How I Used 1 Million Points To Plan My Destination Wedding

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When you get down to the value points can provide to you it is truly remarkable, if you use them right. Many people save points for short trips, long haul business class, or a special once in a lifetime trip they couldn’t otherwise afford.

I have been saving points with something very special in mind. My wedding.

Early on my partner and I knew we wanted a destination wedding. Having points saved up was definitely going to make the process easier and more affordable.

We had our heart set on Istanbul, Turkey – a culturally significant destination that is centrally located from where many of our guests would be coming from.

Being from New York City, I knew we would need multiple trips to Turkey to plan and execute the wedding we want.

Over the course of planning, we flew from New York to Istanbul on 3 trips, stayed 24 nights in hotels, and got to explore other famous parts of Turkey such as Cappadocia and Bodrum.

Throughout that time, I earned and used a total of 1,360,000 points including 540,000 on airfare and 820,000 on hotels. Combining my status on Hilton and Marriott, I got even greater value out of my trips with upgrades and additional perks.

In total, I was able to receive $57,900 in value out of my points that made a huge difference in making my destination wedding be that much better.

How I Obtained The Points

In order to obtain the points for such a large redemption it was crucial for me to have a strategy and start executing well in advance. Given we had about a year to do our planning this left me with plenty of time to gather the points I would need.

I knew I would have to focus on earning points with credit cards that can be transfered to the airlines and hotels that fit my trip.

I took advantage of many different credit card offers throughout this time but followed the strategy of:

  • Finding the right cards that match my spending habits
  • Taking advantage of sign up bonuses to maximize earnings
  • Diversifying my programs to fit my redemption goal

Another major strategy I used was to open a new credit card for both myself and my partner, doubling the amount of points we can earn. This is a huge way to boost earnings and allows us to take even bigger advantages of the sign up bonuses.

When I started my points gathering I already had a few credit cards already open. They included:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless

I was holding onto about 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards and about 200,000 Marriott Bonvoy points at the time. While having a starting balance definitely helped, I knew I needed cards that specifically transferred to Turkish Airlines

Over the course of 2 years, here are the following cards I used and how many points I earned.

  • Capital One Venture
  • Capital One Venture X
  • Citi Premier Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business Boundless
  • Hilton Honors Aspire

I timed these cards around their sign up bonuses and got the following welcome bonus as well as total points earned per card. As mentioned, I got the bonus twice since my partner and I signed up separately.

Credit CardWelcome BonusTotal Points Earned
Capital One Venture (x2)100,000 (x2)220,000
Capital One Venture X (x2)100,000 (x2)240,000
Citi Premier Card (x2)80,000 (x2)180,000
Chase Sapphire Reserve80,000
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless200,000
Marriott Bonvoy Business Boundless100,000110,000
Hilton Honors Aspire150,000160,000

You’ll notice that my total points earned are always slightly higher than the actual welcome bonus. This is because in order to get a welcome bonus you need to spend a minimum amount on the card in a given time frame, which also earns you additional points for the amount you spend.

Given my trips were spread out over the course of 1 year I did not need to earn all my points at once. I would typically open no more than 1 credit card at a time and only after I completed the sign up bonus would I consider getting a new card.

Finding a sign up bonus is a bit unpredictable, which is why it’s important to always be on the lookout for what major credit cards are offering at different times.

Earning the points was only part of the battle since figuring out the best way to use them is another challenge on its own.

How I Found Award Availability To Use My Points

Finding award availability is one of the hardest parts of utilizing points for flights but less so for hotels. Luckily when I started planning my destination wedding it was the end of 2021 where airfare was still in rebounding mode and there was plenty of award space available.

Now days there are many points and miles tools that can help you find availability but in my case I did the searching the manual way.

For airfare it was a no brainer to select Turkish Airlines as the best way to get to Istanbul from the USA.

However, Turkish Airlines certainly has it’s limitations and technical issues that you need to overcome.

After optimizing my points for Turkish Airlines I knew this is where the majority of redemptions be available. To my surprise I found multiple award routes open in October 2021, May 2022, and slightly less in August 2022.

Turkish Airlines Award Search New York to Istanbul

A major benefit to Turkish Airlines is how cheap their saver award price is. Turkish Airlines charges 45,000 points + ~$160 in taxes for a one way business class ticket that is almost half the price of similar carriers that fly with 1 stopover.

Not only did Turkish Airlines have a lot of availability at the time but Turkish Airlines is one of the most valuable frequent flyer programs given their favorable award chart pricing. However, airline award availability tends to change frequently so I set some alerts on that would notify me as soon as it was open.

