Point Me to First Class with Devon Gimbel MD | 2023 Points Spending Review with the Points and Miles Doc (Part 2)

46. 2023 Points Spending Review with the Points and Miles Doc (Part 2)

Jan 15, 2024

I’m back with part two of my episode with Kelly, the Points and Miles Doc. We went deep last week into how we earned our points in 2023. In this episode, we’re divulging how we decided to spend the treasure trove of points we earned last year.

We’re letting you see behind the scenes of our points wallets and travel plans, comparing the really fun part of the points hobby: how we used these points to book incredible travel experiences. Points travel is personal, it doesn’t need to look a certain way, and the flexibility that points give you allow you to design the most memorable trips for you and your family.

Tune in this week as we discuss our most memorable points travels in 2023, our highest-value redemptions last year, and we’re sharing all the points travel we’ve already booked for 2024! We’re highlighting the programs that we got the most value out of, and you’ll get a new perspective on what your own points journey could look like this year.


To be the first to know when my Points Made Easy course reopens for enrollment, join the waitlist here!


What You’ll Learn from this Episode: 

  • How Kelly redeemed her points in 2023 to book amazing travel experiences.
  • The cornerstone of getting the maximum value from your points.
  • Some of the specific incredible flights and hotel stays Kelly booked using points in 2023.
  • Why planning ahead is especially important for getting the maximum value from your points.
  • How Kelly is already planning her travel schedule for 2025.
  • The highest value points redemptions we made during 2023.


Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:


Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.

Devon: Welcome back to the podcast everyone. I am joined again today by my good friend Kelly, the Points and Miles Doc, to pick up where we left off last week in our 2023 points recap. Where we are opening our points wallets and travel plans and comparing how we earn and used points last year, and talk about what credit cards, points currencies, and loyalty programs were most valuable to us.

Now, if you made it through our audio book length podcast episode last week, congratulations. This week's conversation should be more entertaining, even more entertaining, because this is where we get to the really fun part. Now that you know how many points we earned last year, today, you're going to hear about how we used those points to book some pretty incredible travel experiences. 

One thing you'll notice is that our points travel looks very different between us. After we had stopped recording our episode last week, Kelly mentioned to me that she's a little bit jealous of my points balances and the amount of points that I earned last year. But today the tables are turned because I have to say that I think her points travels are pretty epic compared to a lot of mine. 

But what I really want you to take away from today's episode is that points travel is personal. It doesn't have to look like anyone else's for it to be amazing for you. So use today's episode as inspiration or just plain entertainment as we talk about our most memorable points travels over the last year, our highest value redemptions, and the points travel that we've already booked and are so excited for for 2024. So thank you, listeners, all of you for joining us again today. Most of all, thank you, Kelly, for coming back to the show.

Kelly: Thanks for having me, Devon. I mean, I could do this every week, much to the dismay of your listeners. I could talk to you about this all the time. So excited to discuss what we have on deck today.

Devon: I totally agree there are so many things that I will often just send you a text message about that is points related about some new card or some amazing redemption I saw. So we could, you and I, know could talk forever and ever about all of this stuff. Hopefully, as we dive into, again, how we decided to use our points, and we can highlight the programs that we got the most value out of. I really think that there's going to be something that everyone can take away from this episode to use for their own points travel planning in the future. 

So you all heard on last week's episode the overview of the number of points that Kelly and I both managed to accrue during 2023 and all the various mechanisms and cards that we used to earn those points. Now we're going to dive into what exactly did we do with those points. So Kelly, when you look back at all of the points travel that you did in 2023, can you just give me sort of a broad overview of about how many points did you end up redeeming for travel? What were those main points trips that you ended up taking last year?

Kelly: Oh, great question. I don't think I added them all up individually to what I redeemed. But the general sense of how I like to redeem my points is usually for premium international long haul flights. So business class international flights. Then a little bit less for hotels. Okay, it looks like I redeemed about 900,000 points. This is across all different programs, including hotels and airlines that came from transferable points for roughly around $40,000 worth of travel. So that's about 4.2 to three cents per point.

Devon: Yeah, and in my own sort of subjective estimation, I think getting over four cents per point in value across all of your travel booked is pretty extraordinary. One of the things that I really strive to educate and teach people about, I know you do as well on all of your educational platforms, is just how we can really turn the points that we earn into so much value, real value, of travel books.

One of the cornerstones of what I think you and I both teach is that to the extent that it's possible, to be able to get more than one or one and a half cents per point of value out of your points, that is when you're going to start seeing these exponentially increased values that you're going to be able to get in the types of travel that you book. But to give people real life picture of what does that look like, what does it actually look like to book around $40,000 worth of travel using your points, share with us some specific either hotel stays or flights that you booked this last year using your points.

Devon: Yeah, absolutely. We had two big international trips this year. We went to Argentina, which was fantastic, of course. Actually, a lot of that trip was paid with cash because I was able to find round trip cash flights and then apply system wide upgrades through American Airlines. Actually, American does have a lot of flights to South America. So there can be some really high level value there. 

But a big points trip for us was to Mongolia. Obviously, Mongolia is very far away. It takes a long time to get there, and flying in business class to get as close as we could really represented a high value there. So, for example, we flew EVA Air on the way they're using Life Miles, which were transferred points. On the way back flew China Airlines, which it's a Taiwanese airline, not to be confused with Air China, which is a Chinese airline, which were also transferred points from membership rewards. 

So just being able to go that far in business class. It got us really close to Mongolia and reduced the cost of the trip significantly, of course, getting there, but also got us there in a really comfortable way. So we could enjoy our trip from start to finish.

Devon: I think one of the things that's interesting to think about when we're sitting here talking about the types of trips that we booked or the products that we booked is kind of this question about planning. You and I joke that we're both kind of type A compulsive planners. I don't know if it's because we're physicians, or we became physicians because we have the personality tendencies of being type A compulsive planners. 

But when it does come to booking award travel, one of the things that is definitely, I think, just something that you have to take into consideration is that award availability or the ability to book a hotel stay or to book certain flights using points when you compare it to just booking out right with cash. That award availability is almost always less to significantly less than cash availability. So planning does come into play. 

For you, I'm really curious, if you have sort of a general preference in terms of how far ahead you do tend to plan trips. If you have any sort of, like what is your benchmark? Do you start by looking for a hotel stay? Do you start by looking for flights? Or is it different for you every single time you travel? 

Kelly: Yeah, it's a little bit different every time. Our Mongolia trip was a scheduled tour. So we were pretty strict on dates that we needed to be there. So because of that, I wanted a lot of flexibility in how we would get there. Our Argentina trip was we booked it however we wanted, the dates that we wanted. So I actually ended up booking not around hotel availability because I did book the Park Hyatt Mendoza and the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. Which are both incredible, using both Hyatt free night awards for Mendoza and then points for Buenos Aires. 

So it can go either way. I do tend to book about a year in advance. I mean, right now it's early, but I'm going to start looking for 2025 in the next six weeks. One of those reasons is because I need to block my schedule super far in advance. I mean, I have patients booked out months and months in advance. I'm not going to move OR cases because I found good award availability. I don't really feel right about that. 

But if I can block those clinical days long in advance then I have a lot of flexibility on the dates that I can go. So these trips were mostly booked anywhere from nine to 12 months in advance. I really try to take advantage of awards and partner awards where their calendars are opened sometimes 355 or 360 days in advance. Even though it's not guaranteed that you're going to find availability, it at least gives you kind of the jump on what programs might release when they open their calendar. 

Then the great thing about reward travel is that you can almost always change it for little to no fee. Sometimes there are fees, but you usually get refunded your points. So you can always change it if better things come along later. But I like to have those book ends in place, either the hotel stay, which is fully refundable, or the flights, which are refundable with a fee, or sometimes no fee, and then plan around that and make changes as we go along. you have kids in school, and your husband is still practicing. So what's your timeline for booking things?

