Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Trip Planning (page 1 of 3)

Fly Around the World for $1,000? Yes, It’s Possible!

A while back I challenged myself to put together an around-the-world itinerary for $1,000. While I failed at the time (not by too much as it was only $1,300), I have been interested in trying other options.

So this is take #2 of that endeavor. I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about cheap routes, cheap airlines, and especially the best places to look for cheap one-ways in the past several months. With those tools in my belt, I decided it’d be fun to explore the cheap around-the-world idea some more.

An around-the-world trip for a grand?

Given that I live in northern California, I decided my starting point would be the Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Area has 3 major airports. Although SFO may dominate in terms of traffic, the other have some of the best deals.

For example, I found a one-way ticket from San Jose to Shanghai on Delta for $268 a couple weeks ago. Similarly, Oakland has some deals to Europe on Norwegian. I decided to start things off with their Oakland-Barcelona route, and things just fell into place from there.

The itinerary I compiled was the following:

  • Oakland to Barcelona for $186 on Iberia LEVEL
  • Barcelona to Rome for $34 on Ryan Air
  • Rome to Athens for $35 on Ryan Air
  • Athens to Tel Aviv for $65 on Aegean
  • Ground transfer to Amman, Jordan (is this cheating?)
  • Amman to Delhi for $234 on Gulf Air
  • Delhi to Kuala Lumpur for $97 on Air Asia
  • Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong for $59 on Malindo Air
  • Hong Kong to SFO for $308 on Delta

The full itinerary is 7 destinations and only $1,016. That’s pretty insane. Catch a couple fare sales within that ticket, and you’ll be back under 4 digits.

Previously, the toughest segment to find cheaply was the one-way transpacific leg. But it appears you may be able to score a deal if you are patient and/or search thoroughly, as this Hong Kong to San Francisco segment is more than $100 less than what I found the previous time I did this exercise.

Tips for putting together around-the-world itineraries

Around-the-world itineraries are definitely possible with a number of different mileage currencies. Two of my favorite programs for these itineraries are ANA Mileage Club and Asia Miles. I’ll write more on this in another post.

But if you’re looking to put together an around-the-world trip with cash, like I was, things are a bit different. Here are four tips to help you put together a cheap around-the-world itinerary:

Do your research

This is the heart of everything in this hobby. Putting together an around the world itinerary might seem daunting. But if you have some tools in your belt and know what you’re looking for, it isn’t all that bad. It took me maybe half an hour to compile the ticket I did.

Research the low cost carriers in various areas. Know which airlines price round-trips as one-ways as the summation of two one-ways. And know those that don’t (e.g. Austrian). For many airlines, cheap one-way tickets are only available on certain routes.

Norwegian is a great airline for finding low cost long haul flights.

Find the airports that tend to have deals. Or the entire regions. Also, look for secondary airports at major destinations, such as London Gatwick or Rome Ciampino. These might not give you the full “airport experience”, but they will often have better fares.

Get familiar with Google Flights

Google Flights is my best friend. If you haven’t used it, you should spend some time trying the interface out. They are my #1 go-to for finding standard flight prices between a given origin and destination. The search speed plus intuitive UI makes it the hands-down best place to start.

I priced out my entire itinerary using Google Flights. I would open a new tab for each segment, plus in the previous endpoint, and then start searching for another potential destination. The map view is especially helpful, as it lets me quickly identify cities I can get to cheaply.

Subscribe to fare sales

This is one way to find cheap flights in general. My favorite site is Secret Flying, who typically send out daily alerts for cheap flights around the world. If you’re patient, you can often snag a round-trip flight to major destinations in either Europe and Asia for about $400. Sometimes more like $300. With fares falling in general, you can find standard fares to places like London and Beijing for $500 all the time.

Other good fare sales sites include Airfarewatchdog and The Flight Deal. I might even consider looking into the Mileage Run thread on FlyerTalk since people will often report great (or unique) deals.

Fill in the gaps with miles

Maybe you’re putting together an around-the-world trip, and you just have to visit Mauritius. Well…there is realistically no cheap way to get there. You could burn more on a one-way ticket to the island nation from Europe than you would flying a transpacific round-trip.

In cases like this, don’t be afraid to burn your hard-earned miles. Remember than this is your trip and not just an exercise to see if you can fly around the world for less than a grand. If you want to see an out of the way place, miles can make it happen for cheap.

Conclusion

Here are my thoughts on a cheap around-the-world ticket in a nutshell:

  • Around the world itineraries are possible, and much cheaper than you might think
  • Do your research to find which airlines and airports often have cheap fares, especially cheap one-way fares.
  • Watch for fare sales. One-way fare sales *do* happen, but they are a bit more rare than round-trip.
  • Consider filling in the gaps with miles.

