How to Travel Around the World for Less than $1,000

How to Travel Around the World for Less than $1,000

One of the things I was looking forward to most about early retirement was having the freedom to travel whenever and wherever we wanted.

After walking away from my full-time job last August, we utilized my newfound freedom and spent 3 months traveling all the way around the world.

We visited 14 countries on 4 different continents and here’s what our itinerary looked like:

Around-the-World Itinerary

Around-the-World Itinerary

The amazing thing is, the total cost for all those flights was only $947.91 per person!

Not only that, the purple lines on the map were flights in business/first class on some of the world’s fanciest airlines!

How is This Possible?

So how did we have the trip of a lifetime, traveling around the entire globe, for the same price many people spend on a roundtrip flight to Europe?

Let’s dive in…

Frequent Flyer Miles

The main reason we were able to travel so cheaply and luxuriously is because we utilized frequent flyer miles.

We easily saved over $5,000 on this trip alone and enjoyed many unique experiences we never would have had otherwise, all thanks to miles and points, but here’s the best part…

We accumulated all the frequent flyer miles that we used on our trip for free!

Bonus: If you are a resident of the US and want to utilize the strategy I used to earn over 1,000,000 miles/points for free, sign up to my Travel Card series!

Our Flights

Here are all of our flights and their costs per ticket:

Origin Destination Cash Miles Mile Type
Manchester, England Los Angeles, USA $327 0
Tijuana, Mexico Guadalajara, Mexico $69 0
Mexico City, Mexico Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru Bogota, Colombia $157 20,000 United
Bogota, Colombia Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador Panama City, Panama
Panama City, Panama Tampa, USA
Orlando, USA San Francisco, USA $79 52,500 United
San Francisco, USA Osaka, Japan
Tokyo, Japan Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei, Taiwan Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong, China Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand Doha, Qatar $77 30,000 American
Doha, Qatar Muscat, Oman
Muscat, Oman Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abu Dhabi, UAE Amman, Jordan
Amman, Jordan Glasgow, Scotland $239 4,000 British Airways
Total $948 106,500 AA/BA/United

Accumulating Miles/Points

We obtained the vast majority of our miles for free thanks to lucrative credit-card signup bonuses.

credit cards are so important to our travel plans that I created a custom web application back in 2011 to help me find the best signup offers.

Since some credit cards earn flexible points that can be transferred to many different airline and hotel programs at different ratios, it can be confusing which card is best to get for a particular airline or hotel.

Also, the other search tools that existed focused on things like APRs, balance transfers, etc. and didn’t display the things that matter most to travel hackers (i.e. annual fees, foreign transaction fees, etc.) so I decided to use my software developer skills to build a credit-card search tool specifically for travel hackers.

I just released version 2.1 of this application so let me know what you think after you try it out and if you want to watch a short video describing all the reasons it’s the best credit-card search tool for travel hackers, check this out:

Warning: You should only apply for credit cards if you can pay them off in full every month. It doesn’t make sense to earn free miles if it means you’ll have to pay a lot of money in interest every month.

Sweet Spots

To maximize the value of the miles we earned, we utilized two “sweet spots” in two different airline award charts.

United Sweet Spot

The first sweet spot we used was the Central/South America redemption with United.

Here are all the flights we were able to get for only 20,000 United miles each:

  • Mexico City, Mexico to Bogota, Colombia (24-hour layover)
  • Bogota, Colombia to Cusco, Peru (destination)
  • Cusco, Peru to Bogota, Colombia (24-hour layover)
  • Bogota, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador (8-day stopover)
  • Quito, Ecuador to Panama City, Panama (open jaw)

Those flights, particularly to and from Cusco, are expensive so we saved a lot of money with this award.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

AA Sweet Spot

The other sweet spot we utilized was the Asia to Middle East redemption with American Airlines miles.

We paid only 30,000 miles each (and about $77 in taxes) to travel from Japan to Amman, Jordan on some of the nicest business class planes in the world!

I don’t usually like to spend extra miles to travel in business class but economy class on this route was 23,000 miles so traveling in business class for an extra 7,000 miles is a no-brainer.

Note: The price of this redemption has increased to 40,000 for business class but it’s still a fantastic deal!


Pretending to be Indiana Jones at Petra

The best part of this redemption is that you’re able to have unlimited stopovers on the journey (as long as they are less than 24 hours and aren’t too far out of the way) so we were able to stretch our luxourious flight to over a week of free food, free drinks, and even a free hotel!

