Traveling using miles to supplement your trip can really help take your vacation to the next level. Our budget doesn't have a ton of room for mega vacations, so we try to look for thrifty ways to supplement our vacation allowance. Loyalty programs are a great way to earn some reward nights and credit cards happen to be a good way to add to your loyalty program bank. Online shopping portals, dining programs, and surveys are also all good ways to earn loyalty points outside of actually staying at a hotel or flying with an airline.
There are two approaches to traveling using rewards points. One group of thought is earn the points and then figure out where you get go with those points. The other train of thought is plan your destination and then figure out what you need to do to get there. We tend to fall in the latter, but we've been known to take a spontaneous trip if the points price is right. There's also technically a third approach, where you have no will power and spend your points on the first shiny thing you see. Don't be that guy.
Keep in mind that we aren't recommending you run out and apply for a dozen credit cards. Pick cards that will work for you on the trip you're planning, but that will also hold value for you long term. For example, we frequently fly American Airlines. The Aviator card makes sense for us with the waived checked bag fee feature alone. The Surpass comes with gold status and every year the annual fee is justified by the complimentary breakfasts we receive. IHG and Marriott offer reward night certificates on your card member anniversary. All of these benefits can add value to your banking relationship, while they help you achieve your travel goals. Pick cards that match your taste in style. There are at least six dozen blogs out there that will tell you how to travel in luxury. Our motto is travel any way you can. It's about the destination. The other option is not to use cards at all and focus on the reward portals to build your reward accounts.
One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster. We'll do better and get you seven nights. Named Business Insiders' most popular travel destination for 2016 with 21.47 million overnight visitors, it's a great spot for culture, food, parties, and loading up on pictures so you can pretend to be InstaFamous.
First things first. When do we want to go? Bangkok has three "seasons". You'll have hot weather from March to June, a season dominated by rain from July to October and a cool season between November and February. The temperature rarely drops below 70 in Bangkok, and in the hot season, expect temperatures up to 95 or so. We prefer hot, so we went with dates in mid April for the trip. This also happens to be the off season, which is going to make flight redemption options and hotel booking more budget friendly.
Checking the American and United sites for reward redemption revealed that both had bookable fares in economy. American was running at 75,000 points round trip. United is also an option at 80,000 miles round trip. There are other redemption options through foreign based airlines like ANA and EVA. These can be attractive flights, especially for those looking to spend more miles and upgrade to business class. We tend to book cheap economy on our trips. We can suffer through economy if it means more miles for trips later down the road.
You'll be on the hook for any taxes and fees so be mindful of that. Some airlines will charge a full surcharge, which can add hundreds to a rewards flight, negating the benefit.
American offers a co-branded airline cards through Citi and Barclaycard. Barclaycard tends to have a more attractive sign-up bonus, with offers going as high as 60,000 miles after you make your first purchase. This wouldn't get you all the way to your reward, but you'll get close. You can use the AAdvantage shopping mall or the dining program to help you bridge the gap in time for your reward booking.
Where are we going to stay? Being a major city, there are lots of options here. Hotels are also very reasonable in Thailand, so you may find you are better off paying for your hotel with cash or any cash back stockpiles you may have stored. Always consider the value you are getting for the points you give up.
Hilton Conrad Bangkok - 5 nights at the Conrad will set you back about $550 or 110,000 Hilton points. .5 cents a point for Hilton is pretty standard, so this isn't a terrible use of Hilton points. The Hilton Surpass card from American Express occasionally offers a 100,000 point welcome offer for new customers, so you'd practically get all the points you need if you're able to get that offer. The standard offer is 75,000 points, which will also get you a good way to your goal. The minimum spend requirement to get the bonus is $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening, which would net you a minimum of 9,000 additional points since the card earns 3 points per dollar on everyday spend. The Surpass also comes with complimentary gold status which will get you free breakfast during your stay.
The Marriott Marquis is a good second option, coming in at 100,000 points for 5 nights. The Chase branded Marriott card toggles between an 80,000 point and 100,000 point offer after you meet minimum spend requirements, so this is another good option to help shave some costs off of your stay. With that being said .5 cents a point for a Marriott redemption is a bit low. If you poke around, you can squeeze 1 cent a point out of Marriott bookings.
Finally, we're going to venture over to the IHG Intercontinental Pattaya for 2 nights. It'll be a $70 private car ride, but you'll get to see some beautiful beaches and escape the city. A night here runs about $200, or 35,000 points a night. The cobranded credit card has a welcome bonus of 80,000 after meeting minimum spend, but we've also seen it creep up to 100,000 points.
Then you have to come home. The worst part about every vacation. The best part is you didn't break the bank on this one, hopefully leaving some budget for some smaller staycations throughout the year. Keep in mind this is only an example. There's no guarantee that a reward redemption will be available and when you're accumulating points you always run the risk that a hotel or airline will devalue their miles. The point is, with the right planning, trips like these are achievable.