Making Family Vacations Affordable: TPG Reader Success Story

Jul 1, 2015

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I want to share these success stories with all of you more often, to help inspire you the way you inspire me! So every other week or so I select a story that catches my eye and post it here for everyone to enjoy. Two weeks ago I posted a story from TPG reader Adam, who recently dove headfirst into award travel and booked a dream trip to Hawaii with his girlfriend using a mix of points, miles and credit card perks.

Today I want to share a story from TPG Reader Jason, who has used points and miles earned from sign-up bonuses and everyday spending to help him and his family get to Europe (twice!) and Maui over the last year and a half. Here’s what he had to say:

Jason’s family made good use of miles to make sure they could all visit Maui together. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

My wife and I have 4 kids, and as you can imagine, traveling as a family isn’t cheap. We try hard to find the best deals in order for us to visit the places we love. I knew the points I earn on my business travels wouldn’t be enough for our family of six, so after I discovered TPG, we became avid followers.

Following your tips, tricks and advice, we started to accumulate points via credit card sign-ups back in March of 2014. We signed up for several travel rewards cards (including the United MileagePlus Explorer, the Ink Plus Business Card and others), and used American Express Bluebird cards to help us earn points on some expenses that normally wouldn’t earn rewards.

We started to reap the benefits last summer when we got 3 free tickets for our family trip to Hawaii by using the sign-up bonus from The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard along with miles we had earned previously. Flights from LAX to Maui were $600-$700 round-trip at the time, so those 3 award tickets saved us close to $2,100!

Our next dream trip was to return to Europe in 2015. Fortunately, you posted a deal for Emirates flights from JFK to Milan for $399/person. We grabbed the opportunity and paid $1,600 for four travelers (we left the younger two kids back home), using United miles earned from a sign-up bonus to get from LAX to New York. We had an amazing time traveling to Milan, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Lake Como, and Paris. We mostly used Airbnb and VRBO, but spent one fantastic night at The Boscolo Milano, and used Marriott points (earned from our Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card) for the stay. It was a vacation we’ll never forget!

You might think that one trip to Europe is enough for the year, but my wife and I were yearning to return. We needed a catalyst, and got one when Club Carlson announced plans to end the free last night benefit on the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature. We wanted to use our points before the benefit expired, so we started talking about all the places we wanted to go, and decided again on Europe.

Since she and I have 2 separate Club Carlson accounts, we were able to book up to 12 nights (4 nights per location) and get two of them free at each property. We chose The May Fair in London (where the value for those 4 nights was approximately $2,100), Art’Otel Budapest ($500), and Park Inn Prague ($300). We’re also going to book one extra night in London; the hotel is yet to be determined, but you better believe we’ll be using points!

The next challenge was the airfare. After reading many tips about open jaws, stopovers and layovers, we settled on an itinerary that flew us from LAX to London Heathrow, where we’ll stay for a few days before continuing on to Budapest with Lufthansa. We’ll then return from Prague to LAX (again on Lufthansa). In total, we paid 120,000 miles and $349 for tickets that would have cost $3,015 if we had paid cash. Again, we redeemed miles from the MileagePlus Explorer card, as well some points transferred to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

After everything, airfare and hotels for our second trip to Europe this year only cost us $349 out of pocket:

Expense Our Cash Cost Market Value
Airfare: LAX-LHR, LHR-BUD, PRG-LAX  $349 $3,015
4 nights at The May Fair in London (Club Carlson points)  FREE $2,100
4 nights at Art’Otel in Budapest (Club Carlson points)  FREE $500
4 nights at Park Inn Prague (Club Carlson points)  FREE $300
1 night in London (plan to use Marriott Rewards)  FREE $400
Total $349 $6,315

This vacation would have cost us over $6,000 if we had paid cash. Instead, we’re only paying $349 in cash, plus 120,000 United miles and 254,000 Club Carlson points, most of which we earned from sign-up bonuses and everyday spending.

We can’t wait to return to Europe later this year. In the meantime, we still have no plans this summer (which is odd), but you never know — we might pull a rabbit out of the hat and find somewhere else to go. Thank you for all of your advice!

I can’t think of any better reason to get into this hobby than to spend more time with your family. I loved traveling with my mom to Easter Island a few years ago, treating my dad to VIP seats at a Knicks game and plenty of other adventures with friends and family that might have been unaffordable if not for my addiction to enthusiasm for award travel.

Jason’s story brings up another good reason for getting into this hobby: It allows you to be spontaneous. As I discussed in the last reader success story, it’s good to have a plan for the travel rewards you earn, since you never know when they might decline in value. However, what’s equally important is the added flexibility you have to travel when and where you want to without having to worry (as much) about the cost.

Jason’s family was able to take advantage of a great flight deal to Europe, knowing that they could lean on their points and miles to make the trip more affordable. Similarly, Jason and his wife saw the opportunity for a second trip to Europe and jumped on it. Having a long-term strategy pays off in the end, but don’t be afraid to just get up and go. There will always be more rewards to earn, so enjoy the one you have.

Jason and his wife will be spending 4 nights at the luxurious May Fair Hotel in London.

I love this story, and I want to hear more like it! To thank Jason for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

If the tips and strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me (and the whole TPG team) with your own award travel success stories by emailing and putting “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, and a gift card to jump-start your next adventure (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course).

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.