I recently wrote about my upcoming honeymoon trip and how I booked it entirely with miles and points. I also described the value of it, pointing out how much it would cost if someone were to purchase those same exact flights and hotels using cash. Near the end of that post I wrote “consider that airlines and hotels often sell their miles/points at steep discounts, which would allow you to essentially buy these same flights/hotels at a deeply discounted cost.” Today I’d like to expand on that, showing how you can use credit card bonuses and buy miles/points promotions to your benefit when planning ahead.
There are several ways to attack this post so I want to go over a few things before I get down to the details. Here are my assumptions/caveats:
- I assume you and your fiance are financially responsible with credit cards and pay off your balance in full each month. If you carry a balance or are tempted to spend more when you have a new credit card, this method doesn’t make sense for you.
- You must plan for this over 1 year in advance of your trip – you simply can’t do this in just 6 months time if you’re starting from scratch.
- For any buy miles/points promotions I mention below, I’ve taken the best rate at which they could have been purchased in the last 6 months. These promos come and go.
- I’m assuming that both you and your fiance will earn/buy points separately. Sometimes points can be combined, sometimes they can’t. In most cases this doesn’t have an impact on the booking process.
Buying a $100,000 Honeymoon at 90% Off
First off a reminder from my previous post that the retail price of this trip was $95,860.09. That’s an absurd amount of money, and this post will explain how to get it significantly cheaper by just putting some thought into the trip.
The below chart will hopefully mostly self-explanatory. What I did was I took each part of my trip (either the flights or hotel bookings) and separated them into columns based on the points/miles I used. At the top you’ll see the cost in miles/points and the price (in miles/points) to book this today, how many of those miles/points can be earned with a credit card bonus (and any additional bonuses, if applicable), and how many additional many points/miles you’ll need to buy to book the trip. Eventually we end up with your out of pocket cost on the bottom row. I’ll explain each one separately to go over the strategy involved.
The new mileage requirement is a ridiculous 80% more from when I booked (and it hurts even more considering they gave no notice, which is bad for loyalty) and stands at 360,000 miles for two people. Because of this, these flights will by far be the most expensive part of this trip and unfortunately skews the cost, but I’ll move forward with it anyway. This booking includes First Class flights from US-Dubai, a stopover in Dubai as long as you’d like, and another flight Dubai-Paris.
Bank of America has an Alaska Airlines Visa credit card that provides a 25,000 mile bonus plus a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Unfortunately the annual fee of $75 is NOT waived on this card, but that statement credit still leaves you up $25. You should get two of these cards – one for yourself and one for your new fiance. That will give you a total of 52,000 Alaska Airlines miles, meaning you need “only” 308,000 more miles.
Alaska runs frequent bonus miles promotions when selling their miles. The best is usually a 50% bonus, which reduces the effective cost to $.0197/mile (1.97 cents per mile). To buy 308,000 at 1.97 cents per mile, you’ll be set back about $6,067.60 for these flights. Everyone has to pay taxes/fees on award tickets, so adding those in brings your total price to $6,150.20, but I’ll subtract the $50 in statement credits we have left over to get us to a total of $6,100.20 . That’s a huge amount, but remember from my last post that the retail price of these flights was $62,799.08. That’s over 90% off retail price.
The hotels are the most fun to book, because in some cases you won’t have to pay a dime. I booked three nights at the Conrad Dubai, and I booked using points that I’d earned over a period of time. When starting from scratch your best bet is to go straight for the credit card bonuses.
Citi has a Hilton Honors Reserve card that gives you a bonus of 2 free nights at ANY Hilton property after you spend $2,500 in 4 months. Again, you should get two of these cards – one for yourself and one for your new fiance. Like the Alaska card, the $95 annual fee is NOT waived on this card, so I’ll factor that cost in. Book two nights at the Conrad Dubai from your card’s bonus and one night from your fiance’s bonus, and there you have your three free nights for the total cost of $190 in annual fees. That beats the cash price of $1,575.30 by 88%.
Don’t forget you still have a free night left, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Similarly to Hilton, a credit card here can go a really long way. Chase offers the Chase Hyatt Visa that also provides two free nights at any Hyatt after $1,000 in purchases in 3 months. The annual fee on this card is waived the first year, so there’s no additional cost. Apply the four nights to the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and that leaves you needing one more night at a cost of 30K Hyatt points.
We can actually reduce that amount further. If you add your fiance as an authorized user on your card (and vice versa), you’ll each get a bonus of 5,000 Hyatt points. Completing the minimum spend requirement yields another 1,000 points each, so you only need to buy 18,000 points to book that final night.
Hyatt sells points through an annual promotion called Daily Getaways, and you can buy Hyatt points at a drastically reduced rate. The package with the fewest points this year (which is all that’s needed in this example) brings the cost of Hyatt points down to about 1.08 cents per point. We need 18,000 more to book our final night in Paris, so that’s a total cost of about $195.00 for all five nights. That beats the cash price of $5,138.45 by over 96%.
If you recall, I also had one night in Abu Dhabi later on in my trip where I used a free night certificate from the Hyatt credit card. If you’re just signing up for the cards that certificate won’t be available to you since you get it for paying the annual fee (which you’ll do after the first year if you keep the card). Instead, make use of that fourth free night from the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card above to book the Hilton Abu Dhabi, which is almost the same exact price/quality as the Hyatt Capital Gate that I booked. Nothing additional out of pocket for that one.
This one becomes a bit more tricky since Starwood’s credit card gives points and not free nights. This year Starwood increased its credit card bonus to 35,000 points after $3,000 spend in 3 months. Completing that spend would net you 38,000 points. For this one, however, don’t just have youf fiance sign up at the same time. You should sign up for the card first, then refer your fiance to the card using the referral page on your account. This will earn you another 5,000 points as a referral bonus. That gives you a total of 43,000 points, and your fiance can then get their own 38,000 points. You’ll be at 81,000 points, meaning you need only 4,000 points more. The annual fee is waived for the first year on this card.
Starwood sells their points, but not cheaply. If you take advantage of their best offer (on a cost-per-point basis), then you can buy for 2.625 points per dollar. For those 4,000 points that’s an additional $105.00. That beats the cash price of $2,962.31 by over 96%.
I used 102,154 Etihad Guest Miles for this booking. The best way to earn these miles is to (surprise) sign up for credit cards. The Citi ThankYou Premier card usually comes with a bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. I actually got the card when the bonus was increased to 60,000 points. When this post was written, Citi actually doesn’t have a bonus on the card at all, but that’s a rarity. Keep checking back for when the bonus does go back to 50,000, which I guarantee will happen.
If you and your fiance get the card, you’ll each have at least 53,000 points in your accounts after meeting the spend requirement. The annual fee on this card is waived the first year on this card as well. That means you’ll have a total of 106,000 points, more than enough to book the flight after transferring the points to Etihad. You’ll only pay the taxes/fees of $297.44 on the ticket, and that’s a savings of over 94% compared to the cash price of $5,168.09.
Finally the last booking. Unfortunately American Airlines did devalue it’s award chart from when I booked my flight, so we’ll need to get 230,000 miles to replicate my flight from Abu Dhabi to LAX for two people in First Class. Once again, we’ll need both you and your fiance to apply for a credit card. There’s a couple of options: either the Citi AA Platinum card or the Barclaycard Aviator Red card frequently have bonuses of 50,000 points after spending about $3,000. These bonuses come and go throughout the year, so keep a lookout for when they return. The annual fee is waived on most AA credit card offers.
If you and your fiance get either of these cards, you’ll each have 53,000 miles for a total of 106,000 miles. That leaves you 124,000 miles away from the 230,000 you need. Like many others, American Airlines offers frequent bonuses on purchases of their miles. American has sold their miles for as little as 1.81 cents per mile as recently as December. That would cost us $2,239.90 to purchase the remaining 124,000 miles. Add on the taxes/fees of $76.60 and you have a total cost of $2,316.50. That’s a savings of over 87% compared to the cash price of $18,040.00.
Putting it Together
If we add it all up, that gives us a total cost of $9,204.14 inclusive of all taxes, fees, and credit card annual fees. That’s still a huge, huge number, and a price that most people (myself included) still wouldn’t think of paying. Still, compared to the retail price of $95,860.09, you’d be saving 90.4%. That’s just by knowing how to properly use miles and points.
Let’s assume you want to take this trip but not spend that much money. You’ll have to make some sacrifices given the devaluations from the time I booked my trip. If you were willing to fly Business Class instead of First Class (don’t worry, you’ll survive), you can save a substantial amount of money. Here’s the chart updated with Business Class pricing – I think you’ll find it a bit more palatable.
As you can see, your total cost gets almost cut in half from $9,014.14 in First Class to $4,623.41 in Business Class. The good news is that all these Business Class flights still provide lounge access, have fully-flat beds, Etihad still provides a chauffeur, and it’s still about ten times better than flying Economy. If you were willing to fly Economy, your price would be just a bit over $1K – not bad considering the nice hotels you’d still be staying in!
Again – I want to reiterate that what I just described above is still extremely expensive and not realistic for most people. Perhaps you’re in a position where you’d be willing to spend the money for the Business Class version of the trip, which starts to come back to Earth in terms of pricing. Or you can always do a hybrid – maybe fly Economy on the way there and Business Class on the way back. That will probably save you another $2K or so.
Also, there’s no doubt you can do even more with regards to credit card sign ups to get this trip much cheaper. You can sign up for the Alaska credit cards I mentioned multiple times per person. Instead of getting one, you can get both the Citi and Barclaycard versions of the American Airlines credit card so each of you gets over 100K in bonuses. I didn’t even speak of the Business Card versions or of Manufacturing Spend to earn more points and reduce your costs, but that’s definitely a discussion for a different post. I used all these techniques over a long period of time in order to save enough miles and minimize my costs. And remember, my flights were much cheaper than today’s prices given the recent devaluations.
The idea here is to get your mind thinking along the lines of what you need to earn to get where you want to go. I don’t expect anyone would want to replicate my trip – but hopefully I provided some useful information on how you can think about and obtain the points or miles you need for your own high-end trip.