Not only did we want to fly business class for free to Turkey but we also wanted as many of our guests as possible to get a deal on flights. This is why we added specific information on how to do it to our wedding website.

Wedding Website Points Section

Since we set our website live with plenty of time before the wedding this gave many guests the ability to gather the points and book a flight. What we noticed is that many of our guests had points sitting around but didn’t always know the best way to use them.

We were happy to see that a number of our guests ended up booking on points and some were able to secure their hotel on points as well.

Trip 1: Visit To Find A Venue

Istanbul, Turkey had been on our travel bucket list for quite sometime but a trip never seemed to materialize. After almost 2 years being stuck at home, finally an opportunity presented itself to make the trip.

We had our hearts set on a central destination that still provided a lot in terms of cultural, historical significance, and most importantly great food. From everything we read about Turkey we knew it would fit the bill.

Airline award availability was easy to find at this time so I booked tickets a week out in Turkish Airlines Business Class from Newark to Istanbul. The flight was available at the saver rate for 45,000 points per person each way plus $167 in taxes, that I paid in Turkish Lira. I used the bonus I obtained from the Capital One Venture Card to gather the 180,000 points required for 2 round trip tickets.

Turkish Airlines A330 from Newark to Istanbul

We scored two window seats on a Turkish Airline A330 and were excited to get finally get to visit Turkey. It’s also always a treat to fly on a red eye with a full bed allowing you ample time to rest before arriving at your destination.

Turkish Airlines A330 Business Class Cabin

On this flight we departed at 11:55 PM Eastern time and arrived into Istanbul at 4:55 PM local time, refreshed and ready to go.

We spent the first night just grabbing dinner and getting settiled before using the next day to start exploring.

Top of Galata Tower

Once we made it out in the daytime in Istanbul we immediately fell in love with the city. The people, history, food, and culture drew us in and we made the most of our week to look for venues but also enjoy what the city has to offer.

Istanbul, Turkey in Fall

We decided to stay at the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus, centrally located and one of the newer hotels in the city. The hotel is located on the European side of the Bosphorus and while not as hectic as the old city it definitely has its own charm.

JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus Suite

I also used 3 Suite Night Award Certificates to upgrade the room into their Premiere Suite Bosphorous. This room was very nicely sized at 910 sq ft and would have cost me $1,050 a night vs the $300 or so I paid for it. If you don’t have suite night awards you can still get upgraded at Marriott hotels.

The hotel also had great views of the city with a rooftop bar that we visited and was overall still pretty quiet.

JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus Roof

Our purpose for this trip was to visit venues but we also wanted to explore, try the local cuisine, and did all the touristy things to do in the city.

Istanbul, Turkey Food

The food in Turkey is incredible and some of our favorite we have had in the region. We made the most of the trip trying everywhere we can and some even multiple times.

Now the main purpose of this trip was part vacation but also part venue selection. We toured 7 venues on this trip and by the end narrowed it down to a select 3.

Istanbul Wedding Venues – Cubukulu 29 and Esma Sultan

Each venue in Istanbul had its own charm and unique setting. We wanted to find a space that reflected our style and where we can transform it into a uniquely decorated experience for our guests.

After a few more days in Istanbul, a quick hop to Cappadocia, we departed on our way back to New York.

This time we were flying on a 777 that had a middle row of 3 in business class that we luckily avoided by getting window seats again.

Turkish Airlines 777 from Istanbul to Newark

I noticed the food on the outbound from Istanbul was definitely better quality than departing Newark and all in was an easy day flight that I spend most of awake.

After the trip we knew we had our heart set on doing our wedding here and begun the planning process.

Trip 2: Planning Visit and Food Tasting

Even though we had already been to Istanbul once but planning a destination wedding while sitting 5,000 miles away in New York was not easy. So we decided one more trip was worth it about 4 months out from the wedding.

We also decided that this would be the perfect time to bring our parents, both of which have never been to Istanbul before.

Airfare was a little more tricky this time since we were looking for more tickets. However, Turkish was still showing wide open availability and we found all tickets for the saver rate of 45,000.

We flew on a similar plane out of Newark and if you are flying with a partner the little privacy on the seats are actually not bad.

We felt the offering was pretty similar to the first time we flew but this time the food was definitely elevated! Turkish Airlines is known for its food carts and while suspended during the pandemic they were back in full force on this flight.

