The Latest in Travel Hacking: November 2011 Edition


Last Thursday afternoon, I approached the registration desk at a Radisson hotel near the airport in Portland, Oregon.

“Checking in, sir?” the clerk asked.

“Yes,” I said. “And checking out.”

I was there to take advantage of a new miles-and-points adventure: in this case, staying for one night (or at least checking in) in order to receive another night free. Why do that? Because my paid night cost $74, and I’ll use the free night for a property that runs $300 or more.

The promotion required a one-night stay in any Radisson hotel, thus presenting an arbitrage opportunity: make the paid stay somewhere cheap, then use the points for an expensive property. I spent $74 for a room I didn’t use and now have 50,000 points, which I can apply to a high-end room in Asia, London, or New York. Base rates for those rooms are at least $250 or so, and often creep up to $400 during busy times.

Welcome back to the art of travel hacking—how to see the world on a budget, using Frequent Flyer Miles and all kinds of promotions. Check out previous installments of these adventures here, here, and here, and here.

Grand Slam Promo

I dropped by my mail service the other day and got quite the surprise: dozens of packages were awaiting my arrival. I get around Portland on my bike, so it was quite the effort to bring even some of the stuff home. What are all these packages? I wondered. Oh, right… the Grand Slam Promo from U.S. Airways is winding down.

The way this promotion works is you earn “hits” for various activities. You can earn hits from anywhere in the world and don’t need a U.S. credit card, but some hits require a U.S. address to buy something small from online merchants such as 1-800-Flowers or OfficeMax. International members of the Travel Hacking Cartel can use my office address to send anything that requires a U.S. address., so that’s why I had so much unexpected mail.

I gave some cookies and a can of Biscoff spread to the mail people. I gave a basket of M&Ms to a solicitor in front of the grocery store next door. I took the flowers home to Jolie and told her they were courtesy of U.S. Airways.

It’s hard for me to keep up with so many reports of miles coming in, but so far our group is well over the ten million mark of earned miles—just through this one promotion. In my own case, I’ve been busy with other things, but I’ve still earned 35,000 miles through the Grand Slam without spending much time on it.

This promotion comes around every year, and as mentioned, anyone can take advantage of it regardless of geography or income. If you missed it this time, be ready next year.

Other Miscellaneous Deals

You can stay at Starwood hotels through November 21 and get free breakfast or an upgraded room, in addition to 1,111 bonus points.

You can earn a 30% transfer bonus on points transferred from American Express to Delta.

You’ll also get 1,000 bonus American Airlines miles when shopping through their online portal.

Thanks to “Small Business Saturday,” if you’re in the U.S. and have an American Express card, you can earn a $25 statement credit per card for shopping at a small business next weekend. Register your AmEx cards here.

Oh, and while you have your cards out, fill out this form and get 5,000 Membership Rewards points worth at least $150. The points will post up in a few weeks. You’re welcome.

The list goes on and on. At any given time, there are dozens of these promotions available.


Wrap-Up: 1 Million Miles in 2011

It looks like I’ll end the year with well over one million miles earned. About 200,000 of these are from actual travel, mostly on American and other OneWorld carriers, but with plenty of other flights on ten other airlines.

Another 500,000 are from credit card bonuses, as this has been a good year for those with the banks continuing to increase the incentives for new signups.

Not everyone can travel as much as I do, and some people aren’t eligible for credit cards, but the remaining 300,000+ miles are all from various promotions like the ones mentioned above. Most of these offers are available for people no matter where they live and no matter what their income.

These days, I’m super busy with book preparation, building a new business project, and traveling to my final twenty countries. I have very little time to spend on my own travel hacking, so mostly I just read the alerts that go out and take action whenever I can. I miss a lot of opportunities just from falling behind.

Nevertheless, one million miles in 2011 is the equivalent of 40 domestic plane tickets. I prefer to use my miles for international trips in First or Business Class, but even so I’m looking at at least ten major trips from these miles.

If you’d like to learn more about travel hacking, you can join the Cartel (where we do much of the work for you), or you can also study on your own through various free blogs and forums.

Question: have you earned any points or miles in 2011? Where will you be using them?


The quest to visit every country in the world is now down to only twenty countries! Check out the plan of attack to complete the remaining places.

Image: Kevin

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  • Benny says:

    Ive just really gotten into travel hacking the past few months. I signed up for that Radisson promotion. Actually signed up my wife so after we stay for two separate nights, we will have 100,000 Radisson points.

    I also got a Marriott Visa that gives 70,000 points after the first purchase and a free night stay. Also the Alaskan Airline CC is a good deal for the $99 companion ticket for any class. I’m looking to use it when we go to Hawaii.

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card. 50,000 after $3,000 spending. Points can be transferred 1:1 to many airlines and hotels. Travel and dining spend gets 2x the points. No foreign transaction fee too.

    Also got a AMEX Business Gold CC that will get me 50,000 MR points after $10,000 spending. They just offered 75,000 for the same spending but that sign up was just for a day.

