How a Trip to New Zealand Saved Me $2,000 — Reader Success Story

Dec 24, 2018

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Jenn, who used an unexpected routing to find award availability:

Just got home from the trip of a lifetime, with flights and a week in New Zealand almost free thanks to points and miles. We booked a cruise that disembarked in Tahiti. Flights back to the States were running about $2,000 per person that day, and there was no award availability for another week. However, flights from Papeete (PPT) to Auckland (AKL) were only about $350 per person, and American had wide open award availability between AKL and US airports.

I used the Chase travel portal to buy our flights between PPT and AKL, which allowed us to try out the excellent (if recently dethroned) Air New Zealand. By buying with Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card account, I got 25% more value on already reasonable flight costs. We then redeemed 40,000 AAdvantage miles each to get main cabin MileSAAver awards home, with only $53 out of pocket in fees.

Since we were going to Auckland, we picked a return flight that gave us Monday through Friday to explore New Zealand a bit. We again covered the cost of those four nights with Ultimate Rewards points by booking through Chase. We also made use of the “experiences” section of the Chase portal to book tours. We visited The Hobbit movie set, Waitomo glow worm caves, and Waiheke Island vineyards on separate tours. All of them were wonderful, and cost less than if we had booked directly with the tour company.

We were able to avoid paying $4,000 for flights between Papeete and the US by adding in that New Zealand leg— which got us another week of touring a beautiful new (to us) country. Paying cash for that week’s additional flight, hotel and tours would have cost us another $3,000. Instead of that $7,000, we each spent $53 cash and 40,000 AAdvantage miles for flights, plus just over 200,000 Ultimate Rewards points total.

We found those points fairly easy to accumulate, too. I got my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card with a 50,000-point sign-up bonus [after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening], and then referred my travel partner, who also got the [bonus] points and earned me a 10,000-point referral bonus in the process. We got another 10,000 points when there was an offer to add an authorized user [which is no longer available]. Splitting up payments for that cruise we were already going on made meeting the spending requirements easy. Plus, we earned double points for the travel purchase and got travel insurance to boot.

We’re delighted with how our rewards trip to New Zealand went, and can’t wait to do it again. Thanks for all the good information!

When you can’t find award availability for the flights you want, it helps to get creative. One solution is to check alternative routings, which could involve adding stops between your origin and destination, or flying out of (or into) another city entirely. The cost to position yourself at a different airport may be worthwhile if it means you can redeem your points and miles more efficiently. Jenn took this strategy to the extreme, as she flew 2,500 miles in the opposite direction in order to book an award flight home and avoid an expensive revenue ticket.

Fortunately, her schedule was flexible enough to take advantage of her unanticipated stop in New Zealand, but the savings likely justified the detour regardless. She and her travel partner each spent about 12 extra hours in the air to save $2,000 — that works out to about $167 per hour. Even when you factor in the extra points they used for the PPT-AKL leg, they got a solid return for their extra flight time. With a less flexible schedule, another option might have been to book a one-way to Honolulu (HNL) instead of Auckland; the out-of-pocket costs would be higher, but the flight time would be drastically reduced.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Jenn a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

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

Featured image by Dan Freeman via Unsplash.

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