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How we traveled using nearly 2 million points in 2018

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A little food for thought

What if someone were to give me and you $100 each? What if we were asked to use that money and come back with items we’ve purchased using that $100? Will we get the same results? Chances are, you and I will buy different things, and the difference could be what’s meaningful to you would be different from what’s meaningful to me. You might come back with a bunch of different clothing items, I might come back with grocery items to help feed my family. Was there anything wrong with what you bought vs. what I purchased? No. At the end of the day, we bought something that we believed made sense for our needs.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Naples, Italy – June 2018

That’s how I view the miles and points I earn from credit cards. Most of my peers look for high end bookings, first class/business class flights, while I choose the more conservative type of booking. Anything wrong with mine? Nope.  Anything wrong with their choice. Nope. My needs are far different than others. I’m married. We have four growing kids. By carefully choosing the more conservative ways of stretching my points, we are able to go on more trips as a family. We do love the luxuries in life, but we’re willing to forego some of those luxuries from time to time in order to achieve our travel goals.

2018 Flashback

2018 was an exciting award travel year. I found myself booking a majority of our trips via the Chase Portal. It wasn’t designed by choice, but it’s where I found the most value.

  • no need to transfer points to airline partners
  • no additional cash out of pocket (taxes/fees were built in the cost)
Girona, Spain – Oct 2018

When I first started earning points, when it came to my Chase Ultimate Rewards (URs), I focused primarily in using these points when I transferred them to Korean Airlines and British Airways. These transfers of 25,000 URs per person got us to Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawaii quite a few times over the past 4 years. I’ve also learned to use my URs and had transferred to my account with United Airlines and had traveled to Europe quite a few times via United Excursionist Perk. I budgeted 60,000 URs per person which allowed us to go on the following European trips:

  • 2015 – LAX to London, London to Budapest, a bus ride to Prague, and then Prague back to LAX
  • 2016 – LAX to Lisbon, Lisbon to Barcelona, a train ride to Madrid, a no-frills plane ride to Paris, and then Paris back to LAX
  • 2017 – LAX to Newark/NYC, Newark to Porto, Portugal, Porto to Rome, a no-frills plane ride to Manchester, UK and then London back to LAX
London 2018

We enjoyed those trips and for awhile, we didn’t have the need to take advantage of booking any of our trips via the Chase Portal. But that all changed in 2018. I jotted down all our trips, and the amount of points I used to  book these trips.

If we can do it, anyone can

Once I gathered all of my bookings and put them all in a spreadsheet, my intention was not to brag. Why? The nearly 2 million points I used in 2018 is nothing compared to many of my peers who have millions and millions of points racked up. So why did I choose to do a tally? My goals were to:

  • Show how we stretch our points (again, we are a party of six)
  • Transferring to travel partners is great, but do not rule out using the Chase Portal when using your Ultimate Rewards
  • Finding low airfare deals could get you tickets with minimal points usage
Machu Picchu, Peru – April 2018

8 trips booked in 2018

These were the trips we booked in the past year. In a nutshell, we went and booked the following vacations:

  1. Jan – Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York City
  2. April – Big Island of Hawaii
  3. April/May – Peru (Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu)
  4. June – Japan (booked a trip for 2019)
  5. June/July – New York City, Portugal (Porto), Italy (Rome/Naples), UK (Manchester & London)
  6. Oct – Amsterdam & Barcelona
  7. November – Taipei & Hong Kong
  8. November – San Diego
Nearly 72,000 Air miles in 2018 – all family pleasure trips

Nearly 2 million points booked in 2018

Here are the details of our booking, it also shows the amount of points or equivalent points we used per trip. The ones with yellow highlights were all booked directly with Chase.This includes points earned, along with the free hotel nights we earned and their equivalent point value.

Our 2018 award travel bookings

Here’s the breakdown of the different points I used in 2018. You can see that I used just over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the rest were points I earned from other programs.

Big Island of Hawaii – March 2018

Seriously, nearly 2 million points?

How exactly did I earn or shall I say “burn” nearly 2 million points? Most of you know that I don’t travel for work anymore. Yes, I did have two business trips last year, but my point is, I’m not your typical business traveler. 99% of my trips last year were all personal, pleasure trips. This means, I couldn’t have earned 2 million miles and points from my two short business trips.

So, how exactly can you earn these points?

  • Credit card sign up bonus – many of the points program I mentioned above were tied to a credit card. Most of the cards that we use included very generous sign- up bonus points.
  • Two-player mode – Nancy and I also have similar credit cards, she signs up for one, I sign up for another. In our world, it’s called a two-player mode. Every sign-up means an opportunity to earn a sign-up bonus
  • Using the appropriate card wisely – we have quite a few cards, and we use them all differently. Some cards are best for dining. Some earn excellent points for traveling or groceries. Others are great for purchasing gasoline or office supplies. Some we use to pay for for Internet or phone services. Some cards have specials during the year where you get additional points when you shop at Amazon, or at big box stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club. Yes, I know it’s a lot to remember. But the takeaway here is ensuring we get the best return whenever we use our credit cards.
Lincoln Memorial – Washington DC – Jan 2018

I want to start earning points

I wrote different entries on How We Travel for Nearly Free, and most recently, I updated my favorite travel credit cards. However, there was always one card that stood out, perfect for a lot of those who are just starting out.


Image courtesy of Chase

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a perfect starter card. With its 50,000 bonus points, those points alone have gotten us two tickets to Hawaii, just as an example. The sign up bonus alone can be worth as much as $1,000 or more in travel.

– 60,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months (as of April 2019 – this is subject to change)
– Points are transferable to:

  • Hotel Partners
    • Hyatt
    • Marriott
    • IHG
    • Ritz-Carlton
  • Airline travel partners
    • JetBlue
    • United Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Flying Blue
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Aer Lingus
    • Iberia

– Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
– Primary rental car collision damage waiver
– Earn 2X points on all travel and dining
– $95 annual fee (as of April 2019 – this is subject to change)

If I were just starting out in earning miles and points, I suggest starting out with this card.

Taipei National Concert Hall

Earning your first 50,000 points is a start

We all gotta start somewhere. There’s no rule book that states that you have to go gaga like me, and apply for all the credit cards in the world. This hobby is not a race. It’s more of a marathon. You have to pace yourself. There are times when you have to pick up the pace, there are times when you have to slow down and breathe.

The final takeaway: Earn and burn

You’ll hear this a lot in my world. Earn those points and burn. You can’t take these points to the grave. To those who follow me and know me well, should know that I try to go on a getaway as much as we possibly could. Why? Some points expire, others don’t. Why burn? Why not keep earning and save for a rainy day? Because the game changes. What looks like a lucrative offer today may not be so hot tomorrow. So you go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

Again, this is the strategy that had served me and my family well since started doing this in mid-2014. I know of others who have different strategies, and like what I said, it all boils down to what works for you. Don’t compare yourself with the others. Find your own groove, be happy with your travel redemptions, and travel your heart out.

Barcelona – Park Guell – October 2018
Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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