The goal of this FAQ is to serve as a guide for anyone (from total newbie to veteran) who has questions about how to use and redeem their frequent flyer miles to book a ticket. I’ve attempted to arrange the questions in an order from the most basic to the more advanced while also keeping some semblance of continuity between the topics discussed.
I want this to be a “living document”, so if you have any other questions I’ve missed or things you want explained, please ask, either by commenting below or by emailing. I’m looking to continuously add to the list, so don’t be shy!
1. Since I have 50,000 miles, that means I can fly 50,000 actual miles, right?
I start with this basic question because that is EXACTLY what I thought when I first heard about frequent flyer miles. Turns out, I was completely wrong. The term “miles” does not equate to the actual miles you can fly, and should really be thought of as “points”. A certain amount of points will equate to a certain level of prize (free flight), but it does not necessarily correlate with the actual number of miles that flight will be.
For example, an economy class roundtrip ticket between Philadelphia and San Francisco will cost 25,000 miles but the distance you will actually be flying is about 5,000 miles roundtrip.
2. How do I determine how many miles I need to fly to a specific destination?
Each airline has different charts that determine how many miles you’ll need to fly to and from each place. The best place to go to determine how many miles you’ll need to fly from place to place is milez.biz which will show you the miles you need for each airline. This is much faster than checking each airline’s individual award chart.
3. Will I pay more to fly business class or first class than economy class?
Yes. How much more depends on the airline. Milez.biz will show you the prices for economy class, business class, and first class.
4. Is a first class redemption worth it?
That’s up to you. Some people prefer to make their flights as comfortable as possible. Others prefer to get as many trips out of their frequent flyer miles as possible.
5. If I have 50,000 American Airlines miles, does that mean I can only use them on American Airlines flights? (substitute American Airlines with any other airline you wish).
No, not usually. Most airlines are part of one of the three major alliances; OneWorld, Star Alliance, or Sky Team. To see what airlines are a part of what alliance, see this Wiki page.
If the airline that you have miles with is part of an alliance, you will be able to use those miles to fly on the other partners in that alliance.
For example, lets say you want to fly from New York to Madrid and you have AA miles. AA does not operate this route, but Iberia does. Iberia and AA are both part of the OneWorld Alliance, and therefore, you can use your AA miles to fly with Iberia.
6. Which airline alliance should I focus on?
The short answer is, it depends. If you live near a major airline’s hub, Delta’s Atlanta hub is a good example, then focusing on SkyTeam is a good idea because you will have access to many more flights out of Atlanta.
If you don’t live near a hub for a major airline, then finding the right alliance is a little trickier and it becomes more dependent upon where your dream destination is!
7. If I am using miles from one airline but flying on a partner airline, which airline do I actually book the tickets with?
You will always book the tickets (either online or over the phone) with the airline that you have the miles with, not the airline you will actually be flying.
If you are using AA miles but flying on Iberia, you will book your tickets with AA.
8. If I am using miles from one airline but flying on a partner airline, whose award chart do I use to determine how many miles it will cost?
You always use the airline whose miles you are using to determine how many miles a trip will cost, not the airline(s) that you will actually be flying on.
If you are using AA miles but flying on Iberia, you will use AA’s mileage chart to determine how much it costs.
9. What is the difference between a “zone-based” award chart and a “distance-based” award chart?
Most airlines operate on a zone-based award chart. The world is divided up in to sections, such as North America, Europe, Middle East, etc. Travel from one zone to another is a certain amount, no matter what city you leave from or arrive at.
For example, you would pay the same amount to fly from Vancouver to Rome as you would to fly from New York to London because each flight would be leaving from the same zone (North America) and arriving in the same zone (Europe).
A few frequent flyer programs operate a distance based award chart (with British Airways being the most notable). With a distance-based award chart, you are paying based on how many miles you are actually flying.
Using the above example, a ticket between Vancouver and Rome would cost many more miles than a ticket between New York and London because it is twice as far.
10. Can I book one-way award tickets or must I always book roundtrip?
This totally depends on the airline whose miles you are using.
In the U.S., the major carriers (American, United, Delta, and Southwest) all allow one way award redemptions.
11. How do I find availability if I want to fly on partner airlines?
Most airlines’ websites will only show availability for their flights, not for all their partner’s flights. If you have AA miles and simply go to AA.com to search for availability, you won’t be seeing all the possible options.
The best way to see availability on for all OneWorld partner’s is to use Qantas’s website. If you’ve never done this before, first check out my step by step instructions and video tutorial. Remember, you won’t actually book through Qantas’s website, but you will be able to find flights you want and then call the airline whose miles you are using and tell them the times and numbers of the flights you want.