Turkish Airlines Food Cart

Its easy to say we ate very well on this flight and were charged up for our next trip to Istanbul.

We decided to stay at the Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, which was the same hotel we had our wedding room block at. We knew we wanted to experience the hotel prior to everyone arriving so an 8 day stay was plenty of time.

I have typically been a loyal Marriott Bonvoy Member including reaching Titanium Status the previous year. Switching to Hilton was not in my plans but the Conrad layout and location was perfect to support all our wedding guests.

Conrad Hotel Istanbul Lobby

As soon as you enter the Conrad you are greeted by the large lobby and area to hang out. This was a perfect meeting place for all our guests come wedding time.

Conrad Hotel Istanbul Room

The rooms were also well sized for Turkey and offered great views of the city.

We spent this trip taking our parents to different parts of the city, visiting the venues, and conducting our food tastings.

Tasting for Esma Sultan yalısı and site inspection, Indian Wedding Istanbul, Turkey
Esma Sulta Food Tasting

It was also the time we got footage for our wedding trailer we put together to send to our guests before they arrived. We made a combination of our previous footage from Cappadocia but also wanted to incorporate some shots of us in Istanbul as well.

This trip allowed us to finalize some of the details we needed as well as give our families the ability to experience Turkey before the actually wedding time.

Venue Tours in Istanbul

By the end of this trip most everything was set – we did our venue walkthroughs, food tastings, and showed our parents why we fell in love with Istanbul.

Turkish Airlines 777 from Istanbul to JFK

Next stop would be the big trip and we were excited to head home for the final months before we would be back.

Trip 3: The Wedding Trip

This was the big trip and the one we had been saving up for a long time. In terms of points it didn’t actually cost us much more but was the most important of the trips for everything to go right.

We were able to all book seats on the same flight out of Newark and were ready to once again visit Turkey this time to get married.

On the way to Istanbul

As we geared up for the wedding we were excited to return to the Conrad as well as welcome all our guests there.

This time I planned in advance and obtained Hilton Diamond Status by signing up for the Hilton Aspire Credit Card. While the card comes with a heft annual fee of $425 I obtained a welcome bonus of 160,000 Hilton points and immediate Diamond status upon card opening.

This definitely came in handy as a few days before our trip we were notified that we had been upgraded to the Ambassador Suite.

Conrad Istanbul Ambassador Suite

The suite goes for $3,200 / night and we were upgraded after paying for the lowest room rate. This was a wedding gift in itself but proved the value of the Hilton Status.

We hosted only one small event of ours in the hotel, which we placed on my Hilton Aspire Card for 6x points while the remainder of the events were throughout the city.

Given our guests were coming from all over we decided to host 3 events to provided them the best experience in the city.

  • A welcome boat party down the Bosphorus
  • An Indian Sangeet on the Asia Side
  • A Wedding and Reception on the European Side
Bosphorus Boat Party
Indian Wedding Sangeet at Cubukulu 29 (CBK29), Istanbul, Turkey
Indian Wedding at Esma Sultan in Istanbul, Turkey
Indian Wedding at Esma Sultan in Istanbul, Turkey
Indian Wedding at Esma Sultan in Istanbul, Turkey

The wedding went amazingly and our guests took full advantage of exploring the city and all it has to offer. Istanbul is a magically place and it wasn’t only the location but our family, friends, planners, vendors, and people around us that made is so special.

While our parents and many of our headed back to the states we were off for a quick week trip to rest after all the events.

Trip 4: The Honeymoon

Given the amount of travel my wife and I do regularly we weren’t overly concerned with doing a huge honeymoon but still wanted to do something special. We wanted a tropical destination that was convenient to get to and allow us to unwind after a hectic week of wedding events.

Bodrum, a coastal town in the Turkish Riviera, made the most sense and is known to be a premier travel destination with many different resorts. We were excited to see there was an Edition Hotel that opened in 2018 and given we’ve stayed in many of them in the past it would serve as the perfect getaway.

Bodrum is only a 55 minute flight from Istanbul and one of the most popular resort destinations in the world. At the time of booking the miles rate was 30,000 miles or $350 cash for a round trip business class ticket.

Given that we flew from New York to Istanbul for 90,000 miles in business class, it didn’t makes sense to use miles here when the cash rate was so low. We decided to spend $350 each on round trip business class with Turkish Airlines.

On the flight from IST to BJV we flew on an A321, which is a newer plane featuring comfortable business class seats.