Some of this advice applies to ideas beyond an around the world itinerary. For example, you can use the low cost carrier Norwegian Air to reach Europe, and then hop around on budget carrier Ryan Air to multiple other destinations.

A final note: you’ll more than likely have to travel light to save on baggage fees if you put together a cheap itinerary. Many of the airlines that you can utilize to keep costs down will charge you for checked luggage (and maybe even a carry on). So be prepared to travel with little more than your backpack. The lighter the better, in my opinion. I headed to Australia for a week with nothing but my weekender backpack, and it was perfect.

Happy circumnavigating the globe!

Planes, Planning, and Potty Training

Yes, my already limited blogging frequency has taken a nose dive. But life has been a bit different of late. With the combined demands of three kids and a full time job upon me, I’ve hardly had time to keep up any writing, either here or for Points with a Crew.

If you recall, we finally arrived home after seven weeks away in Costa Rica on November 5, 2017, now a family of five. Our trip home on Southwest Airlines included a great miles and points angle. You can read our adoption story here if you’re interested (although our family blog suffers from lack of attention as well).

But now back to the title. You might be wondering what planes, planning, and potty training have to do with each other. Let me connect the dots.

Planning my first trip with the kids

Yup. That didn’t take long. It took me less than three weeks being home to plan our first getaway. I honestly thought I’d make it a bit longer. I’ve actually partially planned three trips, but I can’t reveal the other two quite yet. When you have over a million points and miles in the bank, they kinda burn a hole in your pocket.

The idea started from one simple desire: I think it’d be cool to fly Boutique Air. Never heard of them? Yeah, I hadn’t either until earlier this year.

Boutique Air is a small carrier that flies entirely Essential Air Service routes. They fly primarily Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. Simply taking a flight in one of these planes is the main draw I have to them.

I’m used to flying on mostly Boeing 737s and Embraer E175 aircraft, both of which are of reasonable, unremarkable size. The biggest plane I’ve flown on is the A380. The smallest plane in which I’ve ever flown is a Saab 340 on PenAir between Arcata and Portland (sadly, the route  has been discontinued). It has about 34 seats.

But the Pilatus PC-12 is substantially smaller than that, with a mere nine seats. Awesome, right?

So what does potty training have to do with this?

As I hesitantly broached the trip idea with my wife, she was surprisingly behind it. I only wanted to take the older two kids, and just for a weekend away. One of her immediate thoughts was that it would be the perfect time to start potty training our three-year-old. Boom. That settles it.

So I booked myself and our older two on a round-trip flight on Boutique Air from Oakland to Merced. We’ll drive to the Bay, park, enjoy a super quick flight, visit my grandparents for two nights, and the fly the short hop back and head home. Meanwhile my wife will be reading enthralling titles to our little one, such as “Where’s the Poop?“. Honestly, she is looking forward to only having one kid for a couple days, even if much of the time will be spent with him in the bathroom.

We haven’t told our kids any of the plans, but we plan to this weekend. The older two aren’t crazy about long car trips, but I am hoping to drive the morning leg super early so that they can sleep through half (or more) of it. My parents always did this with my siblings and me when we were little. I’m really looking forward to our little getaway.

The closest I’ll ever come to flying private

I figure that flying private is something that’ll never be a part of my future. So flying on a tiny 9-seater Pilatus, often used as a corporate aircraft, will be about as close as I can get. Look for a review of the experience on Points with a Crew in about 2 weeks.

Given that our bank account has taken a hit after spending almost two moths out of the country, planning a trip that is free or close to free is a must. But this is the beauty of miles and points. Given that a round-trip between Oakland and Merced is as low as $37 on Boutique Air, you really can’t beat the price.

I covered our $111 airfare (total for three people!) with the remainder of our Arrival miles, and I’ll use some cash back earned from gift card reselling and manufactured spending to cover most of the cost of parking and gas. Lodging is covered since we’re staying with family. Easy peasy.

Restraining myself from planning more

Like I mentioned above, I already have two more trips in the works, one of which is pretty nailed down. Given that we’re now free from waiting for our adoption to happen, the schedule is wide open. Which ends up being a problem. Since I follow fare and award deals pretty closely, every time I come across a new one, I want to pull the trigger. We need to wait a bit more. Our kids definitely need some time to adjust. We’ve only been home a matter of weeks.

Eventually, I do hope our kids will enjoy travel as much as my wife and I do. They were champs on our first flight, and my daughter remarked that she much preferred flying to driving. But we still need to get them into a rhythm at home, and taking frequent trips, even just for a weekend, might hinder this goal.

So I’m content now looking forward to our quick weekend blast down to the middle of the state and back. Here’s hoping our youngest potty trains in a weekend. 🙂

Featured image courtesy of Boutique Air under CC 4.0 license.