Here are all the flights we got for those 30,000 AA miles and $77 in taxes:

  • Tokyo, Japan to Taipei, Taiwan on Japan Airlines business class
  • Taipei, Taiwan to Hong Kong, China on DragonAir business class
  • Hong Kong, China to Bangkok, Thailand on Cathay Pacific business class
  • Bangkok, Thailand to Doha, Qatar on Qatar business class
  • Doha, Qatar to Muscat, Oman on Qatar first class
  • Muscat, Oman to Abu Dhabi on Etihad business class
  • Abu Dhabi to Amman, Jordan on Etihad business class

If you ever book a similar itinerary for yourself, try to book as many of your flights on Qatar Airways as you can.

Even though many of those other airlines are renowned for being the best in the world, Qatar still blows them out of the water.

And if you do book yourself on Qatar, make sure you book an intra-Middle-East flight out of Doha because then you’ll get to access their amazing first-class lounge (Qatar don’t have business class seats on regional flights so they will just put you into first class instead)!

Not only does the lounge provide unlimited amounts of free high-class food and booze, they also have free “quite rooms” (a.k.a. hotel rooms) to use!

Qatar First Class Lounge

Free Hotel (with Private Bathroom) and Free Steak in Qatar’s First Class Lounge

We already visted Doha before so rather than go out and explore like we did during the other layovers on this itinerary, we decided to stay in the airport and maximize our lounge visit instead.

Our Bangkok flight landed at around 10pm so we went straight to the first-class lounge, got a delicious snack (prepared by an always-staffed kitchen full of chefs), had a glass of fancy $200 champagne, and then retired to our private “quiet room” for the night.

When we woke up the next morning, we went for an Arabic breakfast, got some work done on the internet for a while, and then headed back to the restaurant for lunch.

Lunch in normal aiport lounges usually consists of some finger sandwiches and maybe some soup with a gross film at the top.

This was NOT one of those lunches.

First, we began by tasting every single red wine they had behind the bar (7 in total, including wines costing hundreds of dollars per bottle).

Our sommelier then asked what we’d like to order (we both got steak) and then he paired the food with even more delicious wine.

After a fantastic meal, he then asked if he could order us a cheese platter so that he could let us try some desert wine and 20-year-old port (if you insist)!

We enjoyed it all, ate some Arabic deserts, and then ran to catch our afternoon flight.

Best layover ever!

The entire Asia to Middle East leg of our trip was incredible though so if you wonder what you can do during 24-hour layovers, here are some of our highlights:

Go Curry Cracker in Taipei

Hanging Out with the Go Curry Crackers in Taipei

Tim Ho Wan

Eating at Tim Ho Wan, the Cheapest Michelin-Starred Restaurant in the World

Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

Visiting the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

All of those fantastic experiences for just $77 per person!

How to Plan Your Own Free Trips

The trips I’ve described probably seem a bit complicated and that’s because they are. They take hours and hours of planning and require knowledge of the airline’s award rules.

If you’re just starting out though, you don’t have to go crazy like me. It’s possible to drastically reduce your travel costs with very little work.

Here’s a ridiculously simple 2-step process:

Step 1 – Figure Out What Miles You Need

When you know where you want to go, plug those details into Award Hacker to determine which type of miles you’ll need for the journey.

Let’s assume you will be joining us in England for this summer’s UK Chautauqua and afterwards, you want to head to Jordan so you can pretend to be Indiana Jones at Petra like we did.

Here’s what Award Hacker shows you when you plug in London to Amman:

Award Hacker

Use Award Hacker to Find Out What Miles You Need

As you can see, the best option is to use BA miles for only 12,500 BA miles each way.

Step 2 – Determine the Best Card to Get to Obtain Those Miles for Free

Now that you know you need BA miles, you can head over to the credit-card search tool I created to find the card you should apply for to get those miles for free!

In this case, you would just click the British Airways button and then the application will automatically display the best card offers that earn BA miles.

BA Card Filter

Find the Best Card that Earn those Miles

That’s really all you need to do to drastically reduce your travel costs!

No Trip Planned?

If you don’t have a specific trip planned yet but want to have a big stash of miles waiting for you when you hit early retirement, just start accumulating flexible points instead.

Flexible points protect you from program devaluations (i.e. when airlines/hotels make it more expensive to use their miles) and they give you more options when you actually do need to book a trip so they are the most valuable type of points available.

Check out the Flexible Points section at the top of my credit-card search tool to find some of the best cards that earn flexible points.

Paying Cash

Sometimes it makes more sense to pay cash for a flight instead of using miles.

When I’m buying flights, I tend to use Google Flights to search because it’s really fast and it allows you to search multiple airports at once.

Another service that has been very helpful for finding really cheap flights is All the Flight Deals. You simply enter your home airport and then they email about any great deals or mistake fares that originate from your home airport.

You can get some ridiculously good bargains if you keep an eye out for them and are flexible.

Carry-On Only

Each time Jill and I do one of these big trips, we feel like we add new tools and tricks to our arsenal that help make future travels easier and more enjoyable.

