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Our First Trip Overseas
My girlfriend Shahd and I had always wanted to visit so MANY places around the world but we travel so much for weddings that we just didn’t have the money to afford it. Luckily, we discovered how to use points and miles from credit cards could help us travel!
After diving into the points and miles game for nearly a year, we finally decided we had had enough of “Instagram dreaming” of far off places and decided to book a trip. This would be our first trip overseas and we wanted to “dip our toe in” by traveling somewhere we could feel comfortable using English.
We had been outside the U.S. during spring breaks in college and I had been to Canada a few times for work. We were open to visiting Ireland, the UK, Australia or South Africa. We saw a great deal for round-trip flights to London so we jumped on it! We ended up staying 7 nights in London and threw in a day trip to Brussels.
There was a bit of multi-purpose to how we booked this trip. We booked a Marriott hotel and air package to get our hotel in London and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book our round-trip flights to London.
The Marriott flight and hotel packages provide a number of options for exchanging points for 7-nights stays plus some airline miles. We chose to take advantage of booking a category 8 Marriott hotel right in the heart of Westminster in London by cashing in 360,000 Marriott Rewards points.
Southwest Airlines was our airline of choice for the package so we also received 120,000 Rapid Rewards points which was enough to earn us the Southwest Companion Pass.
Editor’s Note: This method for earning the Southwest Companion Pass no longer works. Read our guide to earning the Companion Pass if you’re interested in flying two for the price of one with Southwest.
I used the 80,000 Marriott Rewards points I received from signing up for the Chase Marriott Rewards Card and 95,000 SPG Starpoints I’d earned with the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. Thanks to the 1:3 transfer ratio from SPG to Marriott, this gave us the necessary 360,000 Marriott Rewards points to book.
Since we didn’t use the Marriott flight and hotel package to book our airfare, I kept an eye out for cheap economy class flights to London that we could book through the Chase travel portal using our Ultimate Rewards points.
Since I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, booking airfare through the Chase travel portal means each point is worth 1.5 cents. As soon as I saw round-trip flights for less than $500 flights from Memphis to London, I jumped on the chance to book through the Chase travel portal.
The round-trip flights were such a bargain it only cost us about 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points for both tickets. I had earned plenty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, Chase Ink Business Preferred, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Editor’s Note: You can no longer open both the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card if you have one or the other.
London — Here Come the Super Tourists!
We arrived on a Monday morning and checked into our hotel around lunchtime. We knew we wanted to be in downtown London for lodging and we looked at multiple different hotels but the St. Ermin’s hotel seemed like the best value relative to location for what we wanted to do on the trip. Here is what our days looked like:
Arriving at our Hotel. More importantly, the champs inside our hotel room! Thanks for the script Julie!
- Check-in at Hotel
- Westminster Abbey
- Parliament and Big Ben
- Walk through St. James Park
- Buckingham Palace
- Churchill War Rooms (Closed before we could get there)
Dinner at the Shard
Tuesday (City of London)
- Tower of London
- Walk Across Tower Bridge (no tour)
- Lunch at Borough Market
- Shakespeare’s Globe (couldn’t tour because of a show)
- Walk Across Millenium Bridge
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Museum of London
- Dinner at the Shard
Visiting Highclere Castle
Wednesday (Rented a car to visit sites outside the city)
- Highclere Castle
- Windsor Castle
- Hampton Court Palace
Mont de Arts
Thursday (Brussels Day Trip)
- We wanted to “dip our toe” into travel to a country that didn’t predominantly speak english so we took the train to Brussels, Belgium. There we stayed at the Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place.
- Grand Place
- Mont de Arts
- Royal Palace of Brussels
- Mannekin Pis
- Many chocolate shops
- Many bars around the city center
- Train back to London
- Royal Albert Hall
- Albert Memorial
- Kensington Palace
- Hyde Park
- V&A Museum
Hogwarts Castle at Warner Brothers Studio
Saturday (Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio and Oxford Day Trip)
- Saturday, since Shahd is a HUGE Harry Potter fan and we were a bit lax on purchasing our Warner Brothers Studios Making of Harry Potter tickets, we had to purchase a combination Warner Brothers Studios and visit to Oxford day trip to be able to visit the studio. We split our Saturday at those two places outside of the city.
Sunday (Last Day — Remaining Attractions We Hadn’t Seen)
- Packed up
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
- Churchill War Rooms
- Piccadilly Circus
- Trafalgar Square
- Covent Garden
- Grabbed out stuff from hotel and hopped on the tube back to Heathrow
We ate at restaurants for most meals except breakfast but they were by no means extravagant except for dinner at the Shard. We balanced that out with the free breakfasts from the hotel since I have Gold status with Starwood and Marriott, so I would say food during the trip didn’t cost us more than what we normally spend for groceries. Nearly everything else we bought with points through the Chase portal on the activities tab, including:
2 London Passes with Oyster Cards – 35,000 points
Car Rental – 4,000 points
Harry Potter Studio and Oxford Day Trip – 14,000 points
Eurostar Train Tickets – 30,000 points
It’s amazing to me how many things we could cover the cost of with points. The only other thing we booked with Chase points was the 1-night hotel stay in Brussels at the Marriott Grand Place for 15,000 points.
The only items we paid cash for were tickets to Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Highclere Castle because those were not available through the Chase portal. With that, our overall cost was $189.
The overall points breakdown came to:
SPG Starpoints: 95,000 points (285,000 Marriott points after transfer)
Marriott Rewards points: 80,000 points
Chase Ultimate Rewards points: 158,000 points
We felt it was a HUGE value to book our swanky hotel AND get the Southwest companion pass for the points we paid. We also thought we had a good value from the flights we booked since we literally paid nothing for them. It probably wasn’t the best “value” to use our Ultimate Reward Points to book activities like that but it’s what worked for us. Heck, if we decided to not go to the handful of places we couldn’t book through the Chase travel portal, we could have spent nothing.
Anyway, we were glad we went and could experience such a great trip. It was a great reset from ordinary life and it only made us want to experience more of the world. We’re to plan a trip to Italy next year to visit Rome, Milan and Venice. We have the points. Now, we just need to book it and go!
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