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Here’s How I Paid for a Surprise Trip for My Parents With Rewards Points

My redemption strategy included points and miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards and United Mileage Plus rewards programs.

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Airline miles and credit card rewards have been a huge help to my family. Over the past several years, we’ve used miles and points to travel in ways that we would otherwise not have been able to. We’ve used miles and points to travel as a family to Europe, take an Amtrak train across the country and make special memories both individually and as a family.

A couple of years ago, I surprised my parents with a trip to Scotland for my dad’s birthday.

Surprising My Parents With a Trip

My step-dad has always been interested in his Scottish heritage. He’s done tons of research about Scotland, read books, listened to Scottish music and even made his own kilts.

He has a birthday tradition of walking one minute for each year of his life. Most recently, he has taken to doing the walk in a kilt. His birthday is in December and the northern Ohio weather is not always kilt-conducive!

My step-dad had never been to Scotland and, given his life situation, probably would never be able to go. That’s where miles and points came into the story. I had been collecting miles and points for several years, and I came up with the idea to surprise my dad with a trip to Scotland for his birthday.

Credit: Dan Miller

Here is a picture of my dad and me, with three of my kids, around 10 years ago, preparing for one of these birthday kilt walks. I’m in the middle with my step-dad to my right.

I believe these are Mackenzie tartans. Though, I’m sure the Internet will let me know if I’m wrong. Personally, I’m a Barclay guy on my biological father’s mother’s side, but I’m not enough of a Barclay guy to make my own kilts.

The Surprise Falls Apart

I debated trying to surprise both my parents on my own, but decided that it probably wouldn’t work as a complete surprise. So I first collaborated with my mom. We spent a bit of time trying to plan the trip, but soon realized that there was just no way to keep this a secret from my dad. Half of the fun of a trip is in the planning, and he really enjoyed planning all of the different activities.

>>MORE: Beginners Guide to Credit Card Travel Rewards

My parents taped a big AAA map up on the wall of their dining room and started taking notes on potential places to visit. After finding award availability and coordinating with job schedules, they had a little over a week in Scotland. We also decided to add a couple of days in Ireland as well.

My dad left his kilts at home because, during all of the research, he discovered that most Scots don’t like Americans going over there and “pretending” to be Scottish, which makes some sense.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards to Book the Trip

I looked at a couple of different options for booking this trip with miles and points, but eventually decided on transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus.

At the time, a business-class flight each cost 60,000 United MileagePlus miles, which made the total trip cost 240,000 Ultimate Rewards/MileagePlus miles. I booked travel as two separate one-way flights. The departing flight went to Edinburgh via Newark and Dublin on Aer Lingus, while the return flight flew from Dublin on United Airlines. I then booked a cheap flight from Edinburgh to Dublin through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal — at a value of 1.5 cents per point — with my Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

>>Chase Sapphire Cards Offering New Bonuses: Earn Up to $1,000 in Travel

I helped my parents apply for a couple hotel credit cards, which helped cover some of their lodging costs My mother also signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which she used to pay for a rental car, a decision that paid off when a flat tire and burned-out clutch threatened the trip. The Chase Sapphire Reserve reimbursed my parents over $1,000 for those damages.

Chase is currently offering limited-time offers on the Sapphire Reserve cards. Depending on where you want to go, it can only take a couple of these welcome bonuses to get you enough Ultimate Rewards to make that happen

The Bottom Line

My parents had an amazing time on their trip, even though they had a few problems along the way. Still, despite a few bumps and bruises, they’ll certainly remember this trip for the rest of their lives.

I’m grateful for the miles and points that helped me arrange a surprise trip for my parents. Its memories like these that truly show the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards and other types of credit card rewards.


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Dan Miller

Dan Miller is a freelance writer and founder of PointsWithACrew.com, a site that helps families to travel for free and cheap. He is an expert in all things personal finance, and his work has been featured in Forbes, NerdWallet, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, Rocket Mortgage and Intuit Mint. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and six kids.

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