How points helped me plan a surprise trip

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How points helped me plan a surprise trip

Recently I planned a surprise trip to Austin, Texas for my girlfriend’s birthday. It was a little tricky planning because I wasn’t sure what sort of flexibility she would have and I didn’t want her to have any idea where we were going until we were at the gate. This required finding loyalty programs that would allow me to adjust my plans all the way up til the last minute. The trickiest part was the flights. Most hotels will allow you to cancel up to 24 hours in advance. Had I tried to pay outright for the trip it would have been extremely expensive because of the change fees that would have been imposed. Here’s how points helped me plan a surprise trip, and hopefully help you plan as well.

AA allows you to change award tickets without fee – byaw!

This is huge advantage ( no pun intended) in planning a trip like this. As long as saver availability is showing up, your origin and destination stay the same, you can change your tickets. You’ll have to pay any difference in taxes and fees if you end up changing airlines, but for me, I was flying American metal so that wasn’t a concern of mine. The trip got changed a couple of times as her schedule changed. This saved me SOME DOUGH. Every AA change is $200 per ticket and the difference in fare.

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My Barclay Aviator saved me 7500 miles per ticket and 10% back.

Traditionally two saver tickets would cost 12,500 each way per person…or 50k total. However, if you carry one of the premium branded AA cards from Barclay or Citi you qualify for discount award tickets: up to 7500 roundtrip. In addition to this discount, the card gives you a 10% rebate on points used. This means I actually paid 31,500 for both flights with great flexibility

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Avios are a great backup.

Not only are American Aadvantage tickets very flexible, but you can book and cancel Avios tickets up to 24 hours in advance and only pay the lesser of the initial booking fee or the “change and service fee = $55 and $25, respectively.”  For AA tickets booked online, it’s $5.60. This means you can change these tickets and only lose the $5.60 not the $80 it would cost you over the phone. YUGE YUGE YUGE

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These tickets are booked with a distance based chart and would have cost 20k r/t from LAX to AUS. I recommend using Wandering Aramean’s Avios calculator. I have a much larger cache of AA than Avios, and it cost me fewer miles, so I chose to use AA vs Avios.

*Don’t forget that you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex MR into BA’s loyalty program.

I used Hyatt cash + points and my IHG credit card free night cert

I wanted to stay at the Driskill and thought it would be a really cool experience. It’s the oldest hotel in Austin, luxurious, and part of the Unbound Collection, of which I haven’t tried yet. I have a review in process, and IT WAS A CRAZY NIGHT…one might even say paranormal – but it proved to be a great use of points and cash. 10,000 points and $125.


 and then also the Intercontinental Austin – which was free cause of my IHG Chase card

The hotels are centrally located, literally across the street from one another, and I thought would provide a fun way to hop the city for a couple nights. Because of the IHG credit card it cost me nothing.


By using points, keeping the right credit cards, and knowing the system, I flew two people to Austin, stayed in fabulous hotels, and the upfront cost was $136 + points.

There is more to the story because we left the Driskill in the middle of the night and ultimately stayed in 3 hotels in two nights, but that’s for another post.( We went to the JW Marriott which was amazing ) Yes…there was some weird stuff happening at the Driskill, but I would still recommend the hotel to anyone going through Austin.

The point is that you can do really fun and cool things for the ones you love and do it for an incredible price

The tickets to Austin were over $500 a ticket when they were finalized and the hotels were nearly $300 a night. Easily saved over a grand.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great starter card that earns Premium Ultimate Rewards that can be transferred into over a dozen partners many of which are US based. 

Welcome Offer

60k Points after $4k spend in 3 months

Annual Fee


Points Earned

Transferrable Chase Ultimate Rewards

If you carry this card alongside Chase’s cashback cards like the Chase Freedom Flex℠and Chase Freedom Unlimited® or the business versions: Ink Business Cash , Ink Business Unlimited you can combine the points into Preferred account and transfer into hotel and airline partners

Annual fee is quite low at $95 a year + you get a 10% anniversary bonus on points + $50 hotel credit in Chase travel.

  • 3x on dining
    •  including eligible delivery services for takeout
  • 3x on select streaming services
  • 3x on online grocery purchases
    • (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • 5x on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards – Chase Travel Portal
  • $50 Annual Credit on hotel stays purchased via Ultimate Rewards/Chase Travel
    • The begins immediately for new cardmembers and after your account anniversary for existing cardmembers
  • 10% Anniversary Bonus
    • Every year you keep the card, your total spend will yield a 10% points bonus. If you spend $10k in a year, you’ll get 1k bonus points
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® continues to redeem at 1.25c in the Chase Travel Portal and the slew of other benefits remain in tact including primary rental car insurance, purchase protections, etc.
  • Points are transferrable to 13 Ultimate Rewards partners
  • Redeem in the Chase Travel center for 1.25 cents per point
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Suite of Travel and Purchase Coverage
    • Primary rental car coverage is my favorite

We keep an up to date spreadsheet that lists the best ever offers: You can find that spreadsheet here.

Historically 80k is a very, very good offer and hit in both 2022 and 2023. In 2021, we saw the offer hit an all time high of 100k. Who knows if that will ever come back.

Main Cast: 

Cards that earn flexible points and should be used on the bulk of your purchases.

Supporting Cast:

Cards that earn fixed points in the currency of the airline/hotel and can not be transferred at attractive rates. These cards yield benefits that make it worth keeping, but not necessarily worth putting a lot of your everyday spend on. 


  • […] is where we spent the 2nd night on our surprise trip to Austin. The Intercontinental Austin is located smack in the middle of everything at Congress and 7th. If […]

  • Nick M September 20, 2016

    Looking forward to your upcoming review post. I too have a surprise trip to Austin planned for my wife (just got married) for Valentines Day. I booked two nights at the Driskill, but am a little weary and am thinking of either booking another Hyatt or the Intercontinental.

    • Miles September 20, 2016

      Hey Nick! Thanks for reading and congrats on the marriage! Sounds like an awesome trip you have planned. Pretty sure, as you’ll see in my post, my experience at the Driskill was unique. The other Hyatt is right across the river…half way between downtown and South Congress. I’ll have reviews for the Intercontinental and JW Marriott as well.

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