A Story of Saving $6,000 & Visiting 4 Exotic Islands!

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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! Janice is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
Janice With Her New Lemur Friend in Madagascar!
A big thank you to Janice Schacter Lintz for sharing her story!

Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.

I’m Janice.   I’ve been involved with miles and points for over 20 years.

I remember paying my daughter’s hospital bills with different credit cards until we had a sufficient number of points on each card for a family of 3 to travel.  That was 22 years ago.  But I really upped my game 2 to 3 years ago.

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
I Kicked Off My Adventure at JFK’s Air France’s Lounge With a Complimentary 20-Minute Clarins Facial

After my recent fabulous trip to the Maldives, I was determined to return to the Indian Ocean to see its magnificent blue waters.  My next adventure was to visit the islands of Rèunion, Rodrigues, Mauritius, and Madagascar!

What was the goal of your trip?

To travel well but pay as little as possible.  I have traveled to 126 Traveler’s Century Club destinations.  My ultimate goal is to see the world.  Points are helping me achieve that goal.

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
Playing With the Tortoises at Francois Leguat in Rodrigues

As usual, I wanted to use points to cover as many expenses as possible.  Air France’s frequent flier program, Flying Blue, is a 1:1 transfer partner of AMEX Membership Rewards points where I’d accumulated a ton of points over the years.

I booked an open-jaw ticket from New York (JFK) with a transfer in Paris (Orly) before flying onward to St. Denis Roland Garros airport (RUN) in Rèunion.  My return however would be from Madagascar’s Ivato International Airport (TNR) to avoid backtracking to RUN to fly home.

How long did you collect miles and points for your trip? 

For about 2 years.  Collecting Starwood points is difficult.

Which points did you save to take your trip?

Starwood, Citi ThankYou, and AMEX Membership Rewards points.

The flights from Rèunion to Sir Gaëtan Duval Airport, Rodrigues (RRG), and RRG to Mauritius (MRU) were not available on the dates I needed using Flying Blue miles.

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
With a Chameleon in Madagascar

This was the perfect time to redeem my Citi ThankYou points!  The two flights were ~$358.  But I used 28,624 of my 50,000 Citi ThankYou points from the Citi Thank You Premier card’s sign-up bonus I received after spending $3,000 on my new card in 3 months.  In addition, the flights are discounted by 25% when Citi ThankYou points are used and booked through Citi.

How did you search for and find the award flights?

I called Flying Blue.  My award wasn’t searchable online.

Flying Blue let me add an additional flight from Mauritius’ Sir S. Ramgoolam International airport (MRU) to Antananarivo Ivato International airport, Madagascar (TNR) for no additional charge which was a nice savings.  My flights cost 80,000 Flying Blue points and ~$520 in fees.  The flights at the time cost ~$2,148 so this was a ~$1,628 savings, which was huge!

Flying Blue’s downside is how it tacks on excessive taxes and fuel surcharges to point redemptions.  The Flying Blue agent did not advise me about the ~$520 in taxes until after I transferred my points from AMEX into my Flying Blue account.  Needless to say, I was not happy but the transfer was not reversible so I continued with the transaction.  It was still a terrific deal even with the fee.

How did you find your hotel accommodations?

I called Starwood to book after looking online.

In Mauritius, I stayed four nights at the stunning St. Regis Mauritius Resort gratis using the sign-up bonuses from my Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, and points from spending including two recent 10,000 point spending bonus promotions.  The luxurious 5-star hotel is only 20,000 Starwood points per night.  My stay would have cost $3,714 when I booked it!

After booking my one-night stay at the Tekoma Boutik Hotel Rodrigues for ~$255 which included half-board on hotels.com, I received an email offering me 10% off a future booking rather than collect nights toward a free stay.

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
Breathtaking Sunsets in Rèunion

I used the discount toward one night of my three-night stay at the LUX* Saint Gilles in Reunion which I booked for ~$181.  My savings was ~$20.  My Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard’s 50,000 point sign-up bonus and points I accumulated from spending was used to erase both hotel charges.  So my stays were free!

In addition, hotels.com refunded me ~$25 as part of its rate guarantee since Tekoma Boutik Hotel Rodrigues’ website had a lower rate than the price I paid.

The other two nights at LUX* Saint Gilles were booked online with AMEX Travel which gave me $80 back if I spent $500+ on my AMEX EveryDay card.  My second two nights were reduced to ~$478.

What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?

Air Madagascar.  Air Madagascar is apparently called “Air Maybe.”

The flight left at 10:00 am despite being scheduled for 12:40 pm.  I arrived at the airport at 10:15 am to learn that my airplane had already departed.  It was wildly disappointing since I specifically went to Madagascar to see the Tsingy and Baobab trees.  

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
Swimming With Dolphins in Mauritius

The Air Madagascar staff in the airport was amazing and booked me the next day to Nosy Be which I was unfamiliar with.  Nosy Be ended up being FABULOUS.  I saw ten whales and swam with sea turtles.

The Manga Soa Lodge was stunning at $111 per night with breakfast that I found at the last minute on Hotels.com.  As a result, this portion of my trip changed dramatically.  Excluding Madagascar, my hotels and airfare for my 11 day trip to Reunion, Rodrigues, and Mauritius cost ~$998.  And I saved ~$6,260!

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
My $111 per Night Resort. The Service Was Flawless!

Being a traveler means things will inevitably go wrong but it does always seem to work out in the end.  I learned to confirm that my email address and not the travel agent’s email address should be in all flight bookings.  The travel agency ended up paying for my trip to Madagascar which was more than fair.  

Personally, I took it as a message from a higher authority that I needed to rest since I was running like a maniac. 🙂

Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

Swimming with dolphins in the Indian Ocean is must!

It had to be one of the coolest experiences I have ever had.  Flying in a helicopter over Reunion’s volcanos was breathtaking.  Eating huge and I mean HUGE prawns in Madagascar was amazing.  They were only ~$8.

A Story Of Saving 6000 Visiting 4 African Islands
Madagascar Is Stunning!

Madagascar is a hidden gem that is really inexpensive for Americans.  It is a beautiful country with a ton to see.  I need to visit again.  

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

I am a problem solver and really flexible.  

Traveling the world is my passport to freedom.  I am actually writing a book called, Passport to Freedom about how my passport and points have given me the freedom to travel the world after being in an abusive marriage.  Prior to my divorce, I had never traveled alone.  Now I have traveled to Madagascar on my own!  How cool is that?  

What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip?  Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

It isn’t about getting it perfect but about going.

I definitely missed some opportunities with points.  Missing the 5th night free at the St. Regis Mauritius Resort was irritating.  So was paying over $500 to use my Flying Blue points.  But I would rather go than not go just because I am afraid of making a mistake.  As someone recently reminded me, we learn from our errors.  So just go!

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! :)

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