All of our Sunday Success Stories serve as a living example that all of us average Americans can, indeed, see the world at prices we all can afford. We can do this by working together and sharing our stories. Send your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your first name and last initial, along with your occupation and a photo, if you wish. - Rick
First of all, Rick, let me say thanks. Though I follow several great travel bloggers and sites now, it was your site that introduced me to the possibilities of award travel, and the strategies that make it an affordable reality. I live in Denver, and my family lives in New Brunswick, Canada. That’s an especially expensive ticket ($1300 in coach!) because it’s not close to a hub, and because we Canadians love us some taxes and fees. I almost couldn’t believe it when, for simply applying for a United Visa Signature card and completing $250 in spending, I received 25,000 MileagePlus miles. With that, and $52 in fees, I had my ticket home. (Note: that’s a domestic coach award ticket, delivering over *five* cents per mile in value. Bazinga!)
There’s no way it could be this easy. But it was this easy. I was hooked. And I decided to get serious.
I told my girlfriend about this bizarre world of miles collecting and the possibilities. She had concerns about “recklessly” applying for credit cards (she and I have excellent credit) – concerns I shared, but after thorough reading of Rick’s website, and educating ourselves about the workings of credit scores, we dove in.
We planned a dream trip to Europe this summer, visiting the “big three” cities of London, Paris, and Rome. And we decided that we would not be flying in coach – in fact, lie-flat seats would be the way to go. After more research, I decided that our best option was to leverage US Airways’ Star Alliance award chart – 125,000 miles for round-trip to Europe in first class. We each got the US Airways Barclay’s MasterCard (40K), and we each landed 100K miles in the Grand Slam. Voila, 140K miles. Now the challenge was in booking “impossible” summer tickets to Europe (my girlfriend’s a teacher, so summer was the only option). With a little effort on the Continental award search engine, and some creative routing, I pieced together our itinerary on United, Brussels Airlines, and Lufthansa. And I actually had zero problems booking the tickets with an especially helpful US Airways rep. She congratulated me on my “find”, noting that the open-jaw first class DEN-IAD-BRU-LHR / FCO-FRA-IAD-DEN tickets would’ve sold for $12,370 apiece. Cost: a little over $300 in fees and taxes.
Now for the hotels – and European hotels are notoriously expensive. We both got Chase Priority Club 80K Visas, and Chase Hyatt Visa, so between us we now had 160K Priority Club points and four free Hyatt nights. Fortunately, I already had about 60K PC points to start with. By padding out the 220K PC points with some hotel stays we were making anyway, and taking advantage of the points+cash option (along with the ‘cancellation’ trick to buy a few more points for 0.6 cents apiece), we turned our hotel points into four nights at the Intercontinental Park Lane in London, four nights at the Hyatt Paris Vendome, and four nights at the Intercontinental De La Villa Roma. Out of pocket, perhaps a little over $500. Total value of 12 hotel nights, over $6800.
We’re still piecing together the rest of the trip, but the important things have been taken care of. For under a grand out of pocket, we’ve booked $31K in travel value. I still can’t believe it.
One last topic I’d like to touch on is our credit scores, something that concerned us greatly when we both started this little endeavor. We’ve both applied for other cards along the way, looking to build up our balances for future travel to Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, Greece … and we’re both the kinds of people who’d never owned more than two credit cards at a time. Suddenly, I have a stack of twenty credit cards. Now, we monitor our finances religiously, and pay off the card balances twice a month. But still, we were concerned.
But recently, we had to fill out new rental applications for a house we’re looking at. We were actually in competition with other couples who wanted the same house. It was nice to hear the property managers come back to us, and say that they’ve never seen better credit. We both had FICO scores of over 800! It just goes to show, if you do this responsibly, not only will you not hurt your credit, you may actually bump your score up a few points.
Once again, Rick – thanks for the education. I’ll have a cannoli for you this summer!
- Peter B.