My secret weapon #40Kfaraway

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In the 40K to Far Away, Nick appears to be unbeatable. Not so fast. I have a secret weapon. And math…

Last week, Nick became the presumed favorite in the 40K to Far Away challenge when he revealed the greatest sweet spot award ever: 7.5K miles each way to Hawaii.  That deal requires Turkish Miles & Smiles miles.  And, of the three of us, only Nick can easily get those miles by transferring from Citi ThankYou points.  Neither Stephen’s Amex points, nor my Chase points are capable of transferring to Turkish.

In response to Nick’s post, a reader name Sam commented “End the 40K competition. Nick hereby has just won it all.”

Not so fast.

I have to admit, Nick’s find has shaken my confidence a bit.  I thought I had an easy lock on this competition with the ability to purchase up to $1,000 worth of flights with my 40K points plus $400.  But I can’t beat someone who can book 7.5K to Hawaii.  Or can I?

Let’s do a little math…

Nick reported being able to book Washington DC to Chicago to Honolulu for 7.5K miles and $5.60.  According to gcmap, that route is 4,832 miles.  To make the math easier, though, lets round up to 5,000 miles.  With Nick’s 40,000 Citi ThankYou points, he could fly back and forth to Hawaii 5 times for 37,500 ThankYou points plus $28 cash.  He would then have 2,500 ThankYou points remaining plus $372.  To make the math really easy, let’s assume that Nick uses the remaining points and cash to buy one more one-way from Hawaii.

With this fictional scenario, Nick would eke out 6 x 5,000 miles = 30,000 miles in travel.

Of course, Nick won’t really fly back and forth to Hawaii, but it’s a useful target.  Can I beat it?

Nested flight deals

Map courtesy of gcmap.com

One great way for me to fly as far as possible with my $1000 travel budget is to find great airfare deals and nest them one inside the other.  For example, here’s a plan that is actually bookable:

  • New York to Copenhagen one-way for $165 (3,856 miles distance)
  • Copenhagen to Los Angeles (via Vienna) round-trip for $279 (13,365 miles distance, round trip)
    • Los Angeles to Shanghai (via Xi’an) round-trip for $398 (15,235 miles distance, round trip)
  • Copenhagen to Madeira Portugal via Manchester one-way for $118 (2,217 miles distance, round trip)
  • Total price for airfare: $960
  • Total miles flown: 34,673

With this example itinerary, I’d easily beat Nick’s theoretical 30K back and forth to Hawaii trip.  Plus, this trip is arguably a lot more interesting.  To be clear, Nick is not planning to fly back and forth to Hawaii.  And I’m not planning to do the itinerary shown here.  This was just an elaborate example to show that it’s still possible for me to beat him despite the amazing 7.5K to Hawaii find.

Via Google Flights, Madeira looks nice. I wouldn’t mind ending up there!

What about lodging, food, and experiences?

I could book an itinerary like the one shown above, sleep only on red-eye flights, and eat and shower only in airport lounges.  But that would suck.

There’s no point in flying 35,000 miles if the plan doesn’t involve actually getting out of the airport to see and experience the world.

In fact, since we will ultimately let readers decide who won the competition, I don’t think that many will vote for the contestant who spent all of their time in airports.

With the itinerary described above, I’d have only $40 remaining to pay for food, lodging, and experiences.  While I have ideas for free lodging and free experiences (I’ll post about this later), I’m also planning to make use of my secret weapon…

My secret weapon

Both Nick and Stephen are likely to travel predominantly by transferring points to airline miles and using those miles to book travel.  Meanwhile, I’m more and more convinced that my best use of Chase points is to book flights at 1.5 cents per point value.  I’ll not only (likely) be able to travel farther than Nick or Stephen, but I’ll be the only one to earn airline miles.

The cheap fares I’ve been looking at won’t earn a lot of miles.  In many cases, I would only earn 25% of the miles flown.  Depending upon which airline I fly, though, I can do better by strategically crediting the flights to the right partner.

For example, a big chunk of my flying could be on Hainan Airlines.  Via the website Where to Credit, I can find how many miles can be earned with various partner airlines:

At first blush, it looks like I should credit my Hainan flights to either Eithad Guest or Virgin Australia since each would earn 50% of the miles flown.  For example, if I flew 15,000 miles, I would expect to earn 50% = 7,500 Etihad or Virgin Australia miles.  But wait, it’s pretty well known that Alaska Airlines is generous with status matching.  If before the trip I status match my Delta Diamond status to Alaska MVP Gold 75K (which I should be able to do), then I’ll earn 68% Alaska miles on these Hainan flights.  15,000 miles flown, then, would result in 10,200 Alaska miles.

Using my secret weapon

I don’t know how quickly miles from flying will post to my frequent flyer accounts.  And I don’t know if cheap award flights would be available when or where I needed them.  So, I won’t count on using the earned miles to fly farther.  If it turns out to be possible, great.  If not, I have a backup plan…

Lodging, car rentals, and experiences.

I hate using airline miles for low value rewards like these, but I’m willing to do it to win this competition.  Many airline loyalty programs let you use their miles to book hotels or rent cars.  Some also offer the ability to book experiences (tours, airport transfers, etc.).

Take British Airways, for example.  You can use Avios to book hotels, cars, or experiences:

Suppose, for example, that I get to Shanghai and have time to get out of the airport for an excursion.  Let’s further assume that I’ve earned a bunch of miles by then (for this example: British Airways Avios).  I could use Avios to book something like this:

Be careful when picking out experiences like this one. Often the search result will show “From 7,550” but when you click through to book it you may find that the actual price for the date you need is much higher. In this specific case, though, the Wonton tour really did cost 7,550 Avios.

I have no doubt that the cash equivalent price for the above tour would mean that I’d be getting terrible value for my Avios.  But still, this type of thing will let me experience things of interest, eat outside of the airport, and keep my meager budget intact.

And if I want to sleep somewhere other than on an economy red-eye flight, I could use Avios to book a hotel:

I chose British Airways Avios for this example, only because they provide the ability to book both hotels and experiences.  A number of programs (such as AA and Alaska), let you book hotels and rental cars, but they don’t offer the option to book experiences (that I know of).  The trick will be to find flight itineraries that let me credit those most miles to just one program and ideally one that offers experiences too.

In order to use my miles to help me get out of the airport and into the world, I will need the miles to show up quickly after each flight.  I’ve read online that with some programs it can take up to a week for the miles to be deposited.  However, in those cases, it is sometimes possible to get the miles right away by calling to request it.  You can bet that I’ll do that.  I’ll also want to schedule my longer layovers to be towards the end of the trip rather than the beginning so that I’ll be able to earn more miles along the way.

Wrap up

No Sam, Nick hasn’t yet won it all.  I mean, yes, Nick found the most awesome award sweet spot ever, but that’s besides the point.  I’m very much still in the game.  I can (theoretically) go just as far as Nick or maybe even farther.  And I have a secret weapon to help stretch my budget even more.  But, despite all that, I do think that Nick is now the favorite.  I’m certain that the Hawaii trick isn’t the only trick that he’ll pull out of his Fedora.

Finally, we have no idea at all about Stephen.  Amex has some really great transfer partners.  It won’t surprise me at all to learn that Stephen has also found some killer award deals.

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