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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!
Scott 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 Scott for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
I’m Scott and I started collecting miles and points in the summer of 2013. It began with getting a Chase Southwest Premier credit card. As soon as I got it, I started researching how to earn as many points as possible. I discovered several great blogs, including this one.
I had never even heard of the Southwest Companion Pass and 6 weeks later I had one! Within 6 months my wife, Julie, and I had traveled for free to Puerto Rico, Nashville, Saguaro National Park, The Cayman Islands, and Iceland.
What was the goal of your trip?
Easter Island has always been one of those bucket list places for me.
I’ve been fascinated with the mystery of such a remote island with the giant heads since I was a kid. It takes a real commitment to get there because it’s about 2,000 miles from the nearest inhabited land in any direction. I imagined how peaceful it must be to be so isolated, yet to have those giant statues everywhere. I love the idea that if you put your mind to it you can actually go to these “magical” type places.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I didn’t actually need to save miles for this specific trip. Julie and I have a decent amount of American Airlines miles stashed. We started earning American Airlines miles when the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card World Elite Mastercard was offering 100,000 miles (offer expired).
We got 4 of the cards and earned 440,000 American Airlines miles from that. We’ve also signed-up for several Citi American Airlines Platinum Select cards at both the 50,000 and 60,000 offers as well as the Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red card. I’m guessing we’ve earned close to one million American Airlines miles since 2013.
We also have a couple of hundred thousand Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards, as well as the Ink Business Preferred and Freedom cards.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
The Sapphire cards are great because of their flexibility with points redemption. You could use those points for both the IHG and Hyatt hotels that we stayed at. And you may even be able to book a room on Easter Island using the Chase travel portal at up to 1.5 cents per point.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Going to Easter Island requires a couple of flights. First we had to fly from our home in Miami to Santiago, Chile. This was easy from searching SAAver (low-level) awards on the American Airlines website. We were able to book 2 round-trips before the most recent devaluation for only American Airlines miles 40,000 miles each. And then we each got 10% of our miles back by having the Citi American Airlines cards, so it was only 36,000 American Airlines miles per ticket.
Flying from Santiago to Easter Island was a lot trickier. Supposedly you should be able to use British Airways Avios points for the flight, but I found nothing available for an entire year!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
It was easy finding hotels in Santiago. For our first day we booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express, which is right across the street from the airport. We did this using IHG points that we had left over from the Priceless Surprises promotion where we earned over 100,000 points for mailing in index cards.
This hotel is a great option for a first day in Santiago. After an all-night 9-hour flight, we literally just walked across the street to our room. The hotel let us check in at 9:00 am and we went right to sleep. In the afternoon, we took the bus that stops in front of the airport terminal to go into downtown Santiago. And it was so easy to catch our flight to Easter Island the next morning – we just had to walk across the street to return to the airport.
When we returned from Easter Island, we spent 2 nights at the Grand Hyatt in Santiago. We were status matched to Hyatt Diamond elite status after showing we had IHG Spire elite status that came with the Chase IHG credit card (you can no longer earn Spire Elite status from the sign-up bonus on this card).
As Hyatt Diamond (now Globalist) members, we were eligible for suite upgrades if we booked the room using the points + cash option. It only cost us $50 + 4,000 Hyatt points per night for a suite in a beautiful hotel! Plus we had executive lounge access that included a breakfast buffet and happy hour.
Booking a room on Easter Island took a bit more work. Because it’s such a tiny, remote place, there are no large chain hotels where you can redeem points. I looked on TripAdvisor for affordable places that had the best reviews. And then attempted to use the Citi Prestige Concierge to book. To get the 4th night free benefit from the Citi Prestige card, you need to have the Prestige Concierge book the room for you, but this proved difficult.
I submitted my first hotel choice but the Concierge had trouble contacting the hotel and told me they would get back to me in a few days. They never did, so I decided to try another hotel. I called back and got a different Concierge. While I was on the phone with her the first Concierge got on the line and told me she was still trying to contact the first hotel and asked if I wanted to cancel the attempt.