12. Are there any specials or discounts that airlines offer on using frequent flyer miles?
American Airlines offers off-peak rates to certain destinations throughout the year. To read all about the value of traveling off-peak, the rules regarding off-peak travel, and what destinations are available, click here.
Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program of KLM, Air France, and others) also offers 50% off certain destinations all year round. Every 2 months, they’ll change the destinations, so continue to check back. American Express Membership Rewards point will transfer to Flying Blue at a 1:1 ratio.
13. When I use frequent flyer miles, will my flight be free?
No, you’re flight will not be completely free, but it will usually be a whole heck of a lot cheaper than paying for a ticket!
They are not completely free because you will be required to pay the “taxes and fees” associated with your flight. Unfortunately, there is no set rule of how much these will cost, as they can range from $5-$700+.
14. How can I pay less taxes and fees on an award ticket?
The two main culprits for why these prices can vary so wildly are the amount of the airport tax (London Heathrow is notorious for having high taxes) and whether an airline charges a fuel surcharge as part of the “fee”.
It is difficult to avoid the airport tax charged unless you decide to fly somewhere else. Usually, the amount you’ll pay in taxes isn’t enough to justify going out of your way to find another airport.
Fuel surcharges are another story, as they make up the bulk of the money charged on award tickets. To avoid them, you must use miles for carriers that don’t charge them (like United) or fly on routes that where they are not charged. To learn all about fuel surcharges and the way to avoid these like the plague, start here.
15. Can I combine frequent flyer miles from different airlines?
No. If you have frequent flyer miles 50,000 American Airlines miles and 50,000 United miles you can not combine them to make 100,000 miles. Each airline’s miles must always be kept separate.
16. Can I transfer my mom/dad/sister/brother/friend’s miles in to my account?
If the miles are from the same airline, then yes, you can transfer (or share) them between accounts. However, most airlines will charge you a substantial fee to do this. For example, AA charges $10 for every 1,000 miles plus a $30 fee for each transfer. This is almost always a terrible value for your money and miles!
There are a few airlines that let you “pool” your miles together and have household account, as long as you everyone lives under the same roof. An example of this is British Airways, which you can read more about here.
17. Can I use my miles to book a ticket for someone else, or vice versa?
Yes, you can use miles to book tickets for someone else. The name on frequent flyer account that has miles in it DOES NOT have to be the same as the passenger.
18. Can’t I just buy airline miles for an award flight?
Yes, you can buy miles, but they are priced at a point that will make the award flight cost more than you would pay for the flight with cash.
The only time I recommend buying airline miles is when you need to top up your balance to get those last few miles towards your award flight. Otherwise, you are just spending more money than you are saving!
19. What is an “open-jaw”?
An “open-jaw” is when you arrive in one city but leave from a different city. An open-jaw itinerary would look like this:
Departing flight: New York to London
Returning flight: Paris to New York
You originally arrived in London but your return flight left from Paris, a different city.
20. What is a “stop-over”?
A stop-over is when you spend more than 24 hours in a city on international flights.
Whether you are allowed a stop-over or not depends on what airline you are redeeming miles with.
An example of a stopover itinerary would be:
New York-London (stay 5 days as a stopover)-Rome (final destination)
If you are allowed a stop-over, you usually have up to 1 year to stay in the stop-over city before you have to continue on to your final destination. In the above scenario, you could stay in London for up to 364 days before heading to Rome.
I always, always, always recommend people make use of stop-overs if they are able to because this is like getting 2 vacations for the price of one. In the above scenario, you’d be able to visit both London and Rome but only pay the price for one ticket!
21. When does award availability open up?
For most airlines, they will begin releasing award seats 330 day before the flight date. Most airlines do not release all the seats at once, but stagger it over a period of time. If you know for sure that you want a certain flight on certain dates, you should start looking as soon as possible. The 330 day “early bird” gets the worm.
You can also, on occasion find some first class awards very close to departure, sometimes even as close as 24 hours!
22. Do my frequent flyer miles expire?
Yes! But don’t worry, as long as there is some sort of activity, like award redemption or if you earn more miles, your miles are safe.
Different programs’ miles expire at different times, but most programs are between 18-24 months.
FURTHER READING (POSTS HANDPICKED FOR YOU…BY US!)
None of that automatic “read more” stuff you’ll see everywhere else on the internet!
If you liked this post, then you’ll love these as well:
Unfortunately, for those looking to sample a little joga bonito as well as a Carnaval atmosphere, you’ve also got one of the most difficult to get and most expensive plane tickets in the world.
So how did I score 2 direct flight plane tickets from New York to Rio for $2.50 each?
By following a system that is simple but unknown to most of the general public.
