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How Rewards Helped Us Travel in 2016

In past articles I have made slight mention of the fact that I utilize frequent flyer miles and rewards points to fund much of my air travels. So no, I am not rich and do not drop thousands on premium class airfare! Instead I am able to leverage rewards by strategic spending throughout the year, to maximize as much as possible, my return on these rewards.

I usually acquire these rewards through bonuses from spending via credit cards, airline portals, dining programs, among other things. At some point I will write a post going more in depth on this. In an earlier article, I listed all the places we were able to go to in 2016, a year, amazingly enough that we were supposedly slowing down. Here I wanted to summarize what rewards I used to accomplish many of these trips.

Southeast Asia in 1st Class: 134K AA miles roundtrip
For our Southeast Asia trip back in February, we went on an American Airlines miles hoarding mission, and amassed enough to redeem 134,000 miles for each of us to fly First Class on Cathay Pacific (an alliance partner of AA) Round Trip to and from Hong Kong. This was earned via a couple credit card signup bonuses, as well as additional miles through airline portal online shopping and dining programs. There were some acrobatics needed, as we needed to fly to Chicago to take advantage of the First Class Availability to Hong Kong. Also at the time of booking, we could only find business class seats on the return flight to Boston. However, we lucked out and some First Class space opened up a few days before our return flight, and we were able to call American Airlines from our hotel in Penang, Malaysia and move from the business class seats to the first class seats once again. I can tell you it was well worth the time to make that change! It was such a relaxing ride back home.

Sampling of refreshment offered in Cathay’s 1st class

It was a good time to take this opportunity, as a month after we finished the trip, American Airlines had one of their many devaluations, and now it costs a lot more in miles to take that same trip (It now costs 220,000 AA miles instead of 134,000 AA miles).

We did not use any miles/rewards to get around while in Asia, as the fares were so cheap, we just booked AirAsia flights to get us to Thailand and Malaysia.

Alexandria, VA in Economy: 25K AA miles roundtrip and 72K Choice points for the hotel
As mentioned in my 2016 Travels article, we took a bit of a break from serious air travel after the trip to Southeast Asia, focusing on a couple road trips since February. For Labor Day, however, I was hopping a plane down to the Washington DC / Virginia area, as every year our Fantasy Football League holds a live draft (not an online one), so being the only participant living in another state I have the choice of coming down for a weekend in DC/VA, or staying home and struggling through horrible audio over the phone. I’ve decided to make this trip every year when possible. To do this in 2016, I was able to use 25,000 American Airlines miles to take a round trip flight into Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington DC. From there I was able to take the metro and cab to meet up with folks in Alexandria.

As for lodging, I was able to use 72,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, and transfer to the Choice Hotels program. From there, I booked 4 nights at a Choice Hotel near where my old college buddy lived, with no additional cost. Obviously not the most luxurious of places, but all I needed was a place with a bed to stay for those 4 nights. Mission Accomplished (well, not so much for my Fantasy Football team this year as I ended up in 3rd Place…)

St. Thomas in Economy: 68.8K Citi Thank You Points for AA airfare
In October, my cousin had a destination wedding in the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Of course, this was a great reason to add another destination to our travel list for 2016. Originally this was a flight that I was going to pay for outright, but then decided to look into what award availability there was for it. I still had a stash of AA miles from our hoarding activity prior to the Southeast Asia trip, so I looked into using AA miles. However, there was nothing available for the timeframe of this wedding. Fortunately, I had another option. Citi allows you to use their Thank You points to redeem for 1.6 cents per point on American Airlines when you are a cardholder of the Citi Prestige credit card. I used this to book 2 AA flights (For my girlfriend and myself) to get to St. Thomas and back, and it costs us about 68,800 Thank You points (34,400 TYP per person). Not bad at all.

We are not as adept with the hotel points game at this point, so we paid for the hotel.

So although they cannot be combined on the same award, I used a total of 299,800 miles/pts on 3 trips this past year, 3 trips that I didn’t have to pay for (aside from miniscule fees/taxes)! The idea here is to accumulate these points/miles in your normal spending, pay off your credit card balance in full every month, and then you can reap the rewards. As mentioned, I intend to post more in depth on this topic later.

I have been seriously collecting miles and rewards for almost 3 years now, and it has enabled us to experience some amazing travel. As of right now, I still have a bunch of stashed miles/points, and my objective is to use them for all of our 2017 travels (Peru and Cuba being the heavy hitters on our list). I have a habit of hoarding these miles, but it is better to amass them with a particular travel goal in mind, and then use them on those goals. Hoarded miles lose value over time, so I’m hoping to use most of my stash this year.

Do you use miles/points/rewards for your travels? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!

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