How Greg toured Madrid & Africa for 40K points and $400 (#40kfaraway)

Frequent Miler's 2019 40K to Far Away Challenge is done! Greg, Nick, and Stephen competed to see who could go farthest with 40,000 points and $400! Click here for contest results and next steps.

a map of the world with red lines
Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Success!  With my meager 40K + $400 budget, I visited Washington DC; Madrid, Spain; Dakar Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Cape Town, South Africa.  I finally ended my journey on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles (lodging in the Seychelles was not included in this budget since it occurred after I declared that I was done).  Not counting small distance travel (walking, transport to/from airports, driving around Jo’burg, etc.), I traveled 18,037 miles and I had lots of fun.

The challenge was designed to see who could go farthest one-way with 40,000 points and $400.  We purposely didn’t define “farthest” though.  Does one win by ending up in the most remote location?  Does one win by travelling the longest combined distance when adding up the legs of the trip?  Does one win by incorporating the most interesting experiences into their travels?  I don’t know!  The answer will soon be determined by a reader vote.

For background on my trip, please see these posts:

Total Spend

I spent a total of $397.08.  With that spend, I earned 811 Ultimate Rewards points which credited to my account early enough to use for the challenge.

I spent all 40,000 of my budgeted points plus 811 points earned from my credit card spend.

Here’s the high level breakdown:

  • Long Distance Travel Spend: 39,326 points + $275.35
  • Around Town Travel Spend: 1,485 points + $76.24
  • Lodging Spend: $0
  • Food and other spend: 0 points + $45.49
  • Total: 40,811 points (811 earned from spend) + $397.08

Long Distance Travel Spend: 39,326 points + $275.35

a man holding a bottle in a plane

Here’s how I spent my points and cash for long-distance travel:

  • United Award #1: 10,000 points + $122.50
    (this award is explained in this post)
    • DC to Lewisburg West Virginia on United
    • Dakar, Senegal to Johannesburg, South Africa on Ethiopian Airlines
    • Chicago to Houston on United (not yet flown)
  • United Award #2: 10,000 points + $54.80
    (this award is explained in this post)
    • Lewisburg West Virginia to DC on United
    • Cape Town, South Africa to Mahé,Seychelles on South African Airways then Ethiopian
    • Houston to Chicago on United (not yet flown)
  • Megabus from DC to NYC ($1 fare!): $4.25 (damn taxes & fees)
  • Chase Travel Portal Award: 9,326 points
    • JFK to Madrid on Norwegian (pictured above)
  • British Airways Award: 10,000 points + $40.53
    • Madrid to Dakar on Iberia
  • Train booked with credit card: $53.27

Around Town Travel Spend: 1,485 points + $76.24

a screen with a number of tickets

Here’s how I spent my points and cash for minor travel:

  • Bus from Dulles airport to National Mall: $7.50
  • NYC to JFK via subway + AirTrain: $7.75
  • Travel from airport and around Madrid with Tourist Pass: $9.24 (pictured above)
  • Madrid metro to airport: $5.50
  • Bus & taxis around Dakar: $33.55 (total amount charged for ATM withdrawals)
  • Chase Travel Portal Award: 1,485 points + $5.31 + $7.39 (for tolls?)
    • Sixt Rental Car: Drive from Johannesburg airport to chef Bjarne’s house, drive around Jo’burg, end at Jo’burg Park Station (train station)
    • The $7.39 amount shown above is the difference between the amount taken as a deposit when I picked up the car and the amount refunded afterwards. I assume that the difference is due to tolls. A receipt showed no charge for gas (even though I didn’t fill it up — I hadn’t used much) or anything else.

Lodging Spend: $0

a bed with a canopy over it

I didn’t spend any money or points for lodging.  Here’s a break down of how I spent each night:

  • Oct 2: Slept on Norwegian flight to Madrid
  • Oct 3: Slept at CouchSurfing host’s house in Madrid
  • Oct 4: Slept at CouchSurfing host’s house in Dakar, Senegal (pictured above)
  • Oct 5: Slept on Ethiopian Airlines flights to Johannesburg
  • Oct 6: Slept in sleeper car on train to Cape Town
  • Oct 7: Slept at friend’s house in Cape Town
  • Oct 8: Slept on Ethiopian Airlines flights to the Seychelles

Tally: 3 red-eye in-flight nights + 4 nights in proper beds.

Food and other spend: 0 points + $45.49

a man and woman sitting on a bench outside

Many meals were included for free with my travel thanks to meals served on planes or in airport lounges.  Here’s a full accounting:

  • Breakfast in DC: $0 (free at the Virgin Atlantic Club at Dulles airport thanks to my Priority Pass card)
  • Lunch in DC: $0 (free at the Air France Lounge at Dulles airport thanks to my Priority Pass card)
  • Dinner on Megabus from DC to NYC: $0 (I had packed a sandwich at the Air France Lounge)
  • Breakfast in Madrid: $0 (protein bar + Starbucks instant coffee which I brought with me)
  • Lunch in Madrid: $0 (free at WeWork; note that this benefit is no longer available for registration as of 1/1/20)
  • Dinner in Madrid: $0 (provided free by CouchSurfing host!)
  • Breakfast in Madrid: $0 (some provided by CouchSurfing host + ate more at Priority Pass lounge)
  • Late lunch in Dakar: $0 (provided free by CouchSurfing host! This served as my dinner too)
  • Beer in Dakar: $1.70 (accounted for in the minor travel section above in the $33.55 which I spent mostly for bus and taxi rides around Dakar)
  • Breakfast in Dakar: $0 (free at Priority Pass lounge)
  • Lunch on flight to Addis Ababa: $0
  • Dinner at Addis Ababa: $0 (free at Star Gold lounge)
  • Breakfast in Johannesburg prepared by Chef Bjarne: $19.66 (pictured above)
    (note that there were plenty of leftovers which later covered almost two full meals on the train)
  • Misc items at the Rosebank Sunday market: $9.83
  • Meals on train: $6
    (My new friends on train insisted on buying these for me, but I’m accounting for them here as if I spent the money)
    • Dinner on train: $1 (small cheese & tomato sandwich)
    • Breakfast on train: $5 (full eggs and meat breakfast with coffee)
  • Dinner & breakfast in Cape Town: $0 (meals provided by my friends at their flat)
  • Wine tasting & lunch in Cape Town: $10
    (My Cape Town friends insisted on paying but I’m including an estimate here as if I paid)
    • Wine Tasting: $8 (Estimated. Normal wine tasting is about $4, but we added on a few wines. Actual price was probably less)
    • Lunch: $2 (We ordered a cheese plate which served as our lunch. Even though all 3 of us shared it, the whole thing was only a bit over $2, so I’m overestimating my share here).
  • Dinner in Cape Town: $0 (free at Star Gold airport lounge)
  • Breakfast at Addis Ababa airport on way to Seychelles: $0 (free at Star Gold lounge)

A note about Star Gold lounge access:  Prior to the 40K challenge, I requested a free status challenge from United based on my Delta Diamond status.  I was given United 1K status free for 90 days.  This status was more than enough to grant me free access to Star Gold lounges.  This was especially useful in the Addis Ababa airport since there are no Priority Pass lounges there and my itinerary had me laying over there twice (once on the way to Johannesburg and once on the way to the Seychelles).

More details

For more about my travels, please see these posts:

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