Challenge! 40K to Far Away

About a month ago, I hosted an annual Frequent Miler business meeting.  The idea was to take a step back from the day to day blog writing in order to look at the big picture.  We know that our priority is to make our website great.  What does great look like?  What steps do we need to take to get there?  A big part of our vision is to be not only informative, but entertaining too.  Towards that end, we remembered that I used to create crazy points-related challenges.  For example, I once challenged myself to do New York City for $19 per day (results here).  Later, I challenged myself to earn a million points & miles in one month (due to alliteration concerns, that million mile madness month had to be in March or May — I chose March).  You can view all of the old blog posts on the subject (in reverse chronological order) by clicking here.  Finally, in  2015, I challenged myself to earn 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic miles in order to visit Necker Island.  While it only took me 7 months to earn the miles (read about that here), the actual trip didn’t occur until October 2016.  You can read my summary of that trip here.

Now, we’ve gone years without a significant new challenge… until now.

40K to Far Away

This fall, Nick Reyes, Stephen Pepper, and I will meetup in a convenient city to kick off our new challenge.  Our goal?  Get as far away as possible.  Our budget?  40,000 points and $400.

Each of us has been assigned a transferable points currency.  We are allowed to use up to 40,000 points, as follows:

  • Greg the Frequent Miler (AKA me): 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
  • Nick Reyes: 40,000 Citi ThankYou points
  • Stephen Pepper: 40,000 Amex Membership Rewards points

Why?

We expect this to be fun!  And, equally importantly, it should be a great opportunity to highlight sweetspot awards available through each of the transferable points currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Amex Membership Rewards.

Why 40K?

The idea for this challenge originated with the idea that most credit card welcome bonuses these days are for 40K points or more.  The question was: how far could one go with a single bonus?  Then the question of taxes and fees and other incidentals came up.  How much should we be allowed to spend?  Ultimately we decided to base the answer on the total standard signup bonus for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card: 80K Ultimate Rewards Points.  With 80K Ultimate Rewards points, one could cash out 40K points for $400 in order to take care of taxes, fees, airport transfers, etc.  And 40K points would remain for booking awards.

The Rules

The goal is to use the budget (40K points + $400) to get as far away as possible.  How do we measure success?  We don’t know.  We debated whether we should measure distance from origin to destination, but that didn’t seem right.  After all, someone could potentially fly all the way around the world and end up 0 miles from the start.  How about measuring the combined distance of each individual leg?  Maybe, but should we really count it as going far away if Stephen rides a merry-go-round 35,000 miles?  Ultimately we decided that we’ll know success when we see it.  And, if we don’t, it will still be fun debating it!

That approach goes for most of the rules we discussed.  We’d rather go light on rules and have fun debating who won and who cheated later on.

But we do need some rules, so here they are:

  • Beginning with the first mode of transportation, we must account for all costs within the 40K + $400 budget.  This means that we need to track payments for food, airport transfers (not counting the original transfer to get to the starting location), lodging, visas, etc.
  • This is a one-way challenge.  We do not need to return to the starting location.  When Nick declares success standing with a flag at the North Pole, he can then return home however he wants.
  • We cannot accept transit/lodging/food help from readers.  In other words, we can accept help in terms of advice (e.g. hey Stephen, you can book this flight for only XYZ miles!), but we can’t accept a ride to the airport, lodging, whatever.

Nick Reyes

Nick is the most experienced award booker in our group.  He volunteered for Citi ThankYou points.   He has all kinds of ideas for how he’ll use those points, but hasn’t yet shared his ideas with the rest of us.  I suspect that he’s planning to use one of the sweetspot award charts found in the Etihad program (here’s an example), or maybe he has finally cracked the Lifemiles code.  The great thing for him about using Lifemiles is that Avianca does not add fuel surcharges to awards.  So, he won’t have to use much of his $400 cash budget to book long flights.

