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.

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

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

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

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

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:

Want to learn more about miles and points? Subscribe to email updates or check out our podcast on your favorite podcast platform.
Notify of

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

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rafael Turik

I saw that you used couchsurfing to stay in some places. I didn’t know about this site.

I signed up and to my ungrateful surprise they want to charge a monthly or annual fee with an excuse that covid is hurting? All companies are back to work normally and they continue with this message and charging?

Is there a similar site that does not charge? Do you know some ?


PLEASE make a post explaining how u booked all those flights for 20k????

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

[…] 40,000 points $397.08 Details here […]


Hi Greg,
Love hearing about your travels. My husband and I are planning on flying to Africa in April. I booked a flight with points thru Amex and are on AA6250 (thru British Airways).. business seats. I tried to book seats and was told I need to wait till 24 hours out or pay a fee to pick seats.
Is this only BA? Also want to make sure that business seats that make into a bed.
Do you have a airline that is better than BA
Thanks again

Raghu Narayanan

Kudos on showing how to use the excursionist perk. Also doing it twice with a local round trip to Houston was really cool.
All 3 trip reports are awesome. I am in a bind whom to vote for!
Thanks once again!

[…] detailed all of my spend here: How Greg toured Madrid & Africa for 40K points and $400.  The net result was that I spent a total of $397.08.  With that spend, I earned 811 Ultimate […]

[…] Greg: Spent 40,000 points and $397.08 ($2.92 under budget). Details here. […]

[…] still traveling for 40k To Far Away, but my journey is due to end in just a few hours. Greg and Nick have already shared how they used their points and cash, so it’s time for me to […]


The fact that you slept in a real bed each night on the ground may earn you my vote (plus your awesome activities, of course). I would not be sleeping on airport floors or trying to stay up all night.


Can you guys include like a “value of points” metric? Like, for example, doing the flight to and from Lewisburg seems completely silly in isolation, but if those flights to Johannesburg and/or Seychelles would have been really expensive in points and/or miles, it seems like you did something amazing, you know? Would be interesting to see who used points to get most outsized value and to get to the most interesting place. This was a great idea though. Have really enjoyed following along.


This is amazing Greg! I love your accounting and being completely honest about your expenses, miles, night spend, etc, etc. Most other bloggers hide so many details that is impossible to see the really picture of what is attainable!
Frequentmiler has become my favorite site on boardingarea. Really, i love this type of articles looking at how to maximize points!
You should have recorded all your experiences in video and made a sick viral youtube video! Congrats!


I really enjoyed this event and the posts and look forward to the upcoming ones with the details. It isn’t an activity for me since that is too much economy flying (I did that in my younger days) and my stomach couldn’t take all of that food. It does show people, especially the adventurous ones on a tight budget what you can do.

I’m kind of late to this blog but I really do enjoy the writing and content better than the others that seem to push credit cards daily with why “This is the best card to get now” and often leave out better options.

Get some rest, that is a lot of flying and traveling. I’m wiped out after a day of traveling from the US to western Europe 🙂

T. Jones

First I’ll say this: Your 40K to far away series has been one of the most enjoyable and educational reads for me. So thank you for that.
You definitely put together a well-planned trip on a tight budget. Furthermore, you made every last point/dollar count while enjoying authentic experiences throughout. Amazing! I never would have thought to use a status challenge to gain lounge access for food in Addis Ababa. I’m duly impressed by your creative planning and attention to detail. Nicely done!
On top of that, I appreciate you utilizing the features that give UR points their own unique flavor. I’ve been inspired to seek out 5k trips on United from my closest airports just to explore what’s possible. Enjoy your trip to Houston!

JB San Diego

Greg, u missed out on a lot, concerning credit card offers and award sales. Anyway, to keep it short, go to DoC so u can sign up for the Amx Plat 60K without the lifetime verbiage. I got one for myself on Friday :-]


Can u expand on that or a link ? I got $9k to spend and had all $95 Fee AMEX cards ..I looked on today’s DoC nutthing .
Thank You




scroll down to best posts of week, and look at the no language offers.


Lynn or JB
Is that the Delta card ??
Thank You

JB San Diego

was posted on Oct 10. Search for ‘American Express Pre-Approval Referral Offers’


Thanks Both
They offered me 60k points but $250 fee I’ll wait for a better offer .

