An “Around-The-World-Travel-Hacking” Extravaganza!

by Living Proof on October 13, 2014

in Travel, Travel Hacking

ScreenHunter_04 Sep. 09 16.23

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since my last post….but I’ve been busy enjoying my around the world trip =)

I’m now back in California, and in the next few days, I’m going to show you how rewarding traveling hacking can be! As most of you know, FIF recently returned home from his around the world trip to Japan, Thailand, and Italy. He had an awesome time experiencing 1st Class travel, and now I want to show you how it was possible.

For my own personal trip, I decided to visit Thailand and Italy. More specifically, I was interested in visiting the various islands in the gulf of Thailand, and to visit Rome/Vatican City. I know it sounds like an odd trip, but there is logic to this madness!

The Quest to Burn United Miles:

For a little bit of background, I booked this award ticket using United miles back in November 2013.  At the time, Lufthansa was releasing a lot of 1st Class seats which were bookable with United miles. As reference, its typically only possible to book Lufthansa 1st Class at most 15 days before departure. Therefore, lots of people were booking trips to Europe for peak summer travel! In addition, United announced it was going to devalue its award chart in February 2014, so everyone was looking for a way to burn United miles.

For example, it cost me a total of 130,000 United miles to book this award. And now, this same trip would cost 210,000 United miles!

Old reward:

  • Mainland U.S. to South Asia = 60,000 Business
  • South Asia to Mainland U.S. = 70,000 1st Class
  • 130,000 United miles

New reward:

  • Mainland U.S. to South Asia = 80,000 Business
  • South Asia to Mainland U.S. = 130,000 1st Class
  • 210,000 United miles

I knew that this would probably be the last affordable chance to experience 1st Class travel on Lufthansa, so I convinced FIF that he should take an around the world vacation with me! But he really wanted to visit Japan, and I really wanted to visit Thailand, so we just decided to meet in Bangkok, and then continue the journey to Italy together. So why Italy?

The Gems of United MileagePlus:

There are two gems in the United frequent flyer program (MileagePlus) which United doesn’t openly advertise, and for good reason. The two gems don’t cost any additional miles, and they allow you to visit more places, for the same amount of miles.

  1. The first gem is that United allows you to have one stopover and two open jaws on a round trip award.
  2.  The second, and even more amazing gem, is that United also allows you to route from Mainland U.S. to Asia through Europe!

Let me explain:

  • San Jose – Phuket: I started the trip in San Jose and arrived in Phuket (destination).
  • Bangkok – Rome: Next, I traveled by boat/bus from Phuket to Koh Samui, and took a cheap flight to Bangkok (first open jaw).
  • Rome – San Fransisco: Then, I landed in Rome (stopover), and I returned home to San Fransisco (second open jaw).

My destination was Phuket (South Asia), and my stopover was in Rome (Europe). The first open jaw was between Phuket and Bangkok. I did this purposely so that I could island hop around Thailand, and then continue my trip from Bangkok. Of course I was responsible for finding my way to Bangkok, but it was better than having to backtrack to Phuket. The second open jaw was because I departed from San Jose, but arrived in San Francisco on the return.

Since both of us have never been to Europe before, we decided that Rome was a good place to visit for 4 days before coming back home to the States. Another benefit when visiting Rome is that Vatican City was just a hop-skip-away, and we could visit the Sistine Chapel as well!

Most people do a simple round trip from mainland U.S. to Asia, and back. But I wanted to maximize the value of my United miles by taking an around the world trip! If United is going to allow me to visit both Asia and Europe, for the same amount of miles, then why not do it!?

Redeeming Miles for the Best Products:

When booking an award with United miles, it’s possible to use all partner members in the Star Alliance. Which means you aren’t stuck with only having to fly United planes! Some of the best partners are ANA, Asiana, EVA, Lufthansa, Singapore, and Thai airways. Therefore, it makes the most sense to look for flights from these airlines as their service is far superior to anything that United offers.

In addition, not all planes are created equally. A Boeing 737 is peanuts in size to an Airbus A380. Also, in most cases, the larger the plane, the more seat room you will have. So when looking for flights, you almost always want to fly with the newest planes, since this ensures the cabins aren’t dated and old. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to fly on the plane with that  “new car” smell, or the plane that is dated, and feels like it’s going to fall apart in the air?

With that said, I did a lot of research, and created an aspirational trip with some of the best airlines/planes in the sky today.

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. ANA 787 Dreamliner – Business Class
  2. Thai A380 – 1st Class
  3. Lufthansa 747-8i – 1st Class
  4. Thai Royal First Lounge and Spa in Bangkok
  5. Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt

I’ll write up a review for each of the above flights and lounges in the next few days. And my hope is that the reviews will help to open your eyes to how fun and affordable it is to travel in style! It was the first time my brother FIF traveled overseas in business or 1st Class, and he was BLOWN away by the service. He even confessed to me that ALL the trips to Walmart were totally worth it!

I love to travel and the 1st Class experience never gets old:

  • Dedicated 1st Class check-in at the airport
  • Priority lane through Security
  • Lounge access with food and WiFi while you wait for your flight
  • Priority boarding to the 1st Class cabin
  • 5 course meal with champagne and caviar
  • Express luggage at baggage claim
  • But most importantly, a nice flat bed to sleep in for a few hours = Priceless!
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One seat to sit, and one flat bed to sleep.

How did we accumulate 130,000 United miles?

The easiest and quickest way to rack up miles is to simply open credit cards.

