40K to Far Away Afterglow. Help us design the next #40KFarAway challenge.


a group of men on a segway

What a ride!  The 40K to Far Away challenge is done, the votes have been counted, and the Frequent Miler team is slowly settling back in to business as usual blogging.  Today, though, I’ll take a quick look back at the challenge and a look forward to what’s next…

Who do you think won the 40K to Far Away challenge?

  • Greg (51%, 567 Votes)
  • Stephen (31%, 345 Votes)
  • Nick (19%, 210 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,122

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As you can see above, I earned the most votes for this challenge (thank you!), so I’m technically the winner.  A number of people have said, though, that they voted for me, but would have voted for Nick if he hadn’t gone so far over budget.  Maybe that means that Nick would have won had his gift card plan worked.  It’s also possible that we would have each had roughly a third of the votes.  And I think that would have been fitting.  Each trip earned bragging rights for different reasons…

a man standing in front of a whiteboard

Nick traveled to the most remote location, joined a yacht club, and uncovered the most valuable new information (how to book flights to Hawaii for only 7,500 points!).

You can read more about Nick’s trip in these posts:

Me and one of the trolls

While Nick and I traveled for 7 and 8 days, Stephen stretched his budget out to travel for a whopping 14 days.  He cashed in his points at 1.25 cents each and proved that sometimes cash goes further than points.  Of the three of us, Stephen visited the most countries, took the most modes of transportation, ate the most local foods, and spotted the most giant trolls.

You can read more about Stephen’s trip in these posts:

a man and woman sitting on a bench outside

My trip was amazing in many ways, but ultimately what set my trip apart was the interpersonal connections.  At every stop, I made a new friend.  As a result, I had a great time.  Oh, and I think my use of the United Excursionist Perk was really cool too (see this post for details).

You can read more about my trip in these posts:

Rating the Challenge

While a few readers didn’t seem to like the 40K to Far Away challenge, most were overwhelmingly positive about it.  I believe it was a smash success in multiple ways: it was fun for almost everyone (most readers and all three authors), and it led us to uncover or highlight many, many useful things:

Future Challenges

People have asked us if we’ll do this again.  Yes!  There’s no question.  We don’t yet know when or how often, but we’ll absolutely make this a regular feature.

Readers have offered many great suggestions for changes to future challenges.  For example, quite a few people have suggested that we should have a separate budget for food and lodging.  I like that idea!  Others have proposed doing a luxury travel competition.  That sounds good!

How about making things more difficult by traveling with multiple people (with our wives, perhaps?) or during peak travel dates?  It can be done.  Remember my post showing that it was possible to book a business class award trip to New Zealand for a family of four during winter break?  You can find it here: How to piece together an impossible award.

We’re also open to completely new formats.  Should we build trips for each other?  I’m imagining a format similar to the show “An Idiot Abroad”.  For example, maybe Nick and Stephen would get together to decide where to send me and I’d go out into the world with no idea where I’d end up.

Or maybe we should have more discrete and objective sub-challenges.  For example, maybe we would all meet someone and readers would decide our next destination.  Our goal would be to see who could get there first, or in the most luxury, or with the most modes of transport.  Each sub-challenge could have a different goal.

Maybe we should pair up with readers.  I could imagine some kind of lottery where selected readers each pair up with one of us and they go on crazy around the world trips while we document those trips from home.  Or maybe we travel with them.

Tell us your ideas

What should our next challenge look like?  Above I presented a number of ideas that we (and readers) have kicked around, but we’re open to almost anything.  Ultimately we want to do something that ticks these boxes:

  • The challenge must be possible and practical.  We won’t challenge to see who can circumnavigate the world with 5K points – that’s not possible.  And we’re not going to race to the South Pole.  It’s not practical.  And it’s cold.  I live in Michigan.  I’ve had enough of cold.
  • The challenge should be entertaining.
  • The challenge should lead to innovationA reader recently posted: “The necessity to work within the confines of something, are often the friction that sparks ingenuity”.  I believe that. The fact that Nick was constrained to using Citi points was the reason that he looked so deeply into the Turkish Miles & Smiles program.  The fact that I was constrained to Chase points led me to push the boundaries of what could possibly be booked at 1.5 cents with the Sapphire Reserve card.

What ideas do you have for our next challenge?  Please comment below.

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Here’s a suggestion – everyone has to go to the same destination(s), picked at random by someone who is not doing the challenge 2 months in advance, and everyone has to get there, do a specific event or 2, maybe a couple local excursions, and then return home.

Makes it kind of exciting to see who can accomplish it when everyone has to go to the same place. Could even pick the same starting airport?

For example: Everyone needs to go to the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak, Malaysia. But could require a specific activity or multiple stops.

Must have a drink at the Park Hyatt in Japan
Then visit Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak, Malaysia
Then eat dinner at Hofbräuhaus, Munich.

Any extra activities are bonus points!