    I started late but look for some great offers in 2012. I know there will be a 100,000 point bonus like there were this year.

  • Christi says:

    I just got started a month ago. My husband and I have nearly 10,000 miles combined miles in our Delta accounts…definitely just a start, since our goal is 90,000 each for a trip to Ireland for our 30th anniversary in a year and a half…but really exciting since I just opened those Delta accounts a month ago!!

    I also signed up for the Radisson promotion, and discovered there’s only one Radisson hotel in my state – 160 miles away! However, I have to be in that city for a conference in a few weeks, so I booked a room for the night before the conference. I’m still debating about whether to use the points as Radisson points, or to convert them to 10,000 Delta miles…decisions, decisions!

    I’m having a ton of fun with this, and I’m so excited about my trip to Ireland!

  • Tegan says:

    Wow Chris, I can’t believe you’ve earnt 1,000,000 points! That’s incredible! I admire your dedication!

    I’ve mostly been earning Qantas Frequent Flyer miles via my credit card and Everyday Rewards (Woolworths) card. These points have come in handy as I living in a fairly isolated part of Australia and the flights back to the nearest capital city are horren I have already booked one return

  • Kelly Graham says:

    Your upcoming visit to the capital of Kiribati will have you in the same place that thousands of Americans visited November 20-23, 1943. These young men arrived by ship, then took boats in toward the beach as far as possible, then walked through the water the rest of the way. Hopefully, the Kiribati-Fiji dispute will be settled in time for you to travel to Tarawa by airplane. And you can look forward to an enjoyable time there, unlike the previous American visiters, who found their stay to be tense and violent.

  • Tegan says:

    Wow Chris, I can’t believe you’ve earnt 1,000,000 points! That’s incredible! I admire your dedication!

    I’ve mostly been earning Qantas Frequent Flyer miles via my credit card and Everyday Rewards (Woolworths) card. These points have come in handy as I living in a fairly isolated part of Australia and the flights back to the nearest capital city are horrendous! I have already booked one return flight which has saved me between AU$600-$800! If that’s all I get from this I’ll be happy!

    I’ve noticed that some of the best deals on Travel Hacking Cartel are US or Canada only which makes it tricky, but I just need to commit some more time too taking advantage of the offers… Especially the ones for accommodation!

  • Kenn says:

    The pattern business incurs some pretty hefty printing and shipping costs, all of which go on a British Airways Visa. We’ve earned up to around 400,000 miles between our two BA cards, plus two companion tickets (not all from 2011 though).

    We’ve redeemed some of them recently for a trip to Buenos Aires in December and I’ve been calling weekly trying to cash in more miles for a business class upgrade. No luck so far but we’ve still got a couple weeks.

    We also each got the recent Alaska 40k miles deal and promptly cancelled the cards after our miles posted. We used one of the included $99 companion tickets for a trip to Houston a couple weeks ago and have some other domestic travel planned for early 2012 where the other will come in handy.

  • Josh says:

    I’ve earned around 400,000 miles this year through travel hacking and actual travel. My wife and I will be using these miles on a round-the-world trip starting in January 2012. We redeemed 280,000 miles for two OneWorld awards on AA, which give us 14 segments through Southeast Asia, South Africa and South America over 10+ months.

    I’m looking forward to continuing to earn miles in the years to come to take more awesome trips!

  • Michael says:

    Wow. Thanks for the heads-up on the 50,000 Raddison points. I signed up and immediately booked a stay that I had to do anyway (instead of 2 nites in a Hilton, I have to switch to Radisson for 2nd nite – worth the hassle). You’re awesome.

  • Kent says:

    A million miles. That’s awesome!

    As I write this we are sitting in the Delta Lounge (thanks to the Am/Ex card) waiting for our long haul flight where – at least – we have decent economy seats (thanks to being “elite”).

    This inspires me to aim even higher.

  • Austin L. Church says:

    I think we’ll end the year with around 250,000 new miles. My wife and I flew to Hawaii for free in September, and now we’re dreaming about where to go next year. I think that’s what I most love about this whole travel hacking adventure: the freedom to dream about where I’m traveling next.

  • Cesar Kuriyama says:

    Just started Travel Hacking in January after 4 years of earning cash back instead. D’oh!

    I’ve earned 325,000 miles so far, and planning my first trip around the world after Christmas 🙂

    Looking forward to meeting AONC-ers tomorrow night at the NYC meetup!

  • Karen Talavera says:

    Since comments were closed on your previous post (the plan for the final 20 countries) I just wanted to share that one of the easiest ways into Cuba for Americans is via Mexico, specifically Cancun. Try flying nonstop from a major Mexican destination (again, my preferred is Cancun but you can probably go from Mexico City or Vera Cruz) into Cuba and just make sure Cuba doesn’t stamp your passport upon entry. Can’t wait to hear about it!

