Success! Under $600 for Family Flights to Maui AND Europe!

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Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. 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! Jason is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Jason and His Family at Makena Beach in Maui
A big thank you to Jason for sharing his family’s story!

Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.

My name is Jason and I’m from Southern California.  I got started with the miles and points hobby just a little over 2 years ago in March 2014.

What was the goal of your trip?

We have a big family.  My wife and I have 4 kids.

The original plan was to bring all 6 of us to Europe.  I saved up enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points (360,000 points) to plan a European vacation.

Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
At the Infinity Pool at Wailea Beach

However, back in May, two of our eldest kids said they couldn’t go to Europe due to football and cheerleading practices.  We quickly changed plans so we could still do a mini-vacation with the 6 of us.  We looked at end of June to early July.  That was our our goal.

We could go to New York and drive to Washington DC, or Toronto.  Or we could go always go back to Hawaii.

How long did you collect miles and points for your trip? 

I collected those points in about one year.  It was a combination of a boatload of points earned via credit card sign-up bonuses, and points earned from our daily spend.

Which points did you save to take your trip?

Summer Vacation #1 – Maui (June/July 2016)

For the 6 of us, I used 150,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a quick transfer from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to British Airways and got our 6 American Airlines tickets for $67.20 total, yes $67.20 for 6 of us, round-trip coach tickets from Los Angeles to Maui.

Tickets to Maui during the 4th of July (extremely high season) were valued at $744 per person, or $4,464.  But we did not pay anything close to that!

Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
At the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta in Lisbon, Portugal
Summer Vacation #2 – Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris (August 2016)

After I booked our Maui trip, it dawned on me I still had enough Ultimate Reward points left for a 2nd vacation this summer.

Because our older kids couldn’t go, the points I had left were enough to bring me, my wife, and our 2 youngest kids to Europe!

After I planned our Maui trip, I booked a trip to Europe (Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris).

I took advantage of United Airlines’ stopover and open-jaw routing rules to book round-trip tickets for the 4 of us.  I also had a lot of points with Hyatt, Hilton Honors, IHG, Club Carlson, and Marriott – these helped plan our accommodations.

How did you search for and find the award flights?

Summer Vacation #1 – Maui, Hawaii (June/July 2016)

Every destination I chose did not work.  They were either unavailable or were going to cost too much.

The only thing that worked, ironically, was an award with British Airways Avios points (on American Airlines) from Los Angeles to Maui.  I used the British Airways website to search.

Maui was the only destination and airline award that allowed us to travel at 25,000 points per person plus fees of $11 per person. The following Chase cards earn points which can be transfered to miles:
Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Having Fun at The Louvre in Paris
Summer Vacation #2 – Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris (August 2016)

According to United Airlines, the round-trip airfare for the 4 of us was valued at $14,000.  But with points, we only paid $528 total.

That’s all our flights from Los Angeles to Lisbon, Lisbon to Barcelona, and Paris to Los Angeles.  We used our own dime and took a train from Barcelona to Madrid, and used a no-frills airline to get us from Madrid to Paris.

How did you find your hotel accommodations?

Summer Vacation # 1 – Maui, Hawaii (June/July 2016)

We stayed at an Airbnb for 5 days.  And for the rest of our stay, we moved to the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite!

Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Sunset at Wailea Beach Marriott

We used points for a standard room.  But the upgrade was valued at $750 per night ($1,500 with taxes and fees) and all we used were our Marriott points.  Thanks to the points we earned with our Chase Marriott Rewards credit card.

Summer Vacation #2 – Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris (August 2016)
We were in Europe for nearly 3 weeks.  We stayed at:
Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

These hotel points were all from the benefits we earned from signing-up for:

Hilton and Starwood offered the 5th night free, a deal that can’t be beat.  I also had 3 free nights from Club Carlson and I used them all in Paris before they expired at the end of August.

I still can’t believe I’ve stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.  Wow!!!

Our elite status with these hotels also allowed us to receive great upgraded rooms and in some cases, breakfast.  Our hotel stays for nearly three weeks were all FREE.  The total value of our hotel stays was $5,000.

What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?

