Every two to three years, Texas resident Heidi McBain and her family of four travels to Hawaii to see all the sites. And each time they go, they pay for the flights entirely with American Airlines points. "We've been doing this for years, so it has become a way of life," McBain says of the free flights to Hawaii. She said using the points for the flights is a significant savings, considering how much it would otherwise cost to buy four tickets to the Hawaiian Islands for four people.
You Won't Believe What These Travelers Got to Do on Points Alone
While many travelers struggle to accumulate enough rewards points to book a paltry domestic flight, there are those who have managed to jet around the world like royalty (or something close to it), using points alone. Here are the tales of 10 travelers who have had incredibly memorable globetrotting experiences thanks to rewards points.
A consumer education and travel writer, New York City resident Janice Lintz has traveled to more than 100 countries. Most recently, she took an epic seven-week journey to East Africa and the Indian Ocean. The highlight was a flight on a small, micro-light plane over Victoria Falls in Zambia. Lintz used points and frequent flyer miles to cover the expense of all international flights and some of the hotels. And that memorable flight over Victoria Falls was covered with Capital One Venture card points. "Seeing the falls from the open-air plane was mind blowing," said Lintz, who is writing a book about traveling the world on points. For those seeking to follow in her footsteps, Lintz suggests signing up for Award Wallet to help track your points.
As founder and CEO of My UK Sim Card, Nick Brennan flies regularly for business, both domestically and internationally. He also racks up a lot of business expenses. Everything he does goes on a credit card that accrues points. "Even when I buy a coffee at Starbucks, it goes on a credit card," he advises. "It's really important in order to maximize your points collection." Using those points (about 192,000 of them), Brennan recently flew first-class to Dubai on Emirates, a trip that would have normally cost around $10,000. Brennan's seat on the plane was suite with a sliding door, a private mini-bar and a chair that converted to a 7-foot long bed. The ticket also provided access to the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai, a legendary place that includes a full-service spa, full a la carte dining, and more.
Lia Garcia and her husband recently returned from a year-long honeymoon, a significant portion of which was paid for using points accrued via credit card rewards. Creator of the site Practical Wanderlust, Garcia says one of the most notable parts of the trip was time spent in the famed Galapagos Islands. The couple's flights to the Galapagos were free thanks to points accumulated on LATAM and Avianca airlines. "The Galapagos are one of the most expensive destinations in South America and a total bucket list item, which we wouldn't have been able to afford without using miles and points to cover the expense," said Garcia.
Kara Harms, co-founder of the site Whimsy Soul, says her biggest win with travel points was getting free flights for her honeymoon last fall. Both she and her husband flew from San Francisco to Germany, Ireland, London, England and back to the United States all thanks to points they had accumulated. "It was six flight total and would have cost us thousands of dollars," said Harms. "But instead we got to put that saved money toward nicer accommodations, and fancier dinners, which made me feel like a genius." Like others, Harms advises using credit cards that earn points for all of your purchases.
A few years ago, Steven Long, the co-founder of The Travel Brief, a crowd-sourced travel guide, felt like splurging to celebrate a good year. He rewarded himself by booking an international, first-class, round-the-world flight, all using points. A portion of the flight, from Frankfurt to Bangkok, was on Thai Airways' new A380 jumbo jet. "I was seated right behind the cockpit. The seat was huge, the service was phenomenal, and I was completely spoiled by endless amount of Dom and caviar," Long recalled. "I was used to business class flights by this point, but first class was in its own league."
Yet another rewards story from Steven Long of The Travel Brief, this one took him to the Maldives to celebrate quitting a job, all with the use of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points. "I got one of those over-the-water bungalows at Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa," Long said. "It was every bit as relaxing as I had imagined. I woke up every day with a dip in the ocean, relaxed all day going between the private beach and the spa, snorkeled with stingrays next to my bungalow and star gazed on the beach before bed. It's the closest thing to paradise on Earth."
Mid-January in Boston is rarely anyone's favorite time, between the frigid temps and the snowdrifts. A frequent traveler who writes about digital nomadism for her site Remote Bliss, Rebecca Safier escaped the cold by taking an unplanned and unbudgeted trip to Tulum using points she had accumulated on her Chase Sapphire Preferred card. "I found a relatively cheap round-trip flight from Boston to Cancun and took myself on a solo trip to Tulum, for a week," Safier said. "My points covered the entire flight and part of the trip, and I got to spend a week on white sand beaches drinking mojitos, reading in a hammock, and doing yoga by the ocean."
Author of "The Affordable Flight Guide," a bestseller on Amazon, Jen Ruiz knows a thing or two about traveling with points. Among her recent examples is flying from Miami to New Zealand for a mere $38 by using points to book the flight and only paying the cost of taxes and fees. She also recently flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Quito Ecuador for a mere $16. And one last legendary points bargain: Ruiz also flew from Honolulu to Miami for $5.60. Yes, less than $10, to fly across the country.
Family vacations can be an expensive undertaking, but not if you use points. Lee Huffman, senior analyst for the site RewardExpert took his family of four to St. Kitts by redeeming 330,000 Marriott Rewards points for a flights and hotel package. That redemption provided the family with American Airlines miles to pay for flights and one week free in a Marriott resort. "The 120,000 American Airline miles (plus $225 in taxes) were enough to book four round-trip tickets from Nashville for the four of us. The St. Kitts resort would have been $3,000 for the week, and the flights should have been more than $900 each," Huffman said. "Using airline miles and hotel points, we were able to book this $7,000 Caribbean family vacation for a little more than $200."
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