Our Adoption Trip – Sorta Nailing Down a Plan

I’ve previously written a couple times about the planning that has gone into our upcoming adoption trip. Previously, we didn’t have a match *or* a travel timeline. But I’m sure you know by now that my wife and I are officially adopting 3 beautiful kids from Costa Rica, and that we only have a matter of weeks until we will be leaving to meet them!

This leaves me desperately wanting to plan the trip, yet still unable since we still do not have official travel dates. However, I’ve boiled things down to essentially Option A and Option B for our flights and hotel.

Flights to Costa Rica

I’ve had several ideas on what points or miles to use to fly to Costa Rica (SEE: 4 airline award options for our adoption trip…which do I choose?). Previously, I had saved AA miles for this purpose. However, given the dearth of AAvailability, this has become a less than stellar option. Plus, we’d have to drive to the area to fly (a good 4-5 hours). Ditto for Delta.

We’ve also considered Southwest, but I’d like to save our Southwest RapidRewards points for our flights back. This pretty much leaves us with using United miles. The plus here is that we don’t need to drive to the Bay to fly out. Well…as long as we trust United to get us out of Arcata (SEE: Our First “United Horror Story”).

Backup plan…there is always cash or the Chase UR portal. Not sure I want to do either.

Lodging in Costa Rica

No matter what, figuring out how to “hack” a month of lodging is extremely difficult. My wife and I did this on our trip to Europe, but we were changing location every few nights, and we burnt over 400,000 hotel points in the process.

Not to mention we were two people, and now we will be five! And there is no way we will be hotel hopping with the kids during our first weeks with them.

Our agency has suggested an extended stay hotel (including multiple bedrooms and a kitchenette) that looks nice. It is relatively affordable at $75 per night, which comes to $2,250 per month. I’ve also considered renting an AirBnb if I can find a good one for less than $1,500, however.

The plus with the hotel option is that it’s a place our agency has housed people over many trips. The staff know the drill. There is also free breakfast and a pool. The plus with the AirBnb (or other rental option) is the potential cost savings.

We’ll see which we end up choosing. The jury is still out on this one. But I have a clear Option A and Option B.

Flights back from Costa Rica

Here we have two main options: (1) Southwest from San Jose to Oakland, via Houston, or (2) Alaska Airlines from San Jose to Los Angeles, and then cheap cash flights back to the Bay (or a one-stop Alaska ticket). I’d be using the 50% “pay with points” benefit on my American Express Business Platinum to cover the latter (SEE: First Use of the Amex Business Platinum 50% Points Rebate).

Both options have pros and cons. The pros of the Southwest option is that option are that is should require fewer points, plus we would have plenty of free checked baggage. The cons are that it is via Houston and a longer journey.

The pros of the Los Angeles option is that it is direct to California. We’d probably overnight in a hotel, and then fly out late morning on the short hop to SFO/OAK/STS. The cons are that I’d be burning an awful lot of valuable Amex MR points.

Conclusion

So…we kinda have a plan for our travels to Costa Rica. I can’t wait until we get an official travel date so that we can finally lock in the outbound flights and lodging. This may not happen for a few more weeks, however.

The trip can’t come soon enough. We already long to meet our kids. Things are a mix of excitement and nervousness. I just want to be off and away. Work has been busy (which is probably a good thing), but I can’t wait to drop it all and spend time with our children. It will be the beginning of an amazing adventure.

Header image courtesy of Arturo Sotillo under CC 2.0 license

 

First Use of the Amex Business Platinum 50% Points Rebate

Back in February I decided to pull the trigger on applying for the Business Platinum card from American Express. This was the first premium card that I had ever applied for, and deciding to swallow the $450 annual fee took some careful consideration. But with a $200 offset (I was able to cash out the airline incidental credit as gift cards and sell them), it seemed worth it. Plus the card was offering a bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points.

One of the biggest perks of the Business Platinum card is that it gives a 50% rebate on flights when you use the “Pay with Points” option. This has recently been decreased to 35%, but I have a year to use the benefit due to when I got my card (SEE: Reminder – Last day to sign up and get the 50% points rebate on the Amex Business Platinum). By paying with points, you don’t have to worry about award space. You just use points to pay for a cash ticket.

Normally, you only get 1.0 cent per point out of your MR points using the “pay with points” option. But the 50% rebate perk of the Amex Business Platinum card essentially gets you 2.0 cents per point. This makes booking revenue flights with “pay with points” a much better deal.

Note that you do only get to pick one airline each year for which you can use this perk on economy flights, but the benefit works on all premium cabin flights.

