Cancer Isn't Stopping This Mama From Using Travel Rewards to Create Memories

The true value of award travel is not what it saves you — but what it gives you.
Last updated June 1, 2023 | By Matt Miczulski
Travel Rewards to Create Memories

We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

There’s nothing that says you have to be a travel expert to benefit from award travel. Not every point has to be maximized for the greatest monetary worth; not every redemption has to be optimized for the most value. You don’t have to be a travel blogger nor do you have to be an authority on credit card points. All you have to be is someone who sees the value in how rewards from credit cards can let you see the places you’ve always wanted to see and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

You don’t always need a reason to travel, but sometimes you’re given one.

Stephanie Hopper is a wife, mother, sister, and friend with a terminal diagnosis of primary peritoneal cancer. The diagnosis came suddenly and unexpectedly. No one would blame someone like Stephanie for letting this type of news weigh them down, and there is no right or wrong way to handle this situation.

But one thing Stephanie knew was what she was not going to let this news do to her:

“I refuse to waste what time I have feeling sorry for myself or being angry and depressed,” she says. “I am choosing to spend as much quality time with my loved ones as I can and make happy memories along the way.”

Creating memories with every point redemption

For Stephanie, award travel is not about maximizing every point for its monetary value. For her, this hobby is about maximizing every point toward making what she describes perfectly as “intentional memories.” Stephanie pays for the costs of her cancer treatment with her rewards credit cards so she can accumulate points and miles. Ironically, this spending is what allows her to go on meaningful, one-on-one trips with her loved ones — all while keeping out-of-pocket costs low, during what is already a financially-challenging time.

One of these trips that Stephanie took was a four-day trip to Disneyland in October of 2019 with one of her adult daughters. This particular trip wasn’t the first of Stephanie’s meaningful trips, and it won’t be the last. She and her husband are taking a trip to South Africa at the end of this year and she is also planning a trip to Universal Studios with her oldest child, a cruise or all-inclusive trip with her sister, another Disneyland trip with her best friend, and trips to Boulder, CO, Boston, MA, and Dallas, TX, to spend time with close friends.

Travel Rewards to Create Memories

I was fortunate enough to speak with Stephanie and hear her story about how point redemption helped her make intentional memories with her daughter on their trip to Disneyland. Here’s what she had to say about how using some of the best travel credit cards helped make this special time together possible.


While the news of Stephanie’s cancer has led her to travel more, her trip to Disneyland wasn’t her first trip using travel rewards. She and her husband got into the points-and-miles game nearly two and a half years ago and began accumulating points from various welcome offers and everyday spending. The trip to Disneyland with her daughter seemed like the perfect time to use some of those points.

Stephanie flew direct with Southwest Airlines from St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) to John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, California. In total, the trip would cost approximately 50,000 Rapid Reward points. She had earned enough points to cover the costs of the trip on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card she'd opened previously.

Get more information at our full Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card review.

As Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders, Stephanie and her husband both have Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows for a speedier security check process for pre-approved travelers. While Stephanie’s adult daughter didn’t have this perk, both were given access to the TSA PreCheck line because of Stephanie’s complications and the assistance she required to get to the gate.

Even though Stephanie used points to book award travel with Southwest, she still had to pay the $5.60 tax charge that is due when flying Southwest using points. This tax is per one-way flight per person, so it came out to a total of $22.40. Stephanie paid these taxes using her Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for these types of expenses. So, in the end, she didn’t have to pay out of pocket for her flights.

Expense category Regular price What Stephanie paid
Flights $750 $0

*Airfare cost estimated based on the generally accepted Southwest point value of 1.5 cents per point.


Stephanie and her daughter stayed at the Alamo Inn and Suites, only a stone’s throw from Disneyland. The hotel’s proximity to the park was ideal, as it gave Stephanie and her daughter easy access. One of the side effects of Stephanie’s chemo is leg pain, so she rented a scooter for the duration of the trip. Since the hotel was just on the other side of the Disneyland parking lot, she was able to take the scooter to and from the park.