  • Karen Talavera says:

    My husband, daughter and I are doing a 2012 New Year all-miles/points trip to Turkey via Amsterdam and back through Paris. Using Delta for the flights, Starwood for the hotels (“W” hotel Istanbul here we come!) Two new countries for us (Netherlands and Turkey) so we’re looking forward to it.

  • Maria says:

    I did travel to Europe but inserted my Frequent Flyer wrong at the time of booking and was not credited the miles. I am not sure Lufthansa has accepted my credit request. Still waiting for them to answer.

    Why do airlines take so long to process mile credit requests? My guess is that getting credit mile requests must be very common on their part…

  • Rob says:

    Thanks for the tips Chris! 🙂

    I started travel hacking this year (thanks in large part to you). So far I’ve earned at least 170k miles, and spent a few ten thousand of them already. I’ve also earned two domestic companion tickets.

    I’ll be spending another 30k on a roundtrip ticket to Japan in January/Feb., and maybe another 40k for a ticket from Japan to another east Asian country (South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.). I haven’t decided yet, but I’m open to suggestions! 😉

  • Matt, Tao of Unfear says:

    Hey, Chris. Finally started reading your blog in earnest a few months back (after being thwarted by the layout several times o_0). First time commenting.

    I just lost my job, and after reading the blog, I knew I wanted to use my time off to travel. I also knew I’d have to do so unconventionally since I no longer had an income. Turns out, I was able to take a domestic trip to New Orleans and stay there for a week absolutely free. Flight, shelter, and food: all without spending a dime of my own money. Just took a little creativity.

    I have you to thank for getting me to think outside the box. So, uh, thanks!

  • blissing says:

    Thanks for your tips! I did the British Airways promotion and now have enough for 2 tickets to Europe. Can’t wait!

  • Joe says:

    This year has actually been a quiet year for accumulating miles for me because I was denied for the first time for a credit card. This wasn’t due to bad credit (my credit is excellent), but I think because I’ve been playing the game a little too much – signing up for cards for the bonuses, cancelling them, etc.

    No worries though, I still have well over 200K miles in the bank for the next few trips that I have accumulated over the past couple of years, only from reading AONC, joining the Cartel, and reading Frequent Flyer Master! And these miles are after my wife and I have gotten free round trip travel, in the past 2 years, from NY to: US Virgin Islands, Utah, Vietnam, and Argentina.

    Many thanks Chris!

  • Derrick says:

    I just want to highlight that this message is coming from Nelspruit, South Africa. Through a previous travel hack tip from Chris, I managed to travel to Greece, Ukraine and South Africa all for only taxes and fees from British Airways. These tips are golden and I recommend them to all of my friends.

    Good luck and safe travels,


  • themolesworthdiarist says:

    Chris did I read that right – have you really only got 20 countries to go? I’m so excited for you! Do you have anything planned to celebrate when you finish?

  • Chris says:

    Yep. A tattoo and a nap.

  • chuck kuhn says:

    Total around 400,000. Started with British Airway 100,000 early in year. The Venture Capital Card gave 100,000 by matching whatever you have in Delta. I had 300,000 in Delta, but Capital’s limit was 100,000. Added 50,000 with Alaska Credit card, no fees first year. Continental Air has (United too) 50,000 bonus miles with new credit card, no fees first year. JetBlue card 20,000 for signing up. Marriott Club card gave 20,000 of their points to sign up. Note of interest, I just flew from Calif to NYC for 12,500 miles One way. Book the trip 2 days before I flew. I’m switching most of my CC sales to Continental Air/United. Why? YOU can fly one way & mileage charge is half of full fare. Delta charges full fares on one ways. Plus Conti/United have a better mileage chart. Example? SF to China is currently 80 to 90,000 on Delta ONE Way or Rnd Trip. Contin is 32,000 one way. Allows me to fly into Beijing out of Hong Kong, another 32,000. 64,000 total. Tks

  • Catherine Fitchett says:

    Congratulations on getting down to 20 countries! I choose not to chase air miles. We had enough from a trip to the UK (from New Zealand) to take a trip anywhere in Australia or the Pacific, but when it came to redeem them we had a really hard time doing so – had to book months ahead and be very flexible about where we went to find flights that were available for redemption. That was because the points were from Singapore Airlines and we needed to redeem them on Air New Zealand (Singapore Air had no destinations close enough to use them on). Air New Zealand have a more flexible redemption system for their own air points. But they don’t give them out freely. Last time we went to Australia, because we looked for the cheapest available flights, we earned no airpoints at all.
    When I shop, I always look at alternatives and generally find I can shop at one store and earn say $2 to $3 worth of airpoints, or shop at another for $10 less on the same item and no airpoints. I figure it’s cheaper and more flexible to buy the cheaper item, and if one is inclined that way, bank the difference in cash in a bank account dedicated to travel savings.
    I do think there are far more travel hacking opportunities available in the US than in New Zealand. And yes, there may be some available in New Zealand that I am missing, but I don’t have time to follow them up. Good for those who do!

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