Doing More with Less


Doing More with Less.

How I Flew Around the World for Less than $220 77

Posted Nov 29, 2012 by Clayton B. Cornell In: Travel Hacks


This year I flew around the world and visited 11 countries over a period of 6 months. The cost of my ’round-the-world’ ticket? Less than the price of a domestic flight in the US.

Can you do the same thing? Absolutely, read on:

Budapest, Hungary—It’s a question I got more than once: “So, are you rich?” And, more specifically: “How can you afford to travel so much?”

These questions are upsetting because they highlight the dominant perception that travel is a luxury restricted to the wealthy. And I don’t like people thinking I can only afford to do this because I’m rich (far from it).

In fact, for the last 15 months I’ve been living on a stipend that most people would associate with the poverty line in the United States, or about $1200 a month (see 20 things I Learned While Traveling around the World).

But international flights are expensive, no matter how cheaply you decide to live once you get to your destination. I thought trans-oceanic flights would be the death of my RTW travel budget.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My Round-the-World (RTW) Flight Itinerary


  • April 3rd, 2012 –  San Francisco (SFO) to Brussels (BRU). Cost: $7.50
  • August 1st, 2012 – Istanbul, Turkey to Bali, Indonesia. Cost: $0.00*
  • September 29th, 2012 – Bali to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Cost: $140.00
  • October 2nd, 2012 – Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles (LAX) via Tokyo. Cost: $72.00
  • On the same day I flew from LAX to SFO for $0.00.

Grand Total: $219.50

And here’s the punchline: the only reason these flights cost me anything at all is that I opted to pay for the really cheap ones. That’s correct, I decided to pay actual money for them. You’ll understand why below.

* It’s easy to cross the the entirety of Europe for as little as $25 on RyanAir or EasyJet. More on that in another post.

The (Not So) Big Secret: Credit Card Airline Miles

Airfare for my round-the-world trip, as well as for all other international flights I took this year was 100% funded by credit card reward miles that were credited to frequent flier programs.

If you live in the US you’ve probably seen these credit cards, which typically offer 30,000-50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending a few hundred (or thousand) dollars on the card.

It’s simple on even a limited budget to get the benefit from these cards–all you have to do is sign up and commit to using the card for a few months. Once you meet the requirements and the bonus miles are credited to your frequent flier account.

I’ve personally accrued over 800,000 airline miles through rewards cards.

That’s right. What I said before about living near the poverty line might not be accurate, because I’m filthy rich in airline miles. But you don’t need hundreds of thousands–you can fly one way to Europe for as little as 20,000 miles.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not, assuming you live in the US and have any kind of credit (unfortunately, these offers are rarely available outside the US).

You don’t have to be extremely worried about your credit score either. As a result of never carrying a balance and using these cards for most purchases I have excellent credit. One of the last cards I applied for—the Starwood Preferred Amex—automatically approved for a $20k opening line of credit. The master of this entire realm has some hard data to show that applying for 13 credit cards at once only affected his credit score by about 4%, or from the 98th to 94th percentile.

I’ve signed up for most of the best available credit card offers over the past 5 years, and I’ve listed my favorite cards below.

Cost of my round-the-world itinerary in Airline Miles (and associated fees/taxes):

  • San Francisco => Brussels (American Airlines) – 20,000 miles + $7.50 (American Airlines Miles)
  • Istanbul => Bali (Malaysian Airlines) – 40,000 miles + $0.00 (CapitalOne Miles)
  • Bali => Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia) – $140.00 (I decided to pay for this to save miles)
  • Kuala Lumpur => Los Angeles (American Airlines) – 35,000 miles + $72 (American Airlines Miles)
  • Los Angeles => San Francisco (American Airlines) – 5,800 miles + $0.00 (CapitalOne Miles)

Grand Total: 100,800 miles and $219

If you’re thinking “that’s great but I’ll never spend enough to get 100,000 miles” you should know that  one of these cards during a big promotion gave me 100,000 miles just for signing up. That means my entire round-the-world itinerary was paid for in about 5 minutes.