It’s the “secret” that is the key to allowing you to travel anywhere in the world for under $100, whether it be Brazil or Budapest--a secret I’ve used to travel to over 25 countries for less than two tanks of gas!
Earn Frequent Flyer Miles…WITHOUT FLYING
When people hear “frequent flyer miles,” most tune out the rest.
“Frequent flyer miles are only for people who fly all the time. I don’t fly enough, and so I’ll never earn a free ticket.”
Sadly, most people believe that they can only earn frequent flyer miles through flying.
Because of this, they wrongfully assume they’ll never earn enough for a free flight, and never pursue the idea.
Dreams of free travel dashed.
There are actually tons of ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying.
In fact, I’ve earned over 2 million frequent flyer miles in the last 3 years, and less than 1% (yes, 1%) of them have been from flying.
The quickest way to earn a large number of frequent flyer miles is to get a good travel credit card.
If you’re responsible with your credit, you can take advantage of the perks by getting the large sign-up bonuses that credit cards offer!
By getting just one card, you could have enough miles for a round-trip ticket to Europe or South America.
Skeptical? Here’s the proof:
Understanding Which Miles to Earn
Not all miles are created equal, and so it’s important to figure out which miles are best for getting you where you want to go.
If you want a general overview of which miles are the best, check out my rankings here.
For flying to South America, I knew that British Airways miles were great to use. So while I could have used American Airlines miles or United miles to go to Brazil, I chose BA because they charged the lowest fees.
Understanding the Rules of Using Miles
After you’ve collected the miles, it’s important to know a few basics about using them. This is the spot where most people give up, but in reality, a few simple rules go a long way.
A common misconception is that you can only use an airline’s miles to fly with that specific airline.
For example, most people believe that if they have British Airways miles, they can only fly with British Airways.
Because of an awesome thing called airline alliances, it is actually much better than that.
British Airways is part of the OneworldAlliance, meaning that you can use BA miles to fly on any of the other 15 airlines in the Oneworld alliance.
To get to Brazil, I flew on AA, which is a Oneworld partner that has direct flights between New York and Rio.
With airline alliances (the other major one is Star Alliance), you can use your miles to fly practically anywhere in the world.
The 330 Day Rule
When you use frequent flyer miles to book a ticket, there is less availability than if you were to purchase that ticket.
If a plane has roughly 300 seats, they may open up 1/3 of them for people who wish to book award tickets (tickets “bought” with miles).
This means that knowing when to book is imperative.
Airlines will open their seats up for availability 330 days in advance.
If you’re trying to get a seat during a busy time, such as Christmas or the World Cup, you NEED to look as early as possible.
Knowing this, I got online exactly 330 days before the date I wanted to travel (June 12, 2014) and booked my tickets from New York to Rio.
When I checked later that evening all the tickets were already sold out!
The 6 Week Rule
If you miss out on an early ticket, more will get released sporadically, so keep checking.
However, the biggest number of seats get released about 6 weeks before the flight date.
This is when airlines look at their flight, realize most people have already bought a ticket if they want one, and release the remaining seats for people using miles.
Keep a close eye on tickets around the 6 week window. You’ll most likely see more seats open up, even for major events like the World Cup.
Where to Look and How to Book
Because the airline industry operates in the Stone Age, you may not always be able to see availability online.
For flights to Brazil, I was able to book the ticket online, but if you search online and don’t see anything, don’t give up.
Instead, call up the airline whose miles you are using and have the agents check availability for you. They often see things you aren’t able to search for online.
A great tool that is a bit more complicated but incredibly handy is Award Nexus. This is the weapon of choice of most frequent flyer experts for finding hidden availability.
If you have yet to start using frequent flyer miles, now is the time to start. You can literally fly anywhere in the world for less than $100.
Start by getting a good travel credit card (click here for my recommendations). Once you earn the miles, make sure to look for seats 330 days out, if possible.
Continuously check back for availability, and be aware that a large bunch of tickets may appear 6 weeks prior to the departure date.
And lastly, make sure to use all the tools at your disposal to find availability. Check online, call if you need to, and dig in to Award Nexus.
Start now and we’ll both be flying to Brazil on $5 tickets for the 2016 Olympics!
Want to travel to your dream destination for under $100? Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be in the air in no time!
Has anyone else been able to use miles to get amazing deals to major world events? Let us know your biggest score in the comments below!
Frequent flyer miles have the ability to turn ordinary people into travel superheroes, allowing them to jet set around the world to their favorite destinations for almost free.
Paris, Sydney, Rome…take your pick.
Unfortunately, they are also one of the most misunderstood topics out there. Most of society wrongly believes the myths that surround frequent flyer miles.
