As DNA travel becomes increasingly popular, learn how to use your points, miles and rewards so you can get in touch with your roots.
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While DNA tests like Ancestry.com or 23andMe have taken exploring our lineage to a whole new level, if you truly want to understand and feel a part of the place from which your family originates, there is nothing better than traveling there!
Using travel to connect with your roots
Even before at-home DNA tests existed, I knew my heritage was 50 percent Italian. This didn’t mean much to me, however, until the first time I took a trip to explore my roots.
I’ll never forget the morning that I arrived in the small hill town of Veroli, Italy, and stood in front of the church where my paternal great-grandparents were married – a church that probably hadn’t changed in the 100 years since they walked the aisle. I felt connected.
I visited the houses where my great-grandparents were born.
I saw their birth records with the signatures of my great-great-grandparents along with their marriage registry dated 1901.
I sipped espresso in the town square and imagined what fortitude and sense of adventure my family members must have had to get from this place to the U.S. – without business class award tickets on American Airlines and the Google Maps that guided me from Rome via two regional trains and a local bus.
When we have the opportunity to explore the places where our grandparents or great-great-grandparents lived, and to walk the streets where they walked generations before us, ancestry comes alive.
How to plan a meaningful heritage trip
There are many ways to take on the adventure of exploring your own heritage. You can always adventure on your own, but if you want to explore your family tree and records, you’ll likely want to get some help. Here are three ways to plan your ancestry exploration:
Search location-specific support
If you come from an area where there was a lot of emigration, you are likely to find local bilingual genealogy specialists with a little bit of searching.
My grandfather’s family comes from a town called Roseto Valfortore, for example, and there is a whole Facebook group of heritage enthusiasts who organize an annual visit and can be a resource to make a trip more meaningful.
Hire heritage travel help
If you want support planning a trip as unique as your own family heritage, you’ll want to hire an expert specific to your country of ancestry with experience in tracking down genealogy.
A service like Travel Italian Style, for example, specializes in Italy and can organize a custom day trip with a local guide to help track down relatives, find family records or even learn how to cook a local dish.
Finding proper heritage help is a great add-on to an adventure, which will help ensure you get the information you’re traveling so far to find.
Take a guided heritage tour
If you’re more interested in exploring a country as a whole, rather than digging deep into a specific town or city, many tour operators now offer heritage tours.
Ancestry.com, for example, offers guided genealogy tours in Italy, Ireland and Germany.
Plan your heritage trip with credit card rewards points
Once you’ve got your heritage plan lined up, all that’s left is booking your flights and accommodation. No matter if your family background is from Italy, Ireland or Indonesia, credit card rewards points are key to getting to your motherland/fatherland.
Here are a few tips you’ll want to consider based on your destination:
Traveling from the U.S. to Europe
- Budget 60,000 points per family member for return economy class flights.
- Use United miles to get a partner ticket on Lufthansa for Germany or onward to Eastern Europe.
- Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards points to KLM/Air France Flying Blue for France or the Netherlands.
- Use American Airlines miles from Citi / AAdvantage cards to explore the UK, Spain or Northern Italy.
Traveling from the U.S. to Asia
- Budget 80,000 points per family member for return economy class flights.
- Star Alliance partners offer the most options for travel to and across Asia.
- Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve transfer to Singapore Airlines to get you anywhere in the region via Singapore Changi (SIN) airport.
Traveling from the U.S. to Africa
- Budget 80,000-100,000 points per family member for return economy class flights.
- Consider Star Alliance carriers Ethiopian, Lufthansa, Turkish and South African, which are bookable with United miles transferred from Ultimate Rewards.
- Sky Team carriers KLM/Air France and Kenya Airways can be booked with Delta SkyMiles or Flying Blue points transferred from Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Points.
Traveling from the U.S. to Middle East
- Budget 80,000 points per family member for return economy class flights.
- Flights from the U.S. to any Middle Eastern hub like Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH) or Doha (DOH) are good starting points for most places in the region. Qatar and Etihad flights are both bookable with American AAdvantage miles, which can be earned on Citi / AAdvantage cards.
- To get to Israel, transit via Istanbul on Turkish Airways booked with United Miles.
- Some airlines consider the Middle East as its own region while American Airlines considers the Middle East as part of Europe, which means flights are likely to cost fewer points.
- Budget 35,000 points per family member for return economy class flights to Central America or 60,000 to South America. Consider Star Alliance carriers.
- For Central America, fly United or Copa using United miles from the United Explorer Card or points transferred from Ultimate Rewards.
- For South America, Star Alliance airlines Avianca, Copa, United and Air Canada can all be booked as partner flights using United miles.
- For Mexico, you can fly American Airlines, United, Southwest or Aeromexico using miles or points transferred from Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards.
If you plan to actually stay in the small village where your great-great-great-grandmother was born in Sicily, there likely won’t be a Hyatt Place or a Sheraton — there may not even be an Airbnb.
Plan to use hotel points for transits through – or visits to – big cities, and budget cash for any nights you are sleeping in an off-the-grid town.
The largest hotel chains including Marriott, Hilton and IHG cover most of the globe. In your planning, be sure to check which hotels exist in the cities you’ll be staying, and make sure you’re earning points on a card that matches up.
Some cards to consider for stocking up your points balances in these programs are the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
If you’re looking for a life-changing trip, sometimes the best place to go is the place from which you’ve actually come.