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A ~$36,000 Round-the-World Trip in First Class for a Fraction of the Cost!

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A ~$36,000 Round-the-World Trip in First Class for a Fraction of the Cost!

Million Mile SecretsA ~$36,000 Round-the-World Trip in First Class for a Fraction of the Cost!Million Mile Secrets Team

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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Amy is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
Enjoying First Class in the Emirates A380

A big thank you to Amy for sharing her story!

Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.

My name is Amy and my husband of 25 years is Rod.  We have been working on the miles and point hobby since 2011.

It has only been the last 3 years that we have taken it to a level where it has moved from a hobby to an actual obsession.  Because of it, we were able to fly west from the United States to Japan and then to Indonesia then to Singapore then to UAE and finally returning back to the US from the east.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
Emirates First Class A380 Meal

For the airfare and hotel stays we had an out-of-pocket amount of $1,614.08.  We used 635,000 hotel points and 545,000 airline miles.  At the time of my booking, the retail cost of this trip was $35,783.84.  These totals were for hotels and airlines ONLY.  Our excursions, food, car rentals, and tipping were extra.

What was the goal of your trip?

We had already been around the world with a combination of multiple vacations, but we had never gone completely around the world in a single trip.  So we actually set 2 goals for this trip.

The first goal was to do a complete around the world trip in one single vacation.  The second goal was to fly on the Emirates A380 in First Class.  Mission accomplished!

How long did you collect miles and points for your trip? 

This is hard to say exactly.  This trip was a combination of points and miles that we collected from multiple sources.  We open and closed several Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards over a period of two years.

We also opened several personal and business cards from Chase, Citi, and AMEX.  If I had to put a time frame on all of these miles and points, I would say they represent a solid 18-month period of time.

Which points did you save to take your trip?

We burned 185,000 Delta miles and 360,000 Alaska Airlines miles.  We bought 2 one-way tickets on Garuda Airlines from Bali to Singapore to avoid the Emirates 777 airplane and be able to snag the A380.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
InterContinental Bali Club Lounge

We used 315,000 IHG points and 320,000 Hilton points.  We had to buy one night at the Waldorf Astoria in Dubai because we ran out of Hilton points.  We also used a single Hyatt free night certificate in New York that we got from renewing our Chase Hyatt credit card.

What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?

This is another question that is hard to answer as every trip is unique depending on what you want to fly, where you are going, what hotel you want to stay in, or if you are caught in the 5/24 rule from Chase.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
Relaxing by the Club Pool at the InterContinental Bali

For our trip we got the AMEX Hilton cards and the Citi Hilton cards.  The 2 cards we actually keep in our portfolio are the Chase Hyatt card and the Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card in order to snag a free night every year.  We also love our Bank of America Alaska Airlines cards.

How did you search for and find the award flights?

Searching for award flights is a multi-prong approach which can be time consuming.  But with the new award finding sites things have become much easier.

What we find helpful is to plan the trip at least a year in advance.  This gives you a solid idea of what may be available when your days come online in the 330-day window (depending on the airline).  We start at the actual airlines website that we will be booking with.  We find how many miles are required for the segment we are looking to book.  Are there peak and off-peak rates?

We then look to see who their partner airlines are.  We then search the partner’s inventory of award flights.  We like to incorporate websites like AwardHacker.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
Exploring Dubai!

Once we know what airlines we need to book and how many miles we will need, we sit back and wait for the award flight to open up.  If it is a hard to get a particular First or Business class ticket to a popular place, you want to book as soon as it goes live.

I write down all the flight information and give the 1-800 number to the airline a call.  I guide the operator so they can find the flight I know is available.  That is very important when your award flight is part of an airlines partner airline.  As a rule, if your operator can not locate your flight it is time to kindly end the call.   It is time for HUCA (Hang Up, Call Again).

How did you find your hotel accommodations?

This is the easiest part of booking these big trips.  Once your air travel is fully booked you can move on to your hotel accommodations.  I have 2 things I do when booking awards that have saved me a lot of points over the last few years.

