Our $16,502 FREE trip

Back in September 2012 we took a trip to Hawaii for the first time. The Aloha state is pretty expensive, so when it came to flights and hotel stays, we wanted to make the trip 100% free.  On the way over, we spent a couple of days in L.A. since I wanted to see my favorite band in concert. We flew on AA reward tickets, and we visited Maui, Kauai and Oahu. We then flew back on first class from HNL to MIA and took advantage of the AA free stopover feature, so we are currently in the middle of that stopover, which will continue to Lima and then Cuzco, Peru, to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu in April 2013. This is a breakdown of our savings based on the prices at the time of booking:


AA Miami to L.A. flight – Coach                                        –             $268 x 2 = $536

Hawaiian Airlines L.A. to Maui flight – Coach             –             $299 x 2 = $598

AA Honolulu/Dallas/Miami flight – First                        –       $2,427 x 2 = $4,854

LAN Peru Miami/Lima/Cuzco flight   –  Business Class    –  $3,565 x 2 = $7,130


Standard room at Westin Maui, 5 nights     – $1,695

1-bedroom suite at Westin Princeville, Kauai, 3 nights$1,215

Courtyard Waikiki suite, Honolulu, 2 nights    –    $474



Westin Maui beachside pool

How we did it:

Total cost of all flights was 60,000 AA miles for each of us, but by using the Citibank AA Visa to reserve, we got a 10% rebate on our miles, so the cost came down to only 54,000 miles each, or a total of 108,000 miles for both of us. By using AA’s free stopover when booking our Peru trip on LAN Business class, automatically the HNL-MIA leg opens up for free and becomes first class as well (since U.S. domestic flights usually do not have Business Class).

Hotel stays cost a total of 84,000 SPG points. For the Westin Maui, we took advantage of SPG’s 5th night free feature, so our 5-night stay came out to 48,000 SPG points, instead of the normal rate of 60,000. For the Westin Princeville, we used 36,000 SPG points. Both of these hotels routinely go for around $340 to $400 per night. For the Courtyard Waikiki in Honolulu, we used $400 in Marriott giftcards that we obtained by redeeming Citi’s Thank You points. We reserved a standard room and got upgraded to a suite since I had Platinum Elite status from their status challenge promotion. We also used Marriott’s best rate guarantee feature to reduce 25% from the original cost of the room since we noticed a price drop in Kayak subsequent to booking our stay.

By saving so much money, we were really able to spend money on other things such as shows, local hot dining spots and other attractions. We would have never dreamed of taking such a long and expensive trip if it wasn’t for the magic of reward programs and a little bit of strategic redemptions.

What’s your dream trip? Leave a comment on this article and we can give you suggestions for the best way to get there!

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