Seriously, if you don’t have the requirement to get back, this would be too easy to win the contest. The return adds one of the most difficult parts. Not to say your contest among 3 people wasn’t kind of interesting, but get your readers involved. Everyone has to leave on the same day, but what you do, where you go, how far – that will be the variable. Let’s get a challenge with all the people who read your site and make it fun.


[…] US to Hawaii for only 7,500 points!  You can read more about the challenge and what we learned by clicking here.  We plan to do similar challenges at least once a year, but maybe more […]

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[…] to do a new challenge like the 40K to Far Away Challenge.  We’ve been digging through reader suggestions and designing a challenge that we think will be even more fun and exciting than the previous one.  […]

The Flying Tiger

I like some of your thoughts such as two traveling together as couples usually do this and must spend twice the points. Food and lodging should be separated out but No Hostels. Also how about starting from Non Gateway airports like a large part of Americans must do. I would also suggest making it that you must spend 24 hours or more in a country so it is not a bed run or a stop on someone’s couch you know overseas. I will be interested to see what you come up with and also keep track of the hotel points used.

Joshua Williams

I’d be interested in a challenge where you get to pick where a reader goes. Not sure if there are other readers interested in this, but I’d let someone pick an itinerary for me and my family (4 total). I’ve posted on flyertalk and other forums asking people to suggest itineraries for us with little to no influence/input from us, and some people think it’s absurd. I think its thrilling and eye opening, as there are places I’ve never heard of, activities that would have never crossed my mind, and of course, the element of surprise.

Of course you’d have to find readers that either already have a certain amount of miles, or find readers that were willing to apply for the cards needed to obtain those miles. I think a 200k chase ultimate reward or 200k amex membership reward challenge would be just about right for a family challenge.


Enjoyed reading about the 40K Challenge. To make it more interesting and challenging next time, why don’t you require that everyone start from a Non Gateway airport like BNA, BHM, CHA, PIT, etc instead of a Gateway? It would also be cool to mandate at least one full day in a city minimum so we know that you weren’t just hopping transportation which should be restricted to air and train in a future challenge. Wish we had more details on how you chose where to stay, where to fly between, etc. I also wish you would let us pick between a choice of countries to see how you put together itineraries and how you found deals. We as readers can learn from challenges like this!

Susan M

The challenge reminded me of being a broke college student traveling through Europe. Having very little money forces you out of your comfort zone. That said, some of those experiences are the most memorable. You can’t put a price tag on them. Greg’s post from Senegal, in particular, really jumped off the page and grabbed my attention. Dakar isn’t on the top of my list, but you made it interesting and a place that I would think about visiting. Greg got my vote and the main reason was his ability to adapt. When the trip “wasn’t fun” on the first day, he changed that by riding with his friend to the airport. When he initially couldn’t find a place to sleep in Madrid, he considered an all night movie theater. When his train broke down in Africa he made the decision to get on the bus. Creative thinking can make or break a trip. I would like to see a challenge where winning was based on how well obstacles were handled and what was done to overcome them. As I was reading all of the posts, I kept thinking what you would do if your flight cancelled, you got sick, someone stole your backpack etc. Did you have a Plan B if there was a major glitch? Thanks to all of you for enduring jet lag and sleep deprivation for our enjoyment. Frequent Miler is the best!


What do you think of this idea for follow-on next year: Around the World in 80K’s!

I’m using the plural for 80K’s since it would involve going around the world using 80K in airline points and 80K in lodging, (and maybe 80K in some other category like car rentals?) This time, rather than a hit and run itinerary, maybe make it a three week trip, with at least five stops, each with a minimum of three nights so that you can dig into each place a little more. And, bring your families! (Everyone gets a set of 80K’s, which would help offset the lodging, right?)


Congratulations to all three of you on a job well done ! This was one of the best features on any FF blog that I have read in a long time time – interesting, informative, and at times, flat out hilarious. I loved the fast-paced trips with long treks with backpacks , struggles with broke-down transportation, frenetic scrounging for food, and sleeping on the floor. I am an Army vet and it reminded me of my time in the military. It also reminded me of why I left. Much respect for going so hardcore but like many of the other readers, I think I would like to see a slightly more comfortable sojourn featured in the next contest. Plus I never want to see any of you guys post from the local lock up after getting arrested for vagrancy or from a hospital after being injured by some psycho couch surfer. I suggest :

1. An “Economy Plus” trip, i.e. no family stays, couch surfs, or hostels. Use of free nights, promos, etc all within bounds.

2. A “luxury “ trip to gauge how swanky one can go with points and miles instead of cash to make a dream trip come true.

3. I love the “Spin the Globe “ idea another reader mentioned .

4. A challenge that included a family member, significant other, or friend would be value-added as many of us dragoon those we love into coming with us on our FF adventures. Their reactions and perspectives on the trip would be fun to read. Also has the potential of adding a female point of view, which would be good.

5. Please don’t make this feature a one-off! I can’t wait to read the next one.

Thank you guys for your stellar efforts and letting us come along !


I liked the format as you had it. It shows the many ways points can be used if you really dig in..Great job all three of you!!

Mav Gal Mama

There is a consensus about TFM creating more challenges! Yeah! Thank you for the reminder link Greg, “How to piece together an impossible award”, somehow I missed this article the first time around!
So as far as the challenge would go, the deconstructed formula that made the Far away 40k & 400 great this time, still works!
possible and practical. Yes!
Entertaining. Yes!
Innovative Yes!
Now, only how to make things different…I like the ideas about a scavenger hunt, or a “themed” journey. What if the focus/theme of the next challenge was just as subjective as it was in this first one? Themes can easily lead to an excellent series.
I really appreciated how much innovation came from the different interpretations of “Far” in this challenge. Leaving this parameter purposefully undefined, opened possibilities for participants to strategize with varied, yet equivocal journeys. Readers also imagined these definitions and it clearly engaged folks! . What if the next theme was similarly open, e.g. “others” or “comfort” or “other’s comfort”?
Many commented about the bus/airport sleeping & a desire to allocate funds for accomodations on the next challenge, this got me thinking. If I participated in a challenge like this, I would want to know that everyone really enjoyed themselves in comfort & experience. The thing is, comfort is really subjective. In many ways, subjectivity drove this thing. I wouldn’t have wanted to limited how anyone’s personal comfort level, based on an allocated budget. I enjoyed reading about Greg’s trip train experience & the connection he made with his hosts. I equally appreciated all the transportation/logistics Stephen arranged & Nick’s thinking outside the box w/yacht club. Most people make trade-offs in travel, or leave room for flexibility/personal preference at least. For some it’s business class flights, then a budget hotel, everything doesn’t have to match up, to have a trip highlight, or a do-over for that matter.
Still, a theme of “other’s comfort” could work here! If planning a trip for another participant & a family member, or potential Partnerships of FM team member’s w/ a +1 & a Follower w/ a +1, Consideration is going to lead to more traditional comfort. If you were potentially planning something for someone else, I think most people would be more accomodating.
Maybe, “Other’s comfort”, could also focus on “Other’s needs”. I loved that this last challenge considered environmental impact and matched carbon off-sets. In addition to practicing sustainability in travel, I am also intrigued by volunteer opportunities. Often times on vacation I have had opportunities pop-up, but have never planned an international trip around this. What if say,within the confine of, 100k MR/UR/TY pts & 100k Bonvoy/IHG/Hilton/Hyatt pts & 400$ per person made “100% FOR others”. Teams of 4 (FM+1 &Follwer+1) could Plan a wk’ish journey, w/ a volunteer opportunity included, FOR a competing team! Maybe it is cleaning a beach, working with wildlife research, maybe it’s educational. Maybe it lasts the whole trip, maybe it’s only a ½ day experience, it could be 100% for another’s comfort.


My idea is for some sort of Round-the-World competition. Either using ANA or maybe restrict to no one can use ANA and have to use a mix of other currencies to get around the world on 100k? 150k? miles? Maybe each person can pick an airline alliance and piece together a RTW itinerary within that alliance using miles that are commonly attainable through transfers?

i agree that hotel & food budget should be separate. as funny as it was to read about Nick sleeping on a slab of stone outside airport or Stephen surviving an entire day on DD bagel, i doubt any reader would do that.

Dr. McFrugal

I loved the 40k to Faraway challenge and can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next.

All of the potential ideas and readers’ suggestions for the next challenge all sound great.

But you know what would be a lot of fun??? You guys should all travel together to aspirational destinations.

Each of you should write down two destinations that you’ve always been wanting to go to. Each destination should be written on a separate small piece of paper. Fold them up. Then, each of you will pick one piece of paper (with a destination) from the two others.

So… Greg will have to plan an itinerary based on destinations that he selected from Nick and Stephen
Nick will have destinations from Stephen and Greg
And Stephen will have destinations from Greg and Nick

Timing is great since it’s the holidays and it’ll be like a “Secret Santa: Frequent Miler Edition”

The end result will be that each of you will have selected a destination from the other two. And you’ll have to plan a high quality trip with respect to those two destinations.

Think of it as like a creative gift to your fellow colleague authors.

Here’s my suggested rules:
– The budget will be 150k points (any combination from any program) + $1,500 dollars (remember, this accounts for a total of three travelers).
– Food is excluded from the budget. Want you guys to be able to enjoy yourselves
– The itinerary must include the two destinations selected by your colleagues. But you can get creative with how you get there, like if you include any interesting stops along the way.
– Since each of the authors are planning a two destination trip itinerary, there will be three total trips. Obviously, they cannot overlap with timing. So maybe you guys can reserve blocks within the same one or two month period in 2020.
– The author planning the trip is allowed to choose the origin starting point, but it has to be in the continental United States.
– Winner is judged by how much your colleagues enjoyed the trip

I think it’ll be awesome because:
– You guys will travel together, which could be fun or at least entertaining (or interesting?)
– You will go to destinations that you actually want to visit
– You may have to find routes / itineraries between two destinations that could be far from each other (you never know)

Now that I think of it… this challenge is starting to sound more like a “friends trip”. 🙂