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5 real-life trips taken by credit card reward travel experts to inspire your vacation planning – especially if you have lots of points and miles to burn

Sitting on a pile of points and miles? Here's how you can use them for a bucket-list trip or luxury adventure when you're ready to travel again. ...

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Max and his wife sitting together in the center section of Thai Airways business class.
If you're sitting on a big stash of points and miles, now could be the right time to splurge on business-class tickets.

  • Now that the world is opening up again it's time to start thinking about planning travel.
  • Many of us have accumulated a big stash of credit card rewards over the pandemic.
  • You can use your points and miles for a dream vacation once you're ready to travel again.
  • Read Insider's guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Like many of us, it's unlikely you did a lot of traveling in the past year. But now as restrictions ease and comfort levels increase, traveling is back on the agenda.

If you've been hoarding credit card points and have a big stash ready to redeem, here are five ideas from well-known travel rewards experts to give you some inspiration.

Cashing in 250,000 points for ANA Round the World tickets

MaxMilesPoints and his wife standing on a cliffside with homes and buildings and the ocean in the background.
Max of @MaxMilesPoints and his wife are using Amex Membership Rewards points for a round-the-world adventure.

Last summer I transferred 250,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to All Nippon Airways (ANA) to book two ANA Round the World tickets for my wife and me.

We earned the points for this redemption from welcome bonuses, friend referrals, and everyday spending on the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. This was going to be our second ANA Round the World ticket and we were very excited.

Read more: The best American Express cards of 2021

Sadly, we ended up canceling our trip due to travel restrictions and the miles were re-deposited back into my account. Now with 250,000 ANA miles in my account, we are ready to give it another try. This time around we are planning to fly west, and cross the Pacific first, stopping in Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei. Then we'll continue down through Singapore and over to Dubrovnik and Lisbon before heading back to the US.

The ANA Round the World ticket is one of the best ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points and it's one of the main reasons why I like to earn them.

Max is an Instagram content creator who focuses on teaching people how to travel more for less money by using airline miles, hotel points, and credit card points. He has over 80,000 followers on Instagram @maxmilespoints.

Around-the-world honeymoon for 75% off

Danny and Laurie Navarro standing together holding champagne in their Emirates first-class suites.
Danny and Laurie Navarro redeemed 660,000 points and miles for a dream honeymoon.

We used almost 660,000 points and miles during our around-the-world honeymoon in September 2019 to Dubai, Singapore, Bali, Tokyo, and Bangkok. These points and miles were collected from our wedding spending and were the only way we could afford to make our dream honeymoon a reality without incurring debt.

Here's how we earned the points:

  • 263,383 Marriott Bonvoy points earned from hosting our wedding at The Mayflower in Washington, DC, and using the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
  • 266,432 Capital One miles earned through our everyday and wedding spending using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  • 130,000 Alaska Airlines miles earned through our everyday and wedding spending using the Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card

We earned the welcome bonuses for each of the three credit cards mentioned above, which was relatively easy considering the wedding spend we had. We use the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card for all of our wedding expenses at The Mayflower, since it is a Marriott hotel.

With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, we paid for our everyday purchases such as bills, rent, and other non-travel/non-dining spend. We also earned miles through its previous partnership (no longer available) with Hotels.com.

Read more: The best Capital One credit cards of 2021

We used the Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card for wedding spending, purchases completed through the Alaska Airlines shopping portal, using the Alaska Airlines dining portal, and for flights between DC and Seattle to visit Laurie's family.

Here is how we redeemed the points:

Overall our around-the-world honeymoon trip was valued at over $20,000. With the use of our points and miles, we saved $15,000, or 75% of the total cost of the honeymoon!

Danny and Laurie Navarro are a married couple living in the Washington, DC area. Laurie is a federal employee while Danny is in the nonprofit sector. From Mexican and Colombian ancestry, respectively, Danny and Laurie created LatinosWithPassports on Instagram to encourage fellow US Latinos to travel around the world while managing their finances.

$55,000 off a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Maldives

Juan Ricardo sitting in business class
Juan Ricardo splurged on business-class seats and a luxury resort using points he earned from Amex, Chase, and Citi credit cards.

You know that dream vacation you have, that once-in-a-lifetime trip? Well, mine was the Maldives.

At the beginning of 2020, I found an amazing deal to the Maldives, which was perfect timing because I was planning on proposing to my then-girlfriend, now fiancée. I used a total of 900,000 points and $450 for Qatar Airways Qsuite on the way there, eight nights at the St. Regis Maldives, and Turkish Airlines business class on the way back for both of us.

Read more: How to use credit card points and miles for a socially distant vacation in the Maldives

I have been accumulating points for several years now acquired in a couple of different ways. What has been working for me is money spent on my rental properties, credit card welcome bonuses, and shopping portals.

