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DSC01066Today we have a reader success story from one of our Travel Miles 101 community members, Alison from Richmond, VA. Alison planned for about a year to earn the necessary points to take her and her teenage son on a wonderful Spring Break trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, AZ and she’s here today to explain how she did it.

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Alison’s Travel Miles 101 Success Story:

I just made my second trip to Sedona, AZ, to take my teenager there for Spring Break. One year ago I’d made this same trip with my mom and some of her friends, but this time there was a big difference for me—I’d started learning about travel rewards right after I returned from Arizona last March, so I was able to pay for most of this trip with points and miles.

We wound up getting four hotel nights and two round-trip flights from Richmond, VA to Arizona with points & miles; it took nearly a year for me to have the spending level on my credit cards needed to create this trip and to earn the bonus points, but all the planning was really worth it.

Here’s how I did it:

Southwest Airlines seemed to have the sweetest bonus points offerings, and they fly from Richmond, VA to Phoenix, so I signed up for the Plus and Premier cards when they each had a 50,000 mile bonus after meeting the minimum spend. At that time I had over 104,000 points (because the minimum spend was $2,000 on each card) and with some additional spending on the cards and purchasing miles from my Marriott rewards points, I was able to reach the 110,000 points needed for the Southwest Companion Pass.

Getting the Companion Pass was an extremely happy event for me!  Since up to 2 checked bags are free on Southwest, we only paid around $23.00 total in taxes for our two round-trip flights to Arizona. I chose the “Wanna Get Away” flights to stretch my points even more, and my son’s ticket was covered by the Companion Pass for zero miles.

I also signed up for a Citi HHonors card with a 40,000 point bonus last spring, then over the winter I signed up for an HHonors American Express card with an 80,000 point bonus. I also earned points from a stay last spring in a Hampton Inn, from normal spending on these credit cards, and even from unlikely sources like updating my password on my Hilton account.

I ended up having to pay cash for one Hampton Inn night on the trip, but the rest were booked with points for $0. HHonors members are provided free wifi and a goody bag with drinks and a snack at check in, and the Hampton Inn had a free continental breakfast.

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

We stayed one night at Embassy Suites in Phoenix, for 40,000 HHonors points. We enjoyed free made-to-order breakfasts, free wifi, a complimentary happy hour in the restaurant, shuttle service to and from the airport, and a goody bag with bottled water and candy bars. The shuttle driver also said they will drive guests anywhere within a three mile radius of the hotel, which would have been a nice perk if we’d wanted to go out to dinner or sightseeing and not worry about the traffic or getting lost.

Our flight out of Richmond left very early in the morning, so for convenience we stayed the night before in the Holiday Inn Airport, using 10,000 points from the IHG card bonus of 70,000 points. I was able to leave my car there for $20 for the week, and get the complimentary Holiday Inn shuttle to and from the airport.

Getting from the East Coast to Arizona to enjoy a week of sun, palm trees, gorgeous red rock formations, and the Grand Canyon, was very affordable as I only had to pay for one hotel night, a rental car, tours, tips, meals, and parking.

I could have prevented paying for one night at the Hampton Inn Sedona by staying in Prescott or Flagstaff instead, and using IHG points, but for convenience I decided that I would pay for that one night and not have to change hotels.

Before I learned about travel rewards, this vacation just wouldn’t have been possible for me and my son, unless someone else was kindly taking us along. If you’ve just started reading about this amazingly fun hobby and it sounds too good to be true, I assure you it’s for real. I just wish I had learned about it years ago. Thanks, Brad and Alexi and the Travel Miles 101 community, for helping me learn this skill.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.