Stephen Pepper

Stephen is, by far, the least experienced award booker in our group.  He chose Amex Membership Rewards.  This surprised me a bit since Chase points are arguably easier to use.  I don’t know what tricks he has in mind.  He might be planning to take advantage of the current 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic.  If he went all in with this, his 40,000 Membership Rewards points would become 52,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.  He can then use our US-Centric Virgin Atlantic award chart to find the longest distance flights that he can afford.  For example, he could fly economy all the way to India for only 20,000 Virgin Atlantic points:

The problem with the above suggestion is that it would use up most of his $400 cash allowance since Virgin charges around $290 in fees for that booking.  It still might be worth it because he would only need to transfer 16K of his Membership Rewards points to get enough Virgin Atlantic miles for this booking.  With the remaining 24,000 points, he may be able to get pretty far.  Of course he would only have $110 left to pay for fuel surcharges, airport transfers, food, and lodging, so I actually hope he has a better plan than this (unless he thinks that arriving in India would be a win?)

My strategy

With Chase Ultimate Rewards, I feel like I have a huge advantage in this game.  In addition to being able to transfer points to a number of airline programs, I can also use points for 1.5 cents each towards travel via the Ultimate Rewards portal (thanks to my Sapphire Reserve card).  So, for example, I could straight up buy $1,000 worth of airfare and call it a day.  Why $1,000?  My 40,000 points are worth $600 in travel.  And I could throw in up to $400 cash.  But, I have a better plan (I think).

1. United award positioning flight

Chase points transfer to United 1 to 1.  I want to use United miles to get from our starting city to another airport.  If I’m extremely lucky, I’ll find a flight for as little as 5,000 miles one-way (United has begun charging that little on select flights at select times).  More likely it will cost 10K or 12.5K (depending upon the length of the flight).  This positioning flight is important to set up the next two steps of my diabolical plan:

2. $400-ish flight to very far away

I’ll be scouring the web for the cheapest flights to the farthest reaches of earth.  If I can find a flight for $420, for example, it should cost me only 28,000 Ultimate Rewards points to purchase that flight through Chase’s travel portal.  Importantly, Chase will let me choose how much to pay with points and how much to pay with cash.  Depending upon how many points I spend in steps 1 (above) and 4 (below), I’ll need to adjust accordingly.  The cash portion will come out of my $400 cash budget.  If I’m really, really lucky, I’ll be able to book a super cheap Delta flight to somewhere far, far away.  This would be great because as a Delta Diamond Elite, I have access to global upgrade certificates.  I could use one of these certificates to hopefully fly up front.

3. Free United Excursionist Perk

Nick wrote at length about United’s Excursionist Perk in the past.  More recently, Travel is Free published an awesome discovery regarding this feature.  Specifically, it should be possible for me to book a round trip award consisting of a cheap outbound leg (step 1, above) and a cheap throw-away return leg (such as Chicago to Newark).  In the middle of these two flights, I should be able to book a completely free excursionist award flight as long as it starts and ends in a single zone (United’s zone definitions can be found here).  This means that I should be able to fly the length of South Asia, or North Asia, or Europe, or even Oceana.  Which zone I choose will depend on where I end up in step 2 above.

4. United award return leg

If by some miracle, I have enough points left over to fly all the way back to the US from wherever I end up at the end of the Excursionist perk, then great.  More likely I’ll book the cheapest throw-away segment I can find.  It simply has to end in the same region as the trip started.  I’m hoping that I can find a 5K award flight to mark the end of my trip.  Most likely I would never fly this segment.  This is here simply to make the free Excursionist Perk flight possible.

My maybe totals

Here’s how the above might shake out:

  1. Positioning flight: 10K points transferred to United + $5.60
  2. Cheap long distance flight: 25,000 points + $200
  3. Excursionist Perk flight: Free
  4. Return leg: 5K points transferred to United + $5.60

Totals: 40K points, $211.20.  If it shakes out as shown, I would have nearly $190 budget remaining for food, lodging, whatever.

