Both my wife and I are music teachers, and when we get breaks during the year, we try to travel as much as possible. With our income, coupled with our desire to try to travel luxuriously, getting the best value from our credit card points was an amazing way to help us plan two exotic vacations without spending much money.
This year, we really wanted to vacation in Hawaii, safari in Tanzania, relax in Cape Town, and visit family in India. We were able to do huge chunks of those trips for just $2,620 out of pocket!
Let’s start with the credit cards I needed to accumulate the points that would make this trip a reality.
First, we knew that we wanted as many Marriott points as possible to help fund our entire week in Hawaii. So in late 2016, I signed up for the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card (80k signup bonus). After adding my wife as an authorized user (7.5k points) and completing the minimum spend (3k), we had just over 90,000 Marriott points.
As the merger between SPG and Marriott was completed, I knew that accumulating SPG points was a great way to add onto my Marriott points balance. AMEX was offering a 35,000 bonus on their SPG Personal Credit Card in early 2017. I signed up first, referred my wife (which gave me an additional 10,000 points), and then had get the same card. All in all, with about 10k spend on both cards, the two SPG cards netted us 90k SPG points.
When I transferred my SPG points to Marriott (1:3 transfer ratio), my total was now at 360k Marriott points, which is exactly what I needed to book a Marriott Hotel + Air Package in Maui!
We booked 7 nights during our April vacation at the Wailea Beach Resort in Maui, a category 8 property that recently went through a significant renovation! In addition to this, we received 132k United miles included with our package! Although I tried to use those points to book airfare Boston to Maui, there wasn’t any saver level availability on our dates since it was spring break for most schools in Boston. I instead purchased one-way tickets on American for $375 to get to Maui and redeemed 22.5k Delta miles for each of us on the return flight home.
Back to the 132k United miles I had just accumulated: I knew we wanted to take a huge trip to Africa and India in the summer, and MileagePlus saver awards are plentiful to the destinations I wanted. We wanted to visit Tanzania for a safari, Cape Town to relax, and India to visit my family. Ordinarily with our budget, we never fly business or first class, but after doing some research, I learned that upgrading to business class for this entire itinerary would basically cost me about $2500 total for both of us! Our itinerary was BOS—DAR—CPT—BOM—BOS. I calculated that I needed 320k United MileagePlus miles to fly my wife and I in business class for most of the trip. This is thanks to the great United Excursionist Perk that made our leg from DAR—CPT free! (and in business class!). Unfortunately, after the recent MileagePlus devaluation, you would now need 330k United miles to complete this same itinerary.
Having 20k United miles already in my account when I signed up for the Marriott Hotel and Air package, my total went up to 152k United miles. I was 168k short of what I needed! Ordinarily, I would never think about purchasing miles, but in this case, United was offering a 100% bonus on all miles purchases, so I thought this would at least be a decent value. I purchased the maximum amount of miles you can in a year, 150k. That cost me about $2,700! Even though it felt like a lot of money, I quickly realized that it was getting me close to $19,000 worth of tickets and the comfort of a lie-flat seat for all of the long-haul flights. However, even with the 150k, I was still 18k short! My last step was to transfer 18k of my Chase points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve account to United—a 1:1 transfer that happened instantaneously. I finally had my 320k, and I was on the phone with a United representative almost immediately to book my ticket!
I ended up booking a flight on SWISS from BOS to DAR because Swiss has a lie-flat product that flies to DAR. I noticed that Turkish Airlines or Egypt Air (the other options, did not.). For the flight from DAR-CPT, the leg was completely free for both of us and connected in Johannesburg on South African Airways. The final leg from JNB—CPT was on the A340-300 with fully reclining seats! I ended up purchasing an economy ticket from CPT to BOM on Emirates for 320 dollars each, which I thought was a much better value than using miles or points. My other choice was a 2-stop flight on Air Seychelles for 260 dollars, but I chose the more reputable airline in this case. The final leg from BOM—BOS will be on Turkish Airlines. I really enjoy their catering (one of the best in the business) and am excited to show my wife the crazy, but enormous business class lounge in IST.
All in all, I was able to book parts of two vacations for my wife and I using 3 credit cards, minimal cash (for a trip this extensive), and the Marriott Air and Hotel package. This ended up saving us about $19,000 (the value of the hotel in Hawaii and all of those business class flights to Africa and India) and further demonstrated how you can totally plan extraordinary trips for a reasonable price thanks to miles and points!