That same card is still offering enough miles to fly round-trip to Europe, free. So, what the are you waiting for?

How to Get 50-100,000 Airline Miles in 20 minutes

Just follow the simple, 7-step process…

Step 1: Sign up for the American Airlines Advantage Card

Total time: 10 minutes. Rewards earned: 50,000 American Airlines miles as of 1/30/15

This is the heavyweight of my travel strategy. The reasons: a) you can get both personal and business cards that feed into one miles account (which means double miles), b) American has the most discounted frequent flier program I’ve ever seen (meaning you can fly for less miles than any other program), and c)  you can get bonus miles through several different offers.

For example: in January I flew from Montevideo to San Francisco for 20,000 miles (the equivalent of about $200) + $129 in taxes (because I booked less than 1 week ahead).

Then (see the RTW itinerary above) I flew to Europe for 20,000 miles and $7.50 in fees, and later was blown away to find a route home (via Japan Airlines) from Kuala Lumpur to LA for only 35,000 miles + $72.

It’s important to understand that you can use American Airlines miles on any of their partner airlines as well—all you have to do is call in and ask.

Added bonus: I was told by a rep on the phone that when you make a reward travel reservation, that reservation is good for a whole year. Meaning that if you don’t feel like showing up that day, you can rebook the flight any time in the next year for free, as long as that same reward offer is available (which it most likely will be if you book a month or so out).

Also: You get a 10% yearly miles bonus for miles redeemed on airfare. There are also bunch of added perks when flying American, like first bag checked free, priority boarding, and 25% off in-flight purchases.

I use the AAdvantage Visa for all of my online purchases. Unfortunately the card has a foreign transaction fee on purchases outside the USA, so I leave it at home but use it for buying things online, as well as use it as my default business card.

Fine Print: Each of these cards is different, but they generally give you 30,000-50,000 miles for spending $1,000-$3,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee varies, up to $95 but waived for the first year. You get 2 miles for every dollar spent. Re-deeming miles is simple with the online interface or calling in.

Take some action:

Step 2: Sign up for the CapitalOne Venture Rewards Visa

Time required: 5 minutes Rewards earned: 30,000 40,000 miles (verified on 6/4/16)

These cards doesn’t seem to be as popular as others, but here’s what makes it amazing: these miles are good on any airline and you can retroactively apply airline miles credit to transportation purchases that have already been made.

So, for example I find a screaming deal on a flight from Istanbul to Bali for $400 and charge it on my CapitalOne Visa. A week or two later I log into my CapitalOne account and click on ‘Manage Rewards=>Purchase Eraser’.


There you’ll see a list of all qualifying transactions. Just click the check box next to the $400 charge and click ‘Redeem’ miles. Voila, your purchase disappears. Thanks for the free flight, CapOne.

This card also gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent. While on face value this seems like a better deal the AAdvantage card still comes out the winner with it’s super discounted reward travel. CapitalOne also don’t charge any taxes or fees for these reward redemptions.

Believe it or not, you can also use the miles to redeem just about any transportation purchase, like buses and trains.

I often use the CapOne card to pay for the taxes/fees charged for American Airlines Reward travel. If I had done this on my RTW itinerary above I could have flown around the world for free, but I like to hoard large balances (90,000+ miles or so) for major flight purchases (as opposed to whittling the account down by 14,000 miles at a time).

The other bonus is that both of these cards have no foreign transaction fees, so I use them for all daily purchases where I can use a credit card. I also have the CapOne Sparks Business card which I use for daily business transactions.

Fine Print: You get 10,000 miles just for using the card once, then another 20,000 miles 10,000 miles if you charge $1,000 in the first 3 months. The card has an annual fee of $59 that is waived for the first year.

Take some action:

Update 1/30/15: I’m no longer recommending the card below:

Step 3: Signup for the Starwood Preferred Amex Credit Card

Time required: 2 minutes Rewards earned: 25,000 Starpoints

This card is recommended heavily by other digital nomad types like Ramit Sethi and Maneesh at HackTheSystem. I just signed up for it so I can’t pass final judgment, but since I don’t book hotels and American Express is not as useful as a Visa it isn’t my favorite at this point. The card has a relatively high spending amount to get extra miles, but it does have some bonuses:

  • Starwood points are good for booking on just about any airline (plus hotels).
  • Starwood points transfer to most frequent flier programs on a 1:1 basis.
  • There’s a 25% bonus for transferring 20,000 Starwood points to a frequent flier program (which I’d recommend – you get 5,000 Starwood points free for every 20,000 points converted into miles)
In general, you get 1 Starwood point for every dollar spent. I haven’t looked into transferring Starwood points to my American Airlines frequent flier account, but that’s what I’m hoping to do.

Fine Print: You get 10,000 Starpoints just for using the card once, then another 15,000 Starpoints if you charge $5,000 in the first 6 months. The card has an annual fee of $65 that is waived for the first year.

=> You can sign up for the Starwood Preferred Amex here.

Total Time Required: 20 minutes Total Airline Miles/Points Earned: ~40,000-150,000 miles.

But wait, there’s more…

Step 4: Make a spreadsheet or write down today’s date, the cards’ spending deadlines, spending amounts, reward miles and annual fees.

Most of these cards give you a bonus for simply using them once (for any amount), but they reserve the bulk of reward miles for reaching a specific spending amount.

Don’t sign up for all of these cards at once if you don’t think you can hit the spending requirements!

You may want to sign up for one card a month as you ramp up. There isn’t much point in being extremely aggressive if you aren’t going to get full rewards.

Note that most cards waive the annual fee for the first year. It’s important to keep track of these fees though, or you might find yourself with $500 a year in annual fees from cards you aren’t using. No big deal, the value still far outweighs the fees here.

Step 6: Make sure all possible spending goes on your rewards cards

I don’t spend that much money, [update 1/30/15 That’s no longer exactly true] but when I lived in the city and had a real paycheck I siphoned a lot of purchases through my AAdvantage Visa. I used it for everything: all automatic charges like gym memberships, Netflix, insurance, and anywhere I would normally pay with cash (including the bar, coffee shops, grocery stores, etc).

Of course, I’ve never carried a credit-card balance in my life, and I’ve never been in debt. Ponder these two things carefully before you walk down this path.

Step 7: Wait for the miles to roll in…

That’s it, you’re on your way to a free round-the-world trip, or whatever you want to do. Note that the miles might take 90 days or so to accrue to your account, so plan accordingly.

Now you just have to figure out how to free up your time to use them.

How to Fly Around the World with Airline Reward Miles

It’s easy to use airline miles you’ve accrued, just log into the online interface that each card has and click on ‘rewards,’ or call customer service.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Book early to avoid fees. For example, with American you have to book more than 2 weeks out to avoid a $129 late-booking fee. Generally though, taxes and fees are pretty minor.
  • Call in for better deals (vs using online interface). The agents at American Airlines are ridiculously helpful and they’ve found me deals I couldn’t have imagined (flying home from SE Asia for $72). The web interface also doesn’t list the routes of partner airlines (like Japan Airlines) so you might miss options if you don’t get on the phone.
  • Keep high mileage balances for big flights. When I flew around the world I was worried that the Europe=>SE Asia route would cost me an arm and a leg. It didn’t, despite flying during peak vacation season (August). But you can’t use miles to pay for part of a trip (ie paying half of a $900 ticket with 45,000 miles), so keep enough in there if you think you’ll need them.
  • When booking flights, make sure to look at different airports. Flexibility is key if you want the cheap flights. For my RTW trip I didn’t pre-book a single flight, preferring to book them as I went (usually about a few weeks to a month ahead of time). I also found that sometimes an airport a few miles away would have a much cheaper flight. For example, it never would have occurred to fly out of Montevideo back to the states, but that’s where the deal was. Similarly, you might consider flying into/out of Brussels in Europe (vs Paris or Amsterdam).
  • Watch foreign transaction fees. Amazingly enough, some of these cards charge you for using them abroad. Most of my purchases while on the road go on the CapitalOne Visa since they don’t charge for anything. I also use CapOne for my checking account since they don’t charge for foreign atm withdrawals–they will instead reimburse you up to $25 a month for atm fees. Another great option I need to evaluate is Everbank, which is basically the same deal with absurd savings interest rates.

How to rack up ridiculous amounts of airline miles.

If you are a freelancer, work in a flexible environment, or own your own company, I highly recommend charging all business expenses to airline rewards cards.

Between 2010-2011 I racked up over half a million airline miles by using rewards cards.

That’s correct: 500,000 miles.

While this won’t be possible (or even necessary) for most people, I thought I’d include it to get the gears turning. Others writing about credit card miles have suggested signing up for every single card available.

Seems like a logistics nightmare to me keeping track of various cards, deadlines, and annual fees, let alone reaching the award spending amounts.

I’d rather find the best card and focus all effort there, so this is what I did:

  1. Determined that the AAdvantage and CapitalOne cards had the best rewards programs.
  2. Convinced my employer to allow me to charge our company’s marketing spend (which I managed) to my personal cards, which would be re-paid via employee reimbursements.
  3. I then spent $10-20,000 a month on the cards and….
  4. …watched in amazement as it all went according to plan.

If you own your own business you can see how quickly this adds up.

Keeping Your Reward Credit Cards Organized

As mentioned above, I’d suggest keeping everything in a spreadsheet where you can refer to it now and then to see what the hell is going on. It’s easy to forget why you signed up for a card (as well as all the other details) if you don’t write it down from the outset.

I also include the total mileages I’ve earned in various frequent flier programs.

Other options for keeping track of the miles (but not the credit cards themselves) are Tripit (highly recommend the pro version), MileageManager and AwardWallet, which are paid services.

Conclusion: Happy Travels

Hopefully you now understand how rewards cards can make international flights cheap and easy. Feel free to hit me up with questions in the comments section below. If you have other experiences with these cards I’d love to here about it there as well.

Note that while this post is directed to US audiences, some of these offers are available internationally (in Canada, the UK, and possibly Australia).

I’ll be writing more about this in the future, so stay tuned for updates.

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73 to “How I Flew Around the World for Less than $220”

  1. Bryce says:

    According to American you must spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to earn the 40,000 miles…

    • Clayton says:

      Good call Bryce. They just updated this the other day, bumping it up from 30,000 to 40,000 miles for the initial bonus. I’ve fixed this in the post!

  2. Naomi says:

    I never tried AA. Love Capital One with the 0% Foreign Transaction fee as well. Will have to take a look 😉 Another great one is Alaska Airlines Bank of America– 25,000 miles upon approval—a roundtrip within Asia with Cathay Pacific. But comes with $75 annual fee. If you do not use the card, you can cancel the card after a few months (I usually close after 6-8 months to keep my account open) and get the $75 back.

  3. Bonnie says:

    I love this idea, but what I don’t like is the damage it does to small businesses. Credit cards that rack up “rewards” charge small businesses huge fees, as much as 3% per transaction. If I go to my local bike shop and spend $10 and use a “rewards” credit card, they only get $9.70. It gets even worse, spend $2 at the coffee shop, then will only make 49 cents in profit. Why do you think your cup of joe has gotten so expensive? They have to pass along high fees. Credit card fees kill small, local businesses, because they are charged a higher percentage than large corporations not only by the bank but by the processor.

    • Clayton says:

      Hey Bonnie, this is a really good point and something I’ve thought a lot about. The nice thing about most of these offers is that generally the bulk of the miles come from the application process and spending an initial sum. If you’d rather not use your credit card at local small businesses (and I don’t blame you) you can still receive these miles.

      Most of what I’ve accrued when spending large sums came from major corporations, like Google and Facebook advertising, so I didn’t think twice about it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. evan says:

    wow awesome, I wonder what my credit score has to be to get approved for any of these cards?

