Soaring 30,000 feet in the air, I had the opportunity to eat blowfish. Although prized as a delicacy, it is deadly. If cut the wrong way, one bite results in a slow torturous death. We enjoyed blowfish not in an upscale Japanese restaurant on 5th Ave of Manhattan, but in $5,000 business class seats on our way to Japan that cost only $38.50. At this moment, I realized how incredible my life has become thanks to a system called Points Banking.
Eating delicious sushi in Japanese Airlines Business Class Seats while our daughter was sleeping.
On this trip, I married my better half on a beautiful beach in Bali, stayed in a local village in Fiji, played with koalas and kangaroos in Australia, and witnessed the mesmerizing lantern festival in Taiwan. Without Points Banking, I could have never afforded this amazing journey.
I know what you are thinking, “How was the trip?” Absolutely remarkable. The sights, cultural experiences, variety of cuisine, and outdoor adventures, made this vacation unforgettable. Although traveling three weeks with a 2-year-old in 4 different countries with over 10 flights required energy and persistence, the experiences and memories were priceless and life changing.
We like to travel light and not be slowed down by suitcases. These three bags are all of our possessions for the three week trip. Picture: Balangan Beach in Bali, Indonesia
This three week vacation cost $562.67 in flights. A price cheaper than the latest smart phone! You can repeat my success through Points Banking and diligent preparation. It is possible for almost any US citizen to achieve.
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Q: How did we get such cheap flights?
A: Points Banking
Q: What is Points Banking?
A: Smartly earning and redeeming rewards points offered by the financial and travel industries. I will explain exactly how we did it in the next section.
Let’s get into it!
How did the three of us get to Fiji in first and business class for only $16.80 TOTAL?
This is a copy of our itinerary. As you can see, we went first class domestically and business class internationally.
It cost 62,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and $5.60 per person to go from New York to Fiji in First and Business classes. A total of 187,500 AA miles and $16.80 in taxes and fees for three people. If we paid full price for those seats, it would have cost $3,433 per person or $10,299 for three. We could have never afforded or even justified paying over $10,000 for these flights. The funny thing is, we didn’t earn the necessary miles by flying on American Airlines or spending $187,500 on a credit card at one mile per dollar. There is a much easier way to accumulate hundreds of thousands of miles to create an experience of a lifetime.
Q: Where did the miles and points come from?
A: Credit card sign-up bonuses! Let me explain.
Credit card companies are always looking to have more people sign up for their service and credit cards. As an incentive, they often give sign-up bonuses. These bonuses can include cash back or gift certificates, but the most enticing promotions are airline miles. Airline mile bonuses vary by credit card, but some can reach 50,000-100,000 miles from just one card. All you have to do is to sign-up for a credit card, meet a spending requirement, and the bonus miles show up in your account. Simple.
The great news is that you can apply for multiple credit cards annually. The lucrative sign-up bonuses provided by credit card companies can help you quickly rack up enough miles for a trip to anywhere in the world.
Your first thought might be, “Yeah that sounds great, but it screws up your credit score!” I had the same thought before I started Points Banking. After some research, I learned that applying for multiple credit cards and increasing my credit line actually raised my score over time. After learning these tactics and strategies, I am proud (but not bragging) to say that my credit score is above 800. If I can do it, you can definitely do it too. Just pay your credit card bills on time and have a healthy credit record.
It may be hard to believe, but only two credit card sign-up bonuses provided enough miles for our flights from New York to Fiji. A few years ago, there was a promotion (no longer available) to get 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles with one credit card sign-up bonus. My wife and I both jumped on the opportunity to get 200,000 AA miles after completing the minimum spending. It only took three months from the time we applied for the two cards to the time we received the 200,000 American Airlines miles. Once the miles were in our possession, we strategically used them to optimize their value and got over $10,000 worth of travel. It doesn’t matter who you ask, that’s an amazing deal.
This was our first flight of the trip. Bella decided give the pilots a few pointers.
Flying First and Business Class to Fiji
Flying first class was an amazing start to our epic family vacation. The flight attendants were warm and attentive. With fresh baked bread, cloth napkins, and heavy metal silverware, it felt like we were in a restaurant. Our two first class flights to Los Angeles were just the start of our luxurious journey to Fiji.
Having access to a variety of free foods with a toddler makes traveling smoother. This was in the Los Angeles Business Lounge.