One thing we figured out before this trip but was reinforced when traveling around the world was the benefits of traveling with carry-on luggage only.

We loved being able to comfortably walk around town with everything on our backs, it was reassuring to have our belongings in our possession at all times (on planes, trains, etc.), and having less crap to worry about in general was liberating.

My bag is a 43L Kelty Flyway (which appears to be discontinued but is very similar to the 44L Kelty Redwing) and Jill’s is the 40L Ospray Farpoint and both are fantastic!

And as I’ve mentioned in the past, packing cubes seem like a ridiculous accessory but they improve the carry-on experience exponentially so are totally worth it.

I Hate Taxis

I’ve always hated taxis but I hate them even more after this trip.

Before we arrived in Amman, Jordan, I read that the taxis there are notorious for ripping off tourists so I was ready for a bit of hassle but it was even worse than I expected.

Jill and I literally jumped out of a moving taxi at one point because the driver turned the meter off after we already started going and another time I got in a 5-minute screaming match with a taxi driver when he tried to charge us more than we had previously agreed. If you’ve never been aggressively cursed out in Arabic, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it.

Anyway, all of this nonsense is avoided when you use a ride-sharing app on your phone so if you haven’t signed up to Uber and Lyft yet, do it now so that you have it when you need it.

We used Uber exclusively during our month in Mexico and it made everything much less stressful because we didn’t have to worry about dealing with the language barrier and we felt much safer knowing our entire journey was already mapped out.

This was the first trip we ever used Lyft and it’s just as good and convenient as Uber (although it’s sadly not in as many countries yet).


This is also the first trip we booked accommodation with Airbnb and it too was fantastic. Not only were the places cheaper than equivalent hotels, they felt more homely, which was welcomed on such a long trip.

Guanajuato Airbnb

Roof deck at our Airbnb in Guanajuato, Mexico

We liked Airbnb so much, we actually just finished renting an Airbnb for a month here in Edinburgh while we looked for a more permanent place to stay.

All utilities are included when you rent an Airbnb so it was great not having to pay for heat during the coldest month of the winter! I don’t think we’ve ever been that warm in January before :)

Good to Be Home

At the end of it all though, I realized how much travel helps you appreciate home.

Our trip was incredible and it was one of the things I was looking forward to most when I thought about leaving my full-time job but after over 3 months of being on the road, I was ready to get home again.

It’s funny how you appreciate small things about ordinary life when you get back. We’ve been home for nearly two months and I still get a lot of joy out of getting a nice cold glass of water to drink directly out of the tap!

Another reason I’m happy to be back is because it’s hard to be productive when you’re constantly sightseeing, figuring out where to eat next, looking for flights, etc. so I didn’t get much done when I was travelling.

I’ve realized that I get a lot of happiness by making progress on projects that are interesting and important to me and I’m able to get more done when I’m in a routine so I’ve come to accept that perpetual travel is not on the cards for us.

Trips like the one we just completed are fantastic though so although we’re not going to be full-time nomads, I look forward to planning our next big trip soon.

Hopefully some of the tips and tricks described in this article will help you book your own low-cost adventure and you too can enjoy a nice victory lap around the world after you quit your job!

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87 comments for “How to Travel Around the World for Less than $1,000

  1. Smart Money MD
    February 15, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Impressive! How long did you stay in each city for that mega-city redemption for 30k AA miles? I didn’t realize that you could book that many stops on on redemption ticket! I suppose that even if you didn’t get much time per city, it was an interesting experience just enjoying the nice lounges…etc!

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm

      Just about 24 hours in each city.

      We picked places that we had been to before and wanted to see again (e.g. Hong Kong, Bangkok) or places we didn’t think we’d need to spend long in (e.g. Abu Dhabi).

      You’d be surprised how much you can do in 24 hours (and how much good stuff you can eat)!

      • Kimmie
        March 16, 2023 at 4:58 pm

        Do you book it as a multi-leg trip?

  2. AL
    February 15, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    In Amman Jordan they have Uber and it works really well. They also have something called Careem all over the middle east including Amman and Cairo which is the same thing as Uber. I guess that is their version of Lyft.

    Glad to see you had a great time there.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      Ahh, that’s right! We didn’t end up using Uber there because we were told it was illegal and therefore less safe than normal taxis but if I went back, I’d definitely give it a shot over the normal cabs because those couldn’t have been any worse!

      • AlaskaFI
        January 13, 2022 at 12:36 pm

        Ha! Yes, bargaining is a way of life in the middle east, even when the price was previously agreed upon. If you aren’t prepared (or don’t enjoy it) it can be quite jarring. Once you do it a few times there’s a rhythm to it.