The first is book as far out as possible.  Just like the airlines, there are only so many awards available so grab them early because you can always cancel them and have the points returned.  Hotel award programs frequently increase the amount of points for stays without warning.  As long as you are already booked it will not cost you any additional points.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
The View at the InterContinental Bali

The other trick I use is to book each night separately.  I have two reasons for that.  If you book the day they become available you can not book your entire week when your first night becomes available.  You will have to wait until the end of the week to book it and by then the award day or days may already be gone – especially if it is a popular destination with limited award nights.

The other reason is so I can cancel a single night without canceling the entire week which comes with a risk that an award night might disappear before you are able to rebook it.  One reason I might want to cancel a single night is because hotels like IHG often give out free night certificates for loyalty contests, promotions, or from Chase for paying their annual fee.

Now I can use the certificate and cancel my points night and keep my points for a later trip. 🙂

What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?

The snag I hit on this trip was we were going to to take the Emirates A380 from Dubai to Dallas on the longest non-stop flight at the time.  But months after booking the trip Emirates discontinued A380 service from Dubai to Dallas, replacing it with the 777.

I called the customer service line and was going to make an attempt to get my flight switched to their Dubai to JFK on the A380 without having to pay any fees.  To my surprise, they switched it free of charge without hesitation.  I was pleasantly surprised to say the least!

Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

In Bali, the elephant rides and monkey sanctuary in Ubud are well worth the trip.  The Camel Safari in Dubai with a meal with the Bedouins was money well spent.  The mall at the Waterfront Promenade in Singapore is well worth walking around if you have a few hours to kill.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
Ubud Indonesia Monkey Sanctuary

We didn’t find anything over the top to do in Narita, but it was a nice little town if you are looking for some great food.  Although we loved every aspect of the Business Class upper deck of Delta’s 747, we were awestruck by the experience of first class on Emirates A380.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

Even though we have plans to retire in 5 years and 2 months, we are unsure if we can wait that long.  It is getting harder and harder to return to work after each one of these trips.

A 36000 Round The World Trip In First Class For A Fraction Of The Cost
View From Our Room at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai

We know that we hate the winters here in Indiana and we can not wait to leave it all behind once we retire!

What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip?  Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

The biggest tip is book early and be prepared to be flexible with your days.  If you are only able to say, “I have to leave on this day and I can only return on this date,” then booking a large trip like this could be difficult.

I knew our vacation was going to be in the month of March and I knew I wanted to be gone for about 2 weeks.  The flight availability is what dictated that we left on March 14 and returned on March 30.

If you haven’t ever booked with miles and points I would start out with a couple of smaller trips before attempting something of this scale.  These trips take time and patience, but the payoffs are massive.

Want to Share Your Story?

If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note!  Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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A missing piece of this story is, how much money did you spend ton the credit cards to fulfill the minimum spending requirement?

What did you spent the money on?

Did you pay off the balances in full?

These are important questions that need to be answered because they represent the true cost of earning those points.

Many of the cards you list have several $1000 in spending required before the bonus is posted to the account.

Can you please provide the details?

Great point Tom. Yes, the minimum spend of the cards that I used for this trip were anywhere from $1000 to $3000 for each bonus. In addition there is a $49 annual fee on the Chase IHG card in order to get a free night certificate and Hyatt comes with a $79 annual fee for the free night certificate.

My spends are mainly from everyday purchases for my small business and from everyday household expenses such as gas, electricity, insurance, propane, groceries, phone, and cable. I never carry a balance and I never buy something just for the sake of getting my spend in. I have done “manufactured” spends when the opportunity arises like a couple years back when you could order $1000 worth of coins from the US Mint with free shipping. I also utilize family and friends that are planning big purchases. I go to the store with them and buy their appliance or whatever and they pay me cash. If the 3 month window is closing and I am short on a spend I will buy Speedway gas gift cards. They do not charge you anything to buy them and I will be using them in the near future anyway.

Thanks for clarifying.

