Before I got into points and miles, I would have never thought I could travel so luxuriously for a fraction of the price.
But now after savings thousands of dollars booking a 17-day trip around Asia using mostly points, it’s safe to say I’m hooked.
A trip that could have easily cost over $16,000, ended up being 107,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points, 160,000 Aeroplan points, and just under $2,000 out of pocket.
One of the keys to this once-in-a-lifetime trip was taking advantage of a 24-hour travel hack, which I’ll get into later. But first, let me explain how this all started.
When my friend, Bill, introduced me to the “points game” last year, I could never have imagined just how much it would change the way I travel.
I’ve always loved traveling but never thought credit card points could take me as far as I wanted to go.
Domestic trips and weekend getaways are fun, but could points fly me across the world? That’s what I really wanted to know.
I was already traveling quite a bit for work, but those trips were just that – loads of work without much free time to get out and explore. So, after hearing what Bill said about using credit card points to book travel, I was curious enough to try it out.
He explained the process in the simplest way possible:
- Check your credit score
- Get a travel credit card
- Earn the sign-up bonus and as many additional points as possible
- Use the points to book a trip
- Pack your bags and get ready to have some fun!
Obviously, I knew there would be more to it than that, but still, I was excited about the idea of being able to travel for a tiny fraction of the actual cost. I mean, who wouldn’t be?
I went all in.
After checking my credit score, I researched the best travel credit cards and narrowed it down to three options that fit my lifestyle and the type of travel I wanted to do.
Option 1: Chase Sapphire Preferred – offered a 50,000 point sign-up bonus at the time after meeting minimum spend ($4k in the first 3 months), 2x points on dining and travel, and 1x point on everything else. The annual fee was $95, but waived for the first year.
Option 2: Chase Sapphire Reserve – like an upgraded version of the Preferred Card, it also offered a 50,000 point sign-up bonus at the time after meeting minimum spend ($4k in the first 3 months), 3x points on dining and travel, and 1x point on everything else. Has a lot of other perks to justify the $450 annual fee for regular travelers.
Option 3: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite – offered a 50,000 miles sign-up bonus at the time after meeting the minimum spend ($3k in the first 90 days), 2x miles on everything (which is nice and easy to remember), and you get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem.
I learned that all three of these are favorites in the travel community for various reasons. The perks for the Chase Sapphire Reserve were insanely awesome but since I was dipping my toe into travel rewards for the first time, I was hesitant about the hefty annual fee.
I ended up applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and six business days later, the shiny metal card arrived in the mail. Once I got it, I did everything I could to earn as many points as possible.
How I Earned the Sign-up Bonus
To earn the 50,000 point sign-up bonus, I needed to make $4,000 in purchases on the card within the first 3 months.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not someone who just happens to have $4,000 lying around waiting to be spent; I’m a normal guy living a normal life in Washington D.C. and volunteer at a nonprofit in my spare time. So, if I can do this, anyone can.
While I’d love to have the ability to spend $10,000+ on a luxury vacation (hello Dom Perignon and rare caviar), it’s just not feasible without the help of points and miles.
That being said, I had a surprisingly easy time meeting minimum spend by directing my monthly bills and expenses to the card (rent, internet, phone, dining out, etc.). And, once I earned the sign-up bonus, I didn’t stop there.
I continued earning points by paying for everything with my Sapphire Preferred and even asked friends and family if I could use my card to cover their expenses and have them give me cash to pay it off. It may sound a little extreme, but by this point, I was addicted to earning rewards! Luckily, my friends and family were happy to support me in my crusade to earn as many points as possible.
Within a few months, I’d accumulated 80,000 points by the time Bill and I started planning our trip. Adding that to Bill’s 150,000 points (which he already had saved up), we had a total of 230,000 Ultimate Rewards Points to book our travels.
Planning Our Trip
Mapping the route we wanted to take around Asia made the trip made the trip feel real. Our big strategy to visit so many countries was to take advantage of long layovers using a multi-city travel strategy (sometimes known as a round robin flight).
