I've always been somewhat of a homebody, but after seeing a few friends use miles and points to see different cultures and cities and getting tired of getting nothing for my regular spending on my debit card, I decided to do something about it. (see: Dima's $368 Round-the-World ticket for an example of the crazy hijinks that have been done done.)
The Round-the-World Series
If you're super impatient, you can skip all this to go to The How section where I explain how I got the miles and how I plan to use them.
A couple years ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Paris and London for a 1.5 week study abroad program. It was about three days in Paris, followed by a little over a week in London. Unfortunately I was a day and a half late getting into Paris due to inclement weather, so I pretty much just had an opportunity to get over jet lag and have some coffee before I was on the Eurorail to London. London was a fantastic experience, but I was just getting my "sea-legs" in London by the time we had to leave. Ultimately, both are places I've been wanting to go back to again.
When I decided that not only was I going to go back, but I wanted to take the opportunity to use miles to see other countries, I started planning. I knew that I wanted to hit up those two countries, but I had a list of places of interest: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Madrid, Prague, Dubai, up and down India (the Maharajas Express looks incredible), Singapore, Bangkok and the beaches of Thailand, Hong Kong, Beijing, and it went on from there. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to see all those places, so I had to start picking and choosing.
When it came to planning these sorts of trips, I was at a loss for how to start from scratch. So I decided to start West to East and start cutting. My initial itinerary looked like this:
I was pretty happy with this routing, as it hits several of my "wants" and then gave me a relaxing proper beach vacation sendoff at the end in Maui. I posted this to the folks over at /r/awardtravel and got some great feedback. Most importantly that by flipping London and Paris and flying into Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai, I could get on Etihad's First Class Apartment suites. And first class or business class on Etihad includes chauffeur service on either end, including the hour or so drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. So yeah, duh.
After re-working the itinerary and talking with some folks, this is the final routing I arrived at:
I of course took advantage of the First Class Apartment by routing through LHR-AUH. I also decided to drop Maui as (as a solo traveller) I don't think I'd enjoy it near as much as having a bit more time in other places.
So obviously I wasn't going to pay for this out of pocket. I knew the basic premise of using miles is pretty simple. Use various travel credit cards to acquire miles, then redeem those miles for the flights above.
- I'd been a longtime reader of /r/churning, which is an absolutely fantastic resource.
- In particular, the Guide to Free Vacation for Newbies (updated guide here!)
- FlyerTalk, which has great forums discussing credit card and frequent flyer programs. I would highly recommend checking out any particular card on the forums before applying for it via another website as they often have better deals than the referral links found around on blogs.
- I haven't used Doctor of Credit as much as the others as it's not so travel focused, but he's a certified Cool Dude™ who doesn't use referral links and just wants you to get the best deals. Also hangs around reddit as /u/doctorofcredit.
- Travel is Free is a more blog-y travel site, but has a fantastic set of resources and guides on the best ways to redeem miles and their experiences all around.
As I started off, I followed the Guide to Free Vacations above, as it made really good sense to me. At the time, you could sign up for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and the Barclays US Airways card and get 100k AAdvantage miles (plus perks) for $89 and $4k minimum spend. For the new folks, that will get you to Hawaii and back almost three times. For $0 (plus tax). That sold me right there.
After completing the spend on these cards, I decided to go for some hotel points. I went with the Chase IHG Rewards card, which gave me 80k points, good for up to 8 free nights at IHG properties, such as Holiday Inns and InterContinentals (though I went a bit higher end).
While I was completing my minimum spend on these cards, I received a targeted offer for the Citi AAdvantage Gold card for 40k AAdvantage points for $1500 in spend. And you can hold both the Platinum and Gold cards and get the bonus on each. Score.
At this point, I was fairly well entrenched in the AAdvantage territory, but thought I should start diversifying to make sure that I can get the most out of my travel. I decided to push my luck and go for the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card, which allows for 55k miles for $2k minimum spend plus adding an authorized user.
I'm still working through the AAdvantage Gold and MileagePlus Explorer cards, but at the end of this, I expect to have the following:
- 140k AAdvantage Miles
- 55k MileagePlus Miles
- 80k IHG Points
Which should be plenty to work with. I'm looking to book within the next few days and will make an update with results!