Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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!
Nate 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 Nate 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 Nate Buchanan. I’ve been collecting miles & points for the last 3 years.
My wife Kara and I have earned and redeemed millions of frequent flyer miles. We’re currently using the 1,500,000+ miles & points we’ve saved up to travel the world full-time!
What was the goal of your trip?
I got into miles & points the same time I got married. My wife and I share a passion for travel. In the first 2 years of marriage, we used miles & points to visit 9 different countries!
The more we traveled, the stronger our passion grew. In early 2015, we decided to we wanted to take a leap and travel for (at least) an entire year!
2015 was spent planning this adventure and saving up miles & points. We left for Japan on January 10, 2016 – our 1st of 25+ countries. In our first 2 months, we’ve already used our miles & points to visit 8 different countries!
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
At the beginning of 2015, before we decided to travel for a year, we’d saved up over 500,000 miles & points between several different programs.
We got serious about earning miles in the beginning of 2015 after deciding to take our trip. Between the 2 of us, we earned over 1.2 million miles and points in 2015.
My wife earned 295,000 points from credit card sign-up bonuses. And I earned about ~950,000 points using 3 different methods.
First, I earned 430,000 miles & points from credit card sign-up bonuses. I also own my own business, a custom apparel and promotional products company.
Second, I purchase EVERYTHING on my AMEX Starwood credit card. I earned ~200,000 Starwood points from business spending in 2015.
The 3rd and most unique way I earned miles in 2015 was from a 2-week, 92,000-mile mileage run. I lived in airports and on airplanes for 2 weeks while flying back and forth 3 times between Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Hong Kong.
During the trip I slept on airplanes 14 of the 15 nights I was gone. It was INSANE. Thankfully, I was flying Business Class due to a mistake fare, so I was able to fly in luxury for 2 weeks!
This mileage run netted me 313,000 American Airlines miles. And I earned Executive Platinum elite status AND oneworld Emerald Status – which have been extremely valuable during our travels this year – more on that in a bit!
Which points did you save to take your trip?
For this trip, we saved:
- Airline miles
- Hotel points
- Transferable points
Here’s how many miles & points we saved before leaving for our trip around the world:
- 700,000 American Airlines miles
- 50,000 United Airlines miles
- 95,000 Hilton points
- 160,000 IHG points
- 200,000 Starwood points
- 55,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- 200,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points
- 110,000 Citi ThankYou Points
How did you search for and find the award flights?
Because the majority of our points are in the oneworld alliance (including American Airlines and British Airways), I usually search for award flights on AA.com or BritishAirways.com.
Using AA.com, I was able to find a 1-way off-peak coach award flight to Japan for only 25,000 American Airlines miles! Unfortunately, this route will get more expensive with changes coming to American Airlines’ award chart.
Since the first 2 months of our trip have been spent in Asia, I’ve been using the British Airways website to search for award flights between countries here. We’ve been able to get a TON of value out of our British Airways Avios points by using their distance-based award chart.
For instance, we flew Japan Airlines Business Class from Tokyo, Japan, to Cebu, Philippines, for 20,000 British Airways Avios points. Had we used our American Airlines or United Airlines miles, it would have been almost the same price to fly in coach!
Also, we’ve been using the British Airways website to find Cathay Pacific award flights that transit through Hong Kong. With my oneworld Emerald Status, we get access to the AMAZING Cathay Pacific First Class lounges in Hong Kong. I book LONG layovers on purpose so we can spend more time in the lounges!
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
When we can’t use hotel points, we 1st look to Airbnb for budget accommodations. If we can’t find a place to stay on Airbnb we usually book a hotel through Agoda or booking.com.
Thankfully, we both have Barclaycard Arrival miles. So after booking with our Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, we can redeem our Barclaycard Arrival miles to pay for the stay.
Our best hotel points redemption so far has been at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Before we left, I signed up for the AMEX Hilton Surpass card and met the $3,000 minimum spending requirement at our local grocery, because you get 6 Hilton points per $1 spent at supermarkets with the AMEX Hilton Surpass card.
Between the signup bonus and the bonus points from meeting the minimum spend, I earned 95,000 Hilton points.
The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur is really nice, and sits right by the Petronas Towers (an awesome location). And it only costs 10,000 Hilton points per night because it’s a Hilton Category 2 hotel.
We redeemed 50,000 Hilton points to stay there for 6 nights (because you get the 5th night free on award stays when you have Hilton elite status).
The AMEX Hilton Surpass card also gives you Hilton Gold elite status. My Gold status got us an upgrade to the Executive Floor which included lounge access – where they have free dinner and a happy hour every night!
Plus, we got free breakfast in the lounge every morning. It was AWESOME!
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
The most challenging part of the trip wasn’t saving the miles & points, or figuring out how to redeem them. The most challenging part was getting our lives in order to leave for a year.
There’s never a good time to pack up your life and leave for a year, but if you make the commitment and then start telling other people you’re leaving, the social accountability will force you to keep moving forward with your crazy plan!
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Since we started traveling, we’ve been to 8 different countries. I’ll give you 1 recommendation from each.
Tokyo – Go during SUMO season and attend a sumo wrestling tournament at Ryoguku Stadium. Get there early (around 8:00 am) to get a cheap general admission ticket before they sell out.
Watch the 1st few matches. You’re allowed to leave once and re-enter, so go grab some Sumo Soup (chanko-nabe) down the street, and get back in time for the more intense night matches!
Philippines – Oslob, Cebu, is 1 of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. These 20-foot long creatures hang out there year round, so you’re almost guaranteed to see them. We swam with at least nine!
Singapore – A foodie’s dream destination. We loved eating at the Hawker Centers around town (especially in Chinatown). For an authentic Indian food experience head to the Azmi Restaurant in Little India.
Hong Kong – There is pork bun stand on the corner of Pak Hoi Street and Shanghai Street. They make the best pork and onion buns in the world! I will plan another trip to Hong Kong just to eat at this place again! They even invited us back in the kitchen to watch.
Taiwan – Take a day trip off the beaten path to the mountainous town of Wulai about an hour outside of the city (less than $2 bus ride). You can visit an amazing water fall, soak in the hot springs, and sample the local aboriginal cuisine.
Malaysia – The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur is 1 of the top Hilton redemptions in the world (in my opinion). The value you get for only 10,000 Hilton points is unreal!
Cambodia – Don’t waste your time fighting the crowds to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Instead wake up just as early and head to some of the less popular temples to have them all to yourself!
Thailand – Koh Tao island is 1 of the cheapest places in the world to dive! For $60 per day, my wife and I were able to pay for accommodations, plus 1 dive each!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
We’re learning new things about ourselves everyday.
One of the things I’ve learned on this extended trip is I enjoy the process of traveling almost as much as I enjoy the destinations. I look forward to the days we travel between countries. I’m always eager to experience new airlines and explore new lounges at airports I’ve never been to before.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Take the leap!
Make the sacrifices necessary to travel for an extended period time. You won’t regret it!
Once you’ve made the commitment to yourself that you’re going to do it, tell everyone you know so you can’t back out. There will be plenty of obstacles and excuses that will arise while you’re planning your trip, so it’s good to have people holding you accountable!
Also, start getting serious about miles and points well before your trip.
Sign-up for numerous credit cards to earn the sign-up bonuses! Miles and points can help make full-time travel a reality, even if you have a very small budget!
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!