Asking family and friends for CC purchase/cash is a very good idea.

hi all,

Thanks for the post. Would you mind putting out a list of the cards you got, and how many points per card? I am am amazed at how you were able to finesse so many miles/points in such a short time!

Thank you.

Hi Amit,

Look at my response to Christine for a list of cards that I used on this trip. I can not remember what the original bonus were for each card. Airline card run anywhere from 30K to 60K while hotel cards will run around 50K to 100K. Hilton just helped out with the ability to transfer points. I can now open cards in my daughters name(with her full approval of course) and transfer those points to my account for free. She will get a boost in her credit score since I will be charging and paying off her balance every month and in return I get more points for my travel. Win win.

Amy… not to sidebar your trip conversation (which I loved btw – I got re-married a year ago to a major traveler and we are going everywhere and trying to ramp up retirement at the same time to make it 5 instead of 8 years from now so we can travel more) but was wondering how old your daughter was? I did the same for my 23 yr old and now she has 250K points w/all the Chase cards… but I just applied for my 18yr old – more so that my points don’t have to cover her travels – and she was turned down twice including from a dept store. She is 18 but has held jobs, started a company and has had 2 tax returns. She gets targeted direct mail all the time which infuriates me but there’s nothing I can do. Did you make her an authorized user first? Let me know and thanks!

Sorry I just saw your other question about an authorized user. I had to cosign with her on her first Visa with the credit union. I had as an authorized user on one card, but that was only because I got a bonus for adding an authorized user.

Hey Amy thanks! I was going to tell you that my oldest was able to get the Sapphire, Sapphire reserve (when it was 100K) and then the Ink card. The business cards may be easier for more points. Just an fyi. I may call my bank to get my daughter started – smart thinking!

Hi Nina,

She just turned 22 and her credit score hit the 762 mark about the same time. As soon as she hit 18 I started her out with our credit unions Visa card. I also open up a car loan in her name even though we had the cash for the car. We then moved on to the Chase IHG card for her. Due to her being in college and only working part time we moved slowly in opening up cards. We then got her an Alaskan Airline card, but only got approved for the lesser card with a smaller sign up bonus. We then flipped back to Chase for the British Airways card. We then tried the Avianca card out of Puerto Rico. Smooth sailing after that as her score is now excellent. She has a Hawaiian Airlines card coming in the mail as we speak. I don’t know if this strategy will work for everyone, but it worked for her. I really wanted to sign her up for cards because I wanted those points/miles, but had to slow roll it until she hit that magical score of 750. I hope this helps.

Sounds like a fabulous trip with many great experiences. I’m a fellow Hoosier but have yet to actually meet anyone here who is into the points and miles game. A lot of times I hear quite the opposite at the airport, that this is someone’s first time flying! 🙂 I’d love to meet up with you if you live near me!

Also a Hoosier and find that alot of people don’t travel much. I don’t take oversees trips yet people always comment that I travel so much! I can also relate to the Amy’s comment about winter!

Camilla and Boonie,

I agree that most Hoosiers don’t really travel much except for the traditional Florida spring break. Among our friends and co-workers we are by far the exception to the rule when it comes to travel. I went to the Chicago Seminar a couple years ago and that is the one way to really learn the point and mile game from people who have really taken it to the next level. Are you on trip advisor Camilla?

An around the world trip on points is also a goal of ours…just wondering how did you earn so many points? Were any of the cards a business acct? Thank you and Happy travels! 🙂

Here is a quick run down on the cards that we used.

1) Chase IHG card for the free night certificates and for the points that we accumulated from promo’s like Accelerate. We used that at the InterContinental Bali and InterContinental Singapore.

2) Amex Delta cards both business and personal. Used that for the way out to Narita then Bali

3) Hilton cards. Amex and Citi cards. Used that for the Waldorf Dubai.

4) Hyatt card: used free night certificate in New York.

5) Alaska Airlines credit card. Both personal and business. Used that for the Emirates flight.

Well done….good to read your story here.

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