One of the perks of flying first/business class is lounge access. In the exclusive airport lounges, we had access to free food, free WiFi, and a quiet sitting area. There were no crowded seating areas or loud speakers announcing boarding flights. The lounge employees personally notified us when it was time to board the plane. When we arrived to the gate, there were no lines to wait on and we were personally escorted to our seats.
Fiji Airways Business Class seats from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji
Our adventurous daughter, Bella loved all of the extra attention and big comfy seats. She has been fortunate enough to have had her first flight at five months old in first class. All thanks to Points Banking.
Our business class seats from Los Angeles to Fiji were comfortable and decadent.
The wooden tooth brush and bottle of Fiji water were a nice touch.
All comfy and cozy on the 14 hour flight
We arrived in Fiji at 6 a.m., so sleep was crucial despite our excitement.
Highlights of Fiji
One of my favorite things about Fiji was its invigorating and pure water. Seriously, everywhere we went there seemed to be a natural spring pumping out refreshing and crisp water. It was by far the best tasting tap water I have ever tasted.
The beaches were so beautiful in Fiji.
While in Fiji, submerging ourselves into the Fijian culture was important to us. I decided to book an Airbnb at a locals’ house in Nadi about 20 minutes outside of the city. The Airbnb hosts were an older couple and made us feel right at home. For $26 a day, our Airbnb housing included three delicious meals per day, a deal you can’t go wrong with. We ate deliciously grown local Fijian food and were surrounded by the most ripe and sweet mango and papaya trees.
One day after eating a papaya breakfast, we told our hosts that we wanted to visit a village and learn more about the old way of life in Fiji. It just so happened that our host had a sister who married a chief of a village about 2 hours away. Our host made a call to her family in the village and they accepted our request to visit and see their way of life. Excited with anticipation, we packed extra clothes hoping for another incredible adventure.
Within minutes of arriving in the village, Bella became best friends with the kids in the village.
We arrived in the village mid-day and was warmly greeted by the chief’s son and family. Within minutes of entering their house, we had a kava ceremony. Kava is a root that Fijians grind up and mix with water. It tastes earthy and has a relaxing effect that I felt throughout my body. Our daughter, Bella, wanted to be part of the kava ceremony as we all sat cross legged around a big hand carved wooden bowl filled with a mud colored liquid. We all shared one cup made out of a coconut and yelled “Bula” before drinking the kava. My smile was ear to ear showing my excitement of how fun things were. I’m sure the kava had some effect on me too.
Bella was loving the kava ceremony as we were lounging outside under the stars.
When we finished our kava ceremony, it seemed like we passed the test. Isema, the chief’s son, told our Airbnb hosts that they can leave us and we could stay the night. After our hosts drove away in the only car in the village, Isema showed us around his village and introduced us to his friends and family. The village was steps away from the beach and sprinkled with coconut trees. Isema had the only house like structure in the village, the rest were well-built cement structures with tin roofs. The beach was bright blue and whispering sounds of soothing waves that flowed throughout the village.
Everybody was friendly in the village. Isema, the chief’s son, is on the left.
We became the first foreigners to ever spend the night in their village. They even let us stay an additional night. Over the three days we were there, we had a picnic on the beach, participated in their daily rituals, and lived off the land by eating the freshest fruits and vegetables. Isema even offered us some land for free if we ever wanted to move into their village and build our own house. We seriously considered never returning home and staying in this paradise in Fiji.
The kids in the village took us to their favorite beach. We had so much fun playing with them.
How we got to Australia
We flew on Fiji Airways but booked our flights through American Airlines. Fiji Airways and American Airlines are airline partners. We purchased our flights on the Barclay Arrival Plus credit card for a total of $723.37. The Barclay Arrival Plus card works by reimbursing certain travel expenses. After purchase, you obtain the credit with a few clicks online. I had 60,000 Barclay Arrival Plus points which subtracted $600 from the $723.37. That means our total flight cost was $123.37 for three one way tickets to Brisbane, Australia.
We saved $600 from just one credit card sign up bonus.
The Barclay Arrival Plus offered us a sign-up bonus of 40,000 after spending $3,000 in 90 days. After the minimum spending was complete, that comes out to $460 towards any travel expense. The annual fee was waived the first year too! It was essentially free money for our travel expenses. After I received the sign up bonus, I was able to put enough spending on the card to reach 60,000 points.
Australia felt just like the United States of America. The streets were clean and the architecture was modern. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the suburbs of Brisbane. The grocery store was a 5-minute walk away, so we cooked most of our meals in the apartment.
This was the balcony of our Airbnb apartment in Brisbane. We ate almost all of our meals on this gorgeous balcony.
This koala was cute and friendly.
We took a day trip to the Gold Coast, which included visiting The wildlife sanctuary in Currumbin. The sanctuary was packed with fuzzy Aussie friends. Bella got to play with kangaroos, pet koalas and dozens of other native animals. The animals were not in cages and they had plenty of space to roam around and enjoy their space. Seeing a joey (baby kangaroo) hop in and out of its mother’s pouch was jaw dropping. The joey seemed a little big for the pouch and he was almost the size of Bella! Seeing the beauty of the animals allowed us to appreciate wildlife even more than before.
Bella got up close and personal while feeding a kangaroo.
The sanctuary was only a 5-minute walk to the beautiful beach of the Gold Coast. Even after coming from Fiji, we were surprised of the bright blue water and light tan sand. The water was rough enough to tumble me over a few times, but I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying its warmth. When the sun started making its way down, we started making our way to a restaurant overlooking the beach. The seafood was fresh and our neighboring Aussies struck up a conversation with us. Everyone in Australia were friendly to us and we loved the welcoming experience.
Loving the beach on the Gold Coast.
How we got to Bali
We saved $500 off our flights from Australia to Bali!
Once again, we used the Barclay Arrival Plus card to erase some of the flight costs. This time, we used my wife’s Barclay Arrival Plus which had 50,000 points accumulated on it. This is equal to $500 toward travel expenses. This brought our total cost of flights total to $128.50 for the three of us. We saved $500 thanks to another credit card sign up bonus. These benefits can really add up if you have a spouse or partner. Between our two Barclay Arrival Plus cards, we saved $1,100 in flight costs. Think about the possibilities!
Having four seats empty is kinda like a bed on a plane. Bella and Christine had a restful sleep on the way to Bali.
Bali will always have our hearts because that’s where we had our special day.
Our Wedding in Bali was surreal.
We had a beautiful beach wedding that it seemed surreal. The location was secluded without a soul in sight. It was closed off by big rocks which prevented people from walking by allowing us to fully embrace one another. We had frangipani flowers all over the ground with a path leading to a palm leaf arch.
A local Balinese man served as our officiant and performed our ceremony with some local traditions such as being served the local fruit as good luck. My favorite part of the ceremony was that our daughter was able to be a part of our special day. Even to this day, she still talks about our perfect wedding day and refers to it as the day: “We all got married.”
Bella was happy to be part of our wedding.
We took some extra photos by the Black Temple. It was an amazing day!
Bella loved taking pictures.
Along with our dream-like wedding, Bali was an amazing island filled with so much culture. Another highlight was the Royal Palace Balinese show in Ubud. The combination of music and dancing were overwhelmingly magical that it even brought me to my feet. I was in awe the entire show.
The music and dancing at the royal Palace was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Prior to Bali, Christine and I spent about four weeks in Thailand together before Bella was born. Bali was reminiscent of Thailand for us. The abundance of cheap massages ($6 for a one hour full body massage), fresh fruit, and coconuts were only a few of our favorite things. Every meal cost us less than $8 as a family of three, which is affordable for almost anyone! We were thankful to be able to explore such a magnificent part of the world without breaking the bank.
Bella watched us get massages all the time and decided she wanted one too. It only cost $4 for a 30 minute massage. She loved it!
Our $900 Hotel bill for free
We decided we wanted to splurge on our hotel during the wedding. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Bali Hotel which was one of the most nicest hotels I have stayed ever stayed in. There were frangipani trees sprinkling flowers all over the property. The six pools were beautifully designed with bridges and rock walls. The hotel occupied an entire beach to itself that was filled with flour white sand and sky blue water. It felt like paradise.
Our room was big and spacious for the three of us. Bella had her own little nook on the other side of the room. We had a balcony that overlooked the lush garden filled with bamboo trees swaying in the wind. The greatest part about the Grand Hyatt Bali hotel was that it was free! We paid zero dollars.
