Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Chart Your Bucket List Destinations
Travel rewards programs open up a world of possibilities when it comes to charting bucket list trips. With a little strategic planning, you can transform points and miles into unforgettable experiences traveling to your dream destinations.
Start by making a bucket list of all the places you've always wanted to visit. This could include natural wonders like the Northern Lights or the Galapagos Islands. Or famous cities like Paris, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro. Consider far-flung places like Bora Bora, Santorini, or Machu Picchu. Don't hold back - this is your chance to dream big.
Next, research the point requirements to get to each destination. Focus on transferable points that can be used across multiple airline and hotel loyalty programs. Flexible points generally provide the best value. Look at programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
Aim to accumulate points in the loyalty programs of airlines that fly to your target destinations. Check award charts to see how many miles you'll need for flights. Hilton and Hyatt points can get you free nights at hotels once you arrive.
Be strategic about signing up for credit cards that earn you tens of thousands of points through sign-up bonuses. Meet minimum spend requirements organically to get the bonuses. Put your everyday spending on cards that maximize category bonuses aligned with your spending profile.
Once you have a healthy balance of transferable points, start planning your bucket list trips around point sweet spots. Look for destinations where you can cover flights and hotels with your rewards. Minimize out-of-pocket costs.
What else is in this post?
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Chart Your Bucket List Destinations
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Maximize Sign-Up Bonuses for Extra Points
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Transfer Points between Programs for Free Flights
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Use Points for Airline Alliance Partner Awards
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Splurge on First Class with Points Upgrades
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Book High-End Hotels with Points and Cash
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Fly Private with Empty Leg Flights for Pennies
- Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Redeem Points for Unforgettable Experiences
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Maximize Sign-Up Bonuses for Extra Points
Sign-up bonuses offer a fast track to boosting your balance of flexible rewards points. While everyday credit card spending might earn you one or two points per dollar, sign-up bonuses can score you 50,000 points or more just for meeting a minimum spend requirement after getting approved for a new card. Maximizing these extra point hauls from sign-up bonuses should be a key part of your strategy.
With a single new card application, you could have enough points for a roundtrip flight to many destinations in Europe, Asia or South America. Signing up for two or three strategic cards per year could set you up for multiple dream vacations. Even better, combine sign-up bonuses across player two (a spouse or partner) to double your flexibility.
Do your homework to find the highest public offers above 50,000 points and ideally at 75,000 or 100,000 points. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred offer 60,000 and 80,000 point bonuses respectively. Check to see if you pre-qualify for a given card’s bonus offer. This helps avoid wasting hard credit pulls if you won’t be approved.
Before applying, have a plan to meet minimum spend organically. The best way is to put your regular household or business expenses on the new card. You don’t want to overspend just to chase a bonus. Also be mindful of your credit utilization ratio - don’t max out cards.
Once approved, make sure you complete bonus requirements like meeting minimum spend within the required timeframe, usually 3 months. Set calendar reminders if needed. Also keep an eye out for targeted bonus offers in your account once you are a cardmember - these can score you extra points as well.
An underutilized strategy is to look for business credit cards like the Ink cards from Chase. Their bonuses count towards 5/24 but don’t show up on your personal credit. Business cards can supplement consumer cards from issuers like Chase that cap how many bonuses you can earn in a certain period.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Transfer Points between Programs for Free Flights
One savvy way to maximize your points and score free flights is to transfer points between loyalty programs. Many hotel and credit card points programs allow you to move points to various airline partners. This gives you flexibility to book award tickets on the airline that has the best routes and availability for your desired trip.
For example, I collected Chase Ultimate Rewards points from getting approved for cards like the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred. These points can be transferred 1:1 to airline partners like United Airlines, Air France KLM, Singapore Airlines and more. Booking through United would cost me 70,000 miles for a roundtrip economy ticket to Europe. But transferring my UR points to Air France only costs 60,000 miles for the same ticket. That’s a 14% discount by transferring points between programs for the same flight!
Another great program is American Express Membership Rewards, which has over 20 airline transfer partners. I’m planning a trip to Southeast Asia and want to fly on Cathay Pacific. Transferring my Amex points to AsiaMiles gets me a better value than using United miles for this route. Always check award charts to calculate the best deal.
Capital One is more restrictive but still lets you transfer to Cathay Pacific and Emirates among others. Citi ThankYou Points can move to airline programs like JetBlue. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to more than 40 airline partners! The options are endless once you start thinking about mixing and matching points for the best redemption value.
Even hotel programs like Hyatt allow transfers to airlines that may get you a lower mileage rate for the same flight. I moved World of Hyatt points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer in order to book a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo for only 35,000 miles in business class. It would have cost me twice as much through United.
The longer your flight, the more value you can usually unlock from transferring points. It often costs the same number of miles to fly from NYC to San Francisco as NYC to Hong Kong when booking premium cabin awards.