But now, it’s time to debunk those myths and pull the veil of secrecy off frequent flyer miles so that more people can start traveling more and spending less!
#1. Frequent Flyer Miles Can Only be Earned Through Flying
This may seem ludicrous to anyone who has started earning frequent flyer miles, but this is exactly what I thought for the first 28 years of my life, and was the reason I never paid any attention to them before 3 years ago.
It’s also the #1 reason that 90% of people don’t take advantage of these wonderful opportunities.
They believe that large amounts of frequent flyer miles can only be accrued by people who travel all the time, and since they don’t travel all the time, there is no point in figuring them out.
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
In the last two years, I’ve accumulated over 2 million frequent flyer miles, and only 8,000 have come from flying. That’s right, less than 0.5%.
So how did I earn all these miles? There are many ways:
Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses
Credit card signup bonuses are far and away fastest way to earn large chunks of frequent flyer miles. The best cards will offer you 50,000 miles or more as a sign up, which is already enough for 2 roundtrip ticket in the US and almost enough to fly to Europe.
As long as you keep your credit score high, you’ll be able to take advantage of these opportunities over and over again.
You can also earn miles by using your credit card instead of paying cash or debit. Standard cards offer you 1 mile for every $1 you spend, but some of the better cards, like the Barclays Arriva card, offer 2x points per $1 spent.
By using an online shopping portal, you can often earn huge bonuses for purchases from all types of brands.
For example, I was able to earn 10x points per $1 spent from Nike the other day.
Instead of going to the store and earning 100 points for $10o worth of Nike apparel, I went through the Chase Ultimate Reward Mall shopping portal and earned 1,000 points for the same $100.
Why run out to the store when you can sit in your pajamas and with one mouse click, order what you need.
Throughout the year, there will be various promotions that pop up, both big and small.
Usually, they only take a few minutes to complete, like a survey or a game, and can net you between a few hundred to a thousand miles a piece.
This is a nice, easy way to supplement the large chunks you get from credit card bonuses, spending, and online shopping.
And while flying obviously isn’t the ONLY way to earn frequent flyer miles, you should make sure that you are earning them if you do fly.
All you need to do is sign up for a free frequent flyer account with whatever airline you are flying with and give them your number when buying the ticket or when checking in.
#2. Every Mile You Earn Means That is a Mile You Can Fly
Another common mistake people make is thinking that if they earn 50,000 miles then they can fly 50,000 miles.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as lucrative as that (but it’s still pretty good). Most airline’s frequent flyer programs operate on a zone-based award chart with fixed pricing.
For example, if you are flying from North America to Europe on American Airlines, you’ll pay 60,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket.
It doesn’t matter whether you are flying a relatively short flight like New York to London or a much lengthier one like San Francisco to Istanbul.
Because they both are going from the North American zone to the Europe zone, they will both cost 60k roundtrip in economy.
A zone based award chart allows you to get some tremendous value from your frequent flyer miles by using them for flights that normally would cost a lot to purchase, such as flights to obscure cities or flights that are longer in length.
#3. Frequent Flyer Miles Earn You a Completely Free Ticket
They say that nothing in life is free, and while this is true with frequent flyer miles, it can certainly come close.
When you use frequent flyer miles to get a ticket, you don’t pay the “price” of the ticket, but you are still responsible for paying the taxes and fees.
The amount of taxes and fees can vary wildly depending on what airline’s miles you are using and what airlines you are flying on.
But once you learn to avoid the fuel surcharge, you can book tickets like one of my most recent trips, a $2.50 ticket to Rio for the World Cup!
No, it’s not free…but I’ll take it!
#4. Frequent Flyer Miles Are Hard To Use
I absolutely love hearing this because it couldn’t be more untrue.
If you’ve met me, you know I’m not a genius, and if you haven’t, take my word for it.
Three years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about frequent flyer miles.
I had zero frequent flyer miles to my name.
And now, I’ve been able to not only earn 2 million miles for myself, but also help others earn well over 100 million miles!
That equates to a lot of travel!
But just because they aren’t hard, doesn’t mean that they are super easy at first glance.
Airlines make frequent flyer miles seem complicated and difficult because it’s in their best interest for people NOT to redeem them.
The less miles people actually redeem, the less money the airline pays out.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there that pull the veil of the world of frequent flyer miles and help people to get started immediately.
If you’re looking for all the information you need, jam packed in to one concise and convenient place, you’ll want to check out the Ultimate Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles, which is specifically designed to give you the tools you need to start earning and using frequent flyer miles in less than 3 hours.
That’s a really small price to pay for a lifetime of free travel!
#5. It’s Impossible To Find an Available Seat With Frequent Flyer Miles
While many people have never given frequent flyer miles a chance, there are a number of people who have tried to use frequent flyer miles before and then given up.
