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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.
Joe is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you would like to be inspired by more stories like this one, take a second to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
Hi, my name is Joe Waters and thanks to my wife Ellice, I am a huge fan of traveling! My obsession with miles and points started back in October 2016 when I got a targeted offer in the mail for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card. At the time I had no idea what a huge first step it would be for me into the world of miles and points. In fact, the only thing I really wanted to do was plan a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our 5th anniversary!
We ended up spending around 120,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points booking a round-trip flight to Hawaii. In hindsight, it wasn’t exactly the best use of points, but we were just so excited at the prospect of going to Hawaii for almost zero out-of-pocket cost!
Even though most of our points were used on this trip, I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn more about the miles and points hobby. That’s when I started signing up for the daily newsletters and learning as much as I could about earning points and getting the most value out of them. I felt overwhelmed by all the tips and information I came across, but I am extremely grateful to blogs like Million Mile Secrets for bringing it all together and spreading the word about travel with miles and points. We’ve learned a lot from these articles and it has made it possible for Ellice and I to take some unforgettable trips, like the one to South Korea for the Olympics this past February!
What was the goal of your trip?
After having an amazing experience at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, attending the 2018 games in Pyeongchang was a no-brainer for us. Ellice and I wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the Korean culture and decided to spend 2 weeks there. The first week was spent attending events, and the 2nd week was spent exploring the city as much as possible.
Since expenses at the Olympics can add up very quickly, we wanted to minimize our expenses for flights and hotels. That’s where miles and points came in handy!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took ~10 months for us to earn enough miles and points for this trip.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
We earned most of our Chase Ultimate Rewards points using the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card. We also acquired Delta miles using the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
If you’re looking to take a similar trip, we would recommend the following cards!
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® for Global Entry, and Priority Pass airport lounge access
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card for cell phone insurance
- Chase Freedom® to earn extra points with rotating quarterly bonus categories
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card for the annual free night certificate
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express for the annual domestic round-trip companion certificate
How did you search and find the award flights?
We were flying out of Boston, and because we have access to a large international airport, we had a lot of options. We decided to fly on Delta because we noticed that American Express had strong intro bonus offers on some of their credit cards. Each of us decided to apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express. I also applied individually for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express. After earning the welcome bonus on both cards, we ended up with a total of around 190,000 Delta miles.
As far as finding the actual flight, we jumped on Delta’s website and looked for available award seats. Our timing must have been good, because we noticed a sale had reduced the cost of a round-trip award flight from 108,000 to 60,000 Delta miles!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Using the Chase travel portal and the IHG website, we were able to book a few hotels in Seoul, like the InterContinental Seoul COEX. For our other hotels, we also looked at sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, and other hotel websites to try and find a hotel close to either the mountains or the coastline.
There was 1 independent hotel we booked that wasn’t on the Chase travel portal so we couldn’t use our points, but it still ended up being a great deal! We put the charge on our Chase Sapphire Reserve® card to maximize our earnings on that purchase.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of the trip was finding a reasonably priced hotel room that was close to the events we were attending. We wanted to be able to attend as many events as possible and had secured tickets to about 2-3 events per day, so we also did not want to spend too much time on a train to get from our hotel to the events.
From the last time we attended the Olympics, we learned that hotel room availability does not open up until 90 days prior to the start date of an event. This was somewhat unnerving for us, but we lucked out and were able to find a room on Booking.com which met our criteria! It was near Gangneung train station, which had shuttles close to the events we were interested in attending!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
We highly recommend the Discover Seoul Pass. It gets you free admission into many different palaces, historical museums, trick shot photography museums, and other fun attractions all over the city.
Onemount is another pretty cool place in Seoul. It is an indoor snow park coupled with an indoor water park on the opposite end of the facility. We were able to skate around the ice rink, go snow tubing, and even get pulled in a sleigh by the Korean national sled dog team.
KPop is a fascinating part of Korean culture and you can buy tickets to the taping of a live show. We saw the taping of an episode of SBS The Show which is similar to MTV’s TRL, only the bands sing live on stage.
The highlight of our trip was the day tour we did at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It was an eye-opening experience and pretty cool to see the historic spot where the South Korean and North Korean presidents shook hands to end the Korean War.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned I get the most out an experience when I fully immerse myself in the local culture. When you live like the locals and experience life in their shoes, it opens up your eyes and helps you appreciate the intricacies of other cultures.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
If you enjoy watching the Olympics on your television, then you would enjoy it even more in person. There is nothing like interacting with passionate fans from all over the world in a new place and cheering on the athletes representing your country. Earning miles and points allowed us to travel to the other side of the world and have an amazing life-changing experience for very little money. For those who haven’t taken a miles and points trip, cast your fears aside and just go for it. Like us, you’ll wish you had done it years ago!
Want to Share Your Story?
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send us a note! We would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points! And if you want to get more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please sign up for our email list!