Devon: Yeah. When you were talking about the constraints around your schedule, I can relate to a lot of it, but obviously not in the same exact way since I'm now self-employed. So out of my whole family, I have the most flexible schedule of all of us. But when I think about sort of those anchors in terms of my schedule, I do have two young school aged kids. 

They're sort of at this great age where they're old enough that I'm getting braver and braver traveling with them, but they're not so old that I feel like if they miss two or three days of school their education is irreparably harmed. My daughter's in pre-K. So she's practicing writing her name like 73 times a day. I'm like she can miss two days of that, and it's not going to be the end of the world. My son is in second grade right now. 

But we really are kind of beholden to their school schedules. One of the things that can be a challenge to work around is that, especially if you're based in a traditional kind of North American school system, a lot of schools do tend to share the same basic school schedule. 

So the times that we are most looking to travel are the times when my kids have their breaks. When they have a spring break, a summer break, a winter break. Oftentimes, that overlaps very closely with when all of the other millions of children in the country also have breaks. 

So one of the challenges that we work around is really okay how do you use points to travel during very, very high demand travel times, even when cash prices can be more elevated compared to other random times throughout the year, and when we don't have an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of like our travel dates. We can leave, like I said, one or two days before or after a weekend, but my family, right now, we don't have the ultimate flexibility to take off on a random Tuesday and come back 13 days later because that happened to be when all of the amazing flights are.

Also as a family of four, and I think people who travel in groups probably experienced this as well, there's just different challenges that come when you're looking to book especially airfare or award tickets for more than one or two people versus other areas of flexibility that smaller groups of people have. 

So these are kind of the things that I don't consider them necessarily to be negatives. I think if you have the ultimate flexibility, it's actually overwhelming in terms of the amount of options and choice you have. If you travel only as a single traveler, you have zero constraints on your time, you have access to a huge international airport. I actually think that person might find it more overwhelming to pick travel because there's just no constraints to work around whatsoever. 

But when we plan travel, usually what I will do is I will get my hands on my kid’s school schedule as early as the school will release it. I do try, especially for those school breaks that we're going to be traveling with our kids, I do try to plan that travel out as far ahead as I possibly can. Again, for a family of four just in terms of availability for certain hotel rooms or booking straight into a standard suite, which is really my preference right now with the ages that my kids are. It helps so much, in my experience, to be able to do that advanced booking. 

So, I'm sitting here, we're recording this right now. It's January of 2024. I'm actually starting to get hives because I have not already booked like our December of 2024 travel yet. The award booking calendar has now been open for more than seven minutes. I'm thinking like okay, I've got to start making some of these decisions. We can talk a little bit later about actually why I haven't started making those. I don't already have everything slotted in for that. 

But when I look back at our 2023 travel, one of the big themes for us is that this was the first year, honestly, for my family post-pandemic that I feel like our travel is really kind of back to what I would consider to be ideal in terms of the number of trips that we took, the number of places that we got to explore. So, for us, really our big family trips last year, again, were my kids spring break. 

So we took them to Kauai for their spring break in March, which was really incredible. We took them to one of our favorite sort of family type resorts in Mexico for a couple days at the end of August. They have this week off in between when their scheduled summer activities end their school year begins. So it's a nice time for us just to try to get out of town, somewhere relatively close for a couple of days. 

Then we just got back a few days ago from our big winter break trip where we took them back to the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, which is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite resorts. I don't care if you travel solo, you're traveling with a partner, you've got little kids. I think that the Park Hyatt St. Kitts is such an amazing destination, especially in December. 

I had this moment of severe depression this morning as I walked outside it was like 21 degrees, which, honestly, I shouldn't complain. That's like warm for Chicago for the winter. But to go from 10 straight days of 85 degrees, perfect sunny, beautiful weather, fantastic services at this resort, just come back to your reality of winter in the Midwest. Like this is why I use points to travel. 

But when I look back at everything that we did in 2023, it was a mix of really trying to do a lot of family travel with our kids. Again, kind of for the first big years since the pandemic. Then also sprinkled in with something that's very important to me, which is solo travel and making sure that I have opportunities to kind of get out on my own and do the type of travel that my kids are not yet ready for, the type of travel that is available to me because I do have a lot more time and location flexibility now than I used to. 

We'll talk about one of the crazy things that I did last year with my points. But overall when I added up kind of all of the points that I used to book all of our trips, I used just under 2 million points, about 1.954 million points, and we ended up booking about $115,000 worth of travel last year. Again that's a mix of solo travel. My husband and I took one trip, one weekend away together, and then mostly family travel. 

For me, in terms of the redemption value, that's about 5.9 cents per point, which I do want to take a moment and just say I do not live and die by redemption value. We can have a whole other conversation sometime around what I think are the controversies around calculating your redemption value. I do think it's a very useful tool. I'm not beholden to it. I certainly wouldn't feel bad if my redemption value was, quote unquote, low if I'd had amazing travel experiences using my points. 

But one of the reasons I like to calculate my redemption value is because, for me, it's just data and information. It helps me make decisions, especially when it comes to some of my points earning. Like we mentioned on the last episode, there are times where I will strategically just outright buy points because I anticipate I'm going to get way more value out of their redemptions than the cost to purchase them.

So, for me, part of calculating my redemption value, it's just helpful for me to make sure that I'm on track, and I'm not just getting internally biased thinking oh, my points are so valuable without actually doing that math and knowing what it is. So I'm pretty happy with that overall. Like I said if I had gotten a lower, quote unquote, redemption value out of all my points last year, but still took the same exact trips, I would still be thrilled.

Because for me, kind of, at the end of the day when I look at what we ended up booking, literally, there's not a single trip that I took by myself or my family took that if I was only paying for my travel out of cash. There's not a single trip that I took last year that I would have taken if I'd had to pay for that whole trip just using out of pocket cash. 

To me like, that still blows my mind even after doing this for nine years, 10 years. Being able to look at what we ended up booking. Again, just the experiences that we had and how much of that was just truly subsidized by points. I still sometimes feel like I don't celebrate Christmas, but I know kids get excited about it. Like a kid on Christmas morning, that's how I feel when I book my travel, when I look back at the travel that we booked. 

So I would say that was a pretty great year for me in terms of, again, the trips that I got to take, the places I got to go, and the value that we got out of our points. So it was really fun for me to kind of look back and tally up all of the things that we had done. 

Kelly: I think that's amazing. To your point, I totally agree on like valuing points. It's not don't live or die by valuing your points. For each individual redemption, you just have to decide is that a redemption that is worthwhile to us? But I think calculating the value overall is really helpful because it does guide your decision making. Like, am I going to pay this big tax bill with a credit card for a 2% fee? Well, yes, I am because I know I'm going to get a 4% return minimum on what I'm going to get out of this expenditure. So overall, seeing the trends is really important, but the individual redemption might not be so important. 

One of our examples of this this year was actually when we were coming back from Mongolia, we were supposed to fly Air France business and stop in Paris and say at the Park Hyatt Vendome there. We had to change our flight last minute. 

So the China Airlines flight was a day before booking to get home faster, and we still got the value out of it. It's not that outsized value at 10 cents per point that I wanted. It was two cents per point, roughly, but it was worthwhile because we had to get home. Just being able to do that with points is so valuable because we wouldn't have spent the thousands of dollars otherwise to be able to do that.

Devon: Yeah, I completely agree. I think that it's always fun to kind of highlight some of those extraordinary redemptions. I had one of those last year that I'm excited to tell you all about. But the truth of the matter is I think that points are most valuable when they allow you to do what's most important to you, right? Sometimes that is just the crazy insane thing that you only do because you have points. Sometimes it's the thing that gets you home when you didn't expect that you needed to be able to get home. 

I think that is, truly again, sort of one of the power of points is that it's not, to me, just about some of those really fun kind of Instagrammable moments. It's about how does this really impact your experience of travel and add to your life. So I think that those, like you said, those two cent per point redemptions can sometimes be even more impactful than the ones that are super unbelievably crazy, like 17 cents per point on a given flight. 

