Real Redemptions Part 3: Athens & Thessaloniki, Japan Airlines First Class, and the Galapagos Islands

Real Redemptions Part 3 - UpgradedPoints.com

Athens & Thessaloniki

Liza and Pepe are 2 self-proclaimed travel addicts based in Edinburgh, Scotland. They run the Tripsget blog, where Liza handles most of the content, and Pepe takes care of the behind the scenes work. This is where they share their experiences about expat life, great value travel, and weekend trips! Together, they’ve been to 28 countries (but over 58 if you count individually!).

Liza & Pepe in Morocco

They also created an app to help users estimate how expensive their next trip will be based on personal spending projections/trends, and then create a travel budget accordingly.

These two have made a good number of small redemptions over the last couple years, but they’ve come to the Real Redemptions Series to tell us a bit about their favorite experience: visiting Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece as part of their “Balkan Trip on a Budget”!

While planning their trip to Greece, Croatia, and Serbia, Liza and Pepe signed up for an Alfa Miles card by Alfa Bank in Russia (at the time, Liza was based there while Pepe lived in London). They scored a sign-up bonus of 5,000 points, then put all of their spending on this card to earn travel points with virtually every purchase.  

They decided to fly to Athens first because it was an easy meeting point. From there, Liza and Pepe were able to book an Aegean flight from Athens to Thessaloniki for ~9,900 miles per person one-way in economy.  

Tripsget, Athens Redemption

This flight was especially important, as it saved them a large chunk of cash they were then able to spend further along the way (and boy, did they travel further!). They didn’t even need to pay taxes/fees; everything was taken care of and easily booked right out of the Alfa Miles booking system.  

Additionally, Liza and Pepe utilized some of their Aeroflot Miles and British Airways miles to pay for their hotels in Athens and Thessaloniki.  

They completed the rest of their Balkans trip (Bitola, Lake Ohrid, Tirana, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Mostar, Sarajevo, and Belgrade) by train, bus, and taxi…kudos guys, that’s one heck of a trek!

Redeem your airline and credit card points to get to Greece!

When we asked them about their future plans, Liza and Pepe told us they’re not quite sure, but they plan to head somewhere exciting in June – possibly Malta or Spain!

Keep it up guys, there’s always more points fun to be had!


Japan Airlines First Class

We are so happy to have Dave from MilesTalk.com contribute to our Real Redemptions series!

Having joined the points game in 2003, Dave has literally collected MILLIONS of frequent flyer miles and hotel points over the last 15 years. He’s made a number of great redemptions and stayed in tons of fantastic hotels for next to nothing.  

After some time traveling in this manner, he realized most of his friends thought he was actually PAYING for these incredible trips. So, like many of us who travel on points, what started as a passion turned into an endeavor to help others do the same, and MilesTalk was born!

Japan Airlines First Class - flown by Dave Grossman who redeemed his points for JAL First!

The redemption Dave chose to share is a doozy: a Japan Airlines first class suite from NYC to Tokyo round-trip. Worth a whopping $29,000 in cash, Dave booked this trip for just 160,000 AA miles and $46.  That’s some humongous points value, coming in at 18 cents a piece!

Dave has earned over a million AAdvantage miles over the years from flights, credit card signups and spending, Rewards Network Dining, and a monthly deposit of miles from his BankDirect checking account.

In order to book this redemption, Dave had to do some digging since AA.com doesn’t show award availability for JAL. He created an account on the JAL website to check availability by origin and destination cities in a month-long view.

Dave noted here that he could have used BA.com for real-time availability, but since he was flexible on city pairs the JAL site gave him more information per search. If you’re interested, you can find more details on how to book such a partner flight in this post on MilesTalk.  

JAL First Class, Seat Photo

Where memorable redemptions are concerned, this was at the top for Dave because true first class cabins are quickly evaporating. More and more airlines are producing planes with just 2 cabins: business and coach, with some including a small premium economy area if we’re lucky.  

For example, Dave tells us Delta doesn’t operate a single 3-class aircraft anymore. Singapore is heading toward a business/premium economy/coach model on their A350 planes, and Cathay Pacific has been operating this way for some time now. Since the lavish first class experiences are quickly waning, Dave took advantage of completing a trip in JAL first class while he could.  

Dave says the flight itself was excellent. The cabin crew was amazing, even letting him use a second unoccupied seat as his bed, effectively giving him a 2-seat suite. The food? Stellar. It included a $500 bottle of champagne, a $100 bottle of tea, and a $100 cut of A5 Wagyu steak. It doesn’t get much more luxurious than that!!

JAL First Class Champagne   JAL First Class, Tea

As for what’s next, Dave’s always got something points-related up his sleeve. But most importantly, he’s working on trying out the Etihad apartment suite and Singapore Airlines first class suite products ASAP!

You can follow Dave on his journeys or learn more about his travel tricks at MilesTalk.com and on Twitter at @MilesTalk.

We so appreciate the glimpse into JAL first class, Dave! And we wish you the best on your race to try all the true first class products before they’re gone!


The Galapagos Islands

Our next featured contributor, Elena, is a full-time accountant at a small public company who runs her blog, Giddy for Points, as a hobby.  

She got sucked into this crazy world in 2010 and hasn’t been able to quit since. Through her blog, she shares opportunities for earning points and miles while telling the tales of her travels around the world!

Elena’s favorite points redemption involves snorkeling, scuba diving, and sightseeing in the Galapagos Islands!  

Use your airline and credit card points to get to the Galapagos Islands!

To get there, she used 40,000 United miles that she earned through a Chase United credit card sign-up. She tells us you can also use 70,000 miles if you want to fly business class.

(Note – you could also collect valuable Chase points via the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and then transfer them to United!)

There are 3 airlines that fly into the Galapagos, and since Elena had United points she opted for a ticket through Avianca (a Star Alliance airline). 

She searched the United website for availability and had no trouble finding her flights, telling us that booking online was actually fairly simple. Elena also says that when searching for routes, you can connect through either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador (the last connection will be flying AeroGal).

Want to hand with seals at a fish market in the Galapagos? Use your credit card points and airline miles to get you there.

While there aren’t any hotels to book with points in the Galapagos, Elena was able to use the money she saved on her flights to book locally at a fairly inexpensive rate.  

This was Elena’s favorite redemption to date because the solo trip provided a unique experience, encouraging her to make connections with other travelers in a beautiful environment full of unique animal life. From birds and reptiles to sea creatures and vegetation, the exceptionality of it all was stunning!

Galapagos Islands, Path to Tortuga Bay, use your airline and credit card points to take you there!

Elena tells us she would love to go back in the future when she is a more experienced scuba diver, as tales of hammerhead sharks abound!

Great redemption, Elena! We can’t wait to see which exotic location you’re headed to next!  

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card