When and Where

We will announce the starting date and location of this challenge once each of us has booked at least the first leg of our journey.  The primary reason for keeping this secret at first is because we don’t want too much help from readers.  For example, someone who knows a killer award deal might spoon feed the exact solution to one of us.  If that happened, it wouldn’t really be fair… or fun.

Your turn

Are you excited about this challenge?  Do you have advice for me, Nick, or Stephen?  Please comment below!

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Sue
Guest
Sue

Sounds like fun. Can’t wait to see the results.

Steve S
Guest
Steve S

This is awesome

Stacy
Guest
Stacy

I wish I could be part of this game!

Louis
Guest
Louis

This sounds like a ton of fun to read, follow and participate in- have fun!

Jorge R
Guest
Jorge R

At last something interesting to read! It’s been forever since I’ve been excited about a post from the miles and points bloggers.

Linda
Guest
Linda

Love this!

Euan
Guest
Euan

Sounds great challenge and I look forward to seeing where each of you end up.

However, I’m not sure that I agree with you using Global Upgrade Certificates. If average Joe was to replicate this challenge using bonus points from signing up for the cardm, s/he may be able to get to the same location but certainly not in the same comfort. I think you should be traveling within the means of 40,000 points and $400.

T. Jones
Guest
T. Jones

I’m excited by this challenge and look forward to reading more. This is the sort of thing I find really helpful as a
regular reader.. Nick’s choice of ThankYou points has me curious to see what he’s planning. I love my Membership Rewards points, but Stephen’s going to have to stay mindful of the transfer costs. Small amount can add up! It blows my mind that Greg chose last and wound up with Ultimate Rewards. Seems too easy. He better watch out for the other two!

Nick Reyes
Editor

I’m excited, too!

Quick note on transfer costs: You only pay to transfer Membership Rewards to US airline programs. There is no fee to transfer to programs like Virgin Atlantic, ANA, Etihad, British Airways, Singapore, etc. You just pay when you transfer to Delta, JetBlue, or Hawaiian….and I doubt Stephen will be using any of those three programs (though I hope he does use up some of his budget on that! Ha!).

T. Jones
Guest
T. Jones

I guess I’m showing just how new to all this I really am. Lol. Good to know that! I learn so much here!

Matthew Harlan
Guest
Matthew Harlan

Excellent idea. The first post I ever read from you was on your Necker Island challenge and I’m pretty sure I stumbled onto it as a link from another source who found it interesting.

Pam
Guest
Pam

Nick & TYPs both love the far-flung, a match made in Timbuktu?!

Justin
Guest
Justin

Great idea! will be fun to follow. Another fun challenge would be who can fly around the world within ~3 days using the least number of miles as possible (using avg redemption rate to equalize currencies)

J S
Guest
J S

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is a lot less interesting, if you don’t include the return journey. Planting a flag at the North Pole isn’t really a “win” if it you’ve simply deferred the bulk of the cost for the return. Increase the budget if you must, but include the return. This will also allow you to judge success not just based on how “far” away you each get, but also on how much time you each spend away and how much interesting activity you each accomplish.

Nick Reyes
Editor

Thanks for the feedback!

First of all, I don’t know why Greg assumes the North Pole. Clearly, the South Pole would be farther. But I like that he’s underestimating me from the jump.

As to return journey, my thoughts on that are two-fold: first, the return should be possible for the same amount of points (or fewer depending on whether any of us gets creative in adding additional destinations). So simply figure double the budget or less to get back (though I like your suggestion and think that in the end, each of us should plan a theoretical journey as to how we’d get back for the fewest points / cash).

Second, I thought a return journey for 40K would lead to a lot less variance in what we do. The purpose (in my mind) was to (hopefully) show three entirely different journeys / strategies with three different currencies. If we demand a there-and-back out of it, the likelihood of us all looking to the same award chart increases and therefore I suspect would lead to at least a slightly less interesting outcome. At least, I think. Maybe we’ll try that in a future challenge.