The hotel property was so beautiful. It was lush and full of life.
The cost for our room per night would have been $300. Instead, we used 17,000 Hyatt points per night. By paying 51,000 Hyatt rewards points, we saved $900 and stayed at a 5 star hotel.
How we got to Taiwan
We transferred our American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta for better value.
It’s important to know which points/miles to use for a certain flights. We didn’t have any Delta SkyMiles in our account when we decided to fly from Bali, Indonesia to Taipei, Taiwan. We did, however, have plenty of American Express Membership Rewards Points. Membership Rewards points are a lot more valuable when transferred to airline partners like Delta. Your hard earned Amex points will go to waste if redeemed for gift cards or used in Amex’s price-inflated travel portal.
To get more value out of your Amex Membership Rewards points, wait for a transfer bonus promotion. Rather than transfer Amex points to Delta at a ratio of 1:1, we transferred them when there was a transfer bonus of 20%. That means we only used 54,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to get 68,500 Delta SkyMiles. Because of our perfect timing, we came out ahead with 18,500 free Delta SkyMiles.
A few years ago, we took advantage of a American Express welcome offer offering 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points after completing the minimum spending. We had the points sitting in our account until the right opportunity came along. When the transfer bonus promotion went public, we capitalized on the opportunity to get free Delta SkyMiles.
Our tickets would have cost $212.29 per person one way from Bali to Taiwan. With the three of us, we would have paid $636.87 total. Instead, we only paid $178.50 and 68,500 Delta SkyMiles for the three of us ($59.50 and 22,500 Delta SkyMiles per person). We saved another $458.37.
Our brief stay in Taiwan was sentimental. To give a little back story, a few years ago Christine traveled to Taiwan while pregnant with Bella. Through Couchsurfing.com, Christine met a local named Ann who allowed Christine to stay at her house for free. Being 4.5 months pregnant, Christine wasn’t feeling the best (how many women can relate?).
Ann cooked and cared for Christine as if she was a part of her family. For an entire week, Ann showed Christine the best of Taiwan and the best hospitality she had ever experienced. She visited ancient temples, villages, hot springs, and explored Taiwanese delicacies. She was able to visit a local hospital and get an ultrasound with lab work that took less than 1 hour and cost her less than 40 dollars. They developed a strong connection and keep in touch to this day.
Now fast forwarding to a few years later, Ann got to meet Bella for the first time. It was a special moment for all of us. Ann had felt connected to Bella now that she was born, and was taken back by all of the love that filled the room. After our lovely reunion, Ann wanted to take us to the annual Lantern Festival in a small town an hour outside of Taipei. The trains were packed with a bunch of people going to the same festival, so we knew we were in for a great treat.
The trains in Taipei were crowded. I did have a good view with my height.
We were getting a little hungry and decided to get off at one of the stops hoping to explore some local markets and see what surprises we could find. It just so happened that the stop we got off at was known as the cat village. The town was swarming with cats…literally everywhere! Wild cats were in the streets, on the roofs, and even on top of the cat sculptures. Although we were taken by surprise by all of the little feline fellows, that didn’t stop our stomachs from rumbling. It did not take long before we were able to fill our mouths with some deliciously fresh vegetarian noodles. Once our bellies were finally filled, we were ready to continue our adventure to the lantern festival.
Strolling through the night markets and smelling all different types of food. Ann was sweet and taught us so much.
When we arrived to the festival, we were greeted by thousands of people packed on a small strip of concrete next to the train. It was more crowded than anything I had ever seen! We followed the crowd to a giant field where we were able to release the lanterns, a symbol of good luck.
Watching the lanterns drift away in the night sky was magical.
Hundreds of lanterns were released into the sky at once, sending chills throughout my body as I took in all of the beauty that surrounded me. I could feel the love, warmth, and happiness that the locals portrayed, it was absolutely magical. We joined in on the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the thousands of spectators and embraced every moment as we watched the lanterns float away.
How we got back home to New York
Our last leg of the trip was our favorite. Japan Airlines (JAL) has the reputation of being one of the best business class seats in the industry. When flying from Taipei, Taiwan to Osaka, Japan to Los Angeles, JAL exceeded our expectations.
The JAL Sakura Lounge in Osaka, Japan was exquisite.
The lounges were comfortable and stocked with the finest sake and sushi.