  • 50,000 Chase United Explorer Credit Card ($2,000 minimum spend)
  • 40,000 Chase Sapphire Credit Card ($3,000 minimum spend)
  • 50,000 Chase Ink Bold Credit Card ($5,000 minimum spend)

It only required us to open 3 credit cards (140,000 miles) to experience this once in a lifetime trip. But it did require $10,000 in minimum spend to unlock the miles, but this was easily done with the help of gift cards. Let’s do some quick math to see how much it cost to manufacture spend.

  • $10,000 = 20 $500 gift cards
  • 20 gift cards x $3 = $60 out of pocket
  • + Gas and time driving to Walmart!

If you ask me, $60 is one heck of a deal to fly around the world in business/1st Class!!!

Here is my full itinerary:

ScreenHunter_08 Sep. 11 15.26

Class I = Business Class, Class O = 1st Class

What’s the Retail Cost?

For documentation purposes, I was curious to see how much the retail cost would be for this trip if it was booked separately. So I picked a random date on Wednesday October 1st,2014 as an example.

The ANA 787 flight alone cost $4,136.60.

ana

Next, the Thai A380 flight cost $3,283.56.

thai

Finally, the Lufthansa 747-8i flight cost $9,618.26!

lf

Isn’t this amazing?!!?

The total cost for just these 3 flights is worth over $17k! Of course I would never pay this much out of pocket, but if I could take this aspirational trip for only $60, then sign me up! Keep in mind, I’m not even including the cost of the remaining flights, like the flight from Washington DC to San Fransisco, in United business class. As you can see, this award ticket is easily worth +$20,000 in value once all the flights are factored in. And remember, I took a total of eight different flights on this award ticket!

Taxes:

In full disclosure, I should also mention that in addition to the 130,000 United miles, you will also have to pay taxes…..yes taxes, there is no escaping taxes, even with award tickets. The amount of taxes will vary depending on which countries you visit, since these are government imposed taxes, but in my case, the taxes came out to be $132.40. I wish I didn’t have to pay any taxes, but hey, it’s not the end of the world, and I will gladly pay the extra fees if it means I get to travel in 1st Class like a rock star!

Total out of pocket cost after taxes:

  • $60 in gift cards
  • $132.40 in taxes
  • =$192.40

ScreenHunter_09 Sep. 11 15.28

Are You Ready to Fly in Style?

To me, this award ticket was a very aspirational redemption, and I’m not sure if I could have squeezed any more value out of my United miles! Reflecting back, it would have been impossible for me to experience these life moments without the help of airlines miles. Knowledge is power, and when you know how this game works, then you can simply reap all the rewards!

Stay tuned, because in the next few days, I will take you inside the 1st Class Cabins, and show you what happens in the 1st Class Lounges 😉

thaispa (1 of 1)

About the Author: Living Proof (14 Posts)

Living Proof is an avid real estate investor with a strong case of Wanderlust. He enjoys talking about his crazy lifestyle of collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points. Within the next year, he hopes to declare early FI and to travel the world!


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mrs. FrugalwoodsNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 4:37 am

Sounds perfect! I love the idea of utilizing open jaws to add on additional stops. We’ve done some unusual destination combinations in the past to take advantage of flight and/or ground transport deals. Makes sense to consider all possibilities and not just search for straightforward, round-trip flights.

Reply

2 Living ProofNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

Yes! Open jaws make it really convenient to travel around a country!
If I had more time, I would have used the second open jaw in Italy, and travel from Rome to Venice.

Reply

3 RefinerrNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 8:52 am

Thanks for another great article LP! In addition to taxes etc., were there any credit card annual fees you had to eat to get the flights?

Reply

4 Living ProofNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

Nope! Typically, the annual fees are waived for the first year, and I keep the card open for 10-11 months, and then cancel. Works great!

Reply

5 NoahNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 11:23 am

Great write-up. I have a question though, is it possible to accumulate these miles now-a-days with the recent clamp-down on gift cards? I feel like everywhere online I read how places are blocking the purchase of gift cards with credit cards, and the Bluebird loophole was closed, correct?

Reply

6 Living ProofNo Gravatar October 13, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Sadly, YES. Things are harder than before.

My strategy now is to buy Simon mall gift cards, and then unload them at Walmart with Bluebird. Other chains like CVS, Rite-aid, etc. etc. require cash now for gift cards, making it difficult to manufacture spend.

But even in the Bay Area, Simon Mall/Walmart still works, and probably only a matter of time before it completely dies. Just gotta take advantage of it before it’s gone!

Reply

7 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful LifeNo Gravatar October 14, 2014 at 6:07 am

Did you have any issue buying the 20 $500 gift cards? I bought one at a walgreens to hit a CC reward spending requirement recently and they gave me kind of a hard time. Did you buy yours all at the same place/time?

Reply

8 Living ProofNo Gravatar October 14, 2014 at 10:36 am

For me, buying the $500 is really easy, and they let me buy as much as I want each visit. The hard part is finding nice Walmart cashiers who allow the gift cards to swipe as a debit card transaction.

I’ve given up on all the the big chains: CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, etc. So my last gold mine are the Simon Mall Gift Cards.

Reply

9 LynxNo Gravatar October 14, 2014 at 9:45 am

Loved how you were able to fly in style using miles. I have used miles to book tickets for travel but have never done business class. It is great to find out about the open jaw rule. Do you know if other airlines offer that? I am looking forward to the rest of your posts.

Reply

10 Living ProofNo Gravatar October 14, 2014 at 10:48 am

I think you should definitely try business class on long haul flights. It’s really nice to have a flat bed on a 10+ hr flight!

Every airline frequent flyer program is different, and some have more relaxed routing rules than others.

IE: Alaska airlines allows you to have a stopover on a one way award.
Lufthansa allows 2 stopovers and 2 open jaws on round trip awards.
American airlines doesn’t allow stopovers or open jaws at all!

Reply

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