As to judging success, how much time and how many interesting activities will likely be part of the debate. I look forward to seeing who gets the farthest away, who gets the “best” trip, etc. I further look forward to you explaining to Greg and Stephen why you think I won.

flyernick
Guest
flyernick

It’s a fun contest idea. I know where I’d go. Are there any time limits? Like, do you have to stay at destination one night or one week? Or how long do you have to get there? 40,000 miles is still enough to take you just about anywhere that you can reach with regular airlines if you don’t mind economy class. After that, it’s a question of how far you can get with ground transportation. A lot of it comes down to trading comfort vs. cost.

Nick Reyes
Editor

And food! Don’t forget that food and lodging come out of the budget as well.

Thank goodness I like peanut butter sandwiches.

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

Greg,

Any though of allowing readers to participate? It would be fun if some readers would also do it and post what they pulled off.

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

Dang, Greg, this is old school miler stuff!!!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT. Hope you guys will also do a a bit of trip reporting during this as well.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Love the idea! It sounds so much fun already. Here are some silly thoughts.
1) Can we get to vote who had the “Best” trip? Farthest is non-subjective in my opinion – which is just miles traveled.
2) I think it should be required to show how you would get back (you don’t have to book it, but should show screens that how you can return and what amount of points/miles/cash are needed for your return trip).
3) I think eating local food is required (can’t just bring a bunch of top ramen and call it a meal). Local food doesn’t have to be expensive local food. What’s local should be defined…you guys can decide on how to define it (i.e. Google search? Trip Advisors’, etc…)

I am so looking forward to this! Thanks, you guys!

WR2
Guest
WR2

I’d prefer to see who can get the most lavish, luxurious trip for 40k and $400, not the furthest away. F and J for 40k.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

So I know readers aren’t supposed to help out, but can you stay with friends and family to buffer costs?

Nick Reyes
Editor

Now now — you and Drew can’t go buying up Airbnbs around the world to help Greg have an even cushier path!

Dr. McFrugal
Guest
Dr. McFrugal

This sounds like a fun and fantastic challenge / game! Can’t wait to see what everybody comes up with. I imagine the destinations will be to some places where the cost of living and touring are very low so to take your money even further.

Becky
Guest
Becky

Definitely looking forward to seeing the outcomes!

Before I read the whole post, my initial assumption was a round-trip booking for 40K + $400 allowance for taxes/fees/positioning. To me that seems more relevant to using a credit card bonus than only taking half a trip. But, regardless, this is definitely an interesting experiment with lots of opportunities as well as seeing where your different personalities lead you based on interests.

I *already* learned something when you noted the Virgin chart to India and I peeked at the premium economy listings I never looked at before. Decent comfort for a fair price IMO! So, count this as a successful challenge even before it officially begins.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Spot on. These types of posts were always great. Glad to see you’re bringing them back.

Grant
Guest
Grant

Nick, if you have the Citi Rewards+ CC that gives you 10% of your TYPs back, does that mean you could redeem 40K TYPs and get another 4K TYPs to redeem? Cheating or fair game?

Nick Reyes
Editor

Sounds totally fair to me :).

Grant
Guest
Grant

Game on then!

Nick Reyes
Editor

Only, I don’t have the Rewards+ :_(

Stephen Pepper
Member

As much as I’d like to say cheating, that’s totally fair game.

Pam
Guest
Pam

I don’t think either 3 of you would violate the spirit of the challenge, Greg, but if one of you was to win an Arby’s Free Flight/Hotel to Hawaii (& use your points/miles for the rest), for instance, is that legit? A rule is no freebies from readers but what about other sources besides the usual?