Stephanie booked her lodging through, as she had a couple of free nights through their “collect 10 nights get one free” program. The two nights she paid out of pocket, she paid for with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Expense category Regular price What Stephanie paid
Hotels $400 $0

Other special deals

  • Uber credit: Stephanie’s husband dropped her and her daughter off at the airport in St. Louis and picked them up when they returned, but they did have to find transportation from the airport in Orange County to her hotel and back when it was time to leave. As a holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express, Stephanie took advantage of the card’s $15 Uber credit. While it didn’t cover the entirety of the cost, the perk allowed her to save a decent amount. (If you want to use this perk, remember that it requires adding your card as a payment method in the app.)
  • Disneyland tickets: For the tickets to get into Disneyland and the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween party happening at the park, Stephanie used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to negate the costs. This would have come out to $600, but since she used Chase Ultimate Rewards, Stephanie’s out-of-pocket costs were $0.
Expense category Regular price What Stephanie paid
Rideshare to and from airport $40 $25
Park tickets $600 $0

The travel rewards cards Stephanie used

Card name Welcome offer Earnings rate Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening Up to 10X points per dollar $550 
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months Up to 2X points per dollar     $69
The Platinum Card® from American Express Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases in the first 6 months Up to 5X points per dollar $695
Terms apply

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Stephanie’s Chase Sapphire Reserve allowed her to use Ultimate Rewards points for some of the Disneyland ticket costs, as well as to pay for the taxes on her airfare and hotel costs for the nights that weren’t free.

As a new cardmember, you can earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which is a great way to kick-start your award travel. And, to keep accumulating rewards, you’ll earn 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases. While there is a $550 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a ton of travel benefits that help offset this cost. This includes a $300 annual travel credit, a $5 monthly DoorDash credit through Dec. 31, 2024, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement, and access to airport lounges.

Get more information at our full Chase Sapphire Reserve review.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Stephanie booked all her airfare using Rapid Rewards points she accumulated from her Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

When you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, you can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You can also earn 2X points for Southwest purchases and at participating Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners; on local transit and commuting, including rideshare; and on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming; plus 1X points on all other purchases. While there is an annual fee, it’s only $69. This cost is nearly offset by the 3,000 points you will receive every anniversary year.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Since Stephanie and her daughter flew in from out of town and didn’t rent a car, they took an Uber to and from the airport in Orange County to Disneyland. She was able to save on these rideshare costs by using the $15 Uber credit that comes with The Platinum Card from American Express.

The Platinum Card has a great welcome offer for new cardmembers: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases in the first 6 months. 

The annual fee is $695, but you’ll also get access to airport lounges, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit that can definitely balance out the fee if you’re a regular traveler. (Enrollment is required for select benefits.)

Get more information at our full Amex Platinum Card review.

Bottom line

Expense category Regular price What Stephanie paid
Flights $750 $0
Hotels $484 $0
Rideshare $40 $25
Park tickets $600 $0
Food, shopping, and scooter rental $560 $560
Total $2,434 $585

It’s easy to focus solely on what Stephanie saved, but sometimes saving money is incredibly valuable on other levels. Sometimes it’s not just about the dollar amount but rather what those savings enabled you to do.

Travel Rewards to Create Memories

While the circumstances aren’t anything anyone would ever hope for, the value of credit card rewards is undeniable and it isn’t something Stephanie takes for granted. Credit card rewards have allowed Stephanie to do the things that matter most to her, all while keeping her out-of-pocket costs low.

Everybody’s situation is different. But everyone who takes advantage of credit card rewards gets to share in something truly special: a chance to create an experience that matters most to you. If you're unsure where to start, start with our Ultimate Guide to Travel Rewards.

Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card


Card Details

  • Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Longer intro APR on qualifying purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Apply Now
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
  • 0% Introductory APR for 18 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 17.99% - 27.99% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee applies to all balance transfers.
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Apply Now

on Bank of America’s secure website

Read Card Review

Intro Offer

Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual Fee



Why we like it

Author Details

Matt Miczulski Matt Miczulski is a personal finance writer specializing in financial news, budget travel, banking, and debt. His interest in personal finance took off after eliminating $30,000 in debt in just over a year, and his goal is to help others learn how to get ahead with better money management strategies. A lover of history, Matt hopes to use his passion for storytelling to shine a new light on how people think about money. His work has also been featured on MoneyDoneRight and