  3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
    February 15, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    That Doha lounge has me tempted to figure out a way to book a side trip just to enjoy that lounge. I guess it’d be a little less luxurious and relaxing with a toddler in tow, though. Thanks for the awesome travel hacking tips – is there any chance of a follow up on the food you ate when you were at your various locations? My travel is entirely motivated by the food at the other end, if it’s not an obligatory family visit :)

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 15, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Haha, my travel is entirely motivated by food too!

      Jill gets so mad at me because 90% of all the photos I take when we’re abroad are of food.

      Highlights on this trip were:

      – Mole in Mexico
      – Ceviche in Peru
      – Zinfadel in Sonoma
      – Sushi in Osaka
      – Kobe beef in Kobe
      – Dim sum in Hong Kong
      – Mango Sticky Rice in Bangkok

      So much good stuff…you’re making me want to hit the road again!

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
        February 16, 2017 at 7:07 pm

        I … am honestly a little sorry I asked. I’m going to be dreaming of all that deliciousness for days. Share some food pics in Dallas/FinCon?

        • The Mad Fientist
          February 17, 2017 at 3:25 am


  4. Maggie @ Northern Expenditure
    February 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I’m glad we caught you before you took off on this amazing adventure! Next stop: Alaska! :) – Actually, we’ll probably catch you at FinCon first.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 15, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Definitely still want to head up to Alaska but great we’ll see you in Dallas beforehand!

    • AlaskaFI
      January 13, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      Hey Maggie, if you want to work together to create a summer camp style wilderness FinCon (maybe called Freezing Your Assets??) I’d be down.

      I believe you have my contact info from pre pandemic days :)

  5. Mrs. Picky Pincher
    February 15, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Fantastic! This is quite timely, too. Mr. Picky Pincher and I plan to travel abroad once we pay off our student loans. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it in the cheapest way possible.

  6. Myfiinthesky
    February 15, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    I’m very impressed by your credit card skills! I’ve only flown first class once, but the lounge is a fun experience! I’ll have to take a look at your travel card app next time my wife and I take a trip. Great write-up!

  7. Kevin
    February 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Congrats on the awesome trip! I’m going to have to take a few pointers from this trip for my next journey.

  8. Joe
    February 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Wow, great job! The unlimited stopover sounds awesome. Probably not going to work so well with a little kid, though.
    Last year, I checked from Portland to Bangkok and it was something like 80,000. Anyway, we have more points now so our vacation will be very affordable this year. We’ll probably go to central America this year.

  9. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions
    February 15, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Traveling with just a backpack is incredible and something we have to figure out. The last thing we want to do is worry about luggage. We have 6 figure points/miles accounts – just waiting for the kids to both head off to college next fall! I’m bookmarking to re-visit in a few months :)

  10. Robert
    February 15, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    FYI. It’s ColOmbia with an O :)

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 7:55 am

      Apologies to all the Colombians out there! I blame the manufacturer of my previous jacket for destroying my mind.

      • Juan
        March 3, 2017 at 10:37 pm

        Haha I was tempted to point that out as well :)
        Amazing trip! Happy for you guys

  11. Dale
    February 15, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    That really is the trip of a lifetime! It would be amazing, but sooo exhausting.

    Can you explain the United sweet spot a bit? I didn’t think it was possibly to get more than one “free” flight (the excursionist perk) on a United reward.

  12. Lizett Garcia
    February 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Awesome!! We’ve begun our travel hacking journey and are going to Disney World for $49.80. Ridiculous!!! Thank you for your awesome site!!!

  13. Norm
    February 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Very cool. We just scheduled our 11th (I think) vacation using frequent flyer miles, to St Kitts and Nevis, and we’ve still got another 2 million miles and points in the bank. Frequent flyer miles have been life-changing for us.

    But that is a LOT of 24 hour layovers! We did one once in Germany, and I guess we got a sense of Dusseldorf, but it was also kind of a nuisance. Our bag didn’t make it onto the flight the next day and we just got it before heading for the Alps. I would definitely agree with using only carry-on luggage, like a backpack, if you plan on doing 24 hour layovers and not picking up your bags at each stop. We found that the airlines get very confused with these long layovers. We travel exclusively with backpacks now.

  14. Greg
    February 15, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    How did you book 7 destinations in one transaction??

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 7:59 am

      Stopovers that are 24 hours or less are considered layovers when booking AA awards so you can book as many as you want, as long as you’re not going too far out of the way.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 8:00 am

      And I actually booked it by calling AA reservations and listing out all the flight numbers.

      • Greg
        February 16, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        Your a freaking genius dude. Great idea!!

  15. Ruth
    February 15, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    This is one of the best emails I’ve gotten this month!! Thankyou so much for sharing all this AWESOME info and making it easy for us to use! :)

  16. Ben
    February 15, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Super happy you took advantage of the miles. I actually stumbled into the FI world from the travel hacking world. It’s interesting to me how much of an overlap there is between the two “worlds”.