Onboard Turkish Airlines A321 Business Class

We had heard so many great things about The Bodrum Edition that we knew this would be the perfect hotel to spend our honeymoon. We have stayed in a number of different Edition properties in London, Barcelona, and New York but the Bodrum Edition is a seasonal property and setup like a resort rather than a hotel.

The Bodrum Edition – Bodrum, Turkey

The cash rates at the Bodrum Edition start at $1,400 / night so at 56,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points per night (including 5th night free) it was an incredible deal. Given Marriotts recent devaluation in points the property is now asking for 80,000 per night but we booked it well in advance to take advantage of the previous rates.

The Bodrum Edition – Bodrum, Turkey

The Bodrum Edition was everything we could have asked for an more. A luxurious resort where we put our phones on Do Not Disturb and relaxed for the entire week in the amazing weather.

The Bodrum Edition – Bodrum, Turkey

This is certainly a property we would return to, even with the elevated rates in the future. Another major benefit was even at full capacity it never felt like it, with plenty of space for guests and others to roam about.

The honeymoon was a short 5 day trip and it ended very similar to many of our other trips to Turkey – back on Turkish Airlines to head home.

Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class

We were once again onboard a 777 and on our way to New York. Now that our wedding and honeymoon were over we weren’t sure when we would fly Turkish Airlines again but given their award rates we’ve actually utilized them many times since.

Total Points Redemption

To summarize, this was the largest points redemption I have ever made although spread out over three separate trips to Turkey. Here is the summary of all the points I used throughout each trip.

TripAirlineHotelCashEst Value
Venue Visit180,000 Turkish Airlines300,000 Marriott Bonvoy$668$14,000
Planning Visit180,000 Turkish Airlines$668$9,000
Wedding180,000 Turkish AirlinesAmbassador Suite Upgrade$2,068$27,900
Honeymoon240,000 Marriott Bonvoy$630$7,000
Total540,000 Points820,000 Points$4,034$57,900

While not all points are created equal, such as credit card points vs hotel points, all points still provided us with significant value and without it we wouldn’t have nearly as good of a time throughout the whole process.

Another note to remember is I did not have all these points at once. As I broke down in how I acquired the points this was a thought out process over the course of a year to get the right amount of points that can be redeemed to the airlines / hotels of my choice.

If I were to go back now I honestly wouldn’t have done anything differently. I was able to achieve my main objectives of flying business class multiple times, staying in a nice hotel while also being upgraded, and sharing this knowledge with my family and guests for them also to have a more comfortable ride out there.

It’s hard to put an exact value on all these points but my best guest was my total redemption and status provided me with $47,000 in additional value!

How Other Can Use Points For Their Wedding

You may be thinking with such a large points redemption it is very hard to replicate but all it takes is some very advanced planning and I believe many other people can accomplish this.

There is no set time on when you start planning but the earlier the better – at least 1 year should give you enough time to acquire the points and redeem early when airlines release award availability.

It’s important to not overlook the basics and make sure you are entirely familiar with exactly how credit card points work before you begin your planning. There are also a number of award tools that can help you in your search saving your significant time finding availability.

A few keys to remember is to understand the flights on where you want to travel. Whether thats Paris, Mexico City, or even Tel Aviv. Once you have the destination set make sure you know what credit cards transfer to what airlines.

It’s best to create a Google sheet to track your progress and also make sure you know what card to use when spending on your day to day expenses.

It’s generally best to aim for having about 160,000 points for every round trip flight you plan to take, if in business class, but note you can find some award redemptions for less and others for more.

A very important part is to never be concerned about using your points since they typically lose a bit of value over time due to devaluations.

Regardless of what you hope to achieve with your points and mile having a strategy will ensure that you will absolutely be saving money on your travel to plan your wedding – whether partial savings or entire free trips.

Summary & Takeaways

These trips were easily the most calculated points redemption I have ever made and the reason I was able to do so was due to the planning I did years in advance.

When it comes to points the strategy I undertake is to always be planning for the next redemption. Whether you want to do a yearly vacation or have a big trip in mind, the credit cards you sign up for and use have a major impact on how points can be redeemed.

When it comes to my wedding trip to Turkey, there were more monetarily “valuable” ways I could use those points strictly speaking. However, each points redemption is only as good as what it means to you.

Now after my wedding I still keep up a strategy of earning and burning points for a few long haul trips every year and continue to find new ways to utilize them. In that time I’ve flown multiple times to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and even back to Turkey a few times.

Finding ways to redeem points for travel is a never ending plan and the more you are focusing on it when not traveling the more options you’ll have when you want to.

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