Judging Stage 2 of the Flying by the Seat of our Points Challenge

Update: This post has been updated to calculate hotel experiences and exploration challenges which had not yet been completed at the time of our livestream. There have also been a few new bonus points assigned, and an adjustment based on reader input.

Stephen and I have been acting as judges for the ongoing Flying by the seat of our Points Challenge! If you’d like a refresher of how we scored Stage 1, check out this post.

You can check out the information below for more general details about this challenge, but in this post, we’ll talk all about how our contestants scored for their second stage: the international divergence to Croatia, Switzerland, and Morocco!

Our 2024 team challenge Flying by the Seat of our Points tested our last minute award booking skills with a series of last minute travel challenges assigned and judged by Stephen and Carrie. Over the span of a week, Greg, Nick, and Tim used their knowledge, points, elite standings, and even upgrade instruments to tackle each challenge with the best combination of frugality and luxury they could, all before the next assignments were given. Final Scores: Tim won this challenge by the seat of his points! Calculations
Check out our contestant journals, recap videos, and more here. And follow us on Instagram, YouTube, and this blog to find out about our future challenges!

Greg’s Stage 2 trip summary

Greg Stage 2 Final Total

Greg had a mostly leisurely travel day, and paid:

  • $16.40 for a $264.50 flight from LAX to Vancouver on WestJet. This was booked as a cash fare through Delta. (Thanks to Delta status, he was able to pick an exit row aisle seat for free (there’s no first class)). He had multiple Delta credits (thanks to Amex Platinum fee reimbursements) which is how he was able to pay only $16.40 to the credit card.
  •  72,500 Flying Blue Miles and $262.10 in fees for a KLM flight to Zagreb (Vancouver – Amsterdam – Zagreb) Due to that massive 150% Bilt transfer bonus, he has these miles in large supply.
  • 20k Hilton points for the Hilton Garden Inn Zagreb

For the above itinerary, Greg got just 2 points for flight value and 2 points for flight experience. He earned 2 points for hotel value, tied with Tim. As a reminder, Stephen and I are constantly monitoring reader and viewer input to help us with our scoring decisions. With the help of reader input, we’ve decided that Greg’s ability to be both frugal with his points and get more than the Hilton RRV puts him on equal ground with Tim getting the best cpp value. We’re therefore giving Tim and Greg a tie for the 2-point slot.

Additionally, after reviewing feedback about each contestant’s stay, we awarded Greg 2 points for hotel experience because the hotel had a surprisingly nice breakfast and gold member welcome gift for its value.

His trip was noteworthy in this way:

  • He got a KLM blue delft house! This earned him 1 bonus point.
  • He ran into some snags with his original hotel choice and the Hilton Garden Inn was his second choice.

Greg’s exploration challenges were:

  • Eat something that either still has eyeballs, still has tentacles…or both
  • There are many ways to enjoy the water in Croatia – show us one of them.
  • Teach us what makes Croatia’s black risotto black…

By the time we had our check in, he’d only completed one of these challenges (eating something with eye balls), but the next day he creatively featured Croatians enjoying every fountain he could find, and even more creatively, visited a fish market to hear from a local about what makes black risotto black. This means he got 3 points for completing each of his challenges, but 1 additional bonus point for an engaging interaction with a local.

Greg’s Total for Stage 2: 13 points

Nick’s Stage 2 trip summary

Nick Stage 2 Final Total

Nick had a rough go of things, in part because of a desperate need to sleep on his flight (and therefore strong motivation to avoid economy.) He paid:

  • 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles plus $18.10 for his LAX-ORD speculative positioning flight on AA (business class)
  • 13,000 American Airlines miles plus $5.60 for a ORD-DFW repositioning flight on AA (economy)
  • 57,500 American Airlines miles + $59.70 for his DFW-CDG-MAD flight on AA business class
  • 6,000 Qantas miles (cancellation penalty for an un-flown ORY-CMN flight on Royal Air Maroc)
  • $272.71* for his EasyJet flight from CDG-RAK. *Ritz card reimbursements are likely going to reimburse a large piece of this charge.
  • 22,500 points for the Rian Siwan, a Mr & Mrs Smith property. This helps him try out Mr & Mrs Smith, and he was targeted for and had registered for 20% back on all of his award bookings for the next 90 days. That means he’s getting 4,500 Hyatt points back. That’s a net 15,000 points for a $275 hotel (1.5cpp) and he’ll get to check off Mr & Mrs Smith on Brand explorer. That’s #14 for him and he has a reservation for their new Caption brand in Japan later in the summer that will get him to 15 for a Hyatt Cat 1-4 FNC.