Just make sure to check award availability before you transfer points, as they usually can’t be moved back or to another program. I use online tools like AwardHacker to research options across programs. Being flexible and willing to fly on different airlines is key to maximizing value.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Use Points for Airline Alliance Partner Awards
Joining forces pays off when it comes to redeeming points and miles. Airlines team up in one of three major global alliances – Star Alliance, oneworld or SkyTeam. These alliances allow members to earn and redeem rewards across airlines in the same group. This opens up sweet spots for using your points and miles to book award flights.
For example, let’s say I have 100,000 American AAdvantage miles I want to use for an unforgettable trip to Australia and New Zealand. Normally, I’d only be able to use these miles for flights on American Airlines, which doesn’t fly down under. However, since American is part of the oneworld alliance, I can also use my AAdvantage miles to book award tickets on oneworld partners like Qantas and Cathay Pacific to reach the South Pacific.
I could fly from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas for only 80,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip in business class. That same ticket would cost me 120,000 miles if I transferred points to United’s MileagePlus program and booked on their Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand. Sticking within one alliance allows me to maximize the value of my original points.
Consider a trip to Southeast Asia. As a member of the Star Alliance, United miles can be used for flights on Singapore Airlines through Singapore and onto Bangkok or Bali. Compare that to using American miles on a partner like JAL or Cathay Pacific, which would incur higher fuel surcharges out of Asia. In this case, Star Alliance offers better award options.
When it comes to round the world award tickets, alliances are key to making these complex bookings possible. Star Alliance offers up to three stopovers on their Circle Pacific and Circle Atlantic explorer passes withUnited, Lufthansa and other partner miles. Oneworld’s oneworld Explorer similarly strings together flights on alliance airlines. SkyTeam’s Global Pass involves Delta, KLM and other partners. Allying your points unlocks more routings.
Sometimes award space opens up on alliance partners when flights are full on the airline your points are with. United may show no availability from NYC to London, but there are wide open award seats on Brussels Airlines. Lifemiles shows no Los Angeles to Tokyo tickets, but partner Thai Airways has first class award space. Cast a wider net through alliances.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Splurge on First Class with Points Upgrades
First class award flights unlock once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences that are well worth splurging your hard-earned points and miles on. While economy rewards get you from A to B, flying first class is an unforgettable journey unto itself that redefines what luxury travel can be. Your points give you access to $15,000 airline tickets for a fraction of the cash price.
Most airlines require first class awards be booked with their own miles or points rather than partners. British Airways is a sweet spot, charging just 50,000 Avios roundtrip from the US to Europe in first - and they readily open up award space. Singapore Suites class for 77,000 miles is an unbelievable deal, made possible through KrisFlyer miles.
Use miles to upgrade paid economy tickets to first class when no award seats are available. Delta charges 150,000-550,000 for upgrades each way depending on destination. United is 125,000-350,000 miles. American and Alaska also offer upgrades starting around 100,000 miles. Compare cash upgrade bids on ExpertFlyer as well - sometimes cheaper.
Once you’ve selected the right program, search segment by segment for first class award space. Be as flexible as possible on dates and nearby airports to increase your chances. Nonstop flights tend to open up space at the last minute if they haven’t sold out. Consider connecting flights which may offer more options. Set alerts for when seats become available.
Call the airline directly if the website shows no space - agents sometimes have access to more award inventory, especially close to departure. Put award tickets on hold before transferring points to book - nothing worse than moving miles and losing the seats. Redeem the minimum miles required if given a range of pricing for the same flight.
Partners like Air France FlyingBlue can offer cheaper awards - just 55,000 miles for first class on Delta from the US to Europe vs Delta’s steep rates. Transfer Amex or Citi points to FlyingBlue to book. Aeroplan offers reasonable first class access on Air Canada and United too.
Don’t forget to use your elite status and mileage perks for space-available upgrades when available - much easier than finding award space. Even if you don’t initially get the upgrade, you can end up clearing at the gate if seats open up. Arrive early for the best shot.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Book High-End Hotels with Points and Cash
Reward nights at high-end hotels typically require large amounts of points, but you can reduce costs by combining points and cash. This approach allows you to enjoy luxury properties while minimizing your out-of-pocket spending. I often leverage this strategy to experience overwater bungalows, ski-in/ski-out mountain lodges, beach resorts, and urban 5-star hotels that would normally blow my rewards budget.
Keep an eye out for point + cash offers when researching hotel award nights. These deals reduce the standard point redemption rate when you pay a set cash co-pay per night. Hyatt regularly offers this on their top-tier properties, letting you stay at Park Hyatts and Miravals for 30,000 points + $300 instead of standard awards costing 60,000 points.
Marriott Bonvoy offers PointSavers deals at certain times that lower point requirements for their high-end Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis resorts. I’ve paid just 60,000 points + $280 for nights that usually run 70,000 points without a cash component. Look for off-peak PointSavers to maximize your redemption value.