  17. Matt @ The Resume Gap
    February 15, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Looks like a fantastic trip, and that’s an impressively low sum for all those flights. Nicely done. Those taxi experiences are ridiculous. And they wonder why Uber and Lyft are taking all their market share! If rideshare isn’t an option, we’ll often go out of our way (like walking for miles) just to avoid them. Also putting the Qatar Airways layover on our list. Looks a lot more luxurious than sitting in a crowded boarding area at LAX!

  18. A
    February 15, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Great job!
    Why packing cubes? Please elaborate.

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 8:04 am

      Imagine having a normal grocery bag filled with groceries. You also have a bunch of jelly beans and you need to find the green jelly bean in the bag full of groceries. It’s a hell of a lot easier to find the green jelly bean if you simply find the bag of jelly beans first and then find the green one in there. Also, opening a grocery bag with a lot of loose jelly beans is a huge pain but it’s not so bad if the jelly beans are all contained in their own smaller bag within the big bag.

      My travel bag just has 4 big things in it rather than 50 individual pieces of clothing so it makes it much easier to manage everything and find what I want.

  19. Andrew Porter
    February 15, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Great stuff. Now I’ve moved to the US from the UK (via Australia) i can make a start on the air miles process, well, after I’ve built up a credit score first anyway. Thanks.

    I’ll also have to start revisiting your older posts and paying more attention to the US-centric parts now I’m here!

    PS You might want to change the spelling on Colombia, I know Colombians get very touchy about that :)

  20. Nicole
    February 15, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    We are taking our first “travel hacked” trip in April and it’s opened a whole new world of opportunities to our family of four. The Award Hacker tool is amazing, thank you for sharing!

  21. Go Finance Yourself!
    February 15, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Holy crap, that first class cabin on Qatar airlines is incredible! Thanks for sharing your resources on earning miles. I’ve bookmarked AwardHacker as well as your Card Ratings page. I’ve taken advantage of several credit card bonus offers over the years (still kicking myself for not signing up for the new Chase Saphire Reserve card when they were offering 100,000 miles last year) but I’ve never taken it to extreme travel hacking status. Looks like you’ve been able to get some pretty awesome rewards. Thanks for sharing your resources!

    • Josh
      February 16, 2017 at 6:31 am

      100k is still available in branch at Chase until March 11th, just so you know.

      • Go Finance Yourself!
        February 17, 2017 at 1:11 pm

        Thanks Josh! I’ll check that out!

  22. Joel
    February 16, 2017 at 3:06 am

    Amazing article and pretty impressive trip. Quick correction, Colombia not Columbia.

  23. not_finbar
    February 16, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Thanks for the post Mad FIentist. Have you looked into whether a similar endeavour would be possible with UK credit cards?

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 8:05 am

      It’s definitely possible in the UK but it’s just harder to accumulate points quickly because the credit card offers aren’t as generous in the UK as they are in the US.

  24. jonathan
    February 16, 2017 at 5:00 am

    What do you do about health insurance?

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 8:06 am

      I live in the UK now so I’m covered by the NHS (the UK’s universal healthcare) but when we travel, we just get a travel insurance policy that covers everywhere (including the US and Canada).

  25. Jay Dedman
    February 16, 2017 at 7:29 am

    I’ve always wondered how travel hackers deal with their re-occurring bills. If you’re always changing credit cards, are you also always having to change the CC on file for your electric, phone, insurance, etc bills? Since we’re frugal like many FI’ers, these are our main expenses each month. Seems like that would be a pain.
    (and thanks for this great write up of your trip)

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 16, 2017 at 8:09 am

      I just change them up.

      Trust me, it’s a hell of a lot harder working to earn $5,000 to pay for a trip than it is switching around a few things on the internet for 20 minutes every 3-6 months.

      • Jay Dedman
        February 16, 2017 at 9:43 am

        Understood. This make sense. So you were able to do the above travel by just carrying balances on two credit cards? (for United and AA?)

        I always get the impression from other travel hackers that they carry 5-10 credit cards to get the points they need.

        • Lisa
          February 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm

          Most people carry the card they need to meet minimum spending on until they hit that number, then revert to their everyday card. People who travel a lot may have an airline card and a hotel chain card and then 1 additional for “other” expenses. Very few people actually carry 10 cards around to maximize every purchase – most of them are bloggers, because it’s their job to maximize everything.

        • The Mad Fientist
          February 17, 2017 at 3:29 am

          I never carry a balance on any card (I pay off everything in full every month to avoid paying interest).

          I do have quite a few cards but I only keep a couple in my wallet at any one time.