Now that you've kind of given us an overview, and you mentioned kind of some of the trips that you took last year. You went to Argentina. You went to Mongolia. Let's dive now into some of the more specifics. So can you give us a little bit of a breakdown of kind of the main points cost for some of those big award redemptions that you had so that people can start getting an idea if they want to replicate any of these travels. How many points should they aim to earn? What are the programs that you found really useful to book these specific trips that you took in 2023? 

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So for our Argentina trip, the points portion was really spent on the hotels. Again, the Park Hyatt Mendoza, the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. Both incredible properties, both I highly recommend. When you're looking at hotel programs to transfer your points to, of course, Hyatt usually represents the best value simply because their points, their reward chart is a lot lower than the other major hotel chains if you can find a property in the area that you're going.

The Park Hyatt Mendoza is actually a category four. So for that, we were able to use two category one through four award night certificates which come with the personal World of Hyatt credit card. Once you put so much spend on the credit card and then if you try out different Hyatt properties. So I usually have two to three of those free night certificates hanging around per year. So I was able to use those. That was a couple hundred dollars in value. It's not a very expensive property, but it's still really lovely.

Then for the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, that's a category six or seven. It was 25,000 points per night. Because I'm a Globalist, we ended up being upgraded to the Park Executive suite, which has a closet that's like bigger than our guest bedrooms here in LA. That was ended up being a value of $2,700. So a value of about 5.5 cents per point. So, again, maybe you open one Chase credit card where you earn 100,000 points for a welcome offer. That's for nights of the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. I mean, that's really nice value if you want to use them for hotels. 

On the other end, for our trip to Mongolia, we used our awards for flight awards. The one that I really thought I was clever at booking was our EVA flight, which got us from LAX to Taipei to Seoul. I transferred membership rewards to Avianca Life Miles because they are all Star Alliance members. I had found EVA awards on the United calendar, found the Saver awards, and then found it was less on Aeroplan, and found it was even less on Life Miles. 

It ended up being 67,500 miles per person to go 16 hours, and $100 total for both of us for flights that cost over $7,000. So that was 5.7 cents per point. I think that was probably our best redemption value of the year. I mean to get anywhere in Asia in business class for less than 100,000 points per person, I always feel really, really good about because those flights are just so long.

So actually, in Seoul, we ended up using some Marriott free night certificates to stay at the Westin, which is a fantastic location for first time tourists there. That was over $700 in value from those free night certificates. Then as I mentioned, to get home, we flew on China Airlines, which is a SkyTeam member. It's really under the radar, but a fantastic airline, fantastic Taiwanese airline. Because they're SkyTeam, I was able to transfer points to Flying Blue, and book home for two people. It was about $5,800 in value, or 2.3 cents per point all the way, again, from Seoul to Taipei to LAX. 

I had actually seen, when I was booking this trip about a year ago, I had seen the China Airlines option pop up when I was looking in the Flying Blue calendar. I was like I don't want to fly Chinese airline. The captains smoke in the cockpit. I'm not going to, which is actually true. Of course, I don't want to be in business class surrounded by cigarette smoke. 

So I had ignored it. It was a completely low value at that time. I mean, again, I think less than 75,000 points per person to get across the Pacific. Being only one day out, it was a lot more expensive. It was about 116,000 per person, but, again, still worthwhile to get home very quickly. So those were a really big points redemptions for the year. 

I'll make one other note of a domestic trip where we saved a lot as well. I had opened the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card when it had the welcome offer for five 50K free night certificates and use those on a trip taking our parents to Charleston. There's a hotel there called the Lindy which, again, great location downtown, and we were able to stay there for free. It was like $3,800 otherwise. So don't discount your domestic trips as well. You can get super high value out of hotel certificates and points. It doesn't have to be these big international trips where you just get the high value. 

Devon: Yeah, I agree with you completely. When I look back at the trips that I and my family took in 2023, one of the things that really stands out to me, which is not a shock because obviously I'm the one planning all our travel. So I kind of know like what points I'm using and where they're going. But, again, it is interesting for me to actually break it down and add everything up is that of the slightly less than 2 million points that I use in 2023 to book travel, 1.4 million of those points were Hyatt points. 

Now I knew already, like I said. Basically every single Chase point we earn gets immediately funneled over to my Hyatt account to book travel. Again, I think that that's really a reflection of just the season of life that I am in right now where when I do travel with my kids, we get such amazing value from the Hyatt program that right now that is just where, again, pretty much all of my Chase points are going. 

Even though we did quite a bit of travel last year, because of the ages they're at and because of probably my outsized anxiety when it comes to actually traveling with my children and not yet having like the emotional fortitude to take them on a 15 hour plane ride, we really have been doing domestic and what I call sort of like local international trips with our kids. I mentioned we took them to Hawaii, which is actually quite a long trip from Chicago, but obviously still domestic to the US. Then we also take them to Mexico and the Caribbean. 

So, for us, pretty much all of those trips really were centered around the hotel that we booked using our Hyatt points. So in terms of value, again, I just continue to find so much value from Hyatt points. Not only just what you can book out right using them. So oftentimes, especially if you are booking the sort of early end of when the award booking calendars open, you can secure places like the Grand Hyatt in Kauai for your kid’s week of spring break and book that entirely on points. 

We had actually, what I usually like to do as someone who does have Globalist status, where I will usually take the opportunity to book us straight into a standard level room. Then Hyatt also offers, for their highest tier status, this thing called a suite upgrade award, which I think is one of the absolute best aspects of its loyalty program. 

Which if you have one of these suite upgrade awards, what it allows you to do is that when you book your room, as long as they have a standard level suite available in that property for your travel dates, you can automatically upgrade yourself into that standard level of suite for an up to seven days stay. Which is pretty remarkable that you can use one suite upgrade award, upgrade yourself between one and seven days guaranteed suite.

Which, again, I think for families, especially if you have a family like mine where I need to be separated children, especially when we sleep. I mean, especially when we sleep. Those suites are just so, so valuable. So for us to be able to book a week in spring break in Kauai $0 out of pocket for a hotel. I actually booked us for that specific trip straight into what Hyatt calls a premium level suite, which is their highest level of suite. 

Hyatt is really unique in that they do allow you to use points outright to book yourself straight into, like I said, a standard level suite or a premium level suite depending on availability. This is where we got one of our best redemptions last year. 

So their premium level suite at that particular property, the Grand Hyatt in Kauai. It's a gorgeous oceanfront suite, a proper one bedroom suite. It must have been like 1100 square feet. Had like a dining room, which is great. So you can just go to a grocery store and get groceries and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the dining room table with the kids. It had a living room. There was plenty of room to bring in a roll away bed for one kid and the pullout sofa for the other kid. 

That is a room that goes for over $20,000 cash if you were to book it outright. We booked it entirely with points. So it was a premium level suite. So all in for the week, that did cost us 350,000 Hyatt points. But, again, there was zero out of pocket costs for that. There's no resort fee that you have to pay when you're booking with points. There's no hidden tax or anything that gets tacked on to that. 

Because we are Globalists, we got free parking for the entire week. That is pretty remarkable to me. That's a great example of something that honestly never in a million billion years can I honestly imagine myself personally paying that cost out of pocket for a week in Hawaii. I think if you have the financial means to do it, it makes you happy, amazing. Go for it. That is not right now where I'm looking to spend $20,000 of disposable income. So to be able to use that completely, again, no out of pocket cash cost, only points. That was really, really fun. That was a great experience for my kids. 

Then in terms of some other really great redemptions that we got, again, keeping with the Hyatt theme, I swear I'm not paid by them. I just get this much value out of that program. Maybe when my kids are a little older and I kind of go back to just honestly not caring that much about where I stay. I don't know if I'm going to be such a Hyatt fan girl five years from now or 10 years from now, but right now I am getting so much value from this program.

Last year for their winter break, we had taken them for a week we spent in Florida. My husband was working remotely that week, and then we jumped from Florida down to St. Kitts for about five days and tried out the Park Hyatt St. Kitts all on points. It was one of the first times I've had an experience where I've gone somewhere with my kids, and the first or second day, everyone loved it so much that we said we just want to come back here next year. Like usually we like trying new things, going to new places, exploring. 