Bella loved all the food and quietness of the lounge.
They even had massage chairs in the lounge
On the plane, the lie flat seats were extra comfortable and even fit a tall 6’4” guy like me. The food on both JAL flights were even better than most Japanese restaurants I have been to. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, they served us even more authentic Japanese food.
We loved the comfortable seats that reclined 180 degrees.
All the flight attendants went above and beyond to make sure we had a smooth flight. They adored our daughter and gave her extra special attention. When our bellies were full and our eyes tired from watching five hours of movies, we all had a restful sleep on the fully reclined seats. They even gave us our own robes.
The free unlimited sake was a plus.
Lunch time. Bella liked the authentic Japanese food.
The potentially poisonous blowfish is in the middle bowl.
It was the best sleep we ever had on a plane.
Only $38.50 for $5,231 first/business class seats. Incredible!
Our tickets cost 62,500 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles and $38.50 per person. That is a total of 187,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and $115.50 total for the three of us. At the time of booking, these fancy business class seats were priced at $5,231 per seat ($15,695 total for three). Never in our lives would we ever justify paying over $5,000 for a seat on a plane, no matter how good the sushi. By using our miles, we saved over $15,000 to have an amazing life experience we could have never afforded.
For our JAL and AA flights home, we only needed three credit card sign-up bonuses to get us enough miles for this leg of the trip. Christine and I both got the personal Citibank American Airlines AAdvantage card with a 50,000 AA miles sign up bonus each after completing the minimum spending. I additionally got a business version of the Citibank American Airlines card for an additional 50,000. The additional 37,500 AA miles came from the other sign up bonuses and some regular everyday spending.
When the miles were strategically used the right way, we got over $15,000 worth of travel. What an amazing award redemption!
The point is, it doesn’t take many credit card sign up bonuses to have trips and experiences of a lifetime. The right credit card sign-up bonuses with the correct strategy can give you the trip of a lifetime.
The experiences and memories created on this epic family trip will stay with us forever. We feel so thankful that we came across this amazing system that has afforded us experiences we could have never paid for. Points Banking has changed the way we view travel. We no longer worry about how expensive flights and hotels can be. From getting married in Bali, to traveling like millionaires in business class, we are most grateful we got to experience it all together as a family.
Total Costs Of Flights
Now onto the part you have been waiting for. How did we get to travel so cheap? How is that even possible? I will break it down by flights in the order we took them and show you exactly how much money we spent and saved.
New York to Fiji
How many miles – 62,500 American Airlines miles per person (187,500 for three)
How much cash we paid – $5.60 per seat ($16.80 for three)
Cost if paid in full price – $3,433 per seat ($10,299 for three)
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $16.80
Fiji to Australia
How many miles – 60,000 Barclay arrival Points
How much cash we paid – $120 for three
Cost if paid full price – $723.37
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $123.37
Australia to Bali
How many miles – 50,000 Barclay arrival Points
How much cash we paid – $128.50
Cost if paid full price – $628.50 for three
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $128.50
Bali to Taiwan
How many miles – 22,500 per person (67,500 for three)
How much cash we paid – $59.50 per person ($178.50 for three)
Cost if paid full price – $212.29 per person ($636.87 for three)
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $178.50
Taiwan to New York
How many miles – 62,500 American Airlines miles per person (187,500 for three)
How much we paid – $38.50 ($115.50 for three)
Cost if paid full price –$5,231 per person ($15,695 for three)
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $115.50
Grand Hyatt Bali
How many points – 17,000 Hyatt Points per night (51,000 Hyatt Points Total)
How much we paid – $0
Cost if paid full price – $300 per night ($900 Total)
Total cost out of pocket for three people – $0
As you can see, we saved just a little bit of money – actually, $28,321.09 to be exact between flights and hotel nights! Yes – $28,321.09! This trip wasn’t easy to plan and took months of preparation. There were countless hours of research and phone calls with representatives. But, after the extraordinary experience we had, every minute of preparation was more than worth it.
Do you want to travel cheap too?
Since you read all the way to the bottom, I am offering a free 10 minute phone consultation. Usually, I just offer just an email consultation. I can explain the basics and see if the Points Banking system and if it’s right for you.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this article. My goal with writing this post was to expand your thinking of how cheap and extravagant travel can be, even with a family.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin