Recap: Nick’s Action Packed Adventure (3 Cards, 3 Continents)

13

The past couple of weeks have been one wild ride. I have had an incredible adventure spanning 3 or 4 continents and 8 or 9 countries (what you choose to count may differ a bit here). I have snorkeled within an arm’s length of a whale shark (the shark’s choice) and sea turtles, zip lined, jumped off of waterfalls, explored the great pyramids, lounged in luxury, met Santa, and seen the Northern lights in the space of about 12 days. It was amazing. In this post, I’ll recap what I did, how much it cost, and what I would do the same or differently next time.

First: a note on the dream

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the spirited debate in comments about which of our three trips was “best” by a variety of measures. I fully expect each of our trips to appeal differently and to different types of people — my trip certainly wouldn’t be for everyone and I’m sure the same could be said for Greg’s or Stephen’s.

In my case, this trip really did feel like a dream trip in the sense that miles and points made it possible for me to live the life of a jet setter, exploring a new destination almost every day before jetting off in comfort and luxury to the next spot. That is not and never will be the “real world” for me — my wife and kids would never tolerate a trip like this and so I got to step out of the “ordinary” and into a life I can only live thanks to miles and points. I had a blast and felt great the entire time apart from the night after canyoneering (I was physically exhausted and mentally drained because I’m not the biggest fan of heights, so while fun it was also a high-stress day). I slept solidly that night and the night I got home from the trip and overall I felt like I got enough rest along the way to continue to enjoy the trip. My legs were a bit sore at the end and I had some blisters from a lot more walking than I’m used to doing, but I don’t regret that at all.

For me, the point of a challenge like this is to push the boundaries a bit and create some inspiration. Greg undoubtedly stretched the boundaries by booking a shorter “round the world” award than most would have thought possible. Stephen did that by connecting the world’s shortest flight with the world’s longest flight in a single trip. Hopefully I did that by stretching a one-way Aeroplan award over 5 days to 6 countries among other highlights.

In the end, I don’t expect that most readers will try to directly replicate these trips, but to me that isn’t the point. Rather, I hope that when you see the craziness that we each accomplished with 3 credit card bonuses, it builds confidence in you that this means that you can plan that trip to {insert your desired destination here} and cover it with credit card rewards. Maybe you really want to swim with whale sharks or you want to visit family in the Philippines and eat some lechon or you would love to plan a trip to see the Northern Lights — hopefully you’ve found some inspiration and some instruction in terms of how to accomplish your goals. You won’t be limited by a certain number of cards or an artificial budget, either — the sky is the limit and hopefully this competition helps bring to light the fact that the sky is within reach.

Accounting for my costs against the budget

This trip was complex and it can be hard to follow along with how everything was booked. In an attempt to keep this as simple as possible, I’ll split this post up into several sections: starting budget, awards booked / mileage costs, cash costs, and points converted to cash.

Starting budget

Each of us began this competition with the rewards earned from 3 credit card welcome bonuses, including both the bonus itself and the points earned from the spend required to trigger those bonuses. We had decided on a total limit of $15K in spending requirements that we could divide however we wished. If the three cards chosen required less than $15K in spend to trigger the welcome bonuses, we could distribute remaining spend any way we wished among our chosen cards. My cards and spend distribution were as follows:

  • Amex Platinum card for Schwab: 100K bonus + 6K from $6K spend = 106K total points
  • Capital One Venture card: 75K bonus + 13K from $6.5K spend = 88K total points
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business: 80K bonus + 2.5K miles from $2.5K spend = 82.5K total miles

In total, I spent $15K ($6K on the Platinum card + $6.5K on the Venture card + $2.5K on the Aviator business card).

Additionally, each of us started with a cash budget of $1,000, which had to cover annual fees among other travel expenses. In my case, the Platinum card had an annual fee of $695, the Venture card had a $95 annual fee, and the Aviator card had a $95 annual fee, but at the time of our draft the card came with a $95 statement credit after meeting the minimum spending requirement, so to keep the math simple I’m calling that one a net $0 fee.