But, again, that resort was just such an amazing fit for our family that literally while we were on vacation, and in December of 2022, the award booking calendar opened up for December 2023. I was like we're just going to come back here, and we're going to use our points. 

One of the things I don't love about, this is true for Hyatt. It’s true for some other hotel chains as well, is the way that they determine room occupancy. So you might think as long as a hotel room is of a certain square footage, especially if you're traveling with little kids, like I don't have two 17 year olds that are like large humans. As long as you can all fit in there, what's the problem getting four people in a room?

But a lot of especially like the higher end hotels, and Park Hyatt is the premium level brand within in the Hyatt program. A lot of them have what I consider to be falsely reduced room occupancies where you type in you're a family of four with two kids, and it shows you nothing is available. That's because a lot of the rooms have a max occupancy of three people, which can be a little frustrating when you're trying to travel with more than three people. 

Some hotels actually have a lot of flexibility around it. If you call them and you explain the ages of your kids, they'll say that's fine. All four of you can fit into a room. But, again, we were going to go for 10 days this time. So what I actually ended up doing was I booked two standard level rooms at the Park Hyatt St. Kitts for 10 nights. So this is, by no means, a cheap redemption. But like I said, basically all of our Chase points go to Hyatt. 

So for us, we booked those two standard rooms for 10 nights. Those go for 35,000 points per room per night. So we literally, we used 700,000 Hyatt points, which I acknowledge is not a little amount of points. But this is why I'm so diligent about making sure that I'm always earning a lot of points for every dollar I spend so that I can do redemptions like this. 

So we uses 700,000 Hyatt points to book these two standard rooms. Then, again, I was able to use some of my suite upgrade awards as a Globalist so that I upgraded one of the rooms from a standard level room to a beach front suite, and they were connecting. So we had a beachfront suite connected to a two queen room. So my kids could sleep in the two queen room. We had a suite where the family could kind of spread out. My husband and I didn't have to go to bed at like 7:00 p.m. when the kids were going to bed.

Again, just because of the way that Hyatt has their program structured right now, those 700,000 Hyatt points, those two rooms because we traveled over, obviously, a traditional winter break periods. So we got there on December 20th. We left on the 30th. So we're talking probably one of the highest demand travel times. The hotel was at like 98% room occupancy the 10 days that we were there.

Combined, those rooms, if I had just booked them straight using cash, it was over $50,000. So, for us, to get, that was an amazing redemption. It was like over seven cents per point. But, again, it wasn't just about the redemption. It was going to a place for 10 days that my family already knew that we loved. We just had an absolutely amazing time. 

For me, those points were so well spent. Like I will never regret draining my entire Chase balance on a 10 day vacation for my family where, again, we had zero out of pocket cost for the actual hotel stay. Of course, we paid for food. We paid for the taxi from the airport to the resort. But we paid, in my estimation, a shockingly little amount of money out of pocket, again, for a 10 day trip to St. Kitts, which was just absolutely amazing. 

So in terms of our family travel, I just have to say Hyatt for the win for my family, again, this year. It was just so incredibly valuable for us. But then outside of Hyatt I think one of the most fun experiences for me was this is the first year that I've ever taken a trip purely for the enjoyment of the actual travel. 

I think most people, especially before they get into the points, a lot of us kind of look at the travel portion, the flight to get somewhere as the means to the ends. So you're like okay, I'm willing to sit on an airplane so that I can go to this place for three days or five days or 10 days or whatever. 

I think one of the most fun things about points, for me, is that the travel is actually now part of the destination and the experience for me. One of my favorite points currencies is American Airlines miles. I think they just have some really, really fantastic award redemptions. 

One of the partners that they have access to that I think is just an unbelievable value is that you can book travel on Japan Airlines using your American Airlines miles. This is an example of a trip that, again, probably 99% of people listening are going to think this is ludicrous. Like this does not sound fun to them whatsoever. 

But I have to tell you, it's like the most fun 48 hours I had in all of 2023. I was up just kind of running award searches because this is what you do when you really love points travel. You're just looking around to see what's available, are there any great deals.

I was on American Airlines’ website and just kind of looking to see what was opening up. At least at that time, so this was over a year ago now, but airline programs have trends. They will go through periods of time where they release a lot of award seats at a certain time before booking, and those trends may change over time. 

But at around this time last year, Japan Airlines was very consistently releasing a lot of award space close in. Meaning that if you were going to travel within the next week to two weeks, they were releasing tons of business and first class award availability. 

Japan Airlines has amazing airline products. They're one of the international airlines that does have, on some of their aircraft, not only a business class, which is probably what you're thinking of in terms of international business class with the lie flat seats and the amazing service. They also have a first class cabin. 

I cannot believe that Japan Airlines lets you book a first class flight one way from the states to Tokyo, and luckily, they fly directly out of Chicago, a first class seat for 80,000 American Airlines miles. I think it's actually just bonkers that you can book a 14 hour flight in one of the world's best first class cabins for as little as 80,000 miles. 

You've probably. everyone listening, if you've started running your own award searches, I have no doubt that you have run some random domestic award search. Like you're trying to get from Denver to Miami, and you've probably found 80,000 points in economy as an award ticket. Right. 

So when you know what some of these sweet spots are, it's such an amazing opportunity. So, again, this is something that for me right now in the season of my life that I'm in, this is incredibly fun. I'm not thinking a lot of other people are going to want to jump on this. But the only reason that I'm able to book something like this is because I do have some points and miles banked up and saved up. This works for my life right now. 

So I'm not in the season of my life where I can find an amazing trip, and I can go away for two or three weeks. Like maybe in 10 years or 15 years, I'm going to be able to do a lot more slow travel, which I actually really love to do. That's not my reality right now. 

So when I found that I could actually fly a first class flight on JAL from Chicago to Tokyo, that is when my wheels really started turning. Because Japan is known for their amazing international airlines. So not only do they have Japan Airlines, but they also have ANA. And ANA, at this time had just recently refurbished some of their aircraft. Brand new business class, brand new first class seats that the whole kind of points world was like all atwitter over because they're just supposed to be an amazing product. 

I had lined up and found this sort of incredible duo where I could fly JAL first class from Chicago to Tokyo literally on a Thursday, like after dropping my kids off in the school line, the drop off line in school, go from their school, straight down to O'Hare. I could fly first class on JAL from Chicago to Tokyo, literally spent like less than a day on the ground, and the next day had award availability on ANA in business class on that new business class product called The Room. I think The Room is their business, and The Suite is their first class. 

But they had business class availability in The Room coming back, which I booked for 74,000 points through Air Canada Aeroplan’s program. So essentially, this was like a 48 hour trip. The sole purpose of this trip was I got to spend a ton of time on JAL first class and then come home on ANA’s new business class because the actual experience of flying is one that I actually love. Like I love being, especially by myself. 

I adore my family, but to be able to spend like 40 hours completely by myself where I don't have to cook. I get to eat amazing Japanese food on an airline. It's just such a fun experience. Again, something that I would never personally book that type of thing just on a whim using cash, but it represents such an amazing point’s deal. 

So all in, like I said, it was like 154,000 points and miles total for this roundtrip ticket. Overall, that would have cost, I think, over like $25,000 because you're booking a one way first class flight and one way business class flight. So it was by far my highest like points value redemption trip of the entire year. It was just so much fun. It's something I'll probably never do again, at least not on those airlines. I actually have sort of a similar kind of trip coming up in about two weeks of another sort of first pass extravaganza just because it's so much fun for me to try these products out using the points and miles that I have. 

So my 48 hour points extravaganza flying to Tokyo for a day, it was just so much fun for me. I have to say that, like I said, it was the best quote unquote redemption value of everything I did last year. For a solo trip, it was just so much fun. 

So for those of you who maybe are little more constrained on your schedule, I know some of you are sitting on really high points balances, and you're never really sure what to do with them. I really just want to invite you all to do something that's ludicrous, like fly to Tokyo and come back the next day, if it's going to make you happy and you're going to love that experience. So those are some of the highlights of my points travel last year. 