    • Clayton says:

      That’s a good question. I’d imagine that with ok credit you’d be approved. One way that CC companies seem to account for lower credit scores is with low spending limits. I remember my first card had a $500 limit!

  5. I love getting almost free travel using miles! Lots of great information in this article to help others be able to do it, too.

    • Clayton says:

      Yeah I think one of the top barriers to travel for people is the assumed cost of airfare. Turns out it’s often much cheaper than expected and there are a lot of tricks (like credit cards) that can be deployed. But if your goal is to get out of debt and not use credit cards 🙂 there are other ways to do this too.

  6. Anita Mac says:

    Not bad!! I flew to Europe last year on airline miles that I had collected and still got hit with a $600 tax! I have to wonder what the benefits of loyalty are some times, but the ticket was worth closer to $2,000, so I guess I can’t complain! I remember when I used to use my points to fly Australia/Canada in business class and I didn’t have to pay the taxes! The system isn’t what it used to be – but hey, I had 3 glorious months in Europe on a $600 ticket from Canada – life is good!

    • Clayton says:

      Whoa, $600? Which airline miles program was that? The most I’ve ever been hit with is $129, which is the flat fee American will charge you when you book within 10days (it might be 2 weeks) of departure. Flying back from Kuala Lumpur to LAX the tax was only $70 for a flight on Japan Airlines.
      I think it pays to pick the right program before accruing miles 🙂

  7. vikki says:

    Can I redeem the points after cancelling the cards or do I have to redeem them while I’m still a cardholder?

    • Clayton says:

      Definitely. It’s a little confusing, but the Airline Frequent Flier program (eg American Airlines) is independent of the Credit Card company (eg CitiBank). Once you’ve earned the miles it’s like getting paid: the miles go into your frequent flier account and that will not change regardless of what you now do with the credit card.

  8. Michael says:

    What about the hard pulls on your credit score each time you open or even close a credit card? Is it worth it?

    • Clayton says:

      Most of the pros who do this don’t see much of a drop, maybe 5% or so. One trick to avoid credit score drops is to not cancel cards but combine the credit onto one card. I’ve done this several times with Citi: call them up, tell them that you want to cancel a card but keep the credit and roll it over onto the oldest card in the account (account age is also important as I understand it). For most people I’d recommend opening a few cards a year. Shouldn’t affect your credit much if at all.

      • Jestin says:

        Based on your logic of rolling credit over onto older cards to avoid damaging credit when closing airline credit cards, do you think it would make sense to first open a basic credit card (such as a citi visa), then later open one (or all) Citi AAdvantage cards; then, after a few months close the AAdvantage card(s), rolling the credit over to the older basic card?
        Does that sound to you like something that would work?
        I don’t know if you know, but do you think you can roll over all credit to one older credit card, or is the credit only able to roll over to the same kind of card? (visa to visa, mc to mc, amex to amex)? (What I mean, is if my above method works and I wanna open and eventually close out all 3 AAdvantage cards, would I only need to have one basic card, or one basic of each visa, mc, and amex?)

  9. Lyra says:

    Meanwhile in THE US! -_-

  10. Scott says:

    Hey Clayton, when you talked about signing up for a card you mentioned that instead of paying the required amount (Hundreds of dollars) “all you have to do is sign up and commit to using the card for as little as a month or two.”

    Is this true? It seems too good to be true.

    • Clayton says:

      Hi Scott,

      Bad wording on my part. You do have to meet the minimum requirements, which are always “spend X dollars in X time period”. Many cards are spend $1000 within the first 3 months. This is usually doable even on the most restricted budget if you put all your purchasing on the card. Some cards are too high, like the Starwood Amex which I couldn’t hit the $5000 required spend. But some are less: only $500. And some require no spend at all (just the annual fee of $95 up front. Check out the Alaska Airlines card).