And the most common excuse I hear is that they can never find availability.
The simple reason: They can’t find availability because they are looking in the wrong spot!
Admittedly, finding award ticket availability is the hardest part of the whole process, and is the reason that courses such as Frequent Flyer Bootcamp exist.
Frequent Flyer Bootcamp is geared toward people who know how to earn frequent flyer miles, but don’t know the best ways to use them.
And one of the most integral parts of this is figuring out where to look for award ticket availability.
Most people assume that whatever airline they have miles with, they can go to that airline’s website and search for availability.
I have American Airlines miles, so I go to AA.com and search. If nothing shows up, then there’s nothing available.
But they are missing the crucial element of partner airlines, which allows you to fly on many more airlines than just the airline whose miles you have.
For example, if you have AA miles, you’re able to fly on any of the 13 members of the OneWorld alliance because AA is a member of that alliance. And you won’t find all of the partner availability showing up if you simply search on AA.com.
Frequent flyer miles are an absolutely wonderful tool that will allow you to literally travel the world for almost free.
Don’t be scared of figuring them out, because with just a few hours of “studying”, you’ll be given a pay off that lasts a life time.
If you’re ready to start (and why wouldn’t you be?), the first step is to figure out the best miles for you to earn. Then use all the tools at your disposal, from credit card sign ups to online shopping.
You’ll be rolling in frequent flyer miles in no time, and you’ll never pay for a flight again!
And while every day is a great day to have frequent flyer miles, there are certain times when I’m reminded by just how much they’ve changed my life.
Today is one of those days.
And so, I want to take a moment to simply list the amazing places that my family and I have been able to fly to.
This isn’t mean to brag.
Instead, it’s meant to INSPIRE you to keep earning using your miles.
I don’t think I’m special because I’ve been able to do these things.
In fact, anyone, especially Americans, can do exactly the same thing.
If you want to know how, sign up below for my newsletter and get a free copy of the Become a Frequent Flyer Millionaire series.
Trip #1: Homeward Bound
August 2011: Japan-America-Japan
My first trip with frequent flyer miles was in August 2011 and it was for Heather and I to come home for a visit to America after we’d been living in Japan for a year.
We attended a few Phillies games, hung out with friends and family, and enjoyed being able to speak the same language as everyone.
I even flew back to Japan in business class and felt like a king.
Trip #2: Christmas Down Under
Dec 2011/Jan 2012: Japan-Australia-Japan
That Christmas, we were able to fly from Japan to Australia for a 17 day vacation through the Land Down Under.
Christmas in Melbourne, New Year’s in Sydney, and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. As you can imagine, it was awesome.
Trip #3: The Parents Come to Japan
July 2012: America-Japan-America
In July 2012, my family got to benefit from frequent flyer miles for the first time when my parents flew to Japan to visit us for two wonderful weeks. And every parent needs spoiling, so they even flew home first class.
Trip #4: My Sister Moves to Spain…but First Goes Around the World!
June 2012/July 2012: America-New Zealand-Japan-Spain
My twin sister also joined them in Japan, but going straight there and back was much too easy (she is my twin, after all).
Instead, she spent two weeks prior to Japan in New Zealand visiting friends and taking in beautiful vistas,
then came to Japan and spent 2 immersing herself in the local culture,
before finally heading to Spain, where she currently lives.
Moving from Philadelphia to Spain by going the long route and first visiting New Zealand and Japan…who does that?
Someone with frequent flyer miles!
Trip #5: One Last Asian Escapade (3 vacations in 1)
August 2012: Japan-Singapore-Bali-India-Japan
In August 2012, Heather and I decided to take one last adventure in Asia before going back Stateside. So what’d we do?
Three vacations in one!
We spent a wonderful two days in Singapore visiting friends and sipping on Singapore Slings.
We explored the beautiful beaches and amazing rice terraces of Bali for a week.
And then, we headed off to India for three weeks, riding camels, seeing amazing palaces, and having our senses completely overloaded with sights, smells and tastes that we’d never imagined.
Three destinations for less than $100?
Only possible with frequent flyer miles!
Trip #6: Homeward Bound for Good
Sept 2012: Japan-America
While my company then paid for my one-way ticket back to the US from Japan, Heather’s didn’t. No biggie.
We simply used our miles to get her on the same flight home, an awesome direct flight from Tokyo to New York.
But before leaving, we snuck in one last photo op!
After a few months of getting reacclimated to life back in Philadelphia, seeing friends and family, and eating as many cheesesteaks as possible, we got antsy again.
And after so much international travel, it was time to start seeing our home country.
Enter Southwest and their amazing Companion Pass!
Trip #7: Greetings, San Fran!
January 2013: Philadelphia-San Francisco-Philadelphia
In January, we were able to fly for free to San Francisco for the first time and spend a week enjoying the city and driving the Pacific Coast Highway, almost a year to the day that we had driven on the Australia’s equivalent, the Great Ocean Road.
Trip #8: Rocky Mountain High
May 2013: Philadelphia-Denver-Philadelphia
Just as the spring began and we were getting restless again, we were able to head out to Denver for 5 days, seeing Colorado Springs, enjoying unseasonably hot temperatures in Denver, and checking out Rocky Mountain National Park.
Trip #9: Back out West
July 2013: Philadelphia-Portland-Philadelphia
In three weeks, we’ll be heading back to the west coast to see Portland for the first time, enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and drinking as much craft beer as we can.
Trip #10: Canadian Rockies, Here We Come
August 2013: Philadelphia-Edmonton, Seattle-Philadelphia
Shortly after that, we’ll be welcoming our British friends to Philadelphia and flying out to Edmonton.
Then, we’ll all pile in a van to drive across the Canadian Rockies, stopping in Vancouver for a week before heading down to Seattle and flying back to Philadelphia.
Of course, all our flights will be free.
Trip #11: Did Someone Say New Orleans?
September 2013: Philadelphia-New Orleans-Philadelphia
Then, I’ll be switching over my Southwest Companion Pass to my best friend since 2nd grade, so I can fly him down to New Orleans for free with me for his bachelor party in September.
I’m looking forward to gaining 10 pounds in 4 days.
Trip #12: The Emerald Isle
October 2013: America-Ireland-???-America
And finally, in October, Heather and I will be heading to Ireland for a bit, courtesy of our British Airway Avios points.
Lots of green pastures, old castles, funny accents, and sheep will fill our days.
But the main reason I’m reminded about how amazing frequent flyer miles are today is because I just booked my twin sister a flight home for this coming Christmas and New Year’s.
Since I was in Japan for two years and she’s been in Spain now for a year, we haven’t had a Christmas together for four years, which feels pretty strange considering we grew up doing everything together.
For some reason, having Christmas over Skype just doesn’t really cut it.
The Total Costs
The total cost for all those trips, taking in to account my parents’ first class tickets, my business class ticket, and my sister’s around the world business class ticket, would have been well over $70,000.
The amount that we paid out of pocket for all the above trips?
Less than $1,000.
So thank you, frequent flyer miles, for allowing me the wonderful opportunities to travel that I’ve had in the last 2 years, and for the many wonderful opportunities I’ll have in the future.
None of this would have been possible without you!
What have frequent flyer miles allowed you to do in your life? What great trips have you booked that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise?
If you’re new to frequent flyer miles and would like to learn how to earn and use them to travel around the world for free, make sure to sign up for my newsletter and check out the Ultimate Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles.
Normally, for the Christmas/New Year’s Eve holiday season I spend a couple weeks visiting friends and family in Texas. This year, though, I did something a little bit…different.
I visited four countries and circumnavigated the world!
I hear the muttering: “That must have cost a fortune”!
I’ll tell you exactly how I was able to get the tickets for less than $500 (with a big assists from my friend Ryan Guzy and Extra Pack of Peanuts) and more importantly, how you can do the same!
First, The Offers
The first part of any trip is earn some frequent flyer miles, and I started with a great credit card offer from British Airways: 50k miles on first purchase, 50k miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months (the offer has changed, so check out the Best Current Deals page for the current offer.)
100k Avios points? Yes, please.
Next, I followed Trav’s suggestion and got the Citi AAdvantage Visa and AMEX for 100k American Airlines miles. All I had to do was meet the minimum spend and just like that, I had 100k miles on two different airlines!
Isn’t life wonderful?
I Have Miles. . . Now What?
With the miles in hand, the world was literally a blank canvas to me. I could go anywhere.
Ever since I was a kid I have always wanted to go around the world so I thought, “Why not?”
My good friend Ryan and I started scouring websites for tips on the best ways to use our miles.
Working on a team to plan this trip made it even sweeter. Almost daily, we’d call each other with a new trick or tip or dreams of a new destination. The excitement was palpable.
Sure enough, I found a BA flight that left to Berlin the day I got to London and returned the day I needed to connect to Tokyo.
Boom! Berlin, here I come.
Having used most of my Avios for the first part of the trip, we had to figure out how to get back to the US from Tokyo. This is where my AA miles came in to play.
From Tokyo to Dallas, the only American Airlines economy seats that were available were AAnytime seats, which cost 65k. Not bad, but…
They also had Business MileSAAver tickets for only 50k points! Business class for less than economy?