In other words, my first-year fees came to a total of $790. That left $210 from the starting budget. Since I had the Schwab Platinum card, I was able to cash out points at a value of $0.011 per point, which I did in order to meet additional travel expenses for my trip.

Awards booked / Mileage Costs

110K Aeroplan points (88K transferred from Capital One + 22K transferred from Amex)

At the time I booked it, my one-way Air Canada Aeroplan award from Washington, DC to Cebu, Philippines cost 105K Aeroplan points (and $66 in taxes, which will be accounted for in the cash section below). Keep in mind that this award was very complex; on the way to the Philippines, I had long layovers in Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Muscat, Oman; Bangkok, Thailand; and Singapore. I intentionally stretched this one-way ticket over 5 days of travel to 6 countries on 5 different airline partners.

However, I had originally expected to add a stopover for an additional 5,000 miles (in fact, I had originally booked a slightly different itinerary that included a stopover; I was later able to make one free change because I had booked my original ticket prior to July 5, 2022). In other words, I transferred 110,000 points to Aeroplan expecting my award to cost 110K. In the end, after I made my free change, it only cost me a net 105K points. I therefore finished the competition with an “extra” 5K points. I could have used those points (along with some of my other leftover points) to book a one-way ticket back to my airport of origin (IAD) if it were important to me to return to where I’d begun.

Air Canada Aeroplan is a transfer partner of both Capital One and Amex, but since I knew I would need to cash out some points for money and my Amex points were more valuable for that purpose (since the Schwab card makes it possible to convert points to deposits in a Schwab brokerage account at a rate of 1.1c per point), I transferred my full haul of Capital One points and paid for the remainder with Amex points (or at least that’s how I accounted for it for the purposes of this competition). I’ll add that I had originally hoped to use some of my Capital One points with Turkish Miles & Smiles, but it quickly became apparent that I needed to use them for the Aeroplan award and keep the (more valuable) Amex points.

The other award tickets booked were via American Airlines AAdvantage as follows:

  • 40K miles for a business class award from Manila to Doha to Dubai, with the Doha-to-Dubai leg in first class (and therefore getting me access to the Al Safwa First Class lounge for 15 hours). Taxes were $51.10 (accounted for separately in the cash section). See this reel:
  • 12.5K miles for an economy class award from Budapest to Rovaniemi, Finland (via Helsinki). Taxes were $39.60. Note that I was totally fine with economy class here since European business class is typically just an economy class seat with the middle seat blocked. These were short flights.
  • 30K miles for an economy class award from Rovaniemi, Finland to New York (JFK) via Helsinki and Paris. Note that I could have saved more than $20 in taxes (and a connection) if I had flown Finnair from Helsinki to JFK. Instead, I booked an award that continued to Paris and flew American Airlines from Paris to New York in order to use my Amex Airline fee credit for a Main Cabin Extra seat with nearly infinite legroom (I chose seat 18J on a 7770-200 because there is no seat in front of that seat!). I figured that Finnair’s in-flight service would have been better, but my seat would be more comfortable with American, so I went with AA. Either way, I wasn’t unhappy with my choice to fly home in economy class since this was a daytime flight (noon to 2pm).

Here are some photos from my flights during the trip:

Egyptair business class. Read my review of the experience here.
Turkish Airlines regional business class on my flight from Istanbul to Muscat.
Oman Air business class. Check out my review here.
Gulf Air business class. Read my review here.
My business class seat on a Singapore Airlines 737-MAX. See the side shelf space I had in this narrow-body plane and you’ll get why I didn’t love the Apex Suites on Oman and Gulf Air.
Qatar Airways “old” 777 business class product, which I had from Manila to Singapore.
Qatar Qsuites, which I flew here on their A350-1000 from Doha to Dubai. This is the flight that got me a 15-hour stay in the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge.
American Airlines seat 18J on a 777, which had no seat in front of it. I used my Amex Platinum card airline incidental credit to pay the fee for this seat (about $130) and it was automatically refunded.

And here are some relevant reels from Instagram:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)


After all of my award seats were accounted for, I still had 84K Amex Membership Rewards points left. I had also earned  more than 1,100 Membership Rewards points for my Fine Hotels & Resorts booking, which we had decided would count and be usable for the competition. That means I had over 85K Membership Rewards points left – worth $935 (plus what I had left from the original budget after subtracting annual fees) to cover all of my award taxes and other paid travel expenses for the trip. Could I stay under budget?