However, the one that has generated about 75% of my points is the money spent on my rental properties. I purchase distressed properties and renovate them to be long-term rentals. This helps me generate a lot of spending, which means a lot of credit cards. I have approximately 26 credit cards, and the majority of them are from Chase and American Express (Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Freedom Flex℠, American Express® Gold Card, the The Platinum Card® from American Express, and the list goes on).

There are other credit card issuers and loyalty programs, but I love Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards because they allow you to transfer to airline and hotel partners.

For the Maldives, I transferred 250,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to Marriott (because I didn't have enough from my Marriott credit card) and 150,000 points to Air Canada Aeroplan to book Turkish Airlines flights.

Read more: How to earn, redeem, and maximize American Express Membership Rewards points

For Qatar, I opened two American Airlines credit cards (Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®) and used the welcome bonuses to book Qsuite on Qatar airways using the American Airlines AAdvantage loyalty program. By doing this, I saved approximately $25,000.

Once we arrived at the St. Regis, all of our experiences and food were charged to the room, so we could earn bonus points by using the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. We also both had the $300 statement credit for Marriott hotel purchases (one of the perks of having the Bonvoy Brilliant card), which got used up quickly.

The Maldives is very expensive, so by being able to save thousands on flights and hotels we had the flexibility to splurge on excursions, fine dining, and more. I really thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip but with points, we were able to return within six months – a story for another time!

Here's the Maldives trip price breakdown:

  • Qsuite – One-way Chicago (ORD) – Doha (DOH) – Malé (MLE) per person would have cost $12,342 but used 75,000 American Airlines miles each
  • St. Regis – Eight-night stay was $17,701 – instead used 600,000 Marriott points and got free seaplane transfer by booking over seven nights
  • Turkish Airlines – One-way Malé – Istanbul (IST) – Chicago was $6,320 each but I used 75,000 Aeroplan points per person

Juan Ricardo has a passion for personal finance, real estate, and travel, and is the first generation in his family to travel abroad. Being the only Latino in some of his travel destinations made him want to educate and inspire others to not only travel, but also experience luxury with little to no cash. You can find Juan at his website VASTtraveling.com or on Instagram @VASTtraveling.

$2,000 off a long weekend in Miami

Julia Menez sitting in a large orange chair at a glass-topped table with Andaz hotel amenities and a welcome card.
Julia Menez booked a long-weekend getaway in Miami by transferring Chase and American Express points.

My husband, Justin, and I recently went on a three-day trip to Miami and were able to get our flights, hotels, and even a few meals covered using award travel tricks, saving more than $2,000.

Our flights were on JetBlue from Newark (EWR) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL). JetBlue was having a sale, and the two round-trip tickets would have only cost $360. Since JetBlue uses a revenue-based system, the number of points required to get a free flight is tied to the cost of the ticket, and this particular flight only cost 22,500 points, which we could transfer from Chase or American Express. On the flight, we even got lucky and were assigned to the "Even More Space" exit row, which was a savings of $140 for two tickets!

22,500 Chase points are easy for a beginner to earn via credit card welcome bonuses. For example, I recently opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which currently offers Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Read more: The best small-business credit cards of 2021

We are constantly looking for new cards to open to receive more welcome bonuses. My favorite cards lately are small-business credit cards such as the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card or American Express® Business Gold Card.

Additionally, business credit cards from Chase and American Express do not count towards your Chase 5/24 status (the rule where Chase will deny your application if you have opened five or more credit cards from any issuer in the last 24 months) and they often can have larger welcome bonuses than personal credit cards.

In Miami, we visited three different hotels. Ideally, we would have just picked one Hyatt hotel and stayed three nights there, but all of the Hyatt hotels were sold out for the Saturday we were visiting. So instead, we spent one night at the Hyatt Centric South Beach, one night at the AC Hotel Miami Wynwood (a Marriott hotel), and one night at The Confidante (a Hyatt hotel).

For the Marriott hotel, we used a Marriott free night certificate that we earned through my husband's Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card. You can use these for Marriott hotels priced at 35,000 points per night or less. Normally, this particular hotel can cost $400 per night for a standard room.

Read more: How to earn, redeem, and maximize Marriott Bonvoy points

On Friday night, we stayed at the Hyatt Centric South Beach hotel. We spent 20,000 Hyatt points for a one-night stay, earned from The World Of Hyatt Credit Card. I saw a special offer bonus on my card to earn 5x on any purchase for a limited time (no longer available), so I was able to take advantage of that deal to earn thousands of Hyatt points in addition to the points I earn regularly by staying at Hyatt hotels. Additionally, Hyatt is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.

Hyatt is my preferred hotel chain because of my Globalist status. This status comes with amazing perks such as free breakfast, 4 p.m. late checkout, and suite upgrades upon availability.

During our stay at the Hyatt Centric South Beach hotel, there were not any suites available, but we were upgraded to a king bed ocean view on a high floor. The standard rate for this type of room is $429 plus $92 in taxes and fees, for a total of more than $520. However, when you book Hyatt hotels on points, the taxes and fees are waived!

