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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!
Cody 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 Cody 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 Cody Gough, and I’ve been in the hobby since Fall 2009 when I started my career in risk consulting.
As a consultant, I’m constantly on the road. And became instantly infatuated with points and miles!
I didn’t start leveraging credit cards to boost my balances until 2011. Ever since, I’ve been on a traveling kick and am currently approaching 54 countries in the past 7 years.
My friends and I also built some award travel tools to help ourselves and others strategize on how to best plan award trips. The site is Points for Trips. We’re still new to the market and would love some feedback!
What was the goal of your trip?
My wife and I started traveling the world within the first few months of meeting each other.
Our first trip was around the world was to Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, Switzerland, and France. After that, we were hooked.
Some of our milestone trips were getting engaged at Iguazu Falls, and taking our engagement photos in Bali. Since we already set the bar high, we went all out for the honeymoon!
We wanted a trip that would provide us relaxation, luxury living, wild adventure, and a great party. So we got to work by planning our dream spots, and this is what we came up with:
- Relaxation: Maldives – 3 Nights
- Luxury Living: Dubai – 3 Nights
- Wild Adventure: African Safari – 14 Nights
- Great Party: Cancun – 3 nights
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
Our honeymoon trip had a lot going on, so we needed some serious points and miles!
It took about a year to save up the points we needed, which could have never been done without leveraging lucrative sign-up bonuses. Not to mention, getting married is a great way to rack up some spending to meet your minimum spending requirements. 🙂
Which points did you save to take your trip?
For our flights, we saved:
And for hotels, we saved:
Here’s the point breakdown and source for accruing these balances:
- Alaska Airlines: 50,000 miles, earned from work travel
- American Airlines: 135,000 miles, earned from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, which had the lucrative 100,000 point sign-up bonus at the time
- Delta: 375,000 miles, earned from the AMEX Platinum Delta personal and small business cards, coupled with a ton of work travel. I have Delta Diamond elite status, so you can imagine the number of miles I was on a plane that year! 😉
- Southwest: 15,000 miles, earned from work travel. Also, I had the Southwest Companion Pass to book my wife’s tickets
- United Airlines: 120,000 miles, earned from the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card and small business cards
- Hilton: 180,000 points, earned from work travel, which accrues quickly with Hilton Diamond elite status and signing-up for the quarterly promotions
- Starwood: 30,000 points, earned solely from my AMEX SPG small business card
- IHG: 1 free night certificate, which was my anniversary gift from the Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Going to the Maldives, we used your tutorial on how to book flights on Etihad using American Airlines miles.
Since we opened the Citi AAdvantage Executive card with the 100,000 point sign-up bonus, we were most of the way to the 135,000 American Airlines miles needed to book 2 one-way award flights in Business Class.
Because these flights were the most important to us, we booked them the day they became available. Etihad was by far our favorite carrier – so luxurious!
For our flight to Dubai, we used Alaska Airlines miles and booked our flights on their partner, Emirates, through Alaska Airlines’ website.
To Johannesburg, and eventually Cape Town after our safari, we booked award seats on South African Airways using United Airlines miles and booked directly on United.com.
From Cape Town to Cancun, we booked a cheap regional flight to get to Johannesburg, where we flew Delta First Class across the Atlantic to Cancun via Atlanta.
Last but not least, we used Southwest points (with our Southwest Companion Pass) to get back home to the US from Cancun.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For the Maldives, we had quite the dilemma in choosing a property!
There were a few resorts with award nights available. But to get the luxury bungalows, you’re either out of luck or going to spend a ridiculous amount of points to stay in them.
Our hearts were set on staying in an overwater bungalow, so we decided to use booking.com to find a place. We ended up staying at Meeru Island Resort & Spa and paid ~$600 per night for an AWESOME bungalow all-inclusive package.
It was definitely more than I ever want to pay out of pocket for a hotel, but thankfully our honeymoon fund helped us out to offset some of the burden. Dubai had no shortage of hotels to redeem points for, so we decided to use my bank of Hilton points from work travel to book a 3-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah. It’s a newer hotel that didn’t scrimp on luxury.
Because I had Hilton Diamond elite status and it was our honeymoon, the dedicated concierge upgraded us to a suite, and it was INCREDIBLE!
In South Africa, our accommodations were covered as part of our overland safari from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls.
We extended our time by booking a 3-night stay in Cape Town, where we stayed at the Westin Cape Town near the waterfront using the points earned from my AMEX SPG small business card. The hotel is in a fantastic location. And is very modern and well taken care of. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a place to stay on points.
For Cancun, we were there for a friend’s wedding, so choosing accommodation was out of our hands. We stayed at the Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun.
Unfortunately, the hotel doesn’t offer an award program, so we bit the bullet and paid out of pocket. Still worth it as the resort was top-notch. And the wedding party was a blast to stay with!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Our return flight from Johannesburg to Cancun was by far the biggest pain point for us.
We were adamant to fly Business Class as it was a LOOONG flight, and we knew we’d be exhausted from our busy itinerary.
However, since we had fixed dates there wasn’t any flexibility, and we couldn’t find the saver award flights we wanted.
In the end, I cashed in my 375,000 Delta miles, which took me a full year to accrue. Looking back, it was worth it, but was definitely hard to pull the trigger at the time.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
The Maldives have some great diving locations, so definitely check that out in between your breaks of pure relaxation!
Dubai was truly amazing with a ton to do. We particularly enjoyed indoor skiing at Ski Dubai, dinner at the tallest restaurant in the world (Atmosphere), and cocktails at a 7-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab.
South Africa was an amazing experience. We booked an 11-night overland safari that departed from Johannesburg and took us through Kruger National Park through Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls in Zambia, with a stopover in Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Accommodations in Africa are very affordable, so we didn’t explore any point options here. We got a great deal on this trip and were able to reserve personal lodges / cabins at every camp we drove to.
I wish we had tips for Cancun, but we just stayed at the resort the whole time and joined in on the wedding festivities. 🙂
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We didn’t necessarily learn this on the trip, but definitely reconfirmed that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
There was no way we would financially be able to afford a trip like this paying full price. However, staying diligent in the points and miles game gave us this trip of a lifetime!
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 is incredibly important to set goals.
Without an intended use for your points and miles, it’s very likely you may have saved the wrong currency or hoard them until they become less valuable after inevitable devaluations.
Also, never be afraid to ask questions. There are a ton of travel resources on the web that will help you reach your goals smarter and faster.
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!