Nov 19, 2017 – Updated to add cost of acquiring points.
This article is for my non-travel addict friends who see my pictures on social media and think I either won the lottery and/or quit my job. In fact, I haven’t accomplished either. While it might seem mysterious how I manage to travel “so much”, I want to give you the secret sauce in this post.
There are basically 3 components to my travel: Earning, Burning, and Going.
Earning and Burning
Earning is about getting the currencies that fund my travel. It could just be my paycheck, but the fun for me is to earn loyalty program miles & points and use (burn) them for special experiences. For example, I apply for a Citi AAdvantage card with a sign up bonus anywhere between 50,000 – 100,000 miles; for years I used 67,500 of those miles for a First Class seat on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines between US and SE Asia. The First Class experience (more than the seat) is incredibly luxurious and expensive, rarely pricing below $5,000 each way. While that particular redemption rate has increased significantly, flat bed business class redemptions are still viable and my go-to option these days.
How about our unforgettable over-water bungalow in Bora Bora…
One of the best uses of points is for these aspirational experiences – priced out of reach for most, were it not for points. The key to earning points is credit card rewards, and some cards can be churned – gotten again with the sign up bonus. Rules differ by bank. Read sites like Doctor of Credit and Frequent Miler to master the basics.
Efficiently redeeming points for travel is confusing, intimidating, and frustrating for most people. But once you get the hang of it, it can lead to incredible experiences and cost saving. I haven’t analyzed my annual travel-related expenses in depth, but I’m fairly confident it’s around $4,000: $1,000 to acquire the points used for travel, and $3,000 travel expenses – including airfare, hotel, car rental, tour, and admission for all trips (I don’t count food because it’s about the same as my everyday cost). Not bad for 75,000-100,000 miles of flying and ~50 days exploring the world.
Now that you know how I fund my travel, let me tell you about the actual travel.
With a good amount of miles and points, most of the world is at your fingertips. Wanna do a wildlife safari in South Africa? 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles gets you First Class on Cathay Pacific from US to South Africa. How about a week appreciating the food and history of Italy? 55,000 Air Canada miles for business class. Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands? 30,000 AA miles in business class. With a little strategy and discipline, earning all of the above points for two travelers, round trips, in a year, is not hard – for now.
Which is to say, earning and burning aren’t an issue for me (for now). The most precious resource is time.
Ideally I’d like to travel 100 days or more a year, but I work full time. If I add all my paid and unpaid time off, company holidays, and associated weekends, I have about 50 days total. I use most of that time for my travel passion. My realistic goal is 3 intercontinental trips a year, plus a few domestic trips. I wrote about some of my strategies for maximizing limited vacation time.
So really, I’m only gone about ~15% of the year 🙂
What about your credit score?
I get this question a lot. Many people assume because I got a bunch of credit cards, it has negatively impacted my credit score. The opposite is true. My credit score is considerably higher now than it was before I started the hobby, and it’s because of how credit scores are calculated. The number of credit inquiries and new accounts is a low impact factor in the calculation, while debt to credit ratio is a high factor. More cards generally means higher total credit line, which makes your ratio more favorable for the credit score calculation.
In a nutshell
Friends – this blog will be my creative outlet. I will chronicle my journeys here. I’ll share my thoughts & tips related to travel. Join me in this new adventure – subscribe to the blog and be notified of new posts. If there’s anything you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll write about it or get back to you.
One suggestion – if you want more tips on affordable family travel, check out the other great resources on andrewdoronin such as The Deal Mommy and As the Joe Flies. I’ll tell you how I enjoyed South America on my own; they’ll tell you how they did it with their family of 3/4/5!