Due to my Globalist status, my husband and I also received free breakfast. We ordered a smoked salmon brioche ($12), breakfast tacos ($10), orange juice ($4), and cold brew coffee ($5), saving us more than $30 once the tax is thrown in. We still leave an additional tip whenever we get free breakfasts served to our table.

Read more: 11 credit cards that get you hotel elite status just by having them in your wallet

On Sunday night, we stayed at The Confidante Miami Beach hotel for 15,000 points. Due to the Globalist status, we received an upgrade to a king bed oceanfront room with a balcony. The balcony was incredible and had a panoramic view of the beach, so we could enjoy sitting in the shade in the evening and watch the sunrise in the morning.

Including taxes and fees, this room type can go for $360 per night or more. Alex at the front desk was also incredibly accommodating and presented us with a Globalist welcome gift of two signature cocktails ($40) in addition to our free breakfast for two at the buffet ($88)!

Around town, we used the Uber cash credits that come with our The Platinum Card® from American Express and American Express® Gold Card cards. My husband and I each have a The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers up to $15 in Uber cash per month, and I have an American Express® Gold Card (up to $10 in Uber cash each month), so we saved $40 on Uber rides transferring between different hotels.

Read more: The best credit cards for airport lounge access

If I could change one thing about the trip for next time, we will fly into Miami (MIA) instead of Fort Lauderdale. MIA has a variety of lounge choices that we can access using our American Express Platinum cards. They even have a Centurion lounge, and Centurion lounges are often considered some of the best in the world. This would have saved us from having to purchase lunch at the airport in our terminal at Fort Lauderdale.

Overall, we saved:

  • $500 for two JetBlue flights from Newark to Fort Lauderdale with an upgrade to the "Even More Space" seats by transferring 22,500 points from Chase to JetBlue
  • $400 for one night at the AC Miami Wynwood using a Marriott free night certificate
  • $550 for an upgraded ocean view room and free breakfast at the Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami by using 20,000 Hyatt points
  • $488 for an upgraded oceanfront balcony room at The Confidante Miami Beach plus two free welcome cocktails and two breakfast buffets by using 15,000 Hyatt points
  • $40 on Uber rides by using Uber cash credits from our American Express Platinum and Gold cards

Julia Menez is an award travel coach, speaker, and host of the Geobreeze Travel Podcast. After traveling to more than 30 countries before the age of 30 and saving thousands of dollars each year by using points and miles, Julia distills the strategies from top award travelers around the world and prepares personalized points strategies for her private coaching clients. Through her podcast, Julia features a diverse roster of guests with experiences that are traditionally underrepresented in larger points and miles blogs and media. Her episodes often highlight women, immigrants, and people of color. You can find Julia at www.geobreezetravel.com and on Instagram @geobreezetravel.

The million-point award booking

Angelo Minella and his fiancée Katie Davis dining outdoors on a balcony overlooking the ocean.
Angelo Minella spent nearly a million miles and points for a luxury trip to the Maldives.

Have you ever asked yourself, "How do these travel bloggers go on luxury vacations in business class and stay in those overwater bungalows for free?" Below I will break down in detail how I did so.

The flights:

  • Pittsburgh (PIT) – New York-️JFK (round trip): 28,000 Delta miles plus a Delta companion certificate
  • New York-JFK – Doha – Malé: Qatar Qsuites (one way): 140,000 American Airlines miles plus $38 (I transferred Membership Rewards points to Marriott when they were running a 40% transfer bonus, then transferred those points from Marriott to American Airlines to book business-class seats from JFK to Malé)
  • 30-minute seaplane flight: $500 per person (there are no airline points for Maldivian Airways so I applied for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cards and earned flexible points bring this cost to $0)

The eight-night stay at The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island:

  • 380,000 Hilton Honors points for the first five nights, then I used a free weekend night certificate for the sixth night, which I earned from the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
  • From there I transferred 76,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Hilton during a 40% bonus promotion to earn the points for the last two nights (95,000 Hilton points per night)

The return flights:

  • Seaplane to Malé then Emirates flights to Dubai (DXB) to New York-JFK cost 136,000 miles (I transferred 136,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio to book that trip)

Boom! 997,000 miles and points later you have a "free" trip to the Maldives in arguably the best business-class seat in the sky and a stay for eight nights that would have cost $25,142 to book with cash.

Read more: I haven't paid for a hotel room in 10 years – here's how I stay for free

As crazy and complicated as that booking may sound, that was the easy part. The point-earning strategies to get 1,000,000 points and miles is the hard part! My fiancée, Katie Davis, helped with 150,000 Hilton points and 68,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Having a "player two" makes the travel game much easier.

The face behind @paidwithpoints is Angelo Minella, a Doctor of Chiropractic by day and a credit card enthusiast with a travel problem by night. 3,000,000 points across 23 credit cards later, a $150,000 line of credit, and $60,000 in free travel, it's safe to say he's utilized more than just welcome bonuses.

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