How One Couple Scored a $78,000 Honeymoon for Under $1,500

Hoan Do had his sights set on a first-class trip to the Maldives, so he travel hacked his way there.

Hoan Do has always been a "maximizer"—or, as he describes it, someone who makes the most of what he has. The one area of his life he's stretched his resources for outsized returns has been vacations. Over the past few years, Do has used his expertise at travel hacking to take some nice trips (to places such as Hawaii and Puerto Vallarta), but he recently set his sights a little higher. He wanted to go to the Maldives, a tiny Asian country in the Indian Ocean known for its stunning blue lagoons and pristine white sand beaches.

"I imagined that it would be the most beautiful place to go for a honeymoon," said Do, 33, who lives in Seattle with his wife, Anh Thu Le, 29. To make his dream honeymoon a reality, Do created a vision board and got to work. "I knew what I had to do on a daily basis to create this incredible experience [for] a fraction of the price," he said.

Scoring first-class seats to the Maldives and a seven-day, six-night stay at a luxury resort for a fraction of the price (for about $1,300) doesn't happen overnight. But with a travel rewards credit card game plan in place and diligent spending, here's how Do and his wife went on a honeymoon that gives other newlyweds a twinge of FOMO.

A focused plan

To make his dream honeymoon a reality, Do chose to focus on one airline (Alaska Airlines) and one hotel (Hilton), and then applied for branded credit cards with both. To accrue interest-free points, he put all his normal charges on the cards and paid them off every month.

For the Seattle-based couple, Alaska Airlines appealed to them for two reasons: The airline is headquartered in their hometown, and it's one of the few airlines that still gives customers an equal exchange of miles for distance traveled. "A lot of airlines have changed to being revenue-based," Do said. "So it takes more effort to accrue miles (see our top picks here). For example, Seattle to Orlando is 2,400 miles, so you get 2,400 miles. If you fly with another airline, you're not going to get 2,400 miles if you're paying for the cheapest ticket."

After he got an Alaska Airlines credit card, Do discovered the airline is also a miles partner with Emirates. "Their first-class cabin was supposed to be one of the most remarkable," said Do of Emirates. A luxury flight plan began to take shape.

As for Hilton, Do chose the global hotel chain for its name recognition (see our full list of Best Hotel Credit Cards). But it just so happens that Hilton also runs a luxury resort in the Maldives called the Conrad Maldives.

Racking up travel rewards

When you apply for travel rewards credit cards, there's usually a sign-up bonus that helps you begin accruing points. Do signed up for a Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. While there's a steep $450 annual fee on the card, it granted him 150,000 sign-up points, plus a free weekend certificate—so he already had two nights of his honeymoon covered immediately. He was also granted instant Diamond status, which landed him free breakfast at all hotels during his stay, as well as a complimentary daily happy hour and afternoon tea at the Conrad Maldives.

Do's other travel rewards credit card, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, had a more modest $75 annual fee but gave him 30,000 bonus miles right off the bat, plus a free checked bag for him and his travel companions on Alaska flights.

Beyond sign-up bonuses, the key for Do to racking up miles quickly was to actually travel—something he does regularly. Do, for instance, flies Alaska Airlines for all of his trips as an inspirational speaker. Because he flies frequently for work, "In a year, I can accumulate 200,000 miles," Do said. "My wife also flies Alaska, and in 18 months to two years she accumulated 55,000 miles."

He also stays at Hilton properties wherever he goes. "They'll do different promotions," he said. "Stay at your hotel and you get triple points. My credit card gives me 14 points for every dollar, and on top of that, you get triple points for staying at the property."

For day-to-day spending, Do paid attention to the categories that earned him the most points on each card. If one card offered more points for spending in a particular category, such as restaurants, he'd make sure to use it when he spent money in that category. He also used the cards for business expenses.

Finally, Do had one expense that helped him earn a lot of points—his wedding. "For Asian weddings, the food is a big expense," he said. "They tend to do nine- or 10-course meals. We paid $20,000 for the food for 300 guests, and my Hilton card gives you seven points for every dollar spent at a restaurant."

In other words, because their reception was at a restaurant, the Dos scored 140,000 points from wedding food costs alone.

As a bonus, because his wife, Le, is an Instagram influencer, the couple was able to cover even more of the costs of the trip by collaborating with some of the vendors involved.

The honeymoon payoff

After two to three years of accumulating points and miles, Do and his wife, whom he married in August, set off on their dream trip.

Emirates first-class flight: Seattle to the Maldives

  • Actual price: $58,887 for two people
  • Do's price: 465,000 miles + $188.82

Do and Le flew first class from Seattle to the Maldives via Dubai, enjoying the first-class lounge in Dubai, which was "like a terminal in itself," Do said. "You get a complimentary massage, first-class restaurant, sleeping beds, even an arcade."

The two toast each other while sitting in first-class.
The couple enjoy a drink while flying first-class.

After landing in the Maldives, Do and Le took a seaplane to their resort. "The staff was just lined up, waiting for us," Do said. "The hospitality was unreal."

Conrad Maldives (7 days, 6 nights)

  • Actual price: $19,734
  • Do's price: 475,000 points + $1,100 (the cost for the seaplane transfer to the property)
A simple hut on the water
The villa where Do and his wife enjoyed their Maldives vacation.

Thanks to an Instagram collaboration secured by Le, Do and Le enjoyed complimentary cocktails at the Ithaa, an underwater restaurant at the resort that lies 16 feet below sea level.

The couple holding hands and enjoying each other's company at the restaurant.
The couple enjoying cocktails at Ithaa.

Because Do has Diamond status with Hilton, the couple enjoyed a daily complimentary happy hour and afternoon tea at the resort.

The couple sits at a table each with a drink in their hand.
The couple take in a happy hour at the resort.

Do's hotel status also scored them a complimentary brunch every day, a huge money saver. Because everything must be flown into the Maldives, food at the resort tends to be pricey.

The two sit at a table for breakfast while holding hands.
The couple at one of their complimentary brunches.

While they were there, Do and Le enjoyed a free three-course meal at the resort's Mandoo restaurant because they were recently married. "That's for any couple that's married within a year," Do said.

The couple stand behind a table where they will soon eat dinner.
The couple is all smiles before dinner.

On their way home in business-class seats, Do and Le had a one-day layover in Dubai, so they stayed at the DoubleTree Hilton property, also on points. They had drinks on the rooftop of the FIVE Palm Jumeirah Dubai, pictured.

The couple look into each other's eyes while on the rooftop in Dubai.
The couple look into each other's eyes while on the rooftop in Dubai.

The couple came home with breathtaking photos and happy memories of their beautiful honeymoon—and have already started planning their next trip, which will be to Japan for the 2020 Olympics. "I've always wanted to go to the Summer Olympics," Do said.

Kate Ashford

Kate Ashford is a writer and content creator who specializes in personal finance, careers, health and consumer trends. Her work has appeared online at the BBC, Forbes, Monster and LearnVest, as well as in national publications, including Money, Parents, Family Circle and Women's Health.

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Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).