I have been doing some serious travel hacking for about three years and have amassed a lot of points. I have primarily used them when I travel abroad so I can fly business class – love those lie-flat seats! Recently I went to Vietnam on award points – free/almost free trips are the best!! The best part is that even a beginner travel hacker can do the same trip!
I had a lot of Marriott points because my husband and I had separately applied for every Marriott personal and business card. We had also applied for every SPG personal and business card too. SPG and Marriott merged in 2018 so the SPG cards are no longer available. You can find out all about the current Marriott card lineup here.
In reading what hotel was the best to redeem points for, I kept reading about the JW Marriott in Phu Quoc, Vietnam fashioned after an old university in the area, Lamarck University. It is a category 5 but should be categorized higher. I loved the pictures and reviews of this place so decided to go to Vietnam for the hotel, not the destination. I used 210,000 Marriott points to stay there, getting a night free. (You get one free night for every four nights you book with points). Each night was 35,000 points and the rooms normally cost over $400 a night. Award points made it all possible.
I am a Marriott Platinum Elite member for this year because I signed up for the Ritz Carlton card (no longer available) last year and it gave me that status after meeting a certain spend. Because of this, we got an amazing free buffet breakfast for two each morning and an upgrade to the Turquoise Suite the last night which books for over $2000/night. Our buffet breakfasts were so huge that I’m convinced they had EVERYTHING any country would want! We never even could eat lunch we were so full each day.
I flew over and back on EVA airlines in business class and even got free pajamas! It was amazing, the food, the service, the sleep!! I used 150,000 Thank You Points from my husband’s and my Citi Prestige Cards (no longer available to apply for) and transferred them to EVA for those reservations.
Citi Prestige cards have a hefty annual fee of $450 but you receive a $250 travel credit each calendar year. Let say you sign up for the card in April. Use your $250 credit before the end of the year and then you’ll get another $250 credit starting in January. Use that one before your annual fee posts again in April! If you do this then the card pays for itself. You can then go ahead and cancel it once you’ve had the card for a year if you’d like (that’s what I did). Currently, Citibank is not accepting applications for this card but should be bringing it back in the future.
Additionally, it paid for my TSA fees, Global Entry and gets me Priority Pass. I use Priority Pass to go to airport lounges every time I travel – I get a free meal and can relax in much nicer, quieter facilities than the airport.
Our stay at the JW Marriott was amazing – it is simply one of the most creative and gorgeous hotels I’ve ever stayed at. At every turn, I was oohing and ahhing and taking a picture. I cannot even do the place justice with my pictures. A trip to Vietnam is a long, long flight. I would totally do it again to stay at this hotel!! I may need to use more award points to get to Vietnam in the future just to go here again!
Hanoi was an interesting city. So. Much. Traffic. I literally felt like I was taking my life in my hands when we crossed the streets. Street lights were obviously optional. We finally realized we could attach ourselves to a local crossing the street and walk with them. One of the most amazing sites was watching the locals slowly cross the streets and miraculously not get hit. We would even see their jackets blow open from the closeness of motorbikes. Talk about nerves of steel!
I think that if you have a plastic chair in Hanoi, you can open a restaurant. All over the city are groups of plastic chairs and people selling food. It is the craziest thing – food inspectors must not be a thing. I have to tell you, I am not a foodie when it comes to foreign food. Adventurous in foreign food, I am not. I’ve heard Vietnamese food is great but I didn’t eat in any of those makeshift restaurants.
My friend and I did get ripped off by a taxi driver in Vietnam. We had gone on a Hop-on, Hop-off bus and were exhausted after it so we flagged a driver to take us back to the hotel. When we got there, he refused to drive up to the Intercontinental Hotel and parked down from us, and told us what we owed him. I knew it was way over the amount we should pay him but he didn’t know English. We certainly knew no Vietnamese and just wanted out so finally paid about $40 for a $10 ride. This travel hacker got rooked!
One of our favorite things we did in Hanoi was book a trip to Ha Long Bay. I love to book tours when I am in foreign countries to get a feel for the area. We took a bus to Ha Long Bay and got on a boat to tour the Bay. It is stunning! I actually ate a good part of my Vietnamese lunch they fed us and felt so brave. We got off the boat and toured some of the amazing caves found in the area before we headed back to Hanoi.
There are many groups that offer overnight trips at Ha Long Bay where you stay on little junkets for a night or two. Get Your Guide is a company that offers this and other similar adventures around the world. I wish I had known about this before we went. I would have loved an overnight trip on the Ha Long Bay!
All in all, I saved $4300 on my hotels and $5000 for my flights. I did reposition to San Francisco from Denver for about $200 and paid for my dinners and a $25 massage (it’s cheap in Asia). I also paid a little over $200 to fly in and out of Pho Quoc. It was an amazing trip to Vietnam with award points that cost me about $600 and luxury was the theme!!
I love to travel and have been all over the world. You don’t have to be an expert to travel for free – even a beginner travel hacker can have these experiences! This hobby of travel hacking has made it so affordable!! Is Vietnam on your bucket list of travels? Ready to use your award points on a trip to Vietnam??