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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!
Michael 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 Michael for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Michael Agate and I started seriously collecting miles and points in early 2014.
What was the goal of your trip?
I am a huge fan of the English Premier League and watch the football matches every weekend. It’s been a dream of mine to actually go to England and watch a match live in a stadium.
I never thought it would be possible because of the cost of flights, hotels, and actually finding tickets to a game that hasn’t already sold out. However, after searching online for tips on how to fly to Europe inexpensively, I came across this blog – Million Mile Secrets. I was actually researching how to take my wife to Spain on the cheap and even emailed Daraius and Emily when I had a few questions.
When I saw where people were able to go and do with miles and points, I was hooked.
Long story short, I dove in head first and booked a 2-week trip to Spain and Italy. And used miles and points for all flights, trains, rental car, and hotels. This newfound “hobby” opened the door to many possibilities!
I decided now was the time to make a dream trip to England to see a football (soccer) match a reality. I was able to convince my brother to sign-up for the right credit cards with me to make the trip a possibility. I even had enough points to bring my brother-in-law, too.
Our plan was to spend 4 days in London and attend a football match while we were there.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It took about 3 months to get the bonuses from cards I signed-up for after meeting the minimum spending requirements.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
- 120,000 United Airlines miles (55,000 mile offer from the Chase United Explorer card X 2 because I got my wife to also sign up)
- 100,000 Club Carlson points (85,000 point offer from the US Bank Club Carlson card)
- 20,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points (50,000 point offer from the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN)
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
Where you want to go and what you want to do will have an effect on what cards to open.
However, opening cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card) are extremely valuable since you can transfer them to airline and hotel partners.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Since I opened the US Bank Club Carlson card, I used the amazing deal they once had where the 2nd night was free on an award stay. Because I had 100,000 Club Carlson points, we stayed at 2 different hotels in London.
They were 50,000 points each night, but I only needed 100,000 points total because we took advantage of the 2nd night free at each hotel. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street and the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Actually finding tickets to the match.
Tickets to teams in London (Tottenham – my favorite, Arsenal, Chelsea, and a few others) were all sold out and extremely expensive on 3rd-party ticket resale sites.
After a month of searching for tickets, I came across a travel blog that talked about how some airlines let you redeem your miles for “experiences” instead of for flying. One such airline is Emirates, who happens to be the major sponsor for Arsenal FC.
I didn’t have any Emirates points, but I did have AMEX Membership Rewards points. And because Emirates is a transfer partner, I transferred the 20,000 points I needed for the tickets. I was able to book 2 tickets (10,000 points each) for myself and brother-in-law (and my brother used his AMEX Membership Rewards points and booked his ticket the same way) to an Arsenal match in May 2015.
Although Arsenal are not my top club, sitting in the stadium with 60,000 fans chanting and singing the whole game was an experience I have never had before and won’t ever forget. And without signing-up for credit cards, this trip would never have happened – especially the way I was able to book tickets for the game itself.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
We went to London to watch a football match, but certainly had plenty to see and do outside of it.
We were only there for 4 days, but we made the most of it. We took a tour of Wembley Stadium (England’s national team stadium), went to Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, and many other places (including our fair share of pubs).
A special part of the trip was being able to meet up with my brother-in law’s family who lives in London. They took us to a little restaurant in Lincoln Inn Fields called Fields Bar and Kitchen (near the Covent Garden Market). It’s set in the middle of a quiet park and I had my favorite meal of our trip there.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We had a couple of glitches in the planning of our trip and during it as well.
A big one was the match we were seeing was changed from a Saturday to Sunday. We planned our trip to come home on Sunday, which included flights and hotels.
Thankfully, United Airlines let us change our flights for free. And we were also able to change our hotel reservations.
Then, because of a delay with plane problems, we missed our connecting flight to London and had to spend the day at the airport. Thankfully United Airlines put us up in their club and we were and able to eat and drink and even take showers while we waited for a later flight. They also upgraded us to Economy Plus for free.
While in London we also made a rookie mistake and left our passports in the lock box in our first hotel after we checked out. That was interesting. But even with these “snafus,” we didn’t let it get us down.
I learned to look at the bigger picture and saw that I was in London, watching an English Premier League football match, seeing amazing history, and most of all spending priceless time with my brothers. And to top it all off – just about all of it was free!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
I would say if you know where you want to go, earn points for the airline and hotel that best serves that destination.
If you’re not sure yet, but just want to start collecting miles and points, then look for the programs that allow you to transfer your points to different airlines and hotels (like AMEX Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood).
Jumping into signing-up for credit cards can be nerve racking, but if you are careful, and always pay off your balance, your credit score can actually increase. Mine has gone up 45 points since I started in 2014.
This “hobby” really can make your dreams come true (as cheesy as it sounds). In the last 2 years, using all miles and points, I have been to Spain, Italy, France, England, El Salvador, Guatemala, a family trip of 5 to California Disneyland and many more cities in the US. Million Mile Secrets was a huge help in researching how to make this all happen. Thanks Daraius and Emily!
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!