 years. We’ve used a quite a bit of them already, but we still have more than enough to accomplish our goal of visiting every country.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
Delta, American Airlines, and Southwest are the main reward programs we use. For the more inexpensive flights, we’ll sometimes pay for it out of pocket since we feel like we get a better value using our miles & points for more expensive international flights. So for instance, if a flight were to cost 10,000 miles with $45 in fees, we might just pay for the entire ticket out of pocket. We also routinely cash out our AMEX Membership Rewards points to help pay for activities and other costs, and we use our Chase Ultimate Rewards points in a similar manner.
We have also earned many points with Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood, but we don’t usually use them in expensive cities because the cost to book with points is too high.
Instead we use those points in places like South Africa, where Protea hotels cost only 7,500 to 20,000 Marriott points per night. And when we combine it with the 5th night free perk (available with Marriott if we’ve booked the first 4 nights with points), we’re really talking about big travel!
Hilton points are also AMAZING to use in southeast Asia because some places start at just 5,000 Hilton points a night. And if you have the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, you’ll automatically earn top-tier Diamond elite status which comes with with complimentary room upgrades (when available) and free breakfast! That’s huge savings!
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: You can currently earn an intro bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card: I love that it comes with cell phone insurance, and you can earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening!
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: You can currently earn a welcome bonus of 100,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard: This is a true chip-and-PIN card that we use when none of our other cards are accepted. And you can currently earn an intro bonus of 60,000 Arrival Plus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account
And although it’s not a credit card, we also recommend opening a Charles Schwab checking account, because you get the fees refunded from any ATM worldwide with no foreign transaction fees on ATM withdrawals!
How did you search and find the award flights?
We usually start on Google Flights to see what flights are available. We then look at the airlines that fly the routes we’re looking at and see what alliance they’re a part of. We have lots of different types of miles and points, so our next step is to look for an affordable way to get there using miles. But we don’t always book the cheapest flights.
For instance, instead of booking a cheaper flight that has a layover, we’ve learned sometimes it’s better to book a direct flight with no layovers, even if it is a little bit more expensive. That’s because we’ve found it gives us a more enjoyable travel experience.
Before I make any final decisions though, I’ll do one last check on the Million Mile Secrets website for any special tips or articles that may pertain to where we’re headed. For example, we learned that you can use British Airways Avios points to get to Hawaii. And you can also transfer 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air and fly from Miami to Hawaii round-trip on Delta! It might be a bit of work, but you can’t beat that deal!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
We have points for quite a few hotel chains, and usually opt for the more economical approach. So for instance, instead of booking an expensive room for 1 night, we might go for a cheaper room we can stay at for several nights. We also use Airbnb a lot. We think it’s amazing.
A perfect example of why I love Airbnb’s is when I went to Kiev. There were no hotels I could book with miles and points, and the going rate for rooms skyrocketed to over $500+ a night when they’re usually just ~$20 a night! But I was able to find a Facebook group of locals who were offering free housing in their own homes, because they did not want travelers to get the wrong impression of the country as a result of the increased hotel prices.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Since our trip involved selling everything we had and backpacking the world as nomads, the first challenge was figuring out where we should start and how long we could travel using miles and points. We decided to start in France since my wife is French and knows her way around. From there we simply went wherever it made the most sense based on what it would cost with miles and points.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
We definitely recommend you rent a car if you can. Do not be afraid! It adds to the experience and gives you incredible freedom. When we went to Iceland, we found that renting a car and driving around the whole country allowed us to explore whatever we wanted at our own pace. Although we had never driven in those snowy & icy conditions before, we felt a little bit better knowing that we had primary rental car insurance because we had paid for the rental using our Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card.
And when we traveled to South Africa, we drove around the whole country and had complete freedom on the safaris in Kruger National Park. We were able to look for animals at our own pace without feeling rushed, or needing to stick to someone else’s schedule.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We learned you shouldn’t let anything hold you back, and don’t be afraid to test your limits. Traveling will always test your limits, but you’ll also learn so much in the process!
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 say don’t think about it too much and start earning those miles and points today, especially while banks are still making them available! You never know when a lucrative intro bonus might disappear forever. I try telling my friends they’ll eventually want to travel too, so if they start now with miles and points, they’ll also be able to travel for free when they finally get around to it.
If you haven’t taken a trip with miles and points yet, I suggest you do. It is a great feeling to be able to travel to all these places that would normally cost a fortune! But miles and points makes it possible to really get Big Travel with Small Money.
I’ll end this with a huge thank you to this blog. I still remember 3 years ago when my credit was finally good enough, I stumbled upon this site after doing a Google search for miles and points. And it has opened up the world for me, quite literally!
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! And if you want to get more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please sign-up for our email list!