  11. Krista says:

    Do you have advice on how to do this (or something similar) as a student with a tiny income? I definitely would not be able to hit the spending limits of multiple cards and pay them back quickly seeing as a do not have a business to buy things for. Should I just do one card at a time? and if so which one?

    • Clayton says:

      Hi Krista,
      Good question. I remember having basically no credit as a student ($500 max on my first card) and I didn’t spend much either. So it could be hard to hit the minimum. Another problem with some of these cards is the steep annual fees: $90+ in some cases, which may be cost-prohibitive. I would keep it as simple as possible, no more than 1 or 2 cards if you can get approved. Most importantly, what do you need the miles for? You can go round-trip to Europe with just the CitiAadvantage, but if you’re looking for a RTW trip you’ll need that + CapitalOne/Barclay/something where you can buy a ticket and get reimbursed for purchases. I’d say one card at a time – even on a tiny income if you put everything on the card it would be hard no to hit $1000 in 3 months as in the case of the AAdvantage cards. Figure out exactly what you need the miles for then make a plan.

  12. Krista says:

    Thanks for the response Clayton. The whole credit card thing freaks me out in general but I also have no money to travel so credit cards seem like viable options. However, you also noted that the reason your credit is not impacted greatly is because you open more accounts than close them… this probably will not be possible for me, so would you suggest opening one card and keeping it open or no?

    • Clayton says:

      Hey Krista, here’s what I did when I was broke in college and had no credit: I got the best card I could get approved for, maxed it out each month by putting all expenses on there, and paid it off each month entirely. I’ve never carried a credit card balance in my life. This process does several things for you: 1) builds credit, 2) earns miles 3) makes it really easy to track your finances in Mint. My suggestion: see if you can get the Citi AAdvantage card and only that, then follow the above!

  13. Krista says:

    Sorry to keep posting on your site. Just trying to be thorough. Which Citi AAdvantage card do you recommend specifically? Visa Signature, World Master, Gold, American Express..? You paid the annual fee on it despite your brokeness correct?- or did you cancel it after a year?

  14. Preston says:

    While I’ve been traveling internationally a lot this past year, I generally hate American carriers (United, U.S. Airways, Delta, AA, etc.). So, I was wondering if any of your tips change when wanting to fly something like Turkish Airlines (by far my favorite).

    For StarAlliance members, is it pretty easy to transfer points from say United to Turkish Air?


  15. Deforel says:

    Definitely appreciate you setting up this information very nicely.

    I currently have a job where I am traveling internationally to a new country every couple months.
    I’ve been wanting to try something like this, had to build my credit up a bit, but do you think the fee’s for using the cards internationally (I’m only in the states a couple weeks a year) would make something like this not viable?

    To make the spending limits I would have to do use the cards for almost all my purchases but if I’m getting charged an extra buck everytime I buy a sandwich, it doesn’t seem worth it.

    Thanks again!

    • Clayton says:

      Foreign transaction fees are a deal breaker. The Capitalone and the Barclay cards (both personal cards) will not charge you for using them abroad. Make sure to read the fine print when you sign up for cards- I didn’t and this is why I’m getting rid of my Starwood Amex and Citi Biz cards and replacing them with the CapitalOne Sparks card and the Chase Ink.

      • Deforel says:

        You are referring to the Venture and Ventureone rewards, yes?

        And excellent, I definitely will check out the fine print. Cheers!

        • Clayton says:

          Yep I have the venture I believe. Capone is great. One of my two ATM cards is with them as well because they pay you back for ATM fees and also charge no foreign transaction fees.

  16. Mary says:

    i went to Africa for a year on American frequent flyer miles. I changed my return flight twice. The first time was free but then I had to pay a $150 change fee. It was nice because the four points (London to Dar es Salaam, Capetown to Los Angeles) were all different, so there is a lot of flexibility. I used Capitol One throughout Africa, except for places that didn’t take credit cards at all. Taxes for each leg were in the $20-$30 range for 30,000 miles each way

    • Clayton says:

      My friend just booked an around-the-world ticket on United for next to nothing. We’re going to have to cover this more but they allow open stops, eg ‘open-jaw’ meaning that you can schedule to leave from a hub airport but tell them when later on. Pretty amazing!

