Reader Success! $17,000 Worth of Travel to Asia for Next to Nothing Thanks to Rewards Like Amex Membership Rewards Points

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Welcome to another Reader Success Story where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles and points. This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Chui’s reader success story shows 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.

The Ruins of St. Paul’s in Macau. (Photo courtesy of SIHASAKPRACHUM/Shutterstock)

A Trip to Asia Thanks to Flexible Rewards

1.  What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles and points hobby?

My name is Chiu. I first got started with the miles and points hobby around September 2016 when the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card came out. Before then, I didn’t know anything about how beneficial miles and points could be, and even used to scoff at the idea of paying an annual fee for a credit card. But now that I know more, I’m absolutely loving being able to earn miles and points. I am already planning out travel for the next couple of years.

2.  What was the goal of your trip?

The main goal was to be able to visit friends and family in Asia. But we also like traveling in general, and try to do so at least twice a year. I’m a wedding and events photographer, so finding the right time for an overseas trip can be challenging.

Chiu Success Story
A few of the many delicious Malaysian dishes. (Photo courtesy of the author)

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

It took seven to eight months to earn the points for our trip. We wanted to fly to Asia in business class because we knew we would be traveling with an infant for nearly 20 hours.

When I first started in this hobby, I focused mainly on earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, as well as some Hilton and Marriott points. But as I did more research into figuring out which airlines had the lowest lap infant fees, I realized Chase Ultimate Rewards were not the best option. I was also focusing on the top-rated airlines for flying in business class.

I did more research and found that Air Canada Aeroplan was a great option for flying business class with a lap child. That’s because they charged a flat fee of just $100 or 10,000 Aeroplan miles, whereas other airlines I checked charged 10% of the cash price of the seat in business class. Because Aeroplan is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner, I decided to focus on applying for cards where I could earn Amex Membership Rewards points.

In total, we ended up redeeming over 500,000 points with only ~$350 in out-of-pocket costs. Without points, we would have paid over $17,000.

Chiu Success Story
This shot of the tea paddies in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia — a popular vacation spot for locals — was taken from our seat at the BOH Tea Plantation Cafe. (Photo courtesy of the author)

4.  Which points did you save to take your trip?

For flights, I used a lot of Amex Membership Rewards points, which I transferred to Air Canada Aeroplan miles. I also got the TD Aeroplan card for even more Aeroplan miles.

And for hotels, I used a combination of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Hyatt points and Hilton points.

5.  Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?

If you’re just starting out, I would recommend applying for Chase cards first and focus on cards that earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. That’s because of their strict “5/24” application rule, where Chase will not approve you for most of their cards if you’ve opened 5+ cards from any bank (not counting Chase business cards and other business cards) in the past 24 months.

Here are some cards I would recommend:

With the welcome bonuses on the above cards, you can earn at least 230,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (after meeting minimum spend requirements for the welcome bonuses), more than enough for two round-trip, business-class flights to Europe on certain airlines. And if your spouse also earns the welcome bonuses, you would have nearly 500,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points combined.

If you’re keen on earning Air Canada Aeroplan miles, I would recommend the following:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • TD Aeroplan™ Visa Signature® Credit Card

6.  How did you search and find the award flights?

I used Air Canada Aeroplan’s website which was easy and straight forward when I used the multi-city search option. Because they are part of Star Alliance, you will be able to see different partner airline options.

Chiu Success Story
Burps & Giggles Cafe in Old Town Ipoh, Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of the author)

7.  How did you find your hotel accommodations?

Hilton has a pretty large footprint in the world, so it wasn’t difficult finding one of their hotels to stay at. I just went to their website and did a search. And because Hong Kong has so many hotels, it was easy to find other hotels like Hyatt.

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

I would say the most challenging part was searching for the flights, as we wanted to fly business class everywhere. Some flights had a mix of business-class and coach seats or some had long layovers. I started my search ~11 months in advance to make sure I had enough time to find the flights we wanted.

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

This trip was very different than any trips we have taken before as we were traveling with an infant this time. We didn’t plan for too many things to do and just met up with friends and family and ate. And we ended up eating a lot!

If you ever visit Hong Kong, I’d recommend eating at the Australia Dairy Company. Some people say the service is rushed, but we had a very good experience when we went.

In Macau, we also had a great experience at the Ali Curry House. And many dishes we had in Malaysia were awesome, with one of my favorites being the large freshwater prawns in the Taulang area.

Chiu Success Story
Just a few local dishes we enjoyed in Macau and Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of the author)

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

If you are just starting out, I would look into applying for Chase cards first as long as you are under “5/24,” and to focus on cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Even if you don’t need them now, they can come in handy in the future, especially because they are incredibly flexible and easy to earn and redeem.

Pay close attention to the Chase “5/24” rule, because if you don’t prioritize your credit cards properly, you might not be able to be approved for Chase credit cards for a long time. My wife and I missed out on at least 300,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points because we didn’t know about the Chase “5/24” rule when we started out.

Also, when it comes to earning miles and points, remember to use your credit card responsibly and don’t buy things you don’t need just to meet minimum spending requirements. Only charge what you can pay in full every month.

Finally, when it comes to planning your trip, take the time to do a lot of research. Once you redeem your first international business-class fare and experience it in person, you won’t ever want to fly coach again. Happy traveling.

Want to Share Your Story?

If you’d like to be considered for our Reader Success Series, please send us a note.  We would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points.

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Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in The Points Guy.

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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