Real Redemptions Part 9: A Massive 75th Birthday, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, & Zakynthos via London

Real Redemptions - Part 9 - Upgraded Points

Welcome back to the Real Redemptions series, wanderlusters! Believe us, we’ve got quite a round-up of points redemptions for you this time!

  • An around the world trip on some FANTASTIC products for a surprise 75th birthday
  • An INCREDIBLE trip to Dubai & Abu Dhabi
  • An oh-so-enviable trip to GREECE!

Read on for inspiration on how you can use your points for fabulous redemptions like these!


A Massive 75th Birthday Surprise

Our first contributor Zach is an actor who also happens to be obsessed with points and miles. To make use of this obsession, Zach runs a blog called Monkey Miles.

The concept behind the blog is that Miles the Monkey (and the content he provides) aims to help people maximize award currency, elite benefits, and bonus offers. (Talk about a blog after our own hearts!)

Needless to say, this makes Zach a pretty perfect fit when it comes to the Real Redemptions Series. And oh boy, does he have a RIDICULOUS trip to share!

Zach and his dad planned a surprise around the world trip for his mom’s 75th birthday! The best part? She didn’t know where she was going next until she got a boarding pass.

Birthday Cake in Bali (Real Redemptions)

Zach tells us this trip was a year and a half in the making and involved a LOT of conspiring with his dad to get it done since everything was a surprise for his mom. They knew she had always wanted to see the Great Wall of China, and Zach knew he wanted to take her to the Molinard factory in Grasse, France that makes the perfume she has worn for over 50 years.

The rest of the trip was booked as a way to experience the best flight products and connect these 2 “must-do” locations with some other stellar stops. So how did the final itinerary turn out?

Zach and his parents went from the U.S. to Beijing and on to Bali, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cannes, France, and then back to the U.S.

Abel's at Great Wall of China (Real Redemptions)

To secure the itinerary, they first booked anchor flights with his mom in first class and placeholder flights in business for Zach and his dad. As soon as the awards calendars opened up, they locked down seats. They utilized waitlists with Singapore (that luckily cleared) and Expert Flyer alerts.

Zach was still fine-tuning and changing flights even as the trip was underway. For example, the Lufthansa First Class seats only opened up about 10 days before they planned to fly the route…which was roughly 13 days after they started out on their trip.

Due to his obsession with points and miles along with some savvy booking strategies, Zach was able to secure premium cabins for every single flight. His parents were in first for all the long hauls, which included:

Zach himself was in first as well, except for the Cathay flight where he flew in Cathay business and the Etihad flight where he was in the Etihad Business Studio.

Etihad Apartment, Singapore Suites & Lufthansa First (Real Redemptions)

So how did he earn enough points for this trip?

As mentioned previously, this trip was a long time in the making! Zach & his dad were lucky enough to get targeted each for a 150k sign-up bonus on The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN.  Additionally, his parents were able to get a 100k sign-up bonus each on The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

They combined these with some points from IHG cards they previously held and American Airlines miles leftover from Barclay Aviator points.  Lastly, they also signed up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card.

For accommodations, they converted timeshare points to hotel points via Mariott and IHG for the most part. For hotels, they stayed at several of the JW Marriott, Intercontinental, and Ritz Carlton properties.

It’s obvious to see why this was a hugely memorable redemption for Zach. He tells us they could never have afforded this trip outright. The retail cost would have been somewhere around $125,000. But with points and miles? Their bottom line shook out to about $1,600-$1,700 each.

Zach says that capitalizing on his points obsession in order to take his parents on a trip to experience the very best products out there was amazing. And to do it together? It’s an experience he wishes for everyone.

Zach's Mom at the Molinard Factory (Real Redemptions) Cannes (Real Redemptions)

On the horizon, Zach plans to use points for a couple trips to Europe (London, Stockholm, Copenhagen) and then a big trip to the Holy Land with his folks in Spring of 2018. He’s currently working on their routing now to secure them round-trip tickets in first class.  

Zach, we thank you so much for sharing such an incredible redemption. It’s inspiring, even knowing all the hard work you put in to make it happen! We’d be lying if we said we weren’t a little jealous!


Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Emily is a marketing manager for a winery and resort in Atlanta, and she’s also a professional photographer. On the side, Emily runs a lifestyle and travel blog called Hello Redhead.

She states her passion “is inspiring women to live life to the fullest in the most efficient, healthy and adventuresome way possible. On this blog, that means everything from online fashion deals to long-weekend travel itineraries to budgeting tips, quick and healthy recipes and everything in-between.”

Emily comes to us with a fantastic points redemption that took her and her husband to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for 8 days, 7 nights!