Not only would I be flying in business class, but due to the joys of “time travel” (flying across the International Dateline and gaining a day), I’d be able to get home just in time to spend New Year’s with my friends and family.
What an amazing way to top off my trip!
Tips for Booking Award Tickets
After identifying the places we wanted to go and figuring out the dates, next came the process of actually booking the segments. When booking award flights with different airlines, in our case BA and AA, follow these steps:
1) Identify all segments of the trip to be booked.
2) Call and put all the segments on hold. Some BA reps said they couldn’t while others were happy to oblige. This was never a problem with AA.
3) After all segments have been put on hold (guaranteeing you seats on your flights), call back and book all segments.
In addition to the international flights, I needed to book 2 more tickets; one to get from my home near Phoenix to Miami, where I’d meet my friends to start our trip and one from Houston, where I’d spend New Year’s, back to Phoenix.
I could have used points for these flights but wanted to save them for later flights, so I was “stuck” paying cash.
I booked an AA flight for $220 from Phoenix -> Miami. Then, on the return from Texas, I booked another AA flight for $140 from Austin -> Phoenix.
The total cost of $360 would normally be a substantial amount added to my trip, but…
Each of the Citi AAdvantage cards, in addition to giving me the miles to fly around the world, also came with the added benefit of a $150 statement credit.
After using those statement credits, my out of pocket cost for these two flights came out to be only $60. Even when paying for flight, I’m saving money!
Miles and Money
Flight #1: Phoenix –> Miami
Cost: $70 ($220 flight, $150 statement credit)
Flight #2: Miami –> Lima
Flight #3: Lima –> Santiago
Flight #4: Santiago –> Rio de Janeiro
Flight #5: Rio de Janeiro –> London, London –> Tokyo
Cost: $243.89 ($200 was a landing fee for the stopover in London)
Flight #6: London <–> Berlin (Round Trip)
Flight #7: Tokyo –> Dallas –> Houston (Business Class)
AA Miles: 50,000
Flight #8: Austin –> Phoenix
Cost: -$10 ($140 flight, $150 statement credit)
Total Miles and Cost
Total Avios: 101,500
Total AAdvantage Miles: 50,000
Flight Fees: $488
$488 to visit four different countries and circumnavigate the globe!
The first time I went to Tokyo, my ticket alone cost me over $1,000.
The total cost for the trip is an even bigger bargain when you consider how much a simple direct flight from New York to London would have cost if using Avios points (using Avios points to go to Europe is NOT recommended).
Note: Due to an unfortunate injury, my friend Ryan and his wife were unable to accompany me on most of the trip that we had spent time planning together. However, they were able to join me in Tokyo with the help of a special electric scooter Ryan put together. If you want to know how to travel around Tokyo with a broken leg, Ryan is the guy to ask.
Musings and Recommendations from Each Stop
Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, Chile
Panoramic from the desert outside of Vina del Mar.
Even though not many people in Chile spoke English, navigating to the coast wasn’t too difficult. It’s best to identify the intended route beforehand (which I did not do) to help avoid confusion. A couple buses later and I was able to enjoy a few days on the beach with 78 degree weather in DECEMBER!
Enjoying beautiful sandy beaches, blue water, and amazing weather is one heck of a way to beat those winter time blues. Chile is definitely on my list of places to go again.
Tips and Suggestions
Most of my tips and suggestions focus on food, because food, and often drink, is a big part of culture without sampling some of the local fare, you can’t truly experience a culture.
What’s the food to try in Chile? Chorillana!
It’s a traditional plate in Valparaiso but can be found all over. Although the recipe varies, it mainly consists of fried potatoes, meat, eggs, sautéed onions, and cheese, and it’s usually a dish for two or more people.
Finish off your hearty dinner with a Pisco Sour. It’s a sweet drink made with Chilean Pisco, lemon juice, powdered sugar, egg white, and ice cubes. Peru and Chile make them a little different and there is still disagreement from each about who invented the drink (although Wikipedia attributes it to Peru, shhhhh).
Probably the best place to have a drink and soak in the view is the Sheraton Miramar Hotel in Vina del Mar. It’ll cost you a pretty penny but if you can splurge on a drink or two, the view from the terrace is superb.
Other costs to note: Chile does require a Visa for Americans which was $160, payable upon your arrival by cash (USD) or credit card. The Visa is good until your passport expires. Still, paying $229.44 (BA fees + Visa) to get to Chile is a bargain!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
High above a favela in Rio.
Next stop, Rio! Summertime in Rio is HOT! Well, “it’s not the heat it’s the humidity” as they say (whoever they are). Even though it was hot, my time in Rio was very enjoyable. It helps when the city and people are so laid back.