Searching for award seats for a last-minute trip was not easy.  These were my roadblocks:

  • Travelers in my party – 6
  • Timeframe – 4th of July High Season
  • Destination choices from Los Angeles to New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston, Costa Rica, and Cancun (we were desperate to go…anywhere!!!)
  • Points budget – no more than 25,000 points per person round-trip, or a total of 150,000 points.  Why?  I wanted points for other trips planned later.
The biggest challenge was knowing where to go and when to go.  With growing kids, we’ve had to rearrange our schedule at the last minute.
Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Our Favorite Beach on the Island of Maui, Kamaole III Beach Park

We also had to be flexible.  Making the decision to go to Maui was a no-brainer.  We’ve been going to Hawaii yearly.  It feels like a second home.

Europe, on the other hand, required research.  I checked TripAdvisor, blogs, and reached out to friends who have visited the destinations we had in mind.

Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Oh, You Know…It’s That Tower 😉

It was also a challenge not to bring all four of the kids, instead, we took the youngest ones, 7 and 10 years old.  We didn’t know how they would adapt to the rigorous amount of exploring, walking, aimless wandering around Europe.  But they were perfectly fine!

We took many breaks and went back to our hotels whenever needed.  We took public transportation (something we are not used to doing back home). We also used Uber quite a bit.

Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

I have a family travel blog I update whenever we go on vacation.  You will find many lessons-learned from our trips! MauiDriving the Road to Hana is one of the highlights.  Back in 2014, we started out very late when we made our way to Hana.  We learned from that experience.  This past summer, we made sure to do everything right.  We all had a good night’s rest the night before, woke up the kids at 5:00 am local time, and ate a hearty breakfast.  Our goal was to leave at 6:00 am.  We were ready by 6:15 am.  So my advice is to start early. Lisbon – You have to try their Pastel de Nata, an egg custard pastry.  I must’ve eaten over a dozen during our 5-day visit!  I also enjoyed their Arroz Mariscos (seafood and rice), and had a wonderful experience at Uma Marisqueira and Cervejaria Trindade.  If you happen to go in the summer, get out of Lisbon, and take a train to Cascais, just a 45-minute train ride, and you can hang out at the beach.
Success Under 600 For Family Flights To Maui AND Europe
Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona – We had unforgettable tapas at Ciudad Condal.  Fantastic selection, and amazing service.  When your feet are tired from all the walking, consider taking the city tour hop on, hop off bus – one of the best ways to see highlights of the city.  Oh and you must not miss La Sagrada Familia, a Gaudi masterpiece that is yet to be completed. Madrid – For more tapas, Mercado de San Miguel – amazing selection.  For dinner, check out Taberna el Sur, a no-nonsense restaurant….just purely delicious. Paris – My wife and I visited Paris for the 3rd time.  During our Uber ride, our driver gave us many tips.  Go check our Rue Pot de Fer….a street/alley filled with restaurants.  There were many selections that will appeal to many different tastes.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

When I came back to work, one of my co-workers asked me if I had to look over my shoulder while in Europe.  Interesting because in those 3 weeks, not once did I fear for our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very sensitive to all the wrongdoings regarding the many recent terror attacks, but it wasn’t until I came back to the US that I started to think about it.

Just a few weeks prior to our trip, there was a terror attack in Nice, France.  Last year, a few days before we flew to London, there was a terror attack in Paris during a concert.  But not once did I think of canceling our trip.  I didn’t want to let myself be terrorized and stay at home.  If we stay home and canceled our plans, we allow the terrorists to win.

Let me quote Rick Steves – “keep on traveling.”  It doesn’t have to be a trip to far-off places.  It could be a trip within your own city, or state.

Find new adventures that allow you to leave your comfort zone.  And hopefully, you’ll find appreciation of the place you’ve visited and for the things you have back home.

What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip?  Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

My travel life has changed tremendously over the past 2 years.

For the longest time, we’ve gone to Hawaii as our default vacation spot, and that’s not a bad thing.  But with the miles and points we’ve earned, we’ve begun to explore the world.  And there is a lot more out there to explore!

For the past 2 years, we have not had to worry how much our tickets cost, or how much our hotel stay will set us back.  Never in my life would I have ever stayed in a hotel room that charges $1,000 per night.

But thanks to this points-earning hobby, it has allowed me to stay in places I would normally shy away from due to price.  Prior to discovering points, I was the guy who would bid using Priceline.  I’d find hotels under $100 and be happy with it.  I relied on Travelzoo, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire.  I haven’t had to rely much on those websites lately.

One last thing, once you decide to earn miles and points, make sure you read blogs like Million Mile Secrets, or join forums in Reddit or Tripadvisor.  I am not an expert, but I find myself posting and asking questions, and sharing my experiences in those forums.  I have learned so much these past 2 years.  And I’m still learning every day!

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!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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