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The Yamaguchi’s European Christmas Holiday – Reader Success Tales

Ever since I started to share my miles and points-earning strategies, I helped many with their quest to travel for nearly free. Most of them were folks I didn’t even know. Some of them follow my blog, while others learn from my posts that I share via my Facebook page, DaddyTravels.

But it’s all the more special when I help out the people who I know. That was the case with this latest Reader Success Tale, it’s a write up, an interview I conducted with my long-time friend from high school, Thelma DeOcampo Yamaguchi. Thelma and I go way back. I am totally going to be dating myself now, but we’ve known each other since the mid-1980’s. She and I were Student Government officers and we shared many memories in organizing school activities.

Channel Islands High School 1988-1989 ASB. Can you find me and Thelma?

Fast forward to many years later, Thelma is now married to Gary, and they have a beautiful daughter named Ashley. She has been an avid supporter of DaddyTravels. Last Spring, she took Ashley on a mother-daughter getaway vacation to New York City in the Spring. Shortly thereafter, I helped her plan her biggest travel win yet, a Christmas Holiday vacation in Europe with her family.

Mother-daughter trip to New York City, tea time at The Plaza
Gotta love Firenze, Italy!

Her goals for this winter getaway

A few things came to mind when they booked this trip. Ashley studied about the European culture, and learned their famous structures. What a perfect way to learn about these structures by visiting them in person.

“Add Brugge, Belgium to your list” she told me.
Magical winter holiday at the Grand-Place in Brussels, Belgium.

Thelma and Gary lead very busy lives, and this trip was a great reason to get away for the holidays. Lastly, it served as an opportunity to reconnect with a couple who lives in Belgium, a couple they met while traveling to the Philippines.

A reunion of friends in Belgium

How did Thelma book this

I can still remember our conversation back in July. Thelma and I connected over the phone. I had just gotten back from my own European summer getaway. I showed her the options of a booking strategy called United Excursionist Perk. Simply put, it’s a way to book your trip by adding another destination without using additional miles with United Airlines.

The Rialto Bridge in Venezia

The thing is you can’t really call United Airlines and say “I’d like to book a trip using the Excursionist Perk” – uh uh! Nope. It doesn’t work like that. There’s a booking strategy, and I’ve used it myself. I’ve gone on many trips using this perk and have helped others book something similar so I felt confident helping her out. I shared the following examples of my own United Excursionist Perk bookings (click on each one for more details):

With all of those trips above, we used points earned with our Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Chase Sapphire Reserve card, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and United Mileage Explorer Card, and paid around $140 in fees per person. It was a no-brainer for us.

Ponte Vecchio – Florence, Italy

Thelma’s United Excursionist Perk

At first she told me that she wanted to go to Rome for the holidays, and when I told her about the possibility of adding a few other places (countries and cities), she entertained the idea of going big. After a little bit of coaching and guidance from me over the phone, here’s what she booked directly using the United Airlines website.

  • Fly from Los Angeles to Brussels, Belgium (with a stop in Poland)
  • Fly from Belgium to Venice, Italy
  • Fly back from Rome to Los Angeles

They paid what????

Thelma and Gary had enough points to take their family to Europe with a budget of 60,000 United Miles + fees per person. At the time, they transferred  a total of:

  • 180,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards to United Airlines = 60,000 x 3 passengers

To do this, Thelma transferred 180,000 of their Chase Ultimate Rewards points, moved them to United Airlines. This process was as easy as doing bank transfers. All she did was enter her United Miles account #, the amount of points she wanted to transfer, and completed the transfer. This happened expeditiously. The points transferred to United Airlines within a few minutes.

They also paid a total of $392 in fees (for all 3 of them). That’s right. $392 + 180,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards. The entire trip was booked online through United Airlines all in one ticket. That’s the beauty of using the United Excursionist Perk.

Bologna must not be missed!

What did it take to save up for this trip?

I’ve been working with Thelma and had given her my advice as to which card/s to get in order for them to achieve their travel goals. Over the past 2-3 years, they had opened the following credit cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here) – currently offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Bonus
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – she applied when the sign-up bonus offer was 100,000 Ultimate Rewards (currently at 50,000 bonus)
  • Chase Freedom – currently offering $150 bonus after meeting the required spend
Ashley enjoyed a stroll in the rain in Florence

She stuck with those cards and made sure that she used them accordingly to earn as many points along the way. Their points accumulation had grown enough to get them all to Europe during Christmas.

Any hiccups during the trip?

She couldn’t think of any issues during the booking process. However, she had an issue with her connecting flight from LAX to Brussels. The family had a connecting flight in Poland. Their flight from Los Angeles arrived late in Poland which resulted to a missed connecting flight to Belgium.

The Yamaguchis love collecting travel-inspired Christmas ornaments

Looking back, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. United Airlines put them up in a Marriott Hotel in Poland, it was very comfortable, clean, and just steps across from the airport. They relaxed that evening in Poland and enjoyed a buffet-style dinner. It wasn’t until the next morning when they made their way to Belgium. However, moving forward, she’ll be more cognizant of the time to ensure there’s enough time to connect in between flights.

Piazza del Campo in front of the Tower of Mangia – Siena in the Tuscany region.

Every getaway has a lesson-learned

According to Thelma:

Budgeting points was a big lesson-learned. We didn’t want to spend so many points. We wanted to use them wisely.  During our trip we focused more on enjoying the sites. We enjoyed the trip so much that we began thinking about our next vacation.

Ashley jumped for joy at the Pantheon in Rome

Thelma’s tips  

The Yamaguchis were in Europe for two weeks and they packed very lightly.

I highly recommend folks only bring a carryon and backpack. We only brought one jacket (which we wore on the plane). A few pairs of pants and tops. We hand washed our clothes and hand dry in the room.

Aqua Palace Hotel in Venice

Lastly, I asked her about her experience with earning points and how it paved the way to travel to Europe for nearly free.

Earning points is not rocket science. You’ve got to get the right credit card/s. Start with a Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. From there, I was able to use our points and have ventured to New York City and Europe. Booking this trip felt overwhelming, Jason walked me through the United Airlines site, it was cumbersome at first, but once I got the hang of it, I was able to book our trip to Europe.

The Yamaguchis at the Colosseum in Rome

My final thoughts

I was so blown away with this trip that they took. I honestly felt like I was with them every step of the way. From the time that we planned this trip back in July, to the weeks leading up to the trip. Thelma and I kept in touch. We talked about using her Priority Pass which got them all eating for free before their flight at LAX’s P.F. Chang’s Chinese Restaurant.

Gary, Ashley, and Thelma also explored Tuscany

I was so proud to learn that they also traveled with only a backpack and carryon. She knew very well how much I advocated for packing very lightly, especially in Europe. You’re pushing and pulling your luggage when you move from place to place and to bring huge pieces of luggage could be quite daunting.

Reading stories like this one shared by Thelma continue to inspire me to share how possible it is to travel for very little cost. Thank you, Thelma, Gary, and Ashley, for sharing your European Christmas Getaway with me and our readers. Most of all, thank you for trusting me with your worldly travels. You have proven that if you set your goals in traveling for nearly free, it could really be done. I can’t wait to plan what’s next in store for your family.

To begin traveling for nearly free, here are recent entries I wrote that’s perfect for those who are starting out.

We have two upcoming trips in 2019 and we’re very excited.

To apply for my favorite Top Travel credit cards that I use most, click here

Lastly, here are more Reader Success Tales:


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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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