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We love to hear about the amazing trips our members take using what they’ve learned through Travel Freely! We share these reader success stories in hopes of inspiring you to plan your next trip using points and miles.

Travel Freely member, Jared Kelso, shares his most recent trip where he used points to surprise his son with a sports-filled trip to Texas and Arizona!

Ezra at NBA Game

Ezra at the Clippers vs. Mavericks Game

Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been using points and miles towards free travel?

My name is Jared Kelso, and my family and I have been taking trips using points and miles for about 5 years now. I was actually first introduced to the idea by Zac. Prior to him, I had no strategy with credit cards.

Please tell us about your trip. Where did you go?

I surprised my 12-year-old son, Ezra, with a trip to Dallas, TX for 24 hours to watch the Clippers vs. Mavericks NBA game. After the game, we planned to travel to Phoenix and attend Cactus League spring training baseball games. But, we couldn’t find a rental car anywhere, nor did Uber or Lyft seem available. So, we made a last-minute change to our Southwest flight and headed to Tucson, AZ for 4 days.

We stayed at the Westin La Paloma which was beautiful. It backed up to mountains and had several outdoor pools, slides and a swim up bar. The Colorado Rapids MLS soccer team also was at the Westin for the whole month of March for their spring training practices. Ezra thought it was pretty cool to hang out with the MLS players and swim at the same time in the pool. That weekend was also the start of the NCAA tournament, so we really enjoyed just watching tournament basketball all day in the room, which was something we had never done before.

Saguaro National Park 2

Saguaro National Park

What inspired your trip?

My wife and three daughters were attending a wedding in South Georgia (they also flew on award miles for free) during spring break. So, I wanted to spend a guys’ sports week with Ezra watching NBA and MLB games. I knew how much he loved the Clippers and I decided to look around and see where they were playing that week. Fortunately, the Clippers were playing the Mavericks in Dallas. The plan was to leave Dallas the next day and go to Phoenix for a few spring training games. But, the lack of transportation and cost of the games made us choose to spend some time in Tucson instead. The trip turned out just as great!

What kind of points did you use for this trip?

I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest for the flights from Denver to Dallas and Dallas to Tucson. I love Southwest for the sole convenience of being able to change flights at a moment’s notice with no penalty and/or redeposit the points to use later. For our flight home, I used American Express Membership Rewards points to book a United flight direct from Tucson to Denver.

For our hotels, I used Marriott points for the W Hotel in Dallas that was right next to the American Airlines Arena. This was ideal because we were able to walk right from our room to the game. It was also a great location because it was right next to the Dallas aquarium and the JFK memorial—both of which we were able to see the next morning before our flight to Tucson. For our stay in Tucson, we booked 3 nights at the Westin La Paloma in Tucson. I was able to use 2 free night certificates from the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, and used accrued points for the 3rd night.

The Pool at Westin La Paloma in Tucson, AZ

The Pool at the Westin La Paloma in Tucson, AZ

What was the total out-of-pocket cost for this trip?

I saved close to $1,500 by using points to book my airfare and hotels.

In total, I spent about $1,000 on the trip. I paid $700 for the tickets to the NBA game. Because the game had limited capacity, the seat prices were outrageous. But, I justified it by realizing I was otherwise traveling for no cost thanks to Travel Freely! The rest of the out-of-pocket expenses were from food and Uber/Lyft.

What are some highlights from your trip?

Seeing my son’s reaction when we got to the W Victory Plaza hotel in Dallas was definitely a highlight! I handed him his own Kwahi Leonard jersey to put on and told him the reason we had flown to Dallas.

Also, we didn’t expect to be so close to the JFK Memorial—so, we stopped there too. We both really enjoyed walking the grounds and enhancing our understanding of the history surrounding that very dark day in our country’s history.

Finally, we were really surprised at how much we enjoyed the night tour at the Saguaro National Park Museum in Tucson. My son loves reptiles. The scorpions and snakes come alive at night and my son loved making the scorpions glow in the dark using his black light.

Ezra at JFK Memorial

Ezra at JFK Memorial

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in using points and miles to book a trip like yours?

If you are new to points and miles and haven’t yet booked a trip, focus on one rewards program (e.g. Chase Ultimate Rewards) that can be most helpful and flexible for your travel plans. As you get deeper into points and miles, it is worth spending the time to research rewards from different banks, airlines, or hotels if you want to truly travel freely often. Also, being flexible with your dates and booking one-way tickets (instead of roundtrip) can be a huge way to get the best value on flights.

Start with researching the best use of your Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR). We have the Chase Sapphire Reserve so we get 1.5x with the points on any travel booked in the Ultimate Rewards portal. So, I always price flights and hotels there first and see what my Chase points can get me.

But, if Southwest has a flight to where I want to go and the reward price for that flight is a good value, I’ll transfer my Chase UR points to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program (which is instantaneous) and book the flight directly through SW.

For hotel accommodations, I do the same evaluation with Chase Rewards points as a first step. But, I also see if I have a free night certificate for Hyatt or Marriott in the city I’m visiting. If I can grab a top category room using the certificate (e.g., category 4 for Hyatt), then I’ll use the certificate. If I can’t use the certificate and using Hyatt or Marriott points for a free night is more cost-effective, then I’ll transfer my points to Hyatt or Marriott and book my hotel that way. Otherwise, I tend to book directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Cards Used for This Trip

60,000 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. Our #1 personal card that we recommend most often. Single best "starter card" for beginners and MVP card for free travelers.
60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. Great choice for a frequent traveler, but note the huge annual fee. Sapphire Preferred is best option if you're starting out or not going to travel frequently in the coming year.
75,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. A large annual fee but many perks to offset it, including $300 annual credit. New offer includes $200 statement credit for purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first 6 months. This is a good ultra-premium option for people who like the Hilton Aspire card, but prefer Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
 

Would You Like Us to Share Your Story?

We’re always looking for reader success stories, and would love to hear yours! Please feel free to reach out at [email protected] and share the story of a recent trip you took using points and miles towards free travel!

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