Every airline has different routing policies and rules, but in general, they allow you to book one continuous international ticket with layovers less than 24 hours long. We were able to book long layovers (on purpose) for various legs of the trip without paying any extra money or points to sightsee around a handful of amazing places for almost a full day.
This, of course, meant we spent a decent amount of our trip on airplanes going from place to place – a first for me – but the adventure and high-end food and amenities made it worth it for us.
Our Travel Itinerary
On to the good stuff – here’s an overview of each stop we made and the flights we took to get there.
Washington D.C. to Los Angeles
To start, I bought an economy ticket for around $300 to LAX from DC since that’s where our first big international flight to Asia departed from. While in LA for the night, we enjoyed dinner at The Misfit in Santa Monica followed by a visit to an outdoor bar called The Bungalow before heading to a Hilton Hotel near the airport.
Los Angeles to Seoul
We transferred 107,000 Chase UR points to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Program (a Chase transfer partner) and booked First Class flights from LAX to ICN for 105,000 Krisflyer points.
These tickets can cost upwards of $8,000 USD, which is crazy to someone like me. I’m still amazed we were able to travel so comfortably using points and miles.
During the flight, we were spoiled with expensive champagne and world-class foods, all while sipping on as much Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V as we wanted ($1,500 a bottle). The Ferragamo amenity bags were a nice touch as well.
After we landed at the Seoul Incheon Airport, we went directly to Namsam Tower, which overlooks the entire city. It was quite a workout getting there, but the panorama view of Seoul was completely worth it. Afterward, we took a cab to the famed party neighborhood in Seoul called Itaewon before calling it quits and staying overnight at the Ibis Hotel.
Seoul to Hong Kong
The next day, we continued on to Hong Kong in Business Class on Thai Royal Silk Airlines. I loved the signature pink and purple colors in the cabin and enjoyed all the high-end champagne and meals were offered on board. I made sure to sample each and every one.
Upon landing, we checked in at our hotel, the Intercontinental in Kowloon, with views of Victoria Harbor. We spent some time relaxing in the gorgeous infinity pools before taking a ferry across the river to explore the other side of Hong Kong. It was a completely jam-packed visit and we ended the day with a lovely cocktail at the Ozone Bar in the Ritz Carlton.
Hong Kong to Singapore
We flew to Singapore in Business Class for the next day and enjoyed another round of high-end treats on the flight such as lobster, king crab with mango salsa, emmental, and smoked mozzarella.
I had the misfortune of sitting in a seat that wouldn’t recline and when I mentioned it the attendant, I was given a $300 voucher to the Skymall which I promptly redeemed for a Hugo Boss watch before departing the plane.
We ended up splitting the cost to stay at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel for one night, which was around $230.
Singapore to Jakarta
From Singapore, we flew to Jakarta in First Class on Singapore Airlines, and out of all the short flights we took, this one was my favorite.
When we got to the Singapore Airport, we got massages in the First Class Lounge and also got to enter the famed Private Room. The Private Room is only open to First Class travelers (Business Class and Star Alliance Gold aren’t eligible) and was a truly memorable experience.
I went straight for the Charles Heidsieck 2005 Brut Millésimé. For dinner, we enjoyed dim sum, assorted satay, pork rib prawn noodle soup, prime beef with foie gras, and fried quail egg and lobster gruyere. Oh, and did I mention the mini cakes and chocolate truffles for dessert? This place was heaven.
Once on the ground, we checked in at the Ibis Hotel and got a deluxe room for one night, which cost us $113 out of pocket. We explored the Istiqlal Mosque, the National Monument, and helped some local children practice English. We also went to the old Dutch colonial part of town where the architecture resembles a heavy Dutch influence – a truly beautiful sight to see.
Jakarta to Bali
For the quick flight from Jakarta to Bali, we paid for economy tickets out of pocket on Garuda airlines (approx. $200).
Once in Bali, we enjoyed slowing down and adapted to the signature relaxed pace of life. The first place we stayed was a lovely Airbnb in Kuta Beach, where we went surfing and checked out a bunch of bustling outdoor markets.
Next up, we hired a guide that took us to Tanah Lot, a gorgeous rock formation and cultural icon, Uluwatu, a gorgeous, spiritual sea temple, and the rice paddies in Ubud.
After moving on to Nusa Dua, we settled in at the Ritz Carlton and enjoyed an exquisite beachfront dinner on the property.
I really wanted to go snorkeling before we left, so on the last day, we went out on a boat for a few hours and experience did not disappoint; we saw huge tortoises, beautiful fish, and so many other incredible sea creatures.
Bali to Kuala Lumpur
Continuing on our multi-city travels, we took a short flight via Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur, which was such a cool city. We only had one day to explore, so after checking into the Capri Hotel – which was beautiful and affordable – we took an Uber to see the Batu Caves.
Afterward, we hit up the top floor of the Petronas Towers for a drink before heading to the famed all-you-can-eat buffet at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. All in all, we got a great glimpse of the city in just 24 hours and made the most out of our time there.
Kuala Lumpur back to Laos
From Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Laos, we flew to a bunch of smaller areas, staying one night in each place.
Our first stop was Luang Prabang, which was incredible. We visited caves, hiked Mount Phousi, and spent time at the Royal Palace and Wat Chom Si. The next day, we rented motorbikes to visit Kuang Si, a beautiful waterfall, before embarking on a three-hour bus ride to Vang Vieng.
We stayed at the Riverside Boutique Resort in Vang Vieng and made fast friends with people visiting from all over the world. It was such a fun experience to hang out with so many different cultures all at once and get to enjoy the area altogether.
After that, we hopped back on a bus and traveled to Vientiane to catch our flight out of Laos.
Laos to Thailand
We used approximately 160,000 Aeroplan Points to book last minute tickets to Bangkok, where we stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel for one night.
With only 24 hours in Bangkok, we managed to visit Wat Arun, the Grand Palace, the Grand Buddha, and a delicious dinner with some Thai dancing involved. It was a long, unforgettable night, but there’s no rest for the weary! After some quick shut-eye, we headed for the airport.
Thailand to Hanoi
Bangkok to Hanoi was a fun experience in Thai Royal Silk’s Business Class seats. This was all part of our original booking, and a great example of making rewards points really work for us. I couldn’t believe how far we were able to stretch our points.
Hanoi to Taipei
Another fun experience in the skies in Business Class with Thai Royal Silk Airline, as part of our round robin travel strategy. During our layover, we checked out three new airline lounges and enjoyed fresh spring rolls, some of the best Pho I’ve ever had, cognac, and more. Feeling completely full and ready for some sleep, we boarded our flight back to North America.
Taipei to Toronto
We knew this incredible trip had to come to an end at some point and the flight home on Eva Air didn’t disappoint. Traveling in Royal Laurel Class, each of us had cabins with full lay-flat beds and an endless supply of snacks. The bedding was incredibly comfortable and the service was wonderful.
Toronto to Washington D.C.
After landing in Toronto and parting ways with Bill, it was back to DC for me. I booked the cheapest economy flight home out of pocket (around $200) and started planning for my next trip.
Would I do this type of trip again?
In a heartbeat – It was such an eye opening experience on how you can really maximize travel rewards to see the world at a much lower cost than paying out of pocket.
This sort of trip wouldn’t have been doable if I were paying for it entirely on my own and I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon how others are traveling around the world using points and miles. It’s become a huge passion of mine as well. The only thing I would have changed was to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve from the get-go. Now that I travel quite a bit more, I want all the special perks I can get!
3 Tips Learning How To Travel This Way
1. Join groups and devour information about using points to travel.
2. Sign up for a solid travel rewards credit card to start earning points! Don’t wait – especially when a sign-up bonus offer is really good.
3. Don’t assume that a credit card with an annual fee is a bad thing. Some of the best cards have annual fees, but the benefits and potential for earning points far outweigh the fee. Throw in access to lounges, and secondary benefits like car rental insurance, and it’s definitely worth it.