Kelly: That's awesome. I love. Like both examples are like, it can seem like those redemptions might not make sense to use that many Hyatt points or to just go to Japan for a day, but they're all about your comfort and what you wanted. I mean 10 days in a tight hotel room with four people is not really a vacation. You made these vacations. 

I have to say I also love sitting, or at least trying first class products, because they are super comfortable. You get time to yourself. Time to just think, and sometimes I'll just bring something to work on that really requires some time where you don't have distractions from other things. The only thing distracting you is the champagne that keeps coming to be refilled. 

Devon: So yes, I do have to say. 

Kelly: I think just honor your redemptions. 

Devon: Absolutely. I am not a big drinker. I think I tend to run dehydrated just because I do a very horrible job of hydrating on a regular basis. So when I fly, I tend not to actually drink a lot of the amazing sort of products that are available to you. But I will tell you all for those of you who ever have American Airlines miles lying around, or if your interest has been piqued, and you're thinking about trying at some point to book JAL first class. 

One of the really interesting things about that experience is that, I was reading this in their little whatever menu pamphlet thing that they hand out. They have this brand of tea that is on offer only in the first class cabin of JAL. They essentially have like a tea sommelier. Like there's some strain of tea that they grows specifically for this purpose. You have to have like the highest tea credentials to be able to like grow and process this tea. 

It's stored in an actual like wine bottle. Like there's all these different conditions they store them under. So you can order this beautiful tea on JAL, and they present it to you like it's in this really fancy wine bottle. They present it to you just like they would some super expensive champagne. The really nice thing is if you like this seat, you're likely the only person in the entire cabin who's going to be drinking it because everyone else is drinking the champagne and the wines. 

So, you got like three bottles of this amazing just luxury tea, which, again, like that's the type of experience that I don't know that I would have even realized that that existed before I sat down in the cabin and was kind of reading through the menu. But it was just so much fun. 

So here's a plug for those of you who also maybe are not as interested in some of the alcoholic selections. I've actually found that in premium cabins, some of the best non-alcoholic drinks ever, you'll actually find in premium cabins on airplanes. So check out JAL’s amazing tea. Maybe I'll post a picture of it somewhere so you can know what it is that you're looking for. But it was just so much fun. 

That, now that you've all heard extensively about my most fun redemption and experience from last year. Kelly when you think about how you use your points, and you mentioned some of these incredible places that you went. What was just your most favorite use of points last year, or just one of the best experiences  you had traveling because you were using your points? 

Kelly: Yeah, I think actually the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires topped out for me. We just loved the hotel. I think we could have spent our whole time in the city in the hotel. So recommendation. If you're going, like set aside time just to enjoy the hotel. It's so massive. The courtyard is beautiful. They actually have a vegan restaurant, which in Argentina was really welcomed since it's very, very meat heavy. Just the service, the food, the whole atmosphere felt like real relaxation. 

So I would say that was my most fun for sure points redemption. Of course, the flights are totally fun. Like getting pajamas on EVA Airlines was awesome. But when I think about what was relaxing and luxurious to me, it was that Park Hyatt Buenos Aires.

Devon: Yeah, that is a property that I am dying to check out. Again, that is a pretty long flight you know from the states. So that's on my wish list for a couple of years from now. I'd love to bring my kids there. But, again, I don't think that I am emotionally ready yet to put us all on airplane for that long together, but we'll see how they do. They've actually been doing really incredibly on their flights lately. So that is one of the properties that I'm dying to check out.

But as we know, both of us, probably everyone listening to this. Sometimes travel doesn't go exactly as you expect. I'm really curious to hear from you if you had any disappointing points experiences, or if any of the hotels or the flights that you booked using your points didn't quite live up to your expectations.

Kelly: Oh great question. I try to temper my expectations. Sometimes when you have this great points redemption, and you just want like the highest level of luxury, you can easily be disappointed because you've set yourself up so highly. But I think in our case, we try to manage our expectations. 

I guess I could say one thing I was disappointed about was the Korean Air lounges in Seoul. You would think for the hub of luxury airline, an international airline, you would think that their lounges would be outstanding. They weren't very good. So I guess I would have to say if there was one disappointment, I was surprised that the lounges in Seoul were not good. 

Devon: Yeah, that's really interesting to hear. I'm always surprised, like you said, when there is a huge hub for an international airline, if there's something about that experience doesn't quite live up to what you were expecting. We all know, by this point, if you've listened to more than 10 minutes or one episode of this podcast that my expectations when it comes to lounge access at my home airport are exceedingly low. So it's hard for me to get even more disappointed in the lounge access situation out of O’Hare.

But when you are flying through a huge international hub, and you're in a premium cabin, that is always a little bit disappointing when that lounge isn't as great as it could be because there are so many were at their home hub, the lounge in itself is such a phenomenal experience. So that's good to know. So temper our expectations for that. 

My sort of, quote unquote, disappointing points experience, and I'm couching this very, very liberally, because this is sort of the epitome of like first world problems. It was not, ultimately, a huge disappointment at all. But something that was initially disappointing for me is that I mentioned that I'd booked this sort of flight experience extravaganza for myself to Japan. The whole purpose, right, was to fly these specific products. 

I was so excited for the return flight home to book ANA and specifically their brand new business class product. It's gotten rave reviews. I think at that point, they had already announced that they were going to stop using those aircrafts, specifically on the direct Tokyo to Chicago route. So it seemed like such a great opportunity for me to be able to fly this without even having a position or get myself home from a different airport. 

So as I had booked this trip, I had looked at all the different seat maps, and I picked out what seat I wanted to be in. I was reading all the different flight reviews and just like imagining being in this amazing new business class product. 

I go to check in for my flight. The ticket pops out of the little whatever, like ticket check in kiosk thing. It had me in a seat that was not the seat I had assigned to myself. Not only that, so that was my first clue. I was like this is not what I assigned myself because, of course, I'd memorized where I'd put myself on the airplane. 

Then the second thing that occurred to me was when I had originally booked my seat, I am weird. I have like a place on the airplane that I really like to sit, like a general configuration that I will always put myself in if I can. I just remembered from looking at the seat map that I had placed myself in the last row of the business class cabin. The seat that was assigned to me on my ticket was a number, like the next row higher than that. I was like I don't even think this aircraft has that row number. So like this is all becoming very suspicious to me. 

I immediately realized oh, this probably means that there has been an aircraft change. So for those of you who have not yet done a ton of international travel in premium cabins, one of the things that you start to see is that it's not just oh did you book yourself from New York to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airline’s business class. 

It’s that even within airlines, they have different aircraft that can have different seat configurations. Especially in the premium cabins, a lot of airlines will actually do these sort of like segmental upgrades where they will take one segment of their aircraft fleet and upgrade the business class or the first class, but all the other aircraft have sort of the regular or the outdated product. 

So you're never guaranteed when you book a specific flight that you're going to get that one type of aircraft. So it's always possible that for whatever reason, scheduling, demand, just changes in the way that an airline wants to run its aircraft and its routes that you book yourself on a specific aircraft and then when it comes the day to fly, you're actually still on the same airline. It's just a different configuration of the airplane. 

That is what had happened to me. So instead of flying on ANA’s brand new, completely updated, beautiful The Room business class, I got there just regular business class, which, like I said, this is the epitome of first worldly, first problems. Trust me. You do not have to cry any tears for me that I had to fly a regular business class product from Tokyo to Chicago. It was still an amazing experience. 

But ANA's, quote unquote, old business class product, it gave me serious like 1980’s roller rink vibes. Like the interior design of this aircraft, they had this like fluorescent like tubing or piping like lighting that went around like the hard product of the seat. I was born in 1981. I'm a child of the 80’s. All I could think about when I sat down was like waiting for the light colored like disco ball to come on and like the lights to go down low, and for it to be like the slow song that everyone would roller skate to. 

So I have to say that that was disappointing for me because I was really excited to fly this one really specific aircraft. On the flip side, I got to fly still an incredible business class product. I paid, I don't know, less than $100 out of pocket for the taxes and the fees. I still had amazing service. I'm not going to, like I said, cry any tears over the fact that I had to fly a, quote unquote, old business class products instead of the new one. 

But if I had a disappointing experience, it was just that I was so excited to try out this one specific aircraft, and I didn't get to. But the truth of the matter is, this is why I save points. Chances are at some point in the next year or two or three years, ANA is going to release more award seats where I can try again. 

So if the worst thing that happened to me is that now I have even more of an excuse to try to fly to Tokyo, again, and hopefully this time, stay for a much longer period of time then I don't think that's actually in the end like that tragic thing to have happened. 

Kelly: But it's just something to be aware of that aircraft swaps can happen at any point. So if you're really into flying a specific product, maybe have some kind of alert setup or some kind of program or be flexible. Just know that that the airline doesn't have to put you on a certain product for what you booked. They just have to get you from point A to point B. That's their only terms in their contract of carrier. So just be aware. Like be excited about the product, but keep an eye on it because it could be changed. 

Devon: Absolutely. So that is a great tip for everybody. There are some programs out there that you can set up, like Kelly was saying, alerts that will actually kind of track this for you so that if there is a change in aircraft, you'll automatically get an email. Then you can decide if you are really wedded to wanting to fly one very specific product, then you can decide if you want to change or cancel that flight. Or if really the primary goal is to get to a destination then those aircraft changes probably are not going to be as big a deal to you. 

But I do think that it's nicer to know when those things happen rather than get surprised once you actually board the cabin or when you get your ticket printed out. So just word to the wise, aircraft swaps do happen. But especially if you've already booked yourself on points, you're saving a ton of money. Chances are you're still going to have an absolutely amazing experience on that flight. 

So all that being said, you now know what we have booked or what we did book for 2023. Some of the highlights of our award travel. But as I mentioned, one of the great things about points travel is that you can actually start booking your travel anywhere from 11 to 13 months ahead of time, which means that Kelly and I have already booked out a lot of travel for this upcoming year for 2024.

If you thought some of the travel that Kelly did in 2023 sounded great, I have to tell you be prepared to become incredibly jealous because she has got like the best year of travel planned for 2024. Why don't we both share some of the things that we've already booked using our points for 2024. We're definitely going to start with you because I think I'm even more excited about all of your trips than you are. I want to take every single one of them. So tell us, what do you already have booked for this year?

Kelly: I am psyched about 2024. Not just for where I'm going but also for some products that I actually wanted to book and try. So in February, we're going to India. We're going to Ranthambore National Park. We're going to do some tiger safaris. So super excited about that. 

This was something I had to build around certain dates for hotel availability. So I looked when Qatar's award schedule opened. I think they opened 361 days out and found availability all the way from LAX through Doha to Delhi for 80,000 points per person. So 160,000 Avios total I had transferred to British Airways. British Airways and Qatar Avios connect directly. You don't even have to transfer them between programs. So lots of transfer partners transfer to British Airways. So that was great. That was like 5.4 cents per point. 

Getting home I'm really excited about because I've always wanted to fly Singapore Suites. I've never flown their old or their new models. They've taken away all of their US routes for the suites. But I noticed that they fly a route from Delhi to Singapore with Singapore Suites. So I was able to book that for two people. 

The rate has actually dropped significantly since I booked it, but I don't even care. Again, our dates were set, and I'm so excited to be flying suites. Then we're flying home business class all the way from Singapore to LAX. I actually booked that through Aeroplan. That was 87,500 miles per person. So that's really exciting. So we're literally going all the way around the world for that trip. I've flown Qsuites before. They're fantastic. So I'm excited to find them again. 

Then in the spring, some friends, I've hitched myself on to a friend's trip going to Spain and Portugal. I've always wanted to go to Portugal. So I had some Turkish Life Miles that were orphaned I needed to use up. So I'm flying all the way from LAX to Istanbul to Barcelona, and then flying home Avianca Lifemiles, which is a partner of TAP Portugal. Fantastic rates all the way across the ocean to the west coast. All the way from Porto to SFO was 63,000 miles. So great redemption there.

Again, getting all the way from Europe to the West Coast. For me, I think it's worth it if I can find direct routes, and I don't have to position to the east coast because some of those flights are longer than actually getting across the Atlantic.

Then later on in the year, we're going to Scotland. A couple years ago, we walked across northern England with a company called Country Walkers. So this year, we're hiking throughout Scotland, again with Country Walkers. Then coming home from there, we're flying on KLM in business class, which I'd never flown before. Transferred miles to Flying Blue and going all the way from Glasgow to Amsterdam to LAX. That long haul flight, again, for only 86,000 miles per person. 

I mean, just fantastic bookings. It just shows that you don't have to go the same direction each way. You can come home a different route, come home a different airline, and get great value. Then, that's not all, there is more. That great deal where Qatar dropped a bunch of award space to American earlier this year, I just snagged the furthest out date I could find to get us to South Africa. 

So for 150,000 American miles for two people, we’re flying all the way from LAX to Doha to Johannesburg, again, in Qsuites and then probably their regular business class to Johannesburg. But it's just as nice. I've flown it before. That was 7.2 cents per point. 

Then getting home was another product that I've wanted to try forever. Lufthansa first class, yay. When they released their bundle to go or points to go whatever thing that they released earlier this year where you could buy points for about 1.1 cents per point, I did some searches and found out that they had availability all the way from Frankfurt to LAX in first class. So I was able to book those. Then I booked the business class leg from Johannesburg to Frankfurt. 

So all in all, I used 1.7 million different miles for all the different bookings I've made. There's some hotel bookings in there as well that I've made. That's about $83,000 worth of value for 4.79 cents per point for next year. I don't know what else I'll book. I think our schedule is pretty full now but pretty exciting. Some of those were well planned in advanced. Some of those were hey, the deal dropped, and it dropped a year in advance. So we jumped on it. 

Devon: Yeah, like I said, I think you've got such incredible travel plans for 2024. I'm going to be traveling vicariously through you, watching all of your stories, and everything, all the pictures that you post from that. Now, I know that you went through, and you kind of mentioned for a lot of those kind of key trips that you're taking the amount of points that you actually ended up using to book your tickets on each of those flights. 

But when you think more big picture, like in terms of your transferable points currencies, do you think that there was one type of transferable points currency that you leaned on really heavily for these bookings or any specific airline booking programs that you have found to be particularly valuable for these types of flights?

Kelly: Yeah, when I look at it, I actually wrote it out. It looks like all of the flight bookings were transferred from membership rewards. So last year was my biggest year for earning membership rewards simply because they kept doing those crazy big welcome offers. 

Every single instance here besides the American miles was transferred from membership rewards, and the Turkish miles, which they had been orphaned previously from the Capital One Venture rewards program. But every other thing, the transfer to Singapore for the first class, the transfer to Aeroplan for the Singapore Airlines business class, the Avios came from membership rewards. KLM, Flying Blue were from membership rewards. So really for me, that's a really hard program to beat when it comes to redeeming for premium flight products.

Devon: Yeah, I agree. So for those of you who are a little bit newer to the whole points vocabulary world. When Kelly's talking about the membership rewards points, these are specifically the transferable points currency that you can earn from a lot of American Express cards. 

One of the things that is a little a little bit more of an advanced concept, but I think is one of the things is going to unlock the amount of value that you can get from your points is not only having access to some of these transferable rewards points currencies, like Chase points, American Express points, Capital One, Bilt, and Citi, but then really starting to understand some of those specific transfer partners and the specific sweet spots they offer. 

So Kelly mentioned a lot about using things like booking Singapore Airlines, leveraging her transferable points, transferring them over to Air Canada Aeroplan, which is a frequent flyer program that then allows you to book not only Air Canada flights but actually I think they partner with like 45 or 50 different airlines now. So you can book so many different airlines directly through Air Canada Aeroplan.