Emily in Dubai for UP Real Redemption Series)

To earn the points for this trip, Emily and her husband each signed up for a Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. At the time, the sign-up bonus was 60,000 SkyMiles. They also used their Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points from bonuses and everyday spending, and transferred 60,000 to Hyatt for that portion of the redemption.

With their points, the couple was able to secure the following points/miles redemptions:
  • 2 round-trip economy flights from ATL to Dubai on Delta and AirFrance (with a layover in Paris): 120,000 SkyMiles plus $160 for seat upgrades (savings of $3,000+)
  • 3 nights at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, a 5-star beach resort: 60,000 Hyatt Points (savings of $1,800+)
  • 18,000 Chase points for tours, including the Burj Khalifa and a desert safari in Abu Dhabi (savings of $620)

Emily tells us that they did end up spending $1,200 in cash for 4 nights at a downtown Dubai Hotel during the New Year’s Eve holiday. This was only supposed to cost $760 through Airbnb, but their host canceled the reservation a month out and they had no choice; all the point hotels were booked by that time.

The silver lining was the fact that they booked the hotel on their Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, so they ended up earning about 4,000 points from the hotel bill. 

She also mentions they spent $120 for a car rental for 4 days via Europcar.

Hello Redhead in Dubai (Upgraded Points Real Redemptions) Ferrari Driving in Dubai

Emily counts this as her most memorable points redemption because it was their most aggressive to date. They had previously used miles to book a 3-night all-inclusive trip to Jamaica as well as a road trip through the Florida Keys. However, those didn’t require a large number of points/miles and were shorter trips.

Their Dubai adventure was a bucket list trip, and since they traveled over New Year’s she knew they’d only be able to afford it with points and miles. It took them a year to plan and save for, but would otherwise have cost them well over $10,000. Instead, it cost the couple just over $2,000 including their activities (hello Ferrari rental!) and food at luxury accommodations.

Emily in Dubai (Upgraded Points Real Redemptions) Emily in Dubai (Upgraded Points Real Redemptions)

They were also able to use Hyatt points to stay at the Hotel Louvre in Paris for their wedding anniversary, which was a fantastic redemption in itself!

Up next, this couple is working on planning a points/miles redemption to the Almafi Coast in Italy for 2018. They’ve already got 80,000 SkyMiles racked up for their flights and are extremely excited about the prospect of this future trip!

Thanks for contributing Emily! And thanks for reminding our readers that with careful attention to sign-up bonuses, hard-earned everyday spending, and dedication to planning, unbelievable trips like this are possible!


Zakynthos via London

Carly is a travel consultant and one-half of the dynamic duo behind Sapphire & Elm, a bespoke travel company specializing in custom vacations. With her partner Stephanie, the pair crafts vacations using the rules that your travels shouldn’t be mass produced or non-negotiable. Plus, the planning should also be fun and not stressful!

We totally agree, and we think these ladies are definitely on to something!

For her Real Redemptions contribution, Carly is sharing her most memorable points trip: an adventure to Zakynthos, Greece, via a long layover in London!

Real Redemptions Submission, Carly from Sapphire & Elm - Emerald Villas Pool

To start earning points for this redemption, Carly opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card just before planning a previous trip to Iceland. She put all her trip spending on the card, easily earning the 50,000-point sign-up bonus. Between the bonus and points earned through everyday spending, she was able to rack up enough for a flight to Greece!

Carly tells us booking the trip was actually pretty simple. She used Chase’s portal, which provided a ton of options for flights. Her favorite part? You don’t need to have the full amount of points at the time of booking — you can use as many as you would like. Additionally, if you don’t like Chase’s flight options, you can transfer your points to one of their many airline partners at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

The itinerary from Los Angeles to Zakynthos via London (economy on Virgin Atlantic) cost her 60,500 points total.

Real Redemptions Submission, Carly from Sapphire & Elm - Porto Limnionas

Carly claims she was a bit late to the game when it comes to earning points with credit cards, so this was a big redemption for her — it was the first time she was able to redeem points for an entire flight. Since she didn’t pay for the flight, she was able to spend her funds on accommodations in a gorgeous Greek villa with unbelievable views. She also got to check an item off her bucket list by going to Navagio Beach. She tells us she’s never seen water so blue in her life!

Real Redemptions Submission, Carly from Sapphire & Elm - Navagio View  Real Redemptions Submission, Carly from Sapphire & Elm - Emerald Villas

As for the future of her points redemptions, Carly has a birthday trip booked to San Francisco. She’s a fan of the short flight from San Diego to San Fran, but since Chase’s booking system doesn’t offer Southwest flights, Carly simply transferred her Chase points to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio and got a free flight for herself and her boyfriend (aside from a minimal travel fee).

Carly, we’re so glad you shared your first big redemption with us! We hope it inspires some of our readers to take that first leap into points/miles trips — there are so many gorgeous locations waiting!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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