1. Have a dream destination in mind.
The best way to start is to think of a place you would LOVE to visit. This place will act as your goal for planning, whether it is the Caribbean, Europe, or Asia.
Need some great ideas? Check out our Hawaii trip report here!
2. Identify airlines that fly to your dream destination.
Find out which airline(s) can actually bring you to your destination before accruing points to that airline. You can do that by using one of the online travel agencies or search engines, such as Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia. The airline brands that shows up will be the type of miles you want to accrue. That way you are not putting your miles to waste.
Ever wonder why airlines have alliances? Click on the video icon on the left! It will help explain why alliances and partners are useful to your new hobby in travel hacking.
3. Find hotel brands at your destination.
Similar to step 2, you need to know what kind of hotel brands are present at your destination. Are there any Hilton hotels? How about Hyatt hotels?
You can find out which hotel brand is present in your destination city by going through any of the online travel agencies or search engines, such as Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia. By looking at the hotel brands that show up on your results, you will know if you should accrue SPG points (for Sheraton, W, St. Regis, etc) or Hilton points (for Conrad, Hilton, Hampton Inn, etc). Then you can start accruing the right kind of points for your hotel redemption.
4. Find out the miles & points needed for your vacation.
Now that you know which airline(s) can get you to your city, and which fancy hotel(s) you can stay at, you can go to the respective award charts to find out the miles & points required.
We can use New York to Paris, France as an example (video). Here are the results:
United Airlines - 60,000 miles; Le Méridien Etoile - 36,000 SPG points (3 nights)
5. Use different methods to get the miles & points needed.
In U.S., the quickest way to get miles & points is through credit cards bonuses, NOT by flying and staying at hotels.
Here are some cards that can help you achieve that goal (RT = Round Trip):
- Chase Sapphire Preferred - 50,000 Chase points (RT to Europe)
- Chase Hyatt - 2 nights at ANY Hyatt Hotels
- Amex SPG - 2 nights at a Category 5 Hotel (e.g. Westin Dawn Beach Resort @ St. Maarten)
- CitiBusiness AAdvantage - 50,000 AA points (RT to Northern South America, such as Peru)
There are also other ways to help you earn points quicker! Here are some for you to explore.
6. Redeem your miles & points.
Now that you have received your points, go use them! Whether it is redeeming a flight or a hotel room. We have the resources for you here. Check out the videos on how to redeem flights here and how to redeem hotel stays here.
7. Enjoy your trip!
You have done everything to make this an almost free vacation. Now go relax and enjoy it! Splurge and use those saved money on local adventures, restaurants, and museums.