Visit Montana? I think yes

With barely 48 hours of mulling the idea over, I pitched a Montana trip idea to my brother-in-law. We have a friend who is interning in Kalispell this summer, and more who live near Missoula. I figured we could fly to Kalispell for several days, visit them, and see Glacier National Park. Award space was basically nonexistent, so I used “pay with points” option. This allowed the plane tickets to be completely free, plus it gave me a solid redemption value for my MR points.

Less than a day after that, the entire trip was all booked. Flights are 100% covered, and the hotels are 90% covered (I booked one points & cash night).

To top things off, I got a fantastic deal on a rental car using Autoslash, plus I can use Arrival miles to cover the majority of that cost. My brother-in-law will cover the cost of driving to Medford and parking at the airport, so all said and done we’re down to maybe $70 each plus food. It’ll be a super cheap 5 day vacation.

What to do in Kalispell

We obviously want to visit our friend Sage while we’re there. We also hope to spend 2 days in Glacier National Park. He has the weekends off, so hopefully we can see the park for a couple days. I’ve heard only good things about Glacier National Park, and I cannot wait to visit!

On Sunday or Monday we’ll visit our friends near Missoula. For various reasons we need to play things by ear, but that is a-ok by me. Tuesday we’ll fly back to Medford, and then drive the 4 hours home.

Conclusion

I hadn’t planned on taking another vacation so soon, but hey, that is one of the beauties of using points and miles. Even last-minute travel in the height of summer can be made affordable. If I didn’t have a stash of points, we’d be paying about $2,500 out of pocket for the 5 night trip. Now we’re looking at $400 or so, split between two of us.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

One of the most frustrating things about traveling is watching all your well-laid plans go completely out the window. Hours of planning and preparing, all for nothing. This is why you should actually *keep* preparing for reasonably foreseeable problems that may arise.

I am constantly reminded how unpredictable travel can be. My wife and I have had our share of incidents, from minor delays, to unpredictable driving conditions (read: landslides), to completely canceled flights. Two of the worst incidents include our recent detour around the 101 slide (SEE: So close, yet so far), and being completely hosed by United on our trip to Quebec (SEE: Our First United Horror Story).

Planning for FT4RL

When I booked my recent flight to Orlando for the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference (SEE: Invaluable Disney travel hacks and other things I learned at FT4RL), I was poignantly aware that I had chosen an itinerary with only a 35 minute connection in San Francisco. The ticket was the best I could find to fit my $500 budget with my Merrill Lynch points that only had one connection. It also had good departure and arrival times.

Normally, this would be everything I’d want in a flight. Except I understand all too well United’s track record flying between Arcata and San Francisco. That route may have the worst on time performance of any in the whole U.S. I’m serious. Delays are pretty much inevitable on the route.

My “worst case” plan

Because the late morning flight from Arcata has such an abysmal on time performance (it’s one of the lovely options in Google Flights that gets the “often delayed by 30+ minutes” designation), I made sure I researched some alternate flights. Rather than simply let an agent rebook me into whatever makes sense to them, I like to understand all my options. Being prepared in the event of a delay could save me substantial time and headache.

For example, I knew I would prefer flying part of the way on a connecting flight rather than take the next nonstop flight to Orlando. If I had missed the 12:55 p.m. departure out of SFO, I would have been stuck waiting until a 10:40 p.m. departure! This would be an awful red-eye,  arriving at a little after 7:00 a.m. eastern time. There is no way I wanted that flight, even if it is a nonstop.

Instead, I would prefer to fly to one of United’s hubs. I specifically identified Houston as the best one, mainly because hotels are cheap (in case United wouldn’t comp me), and because there are a LOT of flight options, both from SFO to IAH and from IAH to MCO. More options = less chance of significant delays.

Chicago was a secondary option to Houston. There are just as many flights to Orlando each day. But it would be a slightly longer trip. Either way, I’d given myself enough travel time that an overnight delay wouldn’t kill the trip.

I jotted down some preferred flight numbers for both options, in case I missed the flight to Orlando. I wanted to be able to feed the agent the exact flights on which I desired to be rebooked.

The final precaution

The last thing I ended up doing was changing my reservation in Orlando at the Country Inn & Suites. If I missed my flight and couldn’t make it, I would be out the points. Instead, I planned on either booking an IHG hotel on points at the last minute, or using cash if rates were decent. Orlando was actually one of the best options for earning at least a small number of bonus points from my Q2 IHG accelerate offer, so I opted for cash.

Ultimately, everything turned out fine. The flight out of Arcata left a mere 5 minutes late, which is unheard of. We landed a few minutes late at SFO, and I literally walked off one flight, down the terminal, and onto the other. It was the closest connection I’ve ever had that I’ve actually made.

In this case, planning for “the worst” wasn’t necessary. But I know that things won’t always go that smoothly!

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