          • Jay Dedman
            February 18, 2017 at 7:27 am

            Thanks for the responses. One other thing I get confused about.
            Travel hacking always intersects with the FI crowd.
            But aiming for Financial Independence and Early Retirement usually focuses on frugality and not spending money.

            Our bills are currently less than $2000 a month (electric, internet, food, gas, etc). I don’t see how we really build up a enough points to travel. Is it all about the bonuses on sign up? Then using the bonuses and switching cards?

      • Esther
        March 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm

        Jay’s comment at the bottom is my burning question as well. Mind elaborating on this? Thanks a bunch!

        “Thanks for the responses. One other thing I get confused about.
        Travel hacking always intersects with the FI crowd.
        But aiming for Financial Independence and Early Retirement usually focuses on frugality and not spending money.

        Our bills are currently less than $2000 a month (electric, internet, food, gas, etc). I don’t see how we really build up a enough points to travel. Is it all about the bonuses on sign up? Then using the bonuses and switching cards?”

        • Todd
          March 18, 2017 at 9:01 am

          Yes – you get a new CC, spend until the bonus is reached, then move on to the next card. Just need to have a bit of organizational skill and keep track in excel, and then enjoy your free travel. Wife and I started at beginning of 2016 and have gotten a return of over $5,000 after tax bucks of travel. Nice little side hobby to have.

          • Arin
            May 22, 2017 at 6:25 pm

            But the question is if your expenses do not meet the spending requirement in the time allotted, how does a frugal person manage to get the rewards?

  26. Laurie@ThreeYear
    February 16, 2017 at 8:51 am

    My husband and I took a trip to Southeast Asia last year and we bought the Osprey backpack you recommended a couple of years ago (except we bought the male version) aas well as those packing cubes. Both worked so well–especially the cubes. They really make it easier to separate your clean and dirty clothes, etc., when your temptation is to shove everything in together. Thanks for the great tip!

    We are planning a trip to Santiago in December for all four family members using AA rewards. Signed up for the Citi to get the 50,000 bonus miles, but I haven’t seen a lot of other ways to rack up any AA miles. Any tips? Open more credit cards?

    Great post!! I love to see all the food pics! :)

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 17, 2017 at 3:34 am

      Glad you like the bag and the cubes!

      You can transfer SPG points to AA (if you transfer 20,000 SPG points, you’ll get 25,000 AA miles) so that’s what I did to book the crazy trip I described above.

      • Laurie@ThreeYear
        February 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

        I actually just got your email on that. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  27. Mr Crazy Kicks
    February 16, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Dude, awesome trip! You really killed it on the flights. I’m going to have to look into spreading one ticket out over several destinations. Is the longest stopover you found 24 hours? I’ll have to check out the award hacker tool.

    I used you mad cards tool when getting the cards for our upcoming free trip to Jamaica. Travel hacking it saved us $6,000. I still need to finish up hacking our Barcelona trip after that.

    Thanks for sharing the epic trip, and thanks again for the great tips and tools!

    • The Mad Fientist
      February 17, 2017 at 3:35 am

      Anything over 24 hours and AA will consider it a stopover rather than a layover (which would increase the cost of the award)

  28. Steve
    February 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Do you regularly cancel those credit cards before you pay first annual fee? If so, does that negatively affect your credit score?

  29. Lisa
    February 16, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Crazy trip! I would suggest, however, that miles alone is not the way to assess an award ticket’s value. British Airways (among others) is notorious for high fuel surcharges on award tickets. For example, a $1200 ticket that you get “free” with a $800 surcharge isn’t that great of a deal. I’d rather spend 5-10k more miles and less out of pocket.

    I’d suggest maybe you wouldn’t find travel so stressful if you reduced the number of 24 hour stopovers. I get that scoring that itinerary and gaming the system is a thrill. But if you did the slow travel thing, you’d have a chance to get used to a place and not constantly be packing your days full of sightseeing. The craziest trip I ever did was Philadelphia to Chicago to Tokyo (side trip to Osaka & Kyoto) to Zurich to Rome to Florence (side trip to Siena) to Barcelona to Philadelphia, all in business class, in 15 days. It was mostly great, but by the end I was so tired and jetlagged I wasn’t able to stay awake in the evenings to really appreciate where I was.

    And finally, Uber and Lyft treat their drivers terribly and don’t protect passengers enough, by design, so I don’t use them. I try to use public transit as much as possible. I’ve had really positive and really terrible taxi interactions (and bus, and train, and…), but the terrible experiences make for the best stories!

  30. FrugalFox
    February 16, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Now you live in the UK are you going to look at some hacks for us “British” people!
    I’m able to collect a lot of IHG and airline points through work….. however you can never have enough.

  31. Ken
    February 16, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    This is definitely doable, but less than 24 hours per stop is very hectic. We’ve done 2 nights per city in Europe and SE Asia and it’s just too much constant moving around. It sucked the life out of us.Some of the small stops we’ll still do 2 nights, but that’s really the minimum for us.