So I have somewhat of a similar theme, just in terms of the utility of points. But my travel, like I said, does not look a lot like your travel next year. But actually, it's not so bad. I don't think anyone needs to feel sorry for me. So for the trips, I already have booked for 2024, I have also used just under 2 million points. So like 1.995 million points. 

We've already booked out about like $93,000 worth in travel, which I think is incredible. I mean, obviously it’s just incredible period. But it's also incredible, because I only have us plan for travel basically through June, which is very unlike me. Normally, I would have had the entire back half of the year planned as well. So one big kind of gaping hole for us right now is I don't have us booked for anything for winter break of 2024. I'm kicking around a couple of different ideas, but I'm sure that with the points that I still have left, we've got a lot of amazing options. So that is definitely to be updated in the future. 

But in terms of the travel that we already have booked out, like I said, we have a lot of family travel planned during my kids’ breaks. One of the things that I'm really excited about is I've mentioned that because of their ages and because of my emotional fragility, I have not yet taken them on really, really long international flights, but we're going to test the waters next year. We're not going to go, I mean, as far as you could possibly go, but we are going to take them, so far we have this planned to take them to Europe in June. 

So for us coming from Chicago, we're not going to fly directly. But we do have a long haul flight on Lufthansa from Chicago through Frankfurt and then connecting on to Rome. This is one of the redemptions that I am the most excited about. You just mentioned being able to use Lufthansa Miles and More and the Lufthansa program to be able to outright book first class flights on Lufthansa, which is an amazing option. 

We actually booked our flights, I should say I. No one else books flights in my family. But I actually booked the flights for us to fly four of us in business class from Chicago to Rome on Lufthansa through the Miles and More program. This, to me, is a real hidden gem. 

It is not an easily accessible program because Lufthansa is not, unfortunately, anymore a direct transfer partner of any of the transferable points currencies. But this is a very specific scenario where, again, if you do the math, if you have a lot of confidence in how to use your points in a certain way, I think you can get outsized value from just outright purchasing miles. 

So we had outright bought miles, just the same as you, through that bundle that was offered. One of the things that I love about booking flights directly through Lufthansa is number one, they make a lot more premium cabin award availability open to their own frequent flyer members than they do to their partners. So than they do to United or Avianca or Aeroplan.

This is key because here's the flipside. I think every single thing in award travel, there's an upside and a downside. So the downside to Lufthansa is obviously that almost no one has access to it because a lot of our points currencies do not transfer there. To me, though, the upside is if you've done the math, and if it is worth it to you to just outright purchase miles, you have so much award availability that you can pick from. Oftentimes, they do release multiple business class award seats on the same flight. 

So, again, if you are in that situation where you're looking to travel with three, four, five people, the Lufthansa Miles and More program can be absolutely fantastic. They actually price award tickets for children less than they do for adults, which is one of my absolute favorite thing. I mean, the kids still use a regular size seat. I mean I'll take it as a parent, but it's not like they take up, like you can't put two of them in a seat. I don't really know why they discount it, but it's great. 

So for us to fly four people one way from Chicago to Rome, we used, all in, 273,000 Miles and More miles, but those are not cheap business class tickets. When you're looking even to fly from the Midwest over to Europe in business class, especially for four people, that's pricing out at around $30,000 one way and we still had to get ourselves home. So, to me, the amount of money that I actually spent to purchase the miles, I'm going to end up getting like five times the value in terms of what we actually could redeem them for. So that is actually a trip I'm really looking forward to.

I have, up until now, avoided flying Lufthansa business class like the plague because a lot of their airplanes have what is called an older and outdated business class product where the way that the seats are configured. It's like two seats together against a window and then an aisle and then two seats in the middle and then an aisle and then another two seats against the window but they're not staggered. 

So if you're in a window seat, which you should all always be in a window seat because they're the absolute. The problem is that if you're seated next to you, I know you're about to fight me on this. If you're seated next to a stranger, you have to physically climb over them to access the aisle. On a nine or 10 hour flight, I'm not going to sit next to a stranger and have to climb over them to go and use the restroom. So I have never actually flown Lufthansa business class. 

But that same configuration that I think is absolutely horrendous for a solo traveler, I think it's actually great for family travel. So I can sit next to one of my kids or maybe they'll sit next to each other and not fight the entire time and my husband and I can sit next to each other. We're going to be flying business class on Lufthansa, which I think is going to be a great experience.

Then we have some other obviously Hyatt stays booked because that still works for us best for our family. But sort of the last thing that I have booked, and it's actually like two weeks from now. I'm so excited about this. I'm going to do probably an entire podcast episode just on the actual experience and how you can replicate any leg of it if this is appealing to anyone other than me.

Is that after my sort of 48 hour points extravaganza flying to Japan last year, I decided that I would love to do sort of a similar thing this year. Like there are so many really, really incredible international premium cabins that I've never flown using points. I would just love to try them for the experience. Again, I think this is great market research. I want to be able to tell everybody these different products are really great, or this one was maybe not really worth what you have to pay for it.

So the way that it started was that a couple of months ago, Etihad, which is one of the airlines that’s based in the Middle East. They, again, have an international product where on some of their aircrafts, they actually have multiple premium cabins. So not only do they have traditional business class, but they actually have first class. This was when it was, it's not a brand new product anymore, but I think it was really kind of game changing when it was first released in terms of having a fully enclosed suite that has a seat and a bed and just amazing service. 

So Etihad sort of post-pandemic finally started releasing award availability, again, on these aircraft, but it was specifically between London and Abu Dhabi. Now I don't live in London or Abu Dhabi, but I really, really wanted to try this aircraft product, this configuration. 

So how it started was finding out that Etihad had released a bunch of first class award space on these aircraft on this route. So I just went ahead and booked it. Because one of the beautiful things about a lot of points bookings is that you can book using points. If you have to cancel outright, you get your points back, right. So I don't find it to be incredibly risky to make some of these speculative bookings and then change my mind or decide that it's not going to work out. 

But once I had that booked, then came a really fun part of figuring out okay well, how do I get myself to London? How do I get myself home from Abu Dhabi? Now, a regular person might try to find the shortest itinerary, or the most convenient one. No, no. I didn’t take the most circuitous route, but I really saw this as an opportunity of if I'm going to try this one product, let me see what the best other options to try other really, really great award premium cabin aircraft products would be.

So incidentally, Emirates, which is another major airline that's based in the Middle East, they also have a fantastic new-ish first class product on seven of their aircraft. It actually is called like the Game Changer Suite. Emirates has always been known for their service, for their amazing aircraft cabins, but they have these seven aircraft that fly between Dubai and then a couple of different cities, mostly in Europe, that have this game changing first class suite. 

It's like well, I'm going to be in Abu Dhabi. I may as well try to get on one of these game changers suites. So it just so happens that like the day after I land in Abu Dhabi, Emirates had first class award availability from Dubai to Brussels, of all places. This was the longest flight I could find with the game changer suite. I was hoping it'd be 20 hours. They don't, unfortunately, fly any flights quite that long, but this was about seven hours. 

So I'm going to stay awake the entire time. I'm going to press every single button I can find in that first class suite. I'm going to eat every single piece of food they're going to serve me. It's going to be a lot of fun. But at that point, I still had to get to London. I still had to get home from Brussels. So I actually, because as much as I would love for this to turn into like two straight weeks on airplanes, I do have to be mindful about not being away from home for too long, especially kind of like right now. My kids are going to be going right back into school soon. 

So the quickest way for me to get home from Brussels is just a direct flight from Brussels back to Chicago on United Polaris, which is a very solid business class product. I've flown it before. It's really nice. It's not going to be probably the trip, that leg, that makes my entire year of travel, but it was really efficient. I found a great award price for it. I booked that also directly through Air Canada Aeroplan. So that's the efficient leg of the trip.

But then to get from Chicago over to London, I actually had a bunch of different options. I actually did not want to fly British Airways, which is probably the most direct option to go straight over to London. I've actually never flown British Airways, but I really wanted to try a specific business class product that I've had my eyes on for forever that I've never had access to because up until this most recent year, I never had transferable points currencies that transfer directly to Turkish Airlines. I've been dying to fly on Turkish Airlines.