And while Brazil has a certain reputation for crime, I didn’t run into any issues. You just need to use common sense and stay out of the particularly problematic areas.
Tips and Suggestions
I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed the food in Brazil. Not that I thought it would be bad, I’ve just never heard anybody speak of Brazilian food (other than Brazilian BBQ).
What I had was akin to Brazilian Soul Food and I loved it. The absolute best place I ate there was called Bar do Mineiro If you get a chance, go there and try the Feijoada.
And when you go out, beware the caipirinha! They are delicious but powerful drinks.
Other costs to note: Brazil also requires a Visa for Americans which is more difficult than the one for Chile. The application and fee must be hand delivered (along with your passport) to a Brazilian consulate.
If you don’t have one close by, you can use a service. I used Travel Visa Pro. The total was about $220. They were prompt and the turnaround was relatively quick (a couple weeks). Take care of this as soon as you can so you don’t have to worry about it in crunch time.
At the Berlin Wall, on my way to Tokyo. How appropriate!
Berlin is great city filled with historical sites, character, and very nice people. If you want to travel but are a bit timid to go to non-English speaking countries, have no fear. Just about every person in Germany speaks English (and probably better than you).
Of course, coming from Brazil was quite the shock, as the weather was COLD!
But, if you can stand the cold, Berlin around Christmas is excellent. There are tons of Christmas markets with all kinds of wares, music, ice skating, food, and hot wine. The markets have something for everyone.
Tips and Suggestions
If you like a bit of night life, try to find a local bar and strike up a conversation with the people of the neighborhood. I found German people to be extremely friendly. I had a conversation with a man who was from West Berlin and he was in his early twenties when the Berlin Wall came down. It was interesting to hear what things were like between East and West before and after that event from someone who experienced it firsthand.
German food at the Christmas markets was excellent. If the name of the food says wurst, it’s probably going to be awesome. I encourage you to try everything.
If you do go out, be prepared for smoke. Many people smoke in Germany and smoking inside bars is very common.
Tokyo, where my friend Ryan was finally able to join me!
Tokyo is an amazing place with a special place in my heart. It certainly helps when you have friends who live there who can show you around a bit and do what the locals do.
Even so, don’t be intimidated by the language barrier. Learning polite phrases goes a long way in the Japanese culture and hand gestures can help you out quite a bit. The trains are fairly easy to navigate with many clearly marked signs for the different train lines.
Pick up a map and Mo Mo Passmo card before you leave the airport. There is so much to see in Tokyo, but taking a trip out of town for a day or two can yield great dividends.
Our group decided to take a day trip to Hakone for a traditional Japanese onsen (hot springs). It was only a half hour train ride south but a world away from Tokyo. It was a beautiful small Japanese town with amazing countryside.
Most hot springs are gender separated, the cost is about $15-20, and you go au naturale!
If you do decide to go outside of Tokyo for a day trip, you’ve got to take the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. At 200 miles per hour, it is one of the world’s fastest trains (take notes, America), and an experience unto itself. It’s pricey, but worth it.
The city can seem a bit overwhelming because it is so massive. Don’t let that get to you. By the end of your trip you’ll be getting around like a pro!
Tips and Suggestions
If you can afford it, rent a mobile hot spot or sim card for your phone at the airport. Having access to the internet and Google Maps was a great help when navigating the big city.
Make sure you try ramen while you’re there. It’s nothing like noodles from a pack you’re thinking of.
Politeness is big in Japan but if you’re from America the Japanese people tend to be more forgiving of misunderstandings.
There are many customs that are very different from most countries, so peruse the internet and learn a few before going. For example, in restaurants and bars it is NOT customary for the server to come by your table and check on you periodically. Instead, when you need something, you simply say “sumimasen” and a server will arrive at your table shortly.
Wayne’s Final Thoughts
Even though I’ve just written almost 3,000 words, I had such a great time on the trip that I still find it hard to actually put in to words!
Going around the world was always a lifetime travel dream of mine, and one I never really though was possible.
But thanks to frequent flyer miles, and the help of Travis and Extra Pack of Peanuts, it was not only possible, but cheap!
Just 3 years ago I had never been out of the country and now I’ve circled the globe. It’s unbelievable how travel has opened up my eyes to new cultures, and I truly believe traveling is something everybody can, and should do.
Thanks and good luck EPoPing around the world. :)
How You Can Do the Same Thing as Wayne
First, a huge thanks to Wayne for taking the time to share his amazing story.
I hope the lesson that everyone takes from Wayne’s post is that even the most crazy travel dreams, like going around the world, are not only possible, but actually easily attainable.
Wayne was able to successfully put together a trip of a lifetime for less than $500 by following a few simple steps, and you can too!