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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.
Juli 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 Juli and I have been collecting miles and points for ~8 years. I started when my daughter really wanted to go to Paris. I was checking flights and hotels and thought…there has to be some way to do this cheaper.
I started Googling and came across Million Mile Secrets. It was the very first blog I read and I was hooked! Since I knew that we wanted to go to Paris, my first card was the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, which had a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 British Airways Avios points after meeting tiered spending requirements. It’s offering the same intro bonus right now!
At the time, I didn’t know about the surcharges British Airways adds to their award tickets. We did end up going to Paris, but I didn’t use the British Airways Avios points I’d earned.
What was the goal of your trip?
The goal was to use miles and points to be able to fly Business Class to Copenhagen for a Baltic Sea cruise, and then have a layover in Istanbul for 6 days. We wanted to spend a few nights prior to the cruise in Copenhagen, and then visit Istanbul.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I had a good number of airline miles already accumulated for our flights. But I needed to work on earning more points for our hotel stays. Earning more hotel points didn’t really take long, because both my husband and I applied for Hilton credit cards. I had the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card (no longer available), and my husband had the Hilton Honors™ Surpass Card from American Express (no longer available).
Which points did you save to take your trip?
I love Chase Ultimate Rewards points and had been saving them up, not specifically for this trip, but they definitely came in handy. Especially because you can transfer them to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio.
We flew United Airlines from our hometown in Wichita to Chicago. And from Chicago, we flew Turkish Airlines, which is part of the Star Alliance and a partner of United Airlines.
We used an award booking agent who transferred our Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly to United Airlines for the award tickets. Business Class saver tickets from the US to Europe cost just 70,000 United Airlines miles one-way.
Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?
If you are starting out, I would recommend beginning with Chase cards because of the 5/24 rule. You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which really are the most flexible. When the Chase Sapphire Reserve card first came out, Million Mile Secrets gave step-by-step instructions on how to find out if you were pre-approved.
I was not but my husband was. We don’t have a Chase branch where we live but we just so happened to be in San Francisco. The first thing we did was go into the branch and within 5 minutes he was approved. This helped us a lot. Plus, we each had a Chase United card that we had earned the intro bonus on.
I knew that I needed hotel points so we worked on getting Hilton points. They were fairly easy to obtain and we were able to use them in Istanbul. I had been hanging onto some Club Carlson points, and these worked out well in Copenhagen where we stayed at the Radisson Blu.
How did you search and find the award flights?
For this trip, due to wanting to layover in Istanbul, I was having a hard time finding the flights on my own. I was spending so much time trying to locate flights that I decided to use an award booking service and I was glad I did. To me, it was money well spent.
At that time I was not aware that Business Class could use airport lounges. The booking service made sure I knew this, which we took advantage of in Copenhagen and Istanbul.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I did some research on my own regarding hotels. First, I made the decision which area we wanted to be based out of and then I worked towards that goal. Hilton points were fairly easy to obtain, so that is one reason I decided on the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul – Old Town.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
My biggest challenge was the flight. I was checking for hours and things were not working out. I finally decided it was just not worth my time. I was going on a once in a lifetime trip CHEAP so I decided to just pay someone to book the flight, again, I am so glad I did.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
We love Europe. We had been to some of the other countries but not the northern ones. My husband is a history buff and loved the idea of going to Istanbul.
This was a great trip. We got to see Copenhagen and went on a great cruise visiting the Baltic States. We visited Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Warnemunde.
We loved St. Petersburg, Russia, too. We are so glad we decided to do the layover in Istanbul. We have traveled quite a bit and this has been one of our favorite cities. The history, the people, the food, we enjoyed it all.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I knew I loved to travel but this trip made me realize how different certain cultures are but then again how much we are all alike. You need to embrace each experience, to step outside your comfort zone and see what the rest of the world has to offer.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
That it really is possible to take WONDERFUL trips for a fraction of what it would cost you. There is no way we would be able to fly First Class or Business Class, or stay in the types of hotels we did if it wasn’t for miles and points. I was skeptical when I first started and I have made a few mistakes along the way. But it’s a wonderful hobby and the rewards are definitely worth it.
Start slow, get a goal in mind, take that trip and I guarantee you, you will be hooked! And … for me, it really did all start with Million Mile Secrets.
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!