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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.
Carrie 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!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Carrie, and I have been in the miles and points hobby since 2015.
What was the goal of your trip?
We wanted to fly Business Class to London and stay for 7 nights, using as many points as possible to pay for the flights and hotel room. I went with my daughter, Marissa, who had just graduated high school. So it was a very special mother-daughter time together!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I would say it took me ~2 years to collect the miles and points we used for the trip. I started collecting travel rewards without any concrete plans. But then once I made the decision to go on this particular trip, I really focused on which miles and points programs would be most beneficial.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
I used flexible AMEX Membership Rewards points to book 2 tickets on Delta. I also booked a Marriott hotel + air package with 340,000 Marriott points I had earned. The package came with 70,000 Southwest points, along with 7 nights at the Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, a category 9 Marriott hotel in London.
The 70,000 Southwest points also counted toward the Southwest Companion Pass requirements (although this is no longer available as an option).
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
I had my eye on a few AMEX cards and first wanted to check if I’d be able to transfer the points I earned to Delta. I decided to get The Platinum Card® from American Express. Although the annual fee is high, I’m able to offset it with some of the perks the card offers, like the $200 annual airline incidental fee credit, and $200 in Uber credit per year (but there are restrictions).
We travel a lot for our kid’s sporting events, and because we tend to stay at a lot of Marriott hotels, I earned a lot of Marriott points on the Chase Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card (no longer available). I also like earning bonus points for using the Marriott card when we eat out.
If I could do it again, I would recommend either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, along with the Chase Freedom®. These cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which I am a huge fan of because I can transfer them to the Marriott program.
Live and learn! I don’t feel I lost anything doing it the way I did originally. But this strategy would give me more flexibility on future trips.
How did you search and find the award flights?
After I found the flight I wanted on Delta’s website, I went to my AMEX account and transferred my AMEX Membership Rewards points directly to Delta, one of AMEX’s airline partners. The transfer of points happens almost instantly, which is great!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I pulled up all of the category 9 Marriott hotels in London to narrow it down. I ended up choosing the Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, which I highly recommend. We loved the location because it overlooked Hyde Park. And we could walk or take public transportation to any destination.
Also, since I have Platinum elite status with Marriott from staying at their hotels so frequently, we had complimentary daily breakfast, which was set up in the concierge lounge. It was a full-service breakfast, and we could stop in anytime during the day or evening to get drinks or snacks, relax, and just unwind!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The dates we originally booked had to be changed due to a family wedding. It was a bit time-consuming, but I was able to switch the hotel to the new days we could visit. I called Delta and they helped me switch the flights, too. It did cost me another 40,000 points, but unfortunately, we had no choice. I was just glad we were still able to make it work!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
When you first arrive, I’d recommend doing a tour of the city. We did a private tour for half the day, but you could really do anything else, like a bus tour even! Doing the tour really helped us get the lay of the land. So if you can splurge, I highly recommend hiring a guide for half a day.
Our private tour guide showed us some of the great sightseeing spots, and also took the London Tube. It was very easy to learn the system, and was also much faster than driving! He even showed us some key spots to watch the Buckingham Palace Guard Change, because it gets crowded early!
We also had a special day taking a trip to Windsor Palace. Since it’s only about an hour from the Paddington Station, you can just take a train to get there.
I also recommend visiting the Winston Churchill War Rooms, which is a historic underground complex that housed the WWII British Command Center. One of the highlights of our trip was scoring grounds passes to the Wimbledon tennis tournament! These types of passes cannot be purchased, instead, people have to line up early to get them!
We had a really great time, and can’t wait to go back!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
My travel bug is bigger than ever, especially because I know how to use miles and points! I also learned that having some flexibility in your schedule can be a really good thing.
For example, because of long lines at certain events, it took us longer than expected to get in. But we did not feel rushed because we hadn’t scheduled any other events for the rest of the day. It was also fun to have some free time, which gave us the chance to be spontaneous!
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 want to pay for any part of your trip with miles or points, take time to make a plan, be patient, and you can save some serious money! I did have to pay additional fees of $600 over and above what we paid in miles and points. And because I now know that some airlines are better than others when it comes to fees, I’ll have to take more time to research that moving forward.
I found it so helpful to follow blogs and get regular emails from websites like Million Mile Secrets. Even when I didn’t have any concrete travel plans, I saved any articles that I found interesting. Taking the time to do your research is worth it because there are so many ways to earn miles and points!
Credit card welcome bonuses can give you a huge head start, and online shopping portals allowed me to earn bonus points on items that I was buying anyway!
Bottom line, it’s a great way to maximize ways to earn points! It is very rewarding, both financially and personally!
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!