Hilton Honors lets you use points for discounted Premium Room Rewards at Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, and Curio Collection hotels. I booked premium oceanview suites at the Conrad Bora Bora starting at 80,000 points per night instead of the 95,000 points standard rate. The Maldives Conrad overwater villas can also be booked from 74,000 points instead of the usual 95,000 standard.
When cash rates are astronomical, blended point + cash bookings can help afford otherwise unattainable stays. Last minute luxury suites in places like Paris, NYC or Tokyo over Christmas and New Year's can easily run $1,500+ per night. Using points and dishing out $300 in co-pay beats forking over $5,000+ for a 5-night stay.
You can also call the hotel loyalty program to ask about any point + cash promotions not advertised online. Many special offers are unadvertised or targeted to elite members. Check FlyerTalk forums and blogs like One Mile at a Time to stay on top of unpublished deals.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Fly Private with Empty Leg Flights for Pennies
Flying private used to be reserved for the ultra wealthy, but empty leg flights are putting private aviation within reach for us ordinary folks. By booking empty legs, you can hitch a ride on a private jet for mere pennies on the dollar compared to full-price charters. It’s the ultimate travel hack to make you feel like a celebrity at an economy price.
Empty legs are routes where private jets need to reposition after dropping off passengers at their destination. Maybe a Gulfstream just flew a group one-way from Los Angeles to Aspen for a ski trip, and now the plane needs to get back to LA without any booked passengers. That return flight from Aspen to LA would be an empty leg, and operators offer big discounts for travelers willing to fill those empty seats.
I’ve flown empty legs for under $200 per person that would have cost $20,000+ to charter outright. My friends were shocked when I told them I was taking a private jet getaway for less than the cost of a commercial flight. We felt like A-listers sipping champagne at 40,000 feet after boarding our stylish turboprop in San Francisco for a Napa wine tasting vacation.
Skip the crowded airports and cramped economy seats – private jets mean no TSA lines, no baggage fees, no cancelled flights, and zero stress. Arrive just 15 minutes before your scheduled departure and relax on plush leather seats with all the legroom you could want. Choose your own itinerary, fly direct to smaller airports near your destination, and bring everything you want onboard.
The best way to find empty leg deals is to use online charter brokers like PrivateFly. Flexibility is key - you may get just a few hours notice that an empty leg route matches your plans. PrivateFly compiles listings across thousands of operators and offers up to 75% off full charter prices. Booking as part of an empty leg on major routes like Los Angeles–New York can cost under $500 per person.
Social clubs for private aviation are another great option, allowing members access to empty legs at reduced rates. Wheels Up offers last-minute one-way Basic memberships starting at $2,995 which include access to their app with real-time empty leg availability. Other players like JSX, FlyOtto, Beacon, and Surf Air operate scheduled semi-private flights between fixed city pairs that feel like flying private.
While empty legs represent significant cost savings, they do still require a financial outlay more than commercial flights. So this works best as an occasional splurge for special occasions like honeymoons, milestone birthdays, or once-in-a-lifetime trips. Treat yourself and a few friends every so often to add an exclusive experience to your travels.
Miles to Memories: How to Turn Your Rewards into Unforgettable Dream Trips - Redeem Points for Unforgettable Experiences
Reward points are meant to be used, not hoarded. Transforming points into unforgettable travel experiences should be the ultimate goal. Beyond basic flights and hotel rooms, your points can unlock VIP access, high-thrill adventures, and exclusive local insiders' perspectives if you get creative with redemptions.
A friend used Delta SkyMiles to reserve a visit to the airline's Operations Control Center, akin to NASA's mission control. This behind-the-scenes VIP tour lets you shadow employees managing global flight operations. It made for a one-of-a-kind aviation geek experience.
Charging a racing excursion around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to her Capital One Venture card allowed another friend to put miles towards an unforgettable ride alongside a professional instructor at 145+ mph. The adrenaline rush was well worth the points.
Rather than another stay at a cookie-cutter Wyndham resort, one creative couple used their Wyndham points for a unique glamping getaway in a vintage Airstream overlooking Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country. The unusual hotel room proved far more memorable than a standard night's stay.
A New Yorker craving authentic regional American cuisine traded Amex Membership Rewards points for a weekend escape to New Orleans. Beyond flights and hotel, he redeemed points for hard-to-get dinner reservations at iconic Creole restaurants like Commander's Palace, as well as a private jazz concert serenading him while sipping Sazeracs in a secret neighborhood speakeasy.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles afforded a Seattle couple insider access to the city's legendary Pike Place Market via a private foodie walking tour with a local chef. They sampled the freshest catch from fish vendors and produce from farmers, tasted the original Starbucks location, and learned hidden secrets about the market—an exclusive peek behind the scenes.
Jet-setting families can maximize Marriott Bonvoy points at all-inclusive resorts like the luxurious JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort in Mexico. Redeeming points for every meal, round-the-clock premium drinks, activities like whale shark snorkeling and massages means getting full value from rewards. No out-of-pocket vacation costs makes the trip unforgettable.