Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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!
Raghu and his family are our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Raghu and his family for sharing their story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
We are a family of 3. I am Raghu. I love to travel with my wife Chandrika and our 4-year-old girl Nidhi.
I got into this hobby big time in 2012 and have never looked back, learning new tricks along the way from useful blogs like Million Mile Secrets.
The travel spark was ignited when we went to Bora Bora in 2014 with Nidhi using Hilton points (award booked almost a year in advance!) and American Airlines miles. This trip was inspired by the Million Mile Secrets trip reports about Bora Bora and the stay at Hilton Bora Bora Nui there! That was the most beautiful tropical scenery we have ever seen and it still keeps us going.
My wife also got into miles and points in 2014. It has been a fun ride and we have now visited 10 countries across 5 continents mainly using miles and points!
What was the goal of your trip?
Having traveled extensively in the United States, we always wanted to visit the beautiful Swiss Alps. Italy (Rome, Venice, and Pisa) and Paris were also on our bucket list.
All of them are easy to reach but expensive places to visit, so our goal was to minimize the cost while maximizing our time in these wonderful locations.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
About 1 year, with multiple credit card sign-up bonuses from Citi, Chase, and AMEX for both of us.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
- We used American Airlines AAdvantage miles (180,000 miles round-trip for 3 of us total) for our flights from San Diego to Zurich and back from Paris
- We used Citi ThankYou points and AMEX Membership Rewards points for flights within Europe
- For hotel stays we used IHG, Marriott, and Citi ThankYou points (earned from the Citi ThankYou Premier and redeemed at 1.25 cents per point)
How did you search for and find the award flights?
The American Airlines site is good and intuitive. We began checking for Summer 2016 flights way back in September 2015!
We knew availability on convenient dates is tough for 3 people. We always fly coach to maximize our miles, and finding open slots was not as hard as we thought.
We snagged 3 one-way low-level awards for 90,000 American Airlines miles total, from San Diego to Zurich. We then flew from Geneva to Rome, Rome to Venice and Venice to Paris – all using either Citi ThankYou points (redeemed at 1.33 cents per point using Citi Prestige) or AMEX Membership Rewards points.
These bookings were made just one month in advance. Paris back to San Diego on American Airlines was again 30,000 American Airlines miles each.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Finding chain hotels at convenient locations, especially in mountain towns of Switzerland, is hard.
Out of our 15 nights in Europe, we got:
- 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Montmartre in Paris (using IHG points)
- 3 nights at the JW Marriott Venice (using Marriott points)
- 3 nights in Wengen, Switzerland (using Citi ThankYou points)
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Planning a comfortable itinerary (for us and our little one) was a challenge.
It is easy to get carried away and over plan to try to cover more places and landmarks. But my better half, Chandrika made sure it was a manageable and smooth journey.
The second aspect was not having a rental car. Living in California where public transport is not that great, it was a challenge in the beginning to catch trains and buses! But once we got accustomed, we started enjoying the worry-free travel. In fact, in Switzerland, the trains are the best way to see and reach places!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Our stay at Wengen and Grindelwald was memorable. Enjoying fondue watching Swiss cows with bells munching grass was utopian!
Watch out for unruly weather as most of the mountain tops are fog/cloud covered even if there is a slight hint of rain in the forecast. We changed our plans everyday based on weather. Plan to visit at least three mountain tops : Zermatt/Gornergrat (Matterhorn views), Jungfrau (the train ride and views are stunning) and Harderkulm in Interlaken (amazing views of Lake Thun, Brienz and Bernese Alps).
We also suggest visiting in spring/early summer season to get views of green grass with snow-covered mountains in the background and waterfalls everywhere in the valleys.
For Rome, we stayed close to the Colosseum area (we stayed at the boutique and charming Duca d’Alba hotel). We could walk to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi fountain, and Pantheon easily, even with a 4-year-old in a stroller!
Of course don’t miss the wonderful restaurants serving amazing Italian fare around the landmarks. Can’t go wrong with Buffalo Mozzarella Raviolis, Latte macchiato and Italian desserts! When visiting Venice, make it a point to visit Burano, the colorful fishing village.
In Paris, the best night views of Eiffel Tower are from Montparnasse Tower. The Louvre is a must do; plan to spend a full day there.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We realized how important it is to be active and open to ideas and that we need to come out of our comfort zone.
In Italy and France, despite not knowing the language, we felt comfortable and safe by just being friendly and watchful.
In summary, Mark Twain’s words always hold true: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.“
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
For folks who are planning a trip to Europe with kids, make sure to book well in advance. Pace your trip to suit the age of the kid.
Europe will never disappoint you and you will comeback enriched and fresh! Try to go in shoulder season (end of May or in June) or October/November because of fewer crowds and lower prices.
To those who haven’t joined the miles and points frenzy we would say, start now! There is a whole set of opportunities out there and these freebies won’t last long.
You don’t have to save for 10 years to go to Europe. You can do it in a much shorter time by using your credit history as a tool and by planning well in advance. Make sure to get your better half in the game as well – they are your best partners in the game!
Which Cards to Get if You’re Just Starting Out?!
If you’re just starting out, here are our favorite travel credit cards to get. Please read this post on applying for credit cards first!
2. Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 points after spending $5,000 within the 1st 3 months. Here’s more on using Starwood hotel points.
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!