I thought about calling this series the Farewell to Royal Ambassador trip, or the Latin Hopper trip. But the goal is to have an abso-freaking-lutely free trip. Like $0.00. No taxes. No fuel surcharges (not that I would ever do that). No dollars.
While I’m not above couchsurfing and hitchhiking, this is a miles and points based trip. All flying and all 5 star luxury hotels. And to be clear, we are not paying for these miles/points. Meaning, these miles/points did not come from paying for flights/hotels, they did not come from just buying them from the airlines/hotels, and they did not come from some expensive MS strategy. It’s much more simple than that.
- 34,000 Lufthansa miles for both flights down
- 40,000 United miles for both flights down
- 35,000 AA miles for both flights back
- 125,000 IHG points for both
- At least 45,000 Barclay Arrival Plus points to cover taxes and fees
How we got the miles?
- 60,000 Chase Ink Bold bonus – used 40,000 for United miles
- 50,000 Aadvantage card bonus – used 35,000
- 80,000 IHG card bonus x2 (160,000) – used 125,000
- 50,000 Lufthansa card bonus– used 34,000
- 40,000 Barclay card bonus
Since these cards were spread out enough I could almost hit all the spends on natural spending. Plus, there are a ton of free ways to MS, including Amazon Payments. So between light MS and natural spending (not changing spending routine at all) we got the bonuses and some miles.
I continued to put money on the Barclay card to make some extra cash since it provides 2 points per dollar. 10,000 points covers $100, which covered the airport taxes.
And with the IHG cards, that’s a story of its own. But in short, there are links for an 80,000 point IHG MasterCard (we do not receive a commission for this card). An interesting thing happened. See not too long ago, the IHG card was a visa card. There are some cases of people who had closed the IHG card being able to get the MasterCard as well. Hypothetically of course.
Either way, it’s publicly available for any first time card holders. So with the two of us now having the MasterCard, that’s 80,000 points each, and 160,000 IHG points total.
The arrival points were first used to cover flight airport taxes and then for transportation. But we’ll have more on that later.
And the last detail, and the only voodoo that had to happen to make this work. The Lufthanasa card technically came with a fee for the first year. For this reason, I’d put the Lufthansa card much lower on the list than many of the other cards mentioned. However, we may or may not have come even and donated 12,500 miles for the break-even cause.
Why it was able to happen?
Besides the credit cards… there were two deals I combined to make one awesome latin hopper trip.
Deal One: The PointBreaks list came
IHG PointBreaks, as you may know, is a list of hotels that are bookable for 2 months and all hotels are 5,000 points a night… which is nothing.
The list included 4 InterContinentals in Latin America, and they were new places. InterContinental Panama, Panama; InterContinental Cali, Colombia; InterContinental San Jose, Costa Rica; InterContinental Real Guatemala City, Guatemala.
We’ve spent one night in Panama City and by my travel standards, you can’t say you really know a place from one night. Plus, there’s a lot around to see in the area. However we’ve never been to Colombia, Costa Rica, or Guatemala! So this seemed like a great opportunity to go someplace new.
Deal Two: United Stopovers
Basically, as soon as I saw the deal, I figured I’d book the hotels then try to book a flight to connect them. And then worry about booking a flight there.
So for 20,000 miles I booked a flight on United that went from Central America to South America and back to Central America. Except instead of returning to Panama city we returned to Guatemala City.
The ticket was this:
If I had Amex points I would have totally done the entire thing on ANA miles or something to bring down the price. But I ended up hacking a number of things together. Because I’m flying out of Albequerque and returning to Las Vegas. So the entire thing is an odd ticket all together.
All the destinations together are: ABQ – PTY – CLO – SJO – GUA – LAS. Not at all a typical ticket.
So I used Lufthansa down and [will use] AA back.
One plus is that Lufthansa allows 24 hour layovers in the US, so we got a very long layover in Houston and I spent the day with my family. We got in at 11am and flew out the next morning. So it wasn’t long, but always nice to spend time with family.
(*Btw, I’m not from Texas and have never lived there*)
Totaling up the miles
Now it’s not a killer deal when you add it all up, 54,500 miles total per person. Considering that a regular roundtrip to Panama City would have been 35,000 miles on any airline, and the same trip could be bookable for 38,000 ANA miles. Still, I’m content with seeing all of this for 54,500 seeing 4 countries and open-jawing the ticket home. And the fact of the matter is, we were able to do this with 6 credit cards between the two of us and $0 out of pocket dollars spent.
A hodgepodge ticket, that gets me all free travel. Now if only I could get free food, (a living expense). Oh wait…
Deal 3: Farwell to RA Status
IHG has an unpublished top tier status called, Royal Ambassador. Until recently, when ever you earned this status (like after 70 paid stays), you also got a referral certificate to give to a friend. These things were traded pretty heavy on the internet… that is until they took away those certificates. I was fortunate enough to make a friend who had a cert a year ago when they were still offering them.
One year later, and our status is expiring. It only works at InterContinentals and it’s overall a terrible and inconsistent status, but we get lucky often with getting free minibar and lounge access. The lounge means free food in the morning and evening, as well as free drinks. And free minibar means free drinks.
The kicker here is that now we get free food, a non-travel expense that we’d have living anywhere. But because we’re traveling and staying at nice hotels (for free) we now get free food.
Think about it. Our living expenses (which are admittedly very minimal) will decrease because we’re traveling.
How much is travel costing us this trip?
Well $0 on flights and $0 on hotels. And again we’re seeing 4 countries, flying to different cities in the US, and staying all in 5 star hotels.
Travel = $0.00 (+ $0.00 in taxes and fees)
Non-travel costs? Well, because of our travels and elite status, we may actually spend less money on food than we would have living in Charlottesville and living a normal life. Travel in this case, is a wise economical decision.
More to come…
Soon, I’ll have details on how we booked the flights, screen shots for every reimbursement, and after the trip we’ll give every expense we spent on food and other things. We’ll also talk about the trip itself. Seeing these places is the reason behind all this crap. Right now, we’re in Cali, Colombia and I’m really enjoying being here. Perhaps I should detail the earning side too?
Also, if people are interested I can do a post on the hotels too. Our first two hotels we were generously given suites. We’re darn lucky.
People, I’d love your thoughts. If you have any suggestions for what to cover, things that would peak your curiousity, or suggestions at all, please comment below. I want to make this the best darn series ever. And more over, next time someone comments how travel isn’t free, I can point to this series. I’ll be able to point to this series, this trip, and the next trip, and the next trip… and say, “here’s proof, free travel can be done.”
But writing is about the user experience. So you tell me, what would make you share this page and say, “see, this guy did travel for free” if you heard someone say the same?