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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!
Nico is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Nico for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Nico Atienza and I got started with the miles & points hobby in 2013.
What was the goal of your trip?
I was planning a 12-month trip around the world as a sabbatical/career break. I wanted to use miles and points to save on airfare and also have some luxurious airline and hotel experiences for next to nothing.
I left the US in 2015 and moved back to my country of birth, the Philippines. So I wanted to start there and head west till I made it back to the Philippines.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
When I got started with the hobby back in 2013. By the time I took off for my trip in April 2016, I had about 1 million miles and points across various airline, hotel, and bank rewards programs.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
- Alaska Airlines miles
- American Airlines miles
- AMEX Membership Rewards points
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- Delta miles
- Hilton points
- Starwood points
What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?
- Chase Sapphire Reserve ($300 annual travel credit and Priority Pass Select)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express ($200 yearly airline incidental credit, double dip on first cardmember year)
- Barclaycard Aviator Red (easy 50,000 American Airlines miles after first purchase and payment of $95 annual fee)
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (pairs well with Platinum Card, which gets you Starwood Gold elite status for more Starwood points)
How did you search for and find the award flights?
I used this award search by Travel Codex and then went to the mileage program directly to find award seats. I used the United Airlines website to find Star Alliance partner seats, the British Airways website for OneWorld seats, and the Korean Air website for SkyTeam seats.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
Hotel Hustle by Wandering Aramean to find options in an area. And then went to the hotel loyalty site for exact award prices and room choices.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Trying to stick to $50 a day with everything included.
I tracked this number diligently by entering all my expenses using the Trail Wallet app on iOS which handles foreign currency transactions well and then converts it to your home currency. Knowing your over/under by day is really helpful to staying on budget.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
I visited 21 countries in total so here is 1 recommendation for each of them:
Vietnam: You can get anything kind of high-quality clothing or clothing accessories tailor made in town called Hoi An. Men’s tailored suits fitted and shipped back to your home country for less than $200!
Cambodia: If you’re visiting Angkor Wat, you can stay at a 5-star hotel for $100 per night or 3,000 to 4,000 Starwood per night at the Le Meridien Angkor. I highly recommend the breakfast buffet for $15!
Indonesia: If you’re going to Gili Trawangan, you can’t miss the food night market with delicious local meals for 50,000 to 80,000 Rupiah (~$4 to ~$6) which includes fresh grilled seafood!
Hong Kong: The cheapest way to get to Kowloon from the airport is the City Flyer bus for 34 Hong Kong dollars (~$4) and you get a sweet view of the bay when you drive in.
Thailand: The food sold on the street is amazing along with the fresh cut fruit. There is much more to Pad Thai (which is considered just a snack for tourists) in Thai Cuisine.
Myanmar (Burma): Buy a prepaid sim card (MPT or Ooredoo) for your smartphone if you want to stay connected with internet in this country. Wi-Fi everywhere is terrible.
Singapore: Gardens by the Bay is a must-visit, especially to see the light shows at night.
India: Don’t try to book Indian railway tickets online yourself. Talk to someone working where you are staying to save you the headache. It is also worth the extra money to be in an AC cabin car, but book early because those sell out quickly.
Kenya: You can definitely go on a multi-day safari for really cheap. I went on a 2-night, 3-day safari for $300. You will see the same animals no matter what you pay! My travel video for that experience can be seen here.
Tanzania: Zanzibar Island has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life. If you are in Stone Town, take a day trip to the sand bank! My travel video for that experience can be seen here.
Israel: Food and drink if really expensive in this country so the cheapest food item that will fill you up is a falafel. You can get amazing ones for 15 Shekels (~$4).
Brazil: If you’re visiting Rio, never leave anything unattended if you are going to any of the public beaches or it will be gone by the time you come back. Even clothes and flip flops get stolen on the beach.
Bolivia: You can get private Spanish lessons in a town called Sucre for $7 an hour!
Peru: If you’re going to Machu Picchu, you can get a multi-day trek to the ruins for $150 or less if you shop around with operators in town. If you try to book it in advance, you will pay 3 to 4 times more for the convenience.
Ecuador: If you’re an adrenaline junky, Banos is an amazing place to visit. White Water Rafting for $30!
Colombia: There’s a local chain called “Crepes & Waffles” that serves all kinds of delicious food and ice cream. This establishment also only hires single mothers!
Nicaragua: Ometepe Island is a must visit is you are in Nicaragua. It is really serene and if you are feeling up to it, you can climb either of the 2 volcanoes on the island.
Cuba: US-issued credit and debit cards don’t work in Cuba so come to the country with cash in hand. US dollars get taxed 10% and the foreign currency of choice here is Canadian dollars. When you get to the arrivals section in Havana airport, head up to the departures and exchange your money with someone standing in line to exchange leftover pesos back to their home currency. You will get the best exchange rate by doing this.
Mexico: Best tacos in the world! You can go almost anywhere and get great ones.
USA: The AMEX Centurion Lounges are simply amazing. I visited 4 of them (Seattle, Houston, Dallas, and Miami) while I toured the US and absolutely loved all of them.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
Traveling solo is the most liberating feeling someone can have. You are left to figure out every step of the way and you’ll come out of it much stronger (physically and mentally) after it is all said and done. Making mistakes is also part of the experience!
Traveling with a backpack is the way to go. The mobility it gives you is amazing and it forces to pack only what is absolutely necessary because you will bear all that weight on your shoulders.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Taking a year off to travel the world is not a pipe dream and can be done for $50 a day. With miles and points in tow, you can drive that cost down even more or elevate your experience with luxurious flights and hotels.
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!