      • Ricardo says:

        Did you ever cover this in more detail? I am considering either building up miles with AA or continuing on with United.. This might help me make my decision…

  17. Sarah says:

    Since American Airlines and US Airways are merging, does this mean that miles earned on a Capital One card or AA Advantage card can be redeemed on either airline??

    • Clayton says:

      That’s a good question about American miles but my guess is they’ll still be good. Capitalone miles aren’t airline specific. You buy the ticket then ‘erase’ the purchase in their internal system. Actually can be used for trains, buses, and airline taxes too.

  18. Balazs says:

    Which program is available in EU? 🙁

    • Clayton says:

      Unfortunately a lot of these offers aren’t available outside of the USA. If anyone else knows of programs in the EU, please let me know.

  19. Jestin says:

    Assuming its a good idea to try to “roll” credit onto an old card when closing an airline card, do you think it would work to open a basic card (with no yearly fee) at the bank first, and then open an airline card. That way, when you close out the airline card, you can simply roll the credit over to that basic card (which is the oldest)?
    Also, if this works, do you happen to know if you can roll credit over from different types of cards (for instance, can I roll credit from an Amex over to a Visa), or do they have to match up (amex to amex, mc to mc, visa to visa only)? I’m thinking of trying this method with Citi AAdvantage cards, but don’t know if I only need to open one basic Citi card before opening airline cards, or if I need to open a basic card for each version.
    I’d really appreciate your insight~

    • Clayton says:

      Hi Jestin,

      I think the strategy of rolling down to a no-fee card can be done and that may be the best strategy if you don’t have another card with that company. I’m not sure about rolling from Visa to Amex, but it never hurts to ask!

      • Jestin says:

        Thanks for the response! I think I’ll give this a shot, and also see if I would be able to roll over from different kinds of cards before I start the process. Appreciate your help!

  20. Ashley says:

    Great info! I noticed the lack of Delta rewards info…probably because they suck, but I used to travel a lot for work and lived in ATL, so I pretty much flew Delta everywhere, so my recent trips have been with Delta and I’ve got a good amount of miles left with them. Perhaps it’s time I consider AA.

  21. Nicole says:

    Hey, I’m embarking on my round the world trip starting June 2014 and was wondering if there was a Canadian equivalent to the above mention cards. I’ve went to Rewards Canada and I think their best offer was the CapOne Mastercard
    which doesn’t come close to the American AAdvantage one. It would be kickass if I could get to Europe/Asia on less than like $1000.


  22. Donne Roma says:

    Great idea…Love it!

  23. Halong says:

    That’s is new way. I never hear this way before. But i don’t believe because price for visa greater than $200.

  24. James says:

    So with the AA card, say if you hit $1,000 in the first month, you get those miles, correct?

    Also after you have accrued and used the miles can you just cancel the card since the first year of fees would be waived?

    Still piecing this all together. My plan is to fly to New Zealand end of February. I found great price on round trip airfare and after reading this I would love to use these miles to save some money if not all of it. Thank in advance

    • Clayton says:

      You get the miles as soon as you spend $1000, as long as you do so in under 3 months (so yes, correct!).

      I’m not a big fan of credit card ‘churning’ at this point. I’d suggest getting one or two of the best cards and keeping them / using them. The best alternative to cancellation is rolling the card’s balance onto a lower fee card (from the same company) down the road.

  25. James says:

    But it is possible to just drop that card after the first year, if I choose to lose the perks.

    Another question, haha sorry. But If say I book a flight through skyscanner or tripadvisor, how can I apply my miles to that?

    • Clayton says:

      Yeah you can do that, just be aware that there are some things to consider before canceling cards, because doing so can drop your credit score (I’m no expert).

      Anyway, if you use airline specific miles you have to use their search tool, eg http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/redeemMiles/main.jsp. If you buy a ticket outright you can use CapitalOne and Barclay points to “erase” the purchase in your account (assuming you buy the flight with that card).