Leslie Sokolow

Confused by this comment: “Bus & taxis around Dakar: $33.55 (total amount charged for ATM withdrawals)”

Weren’t you using your Schwab debit card or something similar that refused ATMfees?


U get the Fees back @ the end of the statement . Great card FREE works I use only to see if it works..


LS, I think GtFM is stating the USD amount that showed up on his transaction statement after withdrawing West African CFA francs from the ATM. Instead of squabbling about exchange rates he is reporting the FX he was actually charged by the bank/ATM.

He got out a wad of cash to cover transport around town, and it looks like he spent the excess on a beer (solid move, IMHO).


You could have reduced your NYC transit cost by taking the subway to a bus stop and taking the bus to JFK. That way you avoid the Airtrain and the huge surcharge.


Very impressive and well done! As I said before I would love to see the 80k air / 80k hotels / $2,000 challenge just to see a medium budget version!

Sam B

Great idea! But how about $800? Just so that it’s a nice doubling of what we have here. (And $2k is personally a little out of my comfort zone hahaha).


Might wanna massage those numbers a bit if you wanna keep it realistic. That’s enough to fly 2 people from EWR to LHR (13k + $98 pp) and LHR to SIN (22.75k + $286 pp). Plus $200/night hotels × 2 nights = $400. Plus figure you book 4 nights with those 80k hotel points (20k × 4?), leaving $832 to cover food, transportation, and activities for however many days that is (6? 8? 5?). I guess the 8500 miles left can become $85 toward activities, too.

Heck, for one person, 80k is enough to fly from EWR to LHR (13k) to SIN (22.75k) to EWR (30k), all direct – don’t ask me about taxes/fees/surcharges on the last one, I have no idea. And 80k hotel points is more than enough to book two 5-night stays at Cat. 1 Marriotts (an AC in Spain or a Protea in Africa, not a TownePlace out in the sticks), or one 5-night stay at a Cat. 3 (some very nice ones overseas… man, lodging in the US is pricey!), or various combos between 1 and like 20 nights with the new off-peak calendar (if you can find consecutive night availability). Not a Marriott fanboy, just don’t know the other programs as well.

So uhhh… fewer miles/points, more cash. Or, if a budget traveler like yours truly, just fewer miles.


80k hotels will be too difficult since the valuations of the individual programs are too different. For example, there is not a single 5k Hilton property within the US (and less than 30 worldwide, half of those in Turkey) but Hyatt has close to 150 in the US alone. And I agree that $2,000 is too much. I would love to see something a challenge with a cash budget that is big enough that the requirement is you have to stay at least one night if you stop somewhere and leave the airport, i.e. not just connecting flights.


Been looking forward to your write-up. Thank you! Question—how was Ethiopian? Trying to figure out a trip to the Seychelles and MileagePlus routes me that way. Also even though you were in the back, any thoughts on their J product? Delta won’t be even give me a routing on Air France on SkyMiles and booking on Flying Blue looks expensive. Also great idea on Etihad to London using Aadvantage. Hadn’t thought about that but FlyerTalk is showing availability to London but not NYC.


Can you go into detail about how you were able to have so many segments in your flights for only 20k united miles?


Ya, i’m baffled by how you got all those flights for only 10K miles! Amazing. Personal bias since I love your posts, but I would’ve declared you winner of this challenge.


Please do!!! I’ve been looking into the best ways to use that free extra flight that comes with United Mileage redemptions.


Bonus points for ending only $2.92 short, though I guess all three of you could splurge on food at your destination to get there.


You should include the annual fee of the credit cards through which you got wework and priority pass or dont use it. Also next time when you couch surf you can’t upfront tell people you have a famous blog to improve chances of getting accepted.

Finally you should include return as well.. In real life you would still be stranded in Seychelles.


Good idea I use to include everything when I would show my trips . But it’s a little hard he would have to spread the cost over 40 trips a year so not much cost there. The real winner is the P-Lounge if it’s a good one I get there early if it is .


Way to move the goalposts as usual. The rules were set upfront. Maybe a life lesson in there for you.


As he does elsewhere, Debit has to troll to try and ruin a thoughtful post.


Well done on the Wine accounting .