Cash costs

Here is a full listing of my cash costs for flights, hotels, airport transfers, and visa fees:

  • $66 (taxes on my Air Canada Aeroplan award)
  • $25 (Egypt Visa, purchased on arrival in Cairo)
  • $30 (Turkey Visa, purchased on arrival in Turkey because it is cheaper than buying online)
  • $126.50 (Purchased 22,000 IHG points. Used 10K for the Crowne Plaza Harbiye in Istanbul and 9K for the Holiday Inn Cebu first night, having 3K left over).
  • $20 (transport from and back to Istanbul airport: $16.30 for a taxi to my hotel + $3.67 for the Hava.ist bus back to the airport)
  • $115 (Grand Hyatt Muscat with the Award Travel 101 rate)
  • $34.20 (Muscat car rental, booked through VIPCards, found a Kayak.com)

    The white car above was my rental through Dollar rent-a-car
  • $5 (gas in Muscat)
  • $5 (Bangkok transportation ($1.20 airport-> city, $1.60 city->airport + tuk-tuk – I actually spent a bit less than $5, but this made for easy accounting)
  • $28.40 (Singapore hotel booked through Hotels.com)

    I stayed at a Capsule Hotel in Singapore on the cheap. See this reel for more of what it looked like.
  • $3 (Singapore MRT to/from airport)
  • $60 (Cebu hotel night #2. I had a local friend set to meet me and we were planning on staying somewhere in the south of Cebu, but she had to cancel a couple of days before I arrived, so I ended up booking a second night at the Holiday Inn Cebu City just to keep things easy. I used points that I really purchased at a cost of 0.5c per point, but since we were accounting for this trip as though points were purchased in a vacuum, I accounted for the full IHG price of $0.01 per point and “bought” 6K points to add with the 3K left over above to pay the 9K points necessary for the Holiday Inn Cebu City.

    My room for two nights at the very new Holiday Inn Cebu City in Cebu, Philippines.
  • $46 (Flight from Cebu to Manila. I booked this on Cebu Pacific and selected my seat at additional cost. Note that some flights were as cheap as $25, but the specific hour I wanted was a little bit more.

    My row for the short ~1hr flight from Cebu (CEB) to Manila (MNL). Cebu Pacific was fine for an hour.
  • $51.10 (Award taxes for my American Airlines business class award flight from Manila to Dubai via Doha on Qatar Airways).
  • $30.57 (Waldorf-Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeriah. Note that this hotel was actually $230.57, but $200 was rebated by my Platinum card’s annual prepaid Fine Hotels & Resorts credit.

    Additionally, see this reel:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

    /li>
    And this one:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

    /li>

  • $39 (Dubai rental car + gas. Booked the car direct through National at the last minute – I only realized that a taxi to/from the Waldorf would be too expensive while I was in the first class lounge in Doha waiting to board my flight to Dubai. I had to scramble and rent a car. I only drove to the Waldorf and back to Dubai airport.
  • $89 (Dubai to Budapest on Wizzair. This flight was about $69 amd I paid an additional ~$20 for an emergency exit row seat to be more comfortable on this ~5.5hr flight.

    I could have paid just $69, but I paid $89 to snag this exit row seat for the ~5.5hr flight from Dubai to Budapest on Wizzair.
  • $45.48 (EasyHotel Budapest, booked through Agoda.com).

    My room at the EasyHotel Budapest (yes, like as in “easyjet”, but for hotels) was very basic, but it was sufficient for my late night (after midnight) arrival and noon departure the next day.
  • $21.50 (Budapest transport. I probably overpaid for my transportation from the airport to my hotel because I first bought an “unlimited” ride pass only to find that it didn’t apply to the airport shuttle (but it did apply to other trains within Budapest (which I used to get from where the shuttle drops you off to my hotel and back).
  • $39.60 (Taxes on my American Airlines award ticket on Finnair from Budapest to Rovaniemi, Finalnd).

