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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!
Tanner is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Tanner for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Tanner and I have been in the travel hacking world for only a couple of years now.
I still consider myself a novice, but I read a lot of articles and take advantage when I can. I started with the Capital One Venture Rewards card, which was a great chance to dip my toes into the water of credit card rewards, and eventually saw the light on what else was available out there for bigger rewards and potential.
What was the goal of your trip?
My wife and I wanted to go on a trip after graduating from residency, and my one goal was to use points to get us somewhere far and international. Oh, and I really wanted to fly Business or First class somewhere to give my wife her first experience with that!
We didn’t have a specific place in mind, but one day my wife mentioned Norway, showed me a photo of the fjords, and I was hooked.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
This was about 1 and a half years of collecting (really one sign-up bonus and then daily spending and portal spending).
Which points did you save to take your trip?
Most of them were Chase Ultimate Reward points. My first real points card was the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but when the Chase Sapphire Reserve came out with the 100,000 point sign-on bonus (no longer available) I jumped at that as well. TOTALLY worth it!
I also had a mix of Starwood points and Marriott points I had saved from various trips to grab us a few hotels on layovers before and after our trip.
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
Hands down the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or the Sapphire Preferred if you can’t stomach the Reserve’s annual fee). Because of its flexibility, even though we were a little late in the game for optimum award ticket searching, we still found multiple options for us to route our trip through.
Being boxed into one airline or hotel line would have been much more restrictive or even impossible to book our whole trip.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Initially I was looking for award flights TO Norway. But we happened to find a super sale on Norwegian Air tickets from New York to Bergen, Norway, for ~$100 per person. That was an easy decision to take that deal and use our points elsewhere.
My next step was to figure out how we were getting home. This was my first time doing a major trip with reward points, so honestly my first task was just to Google something like “Best reward flights from Europe.” After reading several blogs and forums I started my search with a few different Chase Ultimate Rewards partners and eventually settled on going through Ireland with saver Business Class award tickets on Aer Lingus from Dublin across the pond.
To do this, I booked through the United Airlines award ticket site, after transferring points from my Chase account to United Airlines to pay for the tickets.
Once I had the bookend flights locked-in, we settled on a British Airways ticket from Oslo to Dublin because of the shorter distance to travel. No doubt one of the highlights of the trip was flying home in Business Class and watching my wife giggle like a child as she was laying down completely flat, wrapped up in a comfy blanket and pillow on the plane. 🙂
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
This was pretty easy. Many of the hotels in Norway aren’t big box brands like I was used to in the US, so using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal was the easiest and best deal I could find. We stayed at four different 5-star hotels, one 4-star hotel, and 1 B&B during our trip, and all of it was covered with points.
It was amazing, and we are both spoiled now when it comes to the luxuries we will expect at hotels. We used a combination of TripAdvisor and other online reviews as well as Google Maps to make sure each hotel was a blend of awesomeness and location to where we wanted to go.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Easily the hardest part for me was booking airline tickets. It is super intimidating, and there are so many rules and tricks you can do that you are constantly wondering if you are doing it right or if you are missing a better award ticket somewhere else.
Eventually I had 8+ options for our route home, and presented them to my wife. After a couple of quick vetoes it was apparent we were going to go through Ireland so we could spend some time there, and that made it an easy decision on what flights to grab. I will say being slightly flexible on either time or location can make reward travel much easier (and if you can be flexible on both you’re in an even better position!).
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Bergen, Norway, was phenomenal, with a good blend of coastal life and mountain life. Obviously in Norway you have to see the fjords and we can attest it’s totally worth it. Be warned though, Norway is SUPER expensive in general, so you will put a dent in your wallet just with food and shopping when you’re there. That being said, indulge in some plukkfisk and skillingsboller, I promise you won’t regret it.
The train system in Norway was really easy to use and get across the country with, so don’t hesitate to build that into your travel plans if needed. The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo was awesome, such a treat to see real ships!
As for Ireland, we are so glad we rented a car to drive ourselves to Northern Ireland/Belfast. It was terrifying and exciting adventure to be driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car. If you do this, I highly recommend the smallest car possible that makes sense as well as get an automatic. If I had to shift with my left hand we might still be stuck in Ireland somewhere.
Giant’s Causeway was actually really really impressive to the point where I would call it a must-visit in Ireland if you like outdoors or geological stuff (and it’s close to Bushmills Distillery, the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, so you can do a tasting tour there after!).
In Belfast, definitely check out the Titantic museum, and then for a nice semi-hidden gem in Belfast, hit up The Crown and grab an impressive wooden booth with your own door to enjoy a pint and lunch.
Dublin was fantastic as well. Amazing history there! If you do any of the touristy things like Book of Kells or the Guinness tour, book the tickets online to bypass the huge lines to get into those places. Made our day easy to plan and organize.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
That we love traveling with perks! Once you fly international Business Class and spend time in lounges, it’s really hard to go back! 😉
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Start collecting points early and often, and don’t be afraid of the credit card game. Since starting collecting miles and points, I have increased my credit score (probably because now I am more aware of the ins and outs of credit).
Anyone wanting to travel to Norway, it’s a vast country. Pick one or two main things you for sure want to do and don’t try to fit it all in at once. Ireland, I would recommend renting a car and going to a few spots. Get out of the big cities and get lost (figuratively, not literally) in the beautiful countryside!
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!