  26. Frank says:

    Hey Clayton,
    Great blog you have going on!
    All these credit cards are only for US citizens, right??
    Cheers from Thailand!

    • Clayton says:

      Thanks Frank! Yeah most are, but I think there are some cards available in Canada, possibly in Europe (traveler from Finland told me this the other day).

  27. Julio Moreno says:

    Instant fan. Hey do you know of a way to get credit for past flights. I would hate to give up those that I already took.

  28. hy Mr clayton ..
    terima kasih informasinya

  29. Josh A says:

    Thank you for another awesome article! I’ve read an re-read this. My question is whether to sign up for 13 cards at once, but not be able to spend enough to earn the bonus miles ($3000 in 3 months on 13 cards is $13000 per month) or to open one after another to take advantage of the miles to the full extent. Please let me know if I can provide clarification.

    • Josh A says:

      Please disregard the last. I re-read Step 4 which answered my question.

      PS I believe Step 5 ran away with your miles. I would check Utila.

  30. Mickie says:

    Very good blog post. I absolutely appreciate this website.

  31. Peter says:

    You probably got the “are you rich question” in Hungary, cause the 1200 dollars per month budget you mention is a quite decent salary there. Most people make less per month, so saving up that money for a couple of months of travel would take a decade.

    • I was really surprised to learn how low some standard salaries are in Europe, even in places like Vienna. Fortunately you could live on much less – a lot of my expenditure has to do with movement.

  32. Jenny says:

    Hey FYI for any Delta people out there, I use their gold skymiles amex card, which sent me a notice that as of May 1 2014 they will no longer have a foreign transaction fee.

    Great news for those of us traveling often… cheers 🙂

  33. Wilson Ng says:

    Great trips but it won’t work in Asia as the credit cards offer here is not that good.


  34. Benedicte says:

    Can you get something similar if you’re a European citizen living in Europe or is it something that’s limited to the US?

  35. Krista says:

    Clayton, have you looked into Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cards? I know they are partnered with a bunch of other airlines so that might be helpful but you haven’t mentioned them so maybe there is an issue that I am not seeing?

    • Krista, yes I have the Alaska card as well. The partner airlines are gold and something I need to write more about. Most of my travel is on one of the networks, not the original airline I have miles with.

  36. Mika says:

    I used to accumulate tons of miles on my airline cards also north of 500k.

    However, the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card gives 1.5% cash back with no limit. At $500k that is $7500 in money. Depending on what you would use the miles for (ie, you can buy tickets for less) you may be better off getting the $ than the miles, plus the flexibility of using the money for anything instead of just travel.

  37. Wow, that’s crazy how you managed to do all of that! This took some long-term careful planning! Thanks for sharing what you did!

  38. Really good material to share here and pleased to be able to both share and write my own reflections. It’ll be interesting to consider what others have to share!

  39. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who had been conducting a little
    homework on this. And he in fact boght me lunch due to
    the fact that I found it for him… lol. So allow me to
    reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this topic here on your web

  40. April says:

    It is easier to just make money in the USA and travel comfortable for 2-8 weeks a year than live like a homeless man in dirty hostels with mass chain smokers. Plus what about travel with family?

    • First of all, hostels are like hotels: some are terrible and some are amazing. I’ve never stayed in a Hostel that allowed smoking inside. Second, the false dichotomy is that you can’t both travel *and* make the same amount of money that you did at home. Third, check out the family that runs GreenBackTaxes – they’ve been all over the world.

What do you think?

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    spartan traveler My name is Clayton.
    I've been traveling full-time since mid-2011 while building a business on my laptop. SpartanTraveler is my personal travel blog of uncommon travel adventures, logbook of travel hacks, and forum for thoughts on lifestyle design and working in the 21st century. You can get updates from the site by signing up with your email address below. Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@spartantravel), , Instagram (@spartantraveler) or contact me / read more about the site.

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