I couldn’t understand why she was having so much trouble as I’m sure I could have booked it myself with no problems, so I told her to stop trying. But now the new Concierge was having trouble booking my second hotel choice. She told me her computer would freeze when trying to book the room. In the end the Concierge let me book the room myself and I would still be eligible for the free night. We stayed at the Inaku Uhi for 5 nights at $130 per night, with 1 night free. It was a charming bungalow run by a very friendly man, Alvaro, who drove us to and from the airport. Easter Island is so small that we would frequently run into Alvaro while we were in town.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part was finding a flight from Santiago to Easter Island. Like I mentioned earlier, I searched every day for an entire year and could not find a single award ticket. Other people online were complaining about the same issue and there was speculation that LAN may have removed all awards to Easter Island.
But I read that if you log on to LAN Chile’s website and search as a Chilean national instead of from the US that you can get a much lower price booking in Chilean Pesos. I found coach seats at $375 round-trip in Pesos but decided to wait a few days before booking. Unfortunately when I tried to book a few days later all the coach seats were gone and LAN was only offering first class for $625. I checked Expedia and found coach seats for the same flight, but for $675!
In the end I used my Citi Prestige card with the $250 travel credit and booked the First Class seats on LAN’s website in Pesos. With the credit I ended up paying $500 per ticket for round-trip First Class, which was cheaper than paying US dollars for coach! The LAN flight was on the new 787 airplane and it was fantastic. I’m glad we ended up flying in First Class to Easter Island because flying American Airlines coach was very uncomfortable!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
I recommend staying at least 4 to 5 days on Easter Island. It’s very remote and takes a long time to get to, and it’s one of those once in a lifetime places.
We stayed 5 days and felt it wasn’t enough. There are plenty of beautiful hikes and lots of caves to explore. Many of the hikes lead you to ruins and some of the caves have paintings on the walls. Getting up for sunrise at Ahu Tongariki is a must, as well as catching the sunset at Ahu Tahai. There are millions of stars visible on the island and one night we drove out to the ruins at Anakena Beach for star gazing. It was fun, though a bit creepy since it was so dark.
I would also recommend hiring a guide for your first day to get yourself oriented. Our guide, Nikolas, was born on the island and was great at explaining not just about the history but also pointing to some hidden things that we might have otherwise missed. There are some unfinished statues carved into the rocks that were never removed. They can be hard to see if someone doesn’t point them out.
Nikolas was so informative that at times people would come over to hear what he had to say. We thought it was funny because the island is so small that not only did Nikolas seem to know every security guard at the sites, but his mother was also the mayor! We rented a jeep for the remainder of our trip, which is the only way to get around the island. We didn’t see many other vehicles on the road. A good tip is if you’re at a site and a tour bus shows up, just wait. The tours seemed to rush through the sites and within 15 minutes we’d have the site all to ourselves!
We were surprised by the number of giant sea turtles just off shore, especially by the harbor in town. The turtles would come right up to the shoreline and didn’t seem fazed by the people and dogs in the water.
A fun must do on the island is a visit to the Post Office. They have a special Easter Island stamp for your passport. They also have a board that displays all the letters children have been sending from around the world to the Easter Bunny. I never realized that children were mailing these letters to Easter Island.
Catching one of the traditional Rapa Nui shows was also a lot of fun. They paint your face on the way in and you can pose for photos with the performers afterwards.
The island is very laid back and relaxed and I recommend just doing things slowly on Easter Island. You’ve gone about as far as you can from civilization and it’s nice to just take it easy.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned you really can get to any place you’ve ever dreamed about visiting if you put your mind to it. Visiting remote places like Easter Island is definitely doable with points, miles, and perseverance. The flights to Santiago were $920 from Miami, but free using American Airlines miles.
And by booking the LAN flight in Chilean Pesos we only paid $500 each for a First Class flight. There are plenty of places I’d like to visit and I’m finding that most are very affordable when you know how to use the right points and credit card benefits.
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’s easier than you think to accumulate and book a trip with points and miles.
I know many people who get excited about the prospect of doing these types of trips but never follow through. They think it’s too much effort or they don’t have enough time off. Just by signing-up for one Citi American Airlines Platinum Select card and one Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red card you can earn 110,000 American Airlines miles.
And if you’re a couple you can each get one and earn 220,000 miles! We did this trip over Thanksgiving and were gone for just a week. And if you’re having problems finding flights, just keep searching. Chances are that others have had the same issues and have posted about it. That’s how I learned about booking in Chilean Pesos.
We’ve gone to so many amazing places because of miles. I always thought Japan would be too expensive but now we’ve been there twice! And we already have upcoming trips booked to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, Madrid and Morocco, all booked with 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!