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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.
Walter and Emily are 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?
Our names are Walter and Emily. We first got involved in the miles and points hobby in June 2016.
What was the goal of your trip?
We started collecting points in anticipation of our honeymoon in December 2017. We wanted it to be the best and most extravagant trip of our lives without spending too much cash out-of-pocket. We ended up flying to Tokyo for 4 days, and Thailand for 9 days.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
We applied for our first cards in June 2016. And by April of the following year, we had finalized and booked our flights and hotels for our honeymoon.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
We primarily used Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Marriott points, and Starwood points for our trip.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
Chase Sapphire Reserve – It gave us lounge access at every airport that we went to, reimbursed us the cost for our Global Entry membership, came with a perk of a $300 travel credit per year, and also gave us peace of mind with trip interruption insurance!
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – When we applied for the card, we were able to earn the welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spending requirements. This card is a great way to get a jumpstart on your points. We also love the ability to earn more points on purchases made on internet, cable, and phone services.
Chase Freedom Unlimited – If we didn’t have another Chase card to earn more points on certain categories, we would just use this card because it provides an unlimited 1.5% cash back (1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on purchases.
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card (no longer available) and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express – because of the merger (which took place after we started booking our flights and hotels), the welcome bonuses essentially created one big pool of points that we could use.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Once we knew we were going to Asia, we knew that we wanted to fly First Class on Singapore Airlines if possible. Since they were a direct transfer partner of Chase, we looked at the routes between Los Angeles and Tokyo and got on the wait list for First Class tickets as soon as we could. As a backup, we also booked Business Class tickets. Fortunately, about 2 months later, we got a call from Singapore Airlines letting us know we were off the waitlist for the First Class tickets!
For the Tokyo to Chiang Mai, and Phuket to Los Angeles routes, we searched for flights using the search tool on the United Airlines website. It was very easy to find and book the flights. We also booked them the day they became available for sale, in order to secure the “saver” points rate. We ended up booking Business Class flights on Thai Airways and EVA Air.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Because of the Starwood and Marriott merger, we had our eyes set on staying at their properties for as many of our stops as possible. Using our Starwood points, we booked a 4 night award stay at the Le Meridien Chiang Mai. Next, we decided which resort to stay at in Phuket. We determined our best option was not in the Starwood or Marriott family, so we booked the Point Yamu by Como. This cost us 78,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points plus $1,650 in out-of-pocket costs.
That left a lot of unused Marriott points from the Chase Marriott credit card intro bonuses that we earned, which we used to book 4 nights at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of planning our trip was narrowing down where to go! Our biggest fear is missing out on things, so more often than not our vacations are full of crowded itineraries and multiple options because we plan everything very meticulously!
For our honeymoon, we decided to pick Phuket as our designated place to unwind and have a more traditional honeymoon. That left Tokyo for us to explore at a fast pace, and Chiang Mai at a bit more of a relaxed pace. Phuket was our last location which we figured was a perfect, relaxed resort-style ending to our trip.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
If you visit either Tokyo, Chiang Mai, or Phuket, here are some of the things we’d strongly encourage you to try!
- Enjoy a chirashi bowl for breakfast at the Tsukiji market. Raw fish for breakfast might sound strange to some, but with fish as fresh as it is at the market, breakfast can’t get any better!
- If you visit in December, Tokyo actually has a good amount of winter and Christmas decorations, like the giant Christmas tree at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. With the weather being generally crisp and cold, it makes for a nice winter experience. We live in Los Angeles, so it was wonderful being able to experience the different weather!
- Some of the best food you will find in the city is found in subway stations, so explore them! You will find some hidden gems, and some of these restaurants are considered the best at what they do!
- Make a visit to the Patara Elephant Farm. This was an elephant sanctuary that featured elephants rescued from circuses and other environments. There, the elephants were allowed to roam the mountainside freely. There are few things we have experienced as fun as the “Elephant Daycare”, where we were paired up with elephants that we fed, bathed in the river, and cleaned.
- Enroll in some cooking classes! We did 2 while we were in Thailand, and found it was a great way to have fun and meet fellow travelers in a very fun and social setting. We even got to take home a recipe book with what we learned. We have yet to put it into practice back home!
- Go to some night bazaars. You can find them all over town on most nights. We found they were a great place to get super cheap street food. We were initially a bit intimidated at the thought of this, but ended up eating a ton and did not get sick!
- You have to stay at Point Yamu by Como. We had an amazing time at this secluded resort. We paid for half of the retail cost with Chase Ultimate Rewards points via the Chase travel portal, and were able to get a room with a private wading pool and a beautiful view of the ocean. Amazing!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
During our travels, we found that most people are quite helpful and want you to enjoy their city. So instead of looking up places on our phones, we learned that we needed to step outside of our comfort zone and ask for help from the locals. Doing this in a gracious way is generally well-received, and instead of relying on the opinions of random people online, we were able to learn first-hand from locals on where to go for the best places to eat and do some sightseeing! By not being shy, our experience was enhanced with first-hand recommendations!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
We first started collecting points because we were inspired by a friend who had been doing it for years. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could even accomplish a fraction of what she did. We had our sights set on getting 1 Business Class flight and maybe 1 of our hotels covered. However, with a great deal of persistence, we were able to get almost the entire trip covered by points, including a First Class flight, 2 Business Class flights, and 2 different hotels!
If you have never taken a trip on miles and points, don’t be intimidated! Have a goal in mind, determine how many points it will cost, and stay organized. With enough lead time, you will have enough points to take the vacation of your dreams. If you’re uncomfortable, start small and at a deliberate pace. The hardest part is starting, but once you know what you’re doing, it is an addicting hobby!
Bottom Line: Walter and Emily used these credit card points for their Tokyo trip:
Chase Sapphire Reserve – airport lounge access, reimbursed cost for Global Entry membership, came with a perk of a $300 travel credit per year, and trip interruption insurance
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spending requirements
Chase Freedom Unlimited – unlimited 1.5% cash back (1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on purchases.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express – for hotel stays at Marriott and Starwood brands like Ritz-Carlton