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By: 10xT Reader Jessica
I’m not new to the points and miles world. I’ve traveled to Italy, France, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Seychelles (to name a few) on points and miles over the years. That being said, the 10X Team took it up to the next level. Once our family of 3 became a family of 4, this game became a little more challenging. I’m here to tell you that you can still play the points and miles game as a family and explore the world.
Earning the points and miles to travel South Africa
A little over a year ago, our family purchased a 100-year-old farmhouse on 3 acres in Northern California. At this point, I wasn’t seriously into the points and miles game (this is a good thing as it’s recommended to not apply for cards within 9 months of applying for a mortgage). The house we bought was livable, but definitely, a “fixer-upper” that we planned to change from a 2 bedroom / 1 bathroom to a 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom.
Months later, we had a designer and a contractor on board. With all of the spending we had ahead of us, it was time to maximize the credit card points. I was not new to the Chase Family at this point. I already had a Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) and Chase Freedom from many years prior with some Ultimate Rewards (UR) racked up.
Following the monthly 10X post on the best credit cards to apply for, I went for the Chase Ink Preferred for 80,000 UR. I also referred my husband to his own CSP for an additional 10,000 UR (for referring him) plus his 50,000 UR sign up bonus plus 5,000 additional UR for adding our son as an authorized user (there are pros and cons to adding a minor as an authorized user, decide for yourself if this is a good move in your particular case).
We were in the middle of hitting minimum spends for these cards when Bryce posted about “last chance” to apply for the Amex SPG business card for 35,000 SPG points (most business cards do not add to your 5/24). My husband and I decided to apply for it at the same time since we could hit the $7000 minimum spend (X2) easily with our remodel expenses. After hitting minimum spend and then some, we had 90,000 SPG points.
My (then) 9-year-old son (who’s been to 20 countries and counting) reminded us that he’d be experiencing a “milestone” 10th birthday in September 2018 and that he wanted to visit his cousins in South Africa. Why not? At this point, I knew we were getting close to deciding on our fall trip, so I thought it was a good time to product change my CSP to a Chase Freedom Unlimited (CFU) and apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) for 50,000 Ultimate Reward points.
I wish I could say we flew first class to South Africa… (that will be a later post once my children are in college!), but I can say that our family of 4 flew to South Africa and back for a net cost of $135.64. Yes, you heard me right, that’s $33.91 per person.
How did we do this? I started by transferring my husband’s SPG points to my SPG account (at no cost). Next, I transferred my 90,000 SPG points to my Marriott account (again, at no cost). This gave me 270,000 Marriott points (before the merger, SPG points transferred to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio). At the time, 270,000 Marriott points translated to a “Hotel & Air Package” of 7 nights at a Marriott Category 1-5 plus 120,000 miles with many airline programs. If you chose United, you received 10% more United miles. So, by using 270,000 Marriott points, I received a certificate for a 7-night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel PLUS 132,000 United miles deposited into my account (almost immediately).
United Airlines is a Chase transfer partner. From the new Chase cards, my husband and I applied for, we had over 200,000 UR between the two of us. (Plus, I already had another 100,000 UR or so before we applied for the new cards.) To fly economy class to South Africa using United miles, I knew I needed 40,000 award miles for one-way saver awards. So, for a family of 4, this would equal 320,000 award miles needed. I already had 132,000 United miles in my United account thanks to the Marriott Hotel & Air Package, so I all I needed to do was transfer an additional 188,000 UR from my CSR to United.
The transfers to United all happened in late July / early August and we wanted to fly to South Africa in late September / early October. During this time period, I was logging into my United account frequently and seeing a lot of available for our time frame. (Note that you should not transfer points to an airline partner until you’re ready to book and know that there is availability.)
On August 3rd, I pulled the trigger and booked our flights. I booked one-way tickets in an “open jaw” format (SFO → CPT and JNB → SFO) through the award travel tab on the United website. I booked the first part of our trip on Lufthansa with a layover in Frankfurt for a total of 160,000 United miles plus $163.20 in taxes and fees.
For the flight home, I booked Swiss Airlines with a layover in Zurich for 160,000 United miles plus $272.44 in taxes and fees. The total for the 4 of us came to $435.64. But wait, you said the total was only $135.64, where did the $300 difference go? It was erased thanks to my $300 travel credit from my CSR! (For fun, I looked up the cash price of these tickets, and although I know it’s super inflated, it was over $12,000 for the 4 of us!)
So, we now had our flights booked, but no real itinerary for our trip. We just knew we had 2 weeks in South Africa, starting in Cape Town and ending in Johannesburg. We also knew that we wanted to spend time in Cape Town, drive the Garden Route and fly from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg and then back home. I had heard about the United Excursionist Perk (where you basically get a free one-way segment within your trip), but there was no award availability from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg for our specific dates. This is where the Chase travel portal came in handy. I was able to book flights on Mango Air for just under 40,000 UR for the 4 of us.
Onboard our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt