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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!
Allyson 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 Allyson for sharing her story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Allyson Prock and I’ve been collecting miles and points for about 4 years. My husband, our 5-year-old son, and I are currently on an 8-week trip that started in Portugal and ends in Bali.
We took advantage of United Airlines’ (now defunct) free layover and open-jaw to fly from Atlanta to Lisbon, Lisbon to Singapore and finally, Bali back to Atlanta. All for 80,000 easy-to-earn United Airlines miles per person!
What was the goal of your trip?
We have a goal to take an 8-week trip every other summer. So as soon as we return from a big trip, I start earning miles and points to fund our next trip!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I am the only one in my family who actively collects points and I do it very low-key. I give myself ~2 years to earn points for a big 8-week trip. But I dip into those points throughout the year to take a girl’s trip or to fly my grandmother down to visit. So as long as I get enough points to cover all of our flights and most of our hotels, I’m happy.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
While saving, I knew the devaluation deadline was rapidly approaching, so I really had to work for those last few points we needed to book before the deadline. Once I had enough points, I booked tickets to Southeast Asia with a 10-day layover in Portugal. Now that we knew where we were going, I got started on figuring out hotel options.
For this trip, I used a mixture of:
- Club Carlson points
- Hyatt points
- Starwood points
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
Things have changed so much even in the last year…I’m not really a good person to ask about this.
At the time I was earning and booking things, I would have said Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card because they stack together for United Airlines award flights but now United Airlines doesn’t offer free layovers any more and Chase added the Sapphire Reserve…it’s a whole new world out there! I’ll learn about it when I get back and start planning the next one! 😉
How did you search for and find the award flights?
I’ve always had an easy time finding award flights. We decide where we’re going way in advance so I can save up enough points to book the flights a full 11 months out. That way, I’m not disappointed with limited award seats or poor routes/flight times.
But the biggest advantage is our flexibility in location. For this trip, we knew we wanted Southeast Asia and a layover somewhere. That leaves our options pretty open so we had no problem finding flights for the 3 of us.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I always use AwardMapper to give me an idea of what award hotels are in the area. I usually stick to low-level hotels to maximize my points but I am conscious of the safety and accessibility since we like to walk around and explore.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
I LOVE planning trips and happily do it in my spare time so I don’t find it difficult. With an 8-week trip spanning 5 countries, there are a lot of moving parts and things to consider.
The one thing that stood out was traveling to Brunei during Ramadan. This was our first time in a conservative Islamic country so we had to bring appropriate clothes and we knew we wouldn’t be able to eat in public from sun up to sun down which is challenging. We made sure to choose a hotel that was in a central location so we could run back to our room for meals and snacks without it feeling like it was taking away from our day.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
One of my favorite things to do is to create my own souvenir. Rather than buying a mass-produced ceramic statue or kitschy novelty t-shirt, I like to find a local craftsmen that will teach me how to make a traditional item from their culture.
On this trip, we learned batik painting in Yogyakarta (at Winosostratos…highly recommended) and Balinese painting (at the ARMA Museum…amazing place!). Not only do we walk away with a personalized souvenir but also the knowledge and history of the culture. And it’s usually very family-friendly and fun for everyone!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I am not built for heat and humidity of Southeast Asia…and I’m from Atlanta! In Atlanta, we have air-conditioned everything. You go from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned grocery store.
Here, I step outside and I’m drenched already! And then I want to explore all day so there’s no relief from it! We’re currently in Bali and everywhere you look there are Instagram-ready girls with their flowing, wavy hair and perfect makeup…while my stringy (yet somehow also poofy) sweat-covered hair clings to my soggy, makeup-smeared face. 🙁
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 can be suuuuper overwhelming when you first start looking into the miles/points game. I read about it non-stop for almost a year before signing-up for my first credit card.
But at some point, if you want to travel for next to nothing, you gotta just do it! Jump in and get that first card. You don’t have to go crazy and earn a million miles in a year like some people. Take it slow and do what works for you.
Start with an idea of where you want to go. Earn points for the flights. Then tackle the points for the hotels. It’s totally doable!
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!