    I flew economy class to Rovaniemi, but I still made quick use of the Aspire lounge in Helsinki courtesy of my Priority Pass.
  • $140 (Santa Claus Holiday Village hotel. I used 1 Amex Membership Rewards point to save 40% on Amazon shortly after the card draft and I bought a $100 Hotels.com gift card for $60. Then I used a second similar promotion to use 1 point and get 20% off to buy a second $100 Hotels.com gift card. My total cost for two nights was $140 for $200 in gift cards.
    See my full review of the Santa Claus Village experience here.

    For more on why I chose this hotel, see this reel:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

    /li>

  • $64.67 (Taxes on my American Airlines Award ticket from the flight from Rovaniemi to Helsinki to Paris to New York)

Points converted to cash to cover cash costs

Here is how the numbers work out:

  • Cash spent on travel expenses (as noted above) = $1,085.02
  • Credit Card annual fees: $695 + $95 = $790
  • Total cash spent = $1,875.02
  • Subtract original cash budget ($1,000) and remaining travel expenses to be covered are $875.02.
  • I therefore cashed out a total of 80,000 Membership Rewards points for $880 to cover my remaining cash costs

In the end, I have the following left over:

  • 5,100 Membership Rewards points (4,000 from the original welcome bonus and 1100 from the FHR booking).
  • 5,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles
  • $4.98 (cash left over from Schwab cash-out).

That would leave me with more than enough to have bought an award ticket from Newark or LaGuardia to Washington Dulles if I cared much about getting back to my starting airport. Had I transferred 1K to Aeroplan, I would have still had more than 4,000 Membership Rewards points (worth $44). That would be more than enough to cover the taxes on these awards ($34.12 in USD) and cover the cost of public transportation from JFK to LGA.

But I wasn’t very concerned with ending at Dulles since I really live in upstate New York. I was happy to end my trip at JFK under budget since our original rules only stated that you had to begin and end in the United States.

Activities

We did not set a limited activities budget for our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge, but I am accounting for them within this post for readers to consider what I spent in putting together the incredible itinerary that I did.

I took the following tours:

  • Guided pyramids tour: $93.50 (Booked through Viator for $110, but got $16.50  back from Capital One Shopping app). Read more in my post about this experience here.
  • Istanbul, Turkey yacht tour on the Bosphorus: $45 via Viator. Read more about this experience here. Note that I clicked through the American Airlines shopping portal on this one. See this reel:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)

    /li>

  • Oman Sea Tour Snorkeling with sea turtles and whale sharks!: $85 net via Viator. (This tour cost exactly $100 on Viator and I got $15 back from the Capital One Shopping app). Read more about this experience here and see the reel here (that’s me in the orange shirt):<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

    /li>

  • Grand Palace Bangkok entrance fee: 500 Thai Baht (about $13.34). Read more about the experience here. See the reel here:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)

    /li>

  • Singapore J2 Crispy Curry Puff: I paid $2.52 for two of these tastes of absolute heaven at this Michelin Bib Gourmand food stand in a hawker center. It was the best $2.52 I have ever spent on food.
  • Cebu, Philippines tour: I booked an expensive (likely overpriced) tour in Cebu that was meant to start at 5am and last for 14 hours, including canyoneering, a snorkeling trip to Pescador Island, and snorkeling the famous Sardine Run. It cost $215.39, but as it turned out we couldn’t go to Pescador Island because of weather, so the tour company proactively gave me a $34 refund and I earned $32.30 cash back, so the real net cost was about $149. As it turned out, I was gone from 5am until about 6pm — and I was exhausted when I got back to the room. The video below shows just the canyoneering part of the experience.

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Nick Reyes (@nickatfm)

    /li>

  • Reindeer Feeding at Santa Claus Village: $5. I paid this right to the tour operator within the Santa Claus Village. They were getting ready to close up for the day and the woman working there graciously agreed to let me pay and come in for a quick photo op with the reindeer. It was really cool. I’d totally pay $5 to do it again (and you can do walks through the woods with Reindeer, but I expect it costs more). Read more about this experience here.
  • Northern Lights Photography Trip: $106.25. As outlined in my post about this (see this post), I originally paid for 2 guests to make sure the tour would be confirmed, but Beyond Arctic refunded me for one guest when others booked, so my ending cost was just $106.25 to see the Northern Lights and have this picture to show for it:

    See this reel also:<

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    A post shared by Frequent Miler (@frequent_miler)

    /li>

All-in, that’s $499.61. Considering my range of activities, that seems incredibly reasonable to me.

Bottom line

I had a downright amazing 3 Cards 3 Continents trip. I visited 3 or 4 continents (depending on whether you accept Greg’s definition), spent time in 10 different countries, tied Stephen for going the farthest south of any of us and also went the farthest north (crossing the Arctic Circle!). I also covered the greatest total distance. Furthermore, I incorporated a wide range of activities in my trip at price points ranging from incredibly reasonable ($2.52 for the Michelin Bib Gourmand crispy curry puffs) to incredible values for the money (like snorkeling with whale sharks and seeing the Northern Lights for around a hundred bucks each). I got in a meaningful activity at each stop and walked away with memories to last a lifetime. The bottom line is simple: while I don’t expect anyone to replicate my trip, I hope that it inspires you to get out there and go after whatever it is you’re dreaming about. With a couple of cards and some careful planning, the sky is the limit — and it’s not that far away.

4.8 8 votes
Post Rating

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

13 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
slaven

1st time in the Philippines? heard cebu and surround is beautiful – how compare against other places?

Captain Greg

You crushed it Nick (and got my vote). Getting to the Arctic Circle, especially with Greg’s foreshadowing, is what put you over the top for me. Well done, and congrats on the win!

Trent Sanders

Nick, I personally liked your itinerary and didn’t mind the short stops in many locations. I am planning something similar with my son in November. Did you have to get a medical travel insurance policy for any of your stops? Thanks

Ron

Great job Nick! I am trulynunspired by your trip and is currently piecing together my own crazy RTW trip utilizing Aeroplan points. Looking at your amazing Aeroplan itinerary, it sure looked like you had 7 actual segments flown because the last one on SQ showed it had 1 intermediate stop (possibly in Davao, Philippines?). Is it because Aeroplan treats an itinerary with an intermediate stop as 1 segment as long as the flight number remains the same or what gives?

TCCQuest

What is the Award Travel 101 rate for a hotel? I’m a member of that FB group (I miss Ol’ Mr Kerr).

Divyesh

Very exciting trip, Nick! I’ve done a couple of “Aeroplan Mini RTW” tickets as part of the previous program (before it was brought back in-house by Air Canada). I personally think the 105k one-way award secures your vote from me, as the “out-of-pocket” cash cost for a 3 continent trip on that alone, inclusive of activities, makes it very reasonable to do on a small-ish budget.

Dr. McFrugal

Hey, Nick! amazing trip. You got my vote! You mentioned that u originally planned a stopover. Where was the stopover and why did you have to cancel it?

Jose

Great job Nick, for your longest one way award ticket, consisting of 5 day.

Kat Felker

Awww. You got my vote when you added the Philippines to your trip. Was in Cebu last March and we did do the whale shark. It was amazing and what made it more awesome were the boaters were so good at what they do. We stayed at the Shangri-lah and would gladly go back. Sad though about typhoons that ravage that area a lot.

panda

Amazing trip but…
1) If a paid Expertflyer subscription or similar paid service was used, it is a travel expense that should be accounted for.
2) It could be considered 5 cards/3 continents with the hassle of the 2 Hotels.com gift cards 🙂 The Amazon/MR deals are targeted and using them is not necessarily available to everyone.

LarryInNYC

With the Aeroplan stop over, are you allowed to make it an open jaw? There overland trip from Bangkok to Singapore is epic with options for sleeper trains, island to island ferries, amazing beaches and cities, and great food. Something like that, if permitted by Aeroplan, would make that trip “feel” much more like a real dream vacation.

David

Impressive trip Nick! I was surprised and glad to see that you made it to the Philippines on this challenge, and I learned that I need to seriously look at both Aeroplan and the AA Asia/Middle East sweet spot for future trips.