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After earning 2.1 million points during 2017, I have about 4.9 million points and miles at the end of the year, Yes I am fully aware of the big risk of program devaluations. But with a full-time job and kids in high school, I simply cannot take a trip anywhere just for the purpose of burning points and miles. After all, each trip is not completely free. Even if I use miles for flights and points for hotels, there will be transportation costs and meals that we pay for with cash. And my family likes to eat, from budget meals to fine dining such as the $1,000 dinner for two at French Laundry in Napa Valley. When all five of us spending a week somewhere, the cost for food truly adds up! So if I am going to use points to book a trip, there needs to be a good reason.

Just a month ago, I only had three trips booked for 2018, none including the kids. But five weeks into 2018, that has changed dramatically. I added three big family trips, and used a total of 1.2 million miles and points, putting a dent to my big pile of nearly 5 million points at the beginning of the year.

125,000 Avios for 5 roundtrip tickets to Maui

From the Bay Area, the Hawaiian islands are just five hours away, and we can fly Alaska Airlines using just 12,500 British Airways Avios per person each way. The challenge is Alaska often releases only two coach award seats on each flight. Earlier last month I happened to browse Alaska website and stumbled on FIVE award seats between San Jose and Maui in June! Roundtrip airfares were over $700 per person. Even if I use two companion certificates, the flights alone would have cost me well over $2,000 for all five of us. The trip simply would not happen if I have to spend that kind of money on flights alone. Instead, I called British Airways and redeemed 125,000 Avios for five roundtrip tickets!

Checking today, award seats are wide open in May! Nonstop flights showing 17,500 miles each way are bookable with only 12,500 Avios.

[SEE: Don’t call the US British Airways phone number! – try this instead ]

[SEE: Use Avios to your advantage for a family trip ]

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Remember even when it says 17,500 on the Alaska chart, you can book these tickets for 12,500 using British Airways Avios.

For hotels, I considered using points for either Andaz Maui or Grand Wailea. But I need two rooms for five nights, which will require an outrageous amount of points. I ended up looking on VRBO and found a beautiful two-bedroom condo in quiet Maalaea area, which is 15 minutes away from the airport, and half way between Lahaina and Wailea. The condo has a full kitchen and two bathrooms, and costs just $190 per night, or about $1,200 total for five nights including taxes and fees.  This will be my husband’s first trip to Maui, and I cannot wait to take him to Mama’s Fish House, my favorite restaurant on the island.

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812,000 points for Christmas trip to China

Just two weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take the girls to China over this Christmas, to spend time with my mom who will be turning 75 later this year. The 16 hour flight to Hong Kong is long and I want to fly everyone in business class. With one daughter flying back from college and another one having high school finals, we can only fly out on certain days, and must return right after the new year. It’s challenging when you need more than two tickets during the holidays!

Cathay Pacific schedule was already out by then, but flights were not yet bookable using AAdvantage miles since AA releases schedule one month behind Cathay. I checked everyday on British Airways website for Cathay award seats which were disappearing fast. The morning AA released schedule for the date I wanted, I called them and booked three business class tickets to Guangzhou via Hong Kong for 70,000 miles per person. Thanks to the credit card rebate, we got back 17,000 miles, so net cost was 193,000 miles across two accounts for three one-way business class tickets.

[SEE ALSO: 8 ways to use a MILLION “worthless” AA miles ]

My husband will fly out with our middle daughter after her last day of final exam. The only way to ensure I get two tickets on my desired date was to book directly through Cathay Pacific, which also requires 70,000 Asia miles per person. I transferred 350,000 Amex points to cover five one-way tickets, but unfortunately transfer wasn’t instant and took two days. By the time the points hit my account, the evening flight out of SFO was gone. I grabbed the two seats on the flight out of LAX next day, and waitlisted them for three different flights out of SFO. We will see if the waitlist clears later this fall.

[SEE ALSO: 6 Best Use of Asia Miles ]

Booking the return flight was equally challenging. Once again I had to split up the family. My youngest daughter and I will be flying on Singapore Airlines business class which cost 82,000 miles each, while my husband will take the other two flying home the next day on Cathay Pacific using 70,000 miles each. They will be able to get me the Cathay Zodiac stuffed animal, and next year is the Year of the Pig!

a city skyline with lights at night

We will be spending a few nights in Hong Kong, over New Year’s Eve. I used 105,000 points for two club rooms at the Hyatt Regency TsimShaTsui in Kowloon. This will be my husband’s 3rd trip to Hong Kong. The joke around the house is that Hong Kong doesn’t like him, as he got food poisoning during the last two trips and spent the entire time in the hotel room. He joked this time as we made our plan: “I haven’t had food poisoning for a while.” Haha, knock on wood! Perhaps third time is the charm?!  I look forward to the New Year’s Eve seafood buffet at the hotel, and then watching the incredible firework over Victoria Harbor from the comfort of Regency Club!

[See Also: What was the best place you celebrated New Year’s Eve? ]

With the flights and Hong Kong hotels covered using a total of 812,000 points, I still have hotels in Guangzhou that I will be paying cash for. Because the hotel we want to stay, the beautiful White Swan Hotel, is not part of any hotel chain. In the city with many luxury hotels including the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons, the Park Hyatt, and mid-level chain hotels where I could have used points, the White Swan Hotel is the one my family comes back over and over again. Lots of memories had been made here.

225,000 points plus $360 for a weekend in Alabama!

Oddly enough, I am excited for this trip! Our oldest daughter is currently a freshman at University of Alabama. Last year, due to crazy work schedule I never made it to Tuscaloosa, my husband however made three trips there! This year, with UA family weekend at the end of September, we decided to let our two younger girls skipping two days of school and head to Alabama!

Our original plan for summer vacation this year was to go to St. Martin. [See: Sorry Hawaii, Aloha Caribbean]. I had return flights booked with Amex using the 50% Business Platinum card rebate, just one month before Hurricane Irma hit the island. Even though my flight was not until June 2018, American Airlines allowed me to cancel the tickets without a change fee. So I have $215 credit for each one of us that need to be used up by December. I decided to use the credit towards a flight coming back from Alabama, since there are no saver award seats available with any airlines. I paid for the fare difference, which was about $84 each. For the outbound flight, I managed to find four award seats on AA for just 12,500 miles each. After the 10% credit card rebate, it cost us just 45,000 miles plus $22!

[SEE ALSO: 5 Best Uses of Hilton Points ]

When there is any event or a home game in T town, hotel prices go through the roof! If you are lucky enough to find a hotel room, even a room at La Quinta Inn would cost $400 a night! This is when points truly save the day! Instead of spending $615 before taxes and fees, I used 60,000 points per night at the Embassy Suite, or 180,000 points for 3 nights.

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We are all pretty excited of the three new trips we just booked. Even after spending 1.2 million miles and points, we still need to pay cash for some hotel expenses. Like I always say, I collect points and miles not to travel free, but rather to reduce the cost of our family’s travel so that we can travel more and travel better.  I am still sitting on 3.8 million miles and points, and they will go towards 2019 trip planning as I max out on vacation days with the six 2018 trips booked!

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