So Turkish actually runs a flight from Chicago to Istanbul. Then you can connect from Istanbul up to London, which, again, is not the most direct route. But when you actually really like flying on airplanes, I don't mind that it's a really long flight. Turkish Airlines, they run, especially on that Chicago to Istanbul route, they traditionally use, again, an aircraft that has an older business class product that I've not been that excited about trying. 

But on very, very select routes, they actually are running a much more updated business class product. So I managed to book that for only 45,000 miles one way to get all the way from Chicago to Istanbul. I made sure to have a lot of time at that airport so I can check out the business class lounge, which is supposed to be fantastic in Istanbul, and the connecting up to London. So I'm super excited about that. 

I do have an award aircraft like flight alert set. So in the off chance that Turkish does swap that out for the, quote unquote, old business class, I know that I can get to London in other ways using my points and miles. So I do specifically want to fly on that aircraft. But that is going to be for my 2024 purely for my own enjoyment and trying new kind of points award products, being able to fly four business and first class flights. 

I literally leave on a Wednesday. I should be home I think by Sunday or Monday. So I think there's one night on the ground of actually spending in a hotel. Other than that, I'm just going to be on a lot of airplanes, hopefully enjoying a lot of incredible chai and other non-alcoholic drinks. I'll report back about all of those experiences. 

But that whole trip other than the leg that's on Turkish, I booked everything through Air Canada Aeroplan. That just goes to show what you and I were talking about a little bit earlier in this episode is that I really think Air Canada Aeroplan is an amazing option for so many different airlines to access, especially when you start trying to piece together trips from different areas of the world where because you have access to US based airlines and European based airlines and Middle Eastern based airlines, you can come up with some really incredible configurations. 

So I'm really, really excited about that trip. Like I said, I'm leaving in about two weeks. So if it's as amazing as I expect it will be, I'll give you all a rundown about it on the podcast so that if you want to replicate some part of that, I'll teach you how you can do that. But other than that, we just have a couple of other vacations planned with our kids.

It’s just a big open question mark for us about what we're going to do in December. But I'm sure I will figure out something interesting and fun and amazing. When I do, you'll probably hear all about it when Kelly and I converge a year from now and do a 2024 travel recap about all the points we earned and actually tell you more about the experience of some of these trips that we have planned. 

But now that we are going to be wrapping up this episode, I just wanted to end, Kelly, with a little bit of speculation or imagination. When it comes to the both of us having been doing points travel now for a number of years, seeing some of the trends, seeing some of the changes in award travel. 

I think one of the things that I have seen, especially over the last 10 years, is that I really think that credit card issuers have become so much more creative and innovative about the credit card points earning products that they have released. Yet there are still some what I consider to be glaring gaps in the credit card market. 

So this is where you and I are going to create our 2024 rewards card wish list. Where if we could have the banks or the credit card issuers create an incredible credit card product that does not currently exist, what would we hope to see be introduced? 

I have to tell you all. Before we started recording, I did tell Kelly that the caveat to this question is that we can't just say that we wish that Chase would create a card that lets us earn 800,000 points per dollar spent. It actually has to somewhat fit within some of the constraints that we already see of rewards cards on the market. 

But like I said, I think there are some pretty obvious gaps that different credit card issuers could fill in. So Kelly, I'm really interested to hear what is your dream card that you wish someone would make or release, and then we'll compare notes on that.

Kelly: I think the big glaring thing now that Bilt has filled the market gap for rent, there is a lot of homeowners who are extremely jealous and would like to see that type of system for mortgage payments as well. I think that also may be as high of a wish as 800,000 points per dollar. I mean I think banks in general are not going to let us pay debt with debt, and they'll find that too risky to do. But there is some growing consumer demand. So Bilt got creative with it. Let's see who can get creative about making homeownership lucrative when it comes to earning points.

Devon: Yeah, that was actually the number one thing on my list as well. Like as a homeowner, as someone who does not, yet shockingly, have a fifth transferrable points currency. I don't have the Bilt card, but I find it to be such a compelling program. I agree with you that if there was a way where we could use a rewards card to pay for a mortgage, I think that that is something that obviously millions and millions of consumers would jump on in a heartbeat. 

I really do hope that Bilt, of all of the different issuers, figures out a way to do that. I think that would be so exciting. But if I couldn't have that, I think one of the things that I think is missing right now in the marketplace that I would love to see is specifically from Chase. I feel like when you compare Chase to some of the other credit card issuers, especially who offer kind of similar premium level type of credit cards, like I'm thinking about American Express and Capital One.

I think one of the things that Chase is really lagging behind them is offering a card that earns two points on all dollars spent, either on the personal side or on the business side. I'm leaving out the specific Chase Freedom Unlimited Double Cash-back offer because that's a limited time promotion. I'm looking for a card that just it's standard earns two points on all spend, and/or similar to American Express or Capital One, a really, really solid points earning charge card from Chase.

My hopes were really dashed when they had introduced this Chase Ink Business Premier card. I can't even remember if that happened this year or the year prior. I was so sorely disappointed by that card I think I just promptly forgot everything about it. 

But Chase has, on the business side, this card called the Chase Ink Business Premier. When they initially released it, I thought that that's what this card was going to be. It's marketed as a cash-back card. But, as we all know, Chase has all these other cards that are marketed as cash-back that actually function as points earning cards. The Chase Ink Business Premier, it's a charge card. It earns two, quote unquote, points on all dollar spent. It's actually a 2% cash-back card that only functions as a cash-back card. 

So, for me, personally in what I want to do with my expenses and with my points, I don't right now want to earn cash-back. So that immediately kind of took this card off my radar, but I feel like they're there. They're there with this card. They just need to open up and unlock that ability to use it as a points earning card. So that would be one card that's on my wish list. 

The other thing too that I wish to see happen. Who knows. Obviously, I have no insider information. But going back to Bilt. Bilt, right now, only has their one card. It is a fantastic art, especially for renters. But I'm really interested to see Bilt expand their credit card menu.

I would love to see a Bilt business card for those of us who do have businesses and really want to have business specific card products to separate out business expenses. Or even just the business version of the Bilt card where it's in the actual terms of the card that you can use that card for your business rent for people who rent office space. I think that that would be very in line with kind of what we've already seen them release. 

So I highly doubt that any of these card products are going to be released because none of the credit card issuers give a crap about what I talk about on this podcast. But these are things that we've started to see, I think, some indications of. I don't think it's completely outside the realm of possibility for some of these types of products to be introduced. 

So most of all, I just hope that we continue to be surprised in a good way about what card products get offered this year, what they allow us to do in terms of points earning. I don't see any signs that the ability to earn points is going to be severely hampered this year, which is really great. I think that we're all going to have continued opportunities to continue to earn points. I hope on the points redeeming side, we also see increased opportunities to use those points for all sorts of travel. 

So Kelly, thank you so much for joining me, again, today. I had so much fun doing our 2023 recap. I'm going to take much better notes throughout this upcoming year so that when we do our 2024 recap, I have even better detailed information. I'm not spending three hours one day trying to pull it all together at once. 

But thank you, for again, sharing your expertise, sharing all of your experiences. I really appreciate every time you come on the show. I have so much fun talking with you. I hope everybody listening has gotten some really great ideas about how to earn points, how to use points, or trips that might be interesting for them to try to book in their future as well. So Kelly, thank you for being here. I wish you an amazing 2024. I know that you and I are going to be talking about travel this entire year. So thank you for being here today.

Kelly: Yes, thanks so much for having me. Just to put in a plug. If you're interested in 2024 trips, there's going to be Travel More Con in November, and you can meet up with other likeminded points geeks like us. We had a little doctor group last time. It was super fun. So put that on your radar for late in 2024.

Devon: Absolutely. We'll put all the information about that in the show notes so you can all figure out exactly what it is that we're talking about. Everybody, I hope you have an amazing 2024. I can't wait to see you back here again next week. Stay happy, stay healthy everyone. Have a great week.

Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.

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