    BTW, no way to subscribe to comments? I won’t see a reply in that case.

  32. Duncan's Dividends
    February 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    That’s an awesome experience! I try to travel regularly and on a budget, my favorite trip has to be Costa Rica and staying in hostels. Usually people cringe when I say hostel, but staying in single room and not the dorms is very affordable and a lot of the time people don’t even realize it’s just as nice if not nicer than some of the low budget USA hotels. Heck even had fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast included. For $1500 we spent almost two weeks in the country and we ate out and did excursions almost everyday. Frugal travel can be some of the best travel

  33. Dereck
    February 16, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    You talk about closing the cards out before the annual fee, but how does that affect your credit score? I’d think that it’d have a negative affect, wouldn’t it?

    • Ashley
      March 17, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      I believe it does not, the lingering potential 2 year credit pull will still exist though. The credit line limit will decrease though so if you had a balance it would decrease your credit score due to now using a larger percentage of credit, though that has an easy fix, never carry a balance. And if you have many types of credit lines, lowering it could help as most often you’d close the newer cards and attempt to to not remove your longest standing preferably annual fee free cards.

  34. Amber tree
    February 19, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Great trip! And for an amazing low price. We need to emigrate urgently to the US for travel hacking!

    I looked around for things like this in Belgium, no possible to find such sweet deals. We have beer and chocolate to make up for that ;-)

  35. Benjamin Davis
    February 19, 2017 at 9:40 am

    This is very impressive. I’ve been to 32 countries and travelled on very low budget at times but if you asked me I would say this would never be possible. Great job – enjoy life!

    Keep up and thanks for sharing.

  36. Matt
    February 19, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Do you see benefit to redeeming Chase points through their online travel portal as opposed to transferring to one of the travel partners? They claim you can redeem for 50% bonus (1.5 cents per point) if booked through their site but in times past I have noticed higher prices on the chase rewards site than the airline essentially cancelling out that benefit. I have several international trips planned this year and am looking to get every last dime of value out of that 100k saphire reserve bonus.

  37. Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes
    February 20, 2017 at 4:22 am

    Wow, $1000? That’s borderline unbelievable! If you’d said $3000, I’d be like “that’s a great deal”…but $1k? Wow!

    We’re thinking about heading to Asia this fall for some fun. I’ll try using some of these great tips!

  38. Financial Samurai
    February 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Petra looks cool! Worth the visit?

    I’m too lazy to CC hack. I should, but I’ve found another hack, namely letting my friends who have vacation properties and vacation memberships twist my arm to use them!


  39. Colin @ rebelwithaplan
    February 21, 2017 at 6:56 am

    This is so amazing! Abu Dhabi and Petra are places I really want to visit. I can pretend to be Indiana Jones there too, haha. I’m still only vaguely familiar with all the CC hacking that can be done. All I have right now is the United Explorer Card.

    I’m in Thailand right now but I’m really yearning for a trip touring South America!

  40. Amanda at Wealth Well Done
    February 21, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I love to travel and I really appreciate an article like this. I use an app called Skiplagged and it has helped me out a lot. Thank you for sharing and creating something very helpful. I am trying to plan a girls getaway and this is going to come in handy. Thanks again. Keep up the great work!

  41. Olesya Luraschi
    February 22, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    This is just amazing, thanks so much for making these tools. Credit cards are the one area of travel hacking that I haven’t gotten into because they seemed so complicated but the tools lay things out in exactly a way that I can understand.

  42. Dan
    February 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Another great article. My wife and I recently started travel hacking and, with our first Sapphire Reserve bonus, booked our first family trip to Puerto Rico in May (4 people), mostly paid for. We are now trying to gather other bonuses, one by one.

  43. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds
    February 27, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Oh wow, you did so well to do all of that for so cheap! Very impressed. I really need to look more into this – I’m in the UK.

  44. Craig
    March 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Signed up for your Chase Sapphire Preferred card working toward those 50K miles. Planning on traveling with United Airlines next year to Germany. My question is I have 23,000 Delta miles out there. Do you have any idea if those can be rolled over to the United account in some way?? I definitely am learning through this process!! Many many thanks!!

  45. wishicouldsurf
    March 6, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    So I feel like any comments and blog love are long overdue. I’ve been listening to your podcast while I do cardio and been digging your blog, though I will say you are way more hard core than I am about figuring out the details! I have gotten into travel hacking as an experiment before I officially retire in June with the goal to accumulate 1 million points between when I started last October and that June 30th date. It’s surprisingly easy. But I have to say, your updated travel credit card section made things a bit easier. I have an upcoming #firstworldproblem tax bill and using your tool just helped me optimize which cards I’m going to acquire before I need to pay that bill using that pay1040 site based on what I already have. Of course you probably wouldn’t pay the 1.87% fee (or would figure out a way to get rid of it), but I figure it’s a small price to pay for an additional boatload of points that I hope to use over the next few years. So thank you for your hard work! Just got in off the wait list for Ecuador’s 1st week so I look forward to hearing more of your extra detail oriented and interesting financial analysis.

  46. Greenbacks Magnet
    January 2, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    How nice. I really like the picture with you in the Fedora. Traveling seems fun, but I know if I was zipping around every 24 hours I would get motion sickness. I figure to do that I would need to stray in one country and just go to different cities. Thanks for the travel advice!


  47. Darren
    February 27, 2018 at 2:47 am

    Please help me as I am totally lost. I have over 100k miles but I’m not sure how to use them effectively like you did to the kinds of places you went to. How do I find out where these ‘sweet spots’ are and how do I access them. I am not a frequent flier member nor do my rewards come from the UA or AA cards. They are all through capital one and chase and I hate to sound so helpless but like I said I am totally lost and don’t want to waste my miles but signing up from the wrong flights. I tried using the tool above but when I enter different places they seem like they cost way more than you paid and again I’m not sure how to access the ‘sweet spots’ which seem to be causing the real savings.

  48. Aklaitchiaq
    March 6, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I need help finding an airline mileage program that I can use to get to the Faroe Islands. Help!

  49. Ernie Garces
    March 24, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Hi Mad-Fientist, it has been a pleasure listening to and Reading your Blogs(Life Stories). I have a question on storing the Travel Hacking points. Most of these cards say ” Your points don’t expire as long as your account remains open, however, you will immediately lose all your points if your account status changes, or your account is closed for program misuse, fraudulent activities, failure to pay, bankruptcy, or other reasons described in the terms of the Rewards Program Agreement.”
    How do you close accounts and keep this from happening. Question? How many cards do you keep open at one time. My wife and I have FICO scores in the 820’s so we should not have a problem with new accounts or closing accounts.
    Thanks Ernie

  50. Matthew
    December 21, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Mad-Fientist! New to your blog and I like it so far!

    When opening these cards, is it just the one-time bonus of 50,000 for spending $3000 within the first 3 months (for example) Or is it a deal where as you spend $3000 again etc. you continue to rack up points? Just wondering if it’s a one-and-done deal with the cards. Thanks!

  51. Torsten
    February 1, 2019 at 6:37 am

    Equivalent to Uber and Lyft in China would be Didi (Chuxing) these days. Now it is even availalbe in English. Just FYI.

    Btw. enjoying your block and podcasts. Thank you for all the info.

  52. Jukka P
    March 13, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Hello Mad Fientist!

    Thank you for your advises to use credit cards to create free Miles for flights. I live in Finland. Which cards are the best to use in Europe? Does it work in Europe as well as in US?

    Alk the best!


  53. Renato
    November 22, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    I feel like The Bank of America Travel rewards card is not a terrible option for you not even list in your tool. If you have account and some money with them like I do and enter their rewards program, I get 1.875 per dollar and was able to get some good travel cost erased with them. Besides it’s zero annual fee and has no foreign fees either. Would you even consider listing it?

  54. RNathaniel
    June 30, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Really interesting article, and very jealous of your travelling exploits. Being based in the UK, it seems that the options for miles offer credit cards is a lot less limited. Is there any advice you can give in this area?
    Thank you

  55. Dalai FI Mama and Papa
    August 28, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    Very timely blog. We just FIRE’d on 13 August and are leaving on Monday for an open ended trip (about 2 mos) to include walking the Camino del Santiago, Primativo route, then heading by train through Portugal for a couple of weeks. We’ll end by cycling around the Adriatic in southern Italy. So far, we’ve only spent €62 on trains. We used banked cc points for all but one 19€ flight from Lisbon to Rome via Ryanair. We’re using SWA points from Denver to LaGuardia (I’m still A-listed too) and then flying business class on Iberia from JFK to Madrid. The hotels are also on points. Hilton in Times Square, and in Madrid, we hit a special that got us 1.5 times point value by going through the Chase portal. This actually made it quite a bit cheaper than the already cheap Air BnBs. We’ll start paying cash when we hit Oviedo and walking. Budget is approx 50€/day but we gave ourselves double that in Portugal and Italy. Like you, we also chose 40L backpacks and I have an extra tote bag (Sherpani – my favorite purchase of all.) I even tested the Kelty Redwing (it didn’t fit, so testing is highly recommend) I went with the REI Ruckpack and my husband chose the Quechua. Your travel site will come in handy as we plan our four month journey starting in May 2022. We have both Thailand and Mexico in the queue!

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