Boris Minevich
Guest
Boris Minevich

You guys excluded AA mikes by default as nothing transfers into AA. No tricks there but you can get far with a straight AA partner chart.

rich
Guest
rich

you guys are so creative!

rich
Guest
rich

Also, it’d be pretty epic to fly somewhere interesting and do a car rental adventure. Using status like Hertz 5-star or National Executive Elite, you might be able to ride in style to some really far-flung places that a flight alone wouldn’t be able to take you. Fly into Beijing and take a BMW convertible across the Gobi dessert? Or to Tanzania and take a Land Rover across an old trade route? Food could be cheap (road stall stands, soylent shakes, lol) and depending on where you go and what car you get, you might be able to camp out in or right next to it (to save on accommodations).

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

While I would never encourage someone to pass up elite benefits even in a game I would not be as willing to declare them the winner when those benefits created an advantage that others coming to the starting gate did not have……….obviously each of you has an idea where you are going to go so I am interested in seeing how it plays out………and I can’t imagine any of you charging off into the world without an idea how you are going to get home……well maybe Greg……….

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[…] can also read Greg’s announcement about 40K To Far Away here. That has more information about the challenge, along with the limited rules we’ve come up […]

ken
Guest
ken

Good luck fellahs. It sounds like an awesome challenge. I wish I could join you…but some of us have old-fashioned work
jobs!

trackback

[…] consist of me crying about being stuck with ThankYou points and how I can’t possibly win the #40Kfaraway challenge, I’m sorry to disappoint. This post is about a great option or two I’ve already […]

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[…] Challenge! 40K to Far Away by Frequent Miler. These types of challenges are always fun. […]

Nate8
Guest
Nate8

Sincere question – what are you all going to tell your grandkids?

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[…] the 40K to Far Away idea first came up (see: Challenge! 40K to Far Away), and when I learned that I would be assigned Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I had a great idea.  […]

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[…] The 40K to Far Away challenge is on! Nick, Stephen, and I each have a budget of 40K points and $400 to go as far away as we can.  Nick is working with Citi ThankYou points, Stephen is working with Amex Membership Rewards points, and I have Chase Ultimate Rewards points. […]

Glenn Lee
Guest
Glenn Lee

I would absolutely replicate this challenge to see how I stack up against the gurus!

James
Guest
James

For the next idea – how about “Around the World in 80 Ks”

Find/book/travel the best or most interesting RTW trip with 80K points in the currency of your choice (Chase/AmEx/Citi or individual airlines).

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[…] Greg noted when announcing the challenge, I’m the least experienced award booker of the three of us and that’s him being kind. […]

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[…] Rewards sweet spots. I was half-tempted to write this post and schedule it the day after our #40Kfaraway challenge begins, but then I realized that the sweetest sweet spots typically focus on premium-cabin travel, […]

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[…] of course this bonus only applies to transfers from Citi ThankYou points. Sorry, Stephen Pepper. #40Kfaraway just got 5% easier for me. Greg would tell you that he can buy LifeMiles for cheap. I’ll tell […]

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[…] Nick and Stephen are having a friendly challenge called “40K to far away” to find out who can get the furthest by only spending 40,000 transferrable points and $400. To make things interesting, each one has picked a different bank. I love these challenges because […]

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[…] Stephen, and I each have a budget of 40,000 points and $400 to try to get as far away as possible (details here).  Nick is working with Citi ThankYou points, Stephen has Amex Membership Rewards, and I have […]

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[…] Challenge! 40K to Far Away […]

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[…] I have a good use in mind. And I may well take advantage of the Citi transfer bonus as part of our #40Faraway challenge. But if my alternative is to buy miles at 1.5c per mile in the future vs get 1.25 miles […]

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[…] This fall, Nick Reyes, Stephen Pepper, and I will meetup in a convenient city to kick off the 40K to Far Away challenge.  Our goal?  Go as far as possible.  Our budget?  40,000 points and $400.  Who will pick the winner?  You will.  We purposely left the objective unclear.  Readers will be given the opportunity to debate who won and why; and a reader poll will ultimately decide the winner.  Many more details about the challenge can be found here in the original #40Kfaraway post. […]

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[…] researching my options for the 40K to Far Away Challenge, I initially used this United Airlines web page to find out which countries were in each region as […]