For the above itinerary, Nick got 1 point for flight value and 1 point for flight experience. His hotel booking on the other hand scored him 3 points for value. Based on the feedback he gave us about the stay itself, he got just 1 point for hotel experience, saying “My hotel looks pretty…but I wouldn’t stay again. Friendly service from some, but not as good as I’d expect based on the image Mr & Mrs Smith tries to sell. I’m sure my one experience isn’t indicative of the entire collection, but this was certainly a far cry from my SLH experiences, even at a similar price point.” (We appreciate the honesty Nick, and our readers will too!)

His trip was noteworthy in a few ways:

  • Nick endured a lot of things going wrong on very little sleep – everything from closed trains to points not getting returned to his account readily enough. It was a comedy of errors that earned him 1 bonus point basically for not having a mental breakdown.

Nick’s exploration challenges were:

  • Find an authentic, Moroccan dish, served in a tagine.
  • You impressed your kids with a visit to Santa…now can you do something that convinces them you’re Indiana Jones?
  • Can you do what we failed to do in Macau and find a place to enjoy some live music?

Nick achieved two of these activities at once right after the live stream by going to a restaurant that had both a meal in a Tagine and live music. The next day he (possibly unknowingly) achieved his Indiana Jones experience by going to a chaotic market in Marrakesh. This earned him 3 points.

Nick’s Total for Stage 2: 10 points

Tim’s Stage 2 trip summary

Tim Stage 2 Final Total

Tim filled his day with interesting travel, and paid:

  • 15k AA miles + $5.60 for AS Premium Class for his LA to Seattle flight
  • 70 Aeroplan points +$100 for a SEA-FRA-ZRH flight in Lufthansa Business
  • 40K Hyatt points + Suite Upgrade for the Park Hyatt Zurich, Park Suite. He called ahead for this, earning him 1 bonus point.
  • $68 (including 25% off from an old BahnCard he had) for a Train to Basel, then on to Zurich

For the above itinerary, Tim got 3 points for flight value and 3 points for flight experience. He scored 2 points for hotel value. His very posh experience at the Park Hyatt Zurich won him 3 points for hotel experience. 

His trip was noteworthy in a few ways:

  • The cash cost of his room would have been $2,352!
  • Instead of sticking with just Zurich, which didn’t excite him much, Tim decided to take the train to a second Swiss destination: Basel. Our Instagram viewers were in favor of this decision when he polled them for their opinions.
  • At his hotel, he received a monogrammed wallet, which earned him 1 bonus point

Tim’s exploration challenges were:

  • Switzerland is notoriously expensive. Can you eat something authentic for under $20?
  • Get high…er than the hills so you can see if they’re really alive with the sound of music.
  • We know you like a nice glass of wine…but see if you can find this drink, (which originated in Switzerland): Absinthe.

He achieved all of these challenges before the end of the live checkin (with his absinthe getting delivered live during the checkin), earning him 3 bonus points for the challenges themselves and 1 bonus point for achieving them all before the end of our checkin. He then doubled some of his efforts in a second city, seeing both a hilltop view in Zurich and tasting a local chocolate dessert for less than $20 in Zurich as well. He got 1 bonus point for tackling some of his exploration challenges in a second city in his destination country.

Tim’s Total for Stage 2: 18 points

Our contestants now head to Kuala Lumpur for Stage 3 where they’ll host the following activity challenges:

Greg: This is a vacation, you’re supposed to be relaxing! (Find an activity that helps you all restore some energy.)

Nick: This is a vacation, you’re not supposed to be relaxing! (Find an activity that gets everyone’s blood pumping.)

Tim: This isn’t JUST a vacation! (Find an activity that makes use of your brains!)

And here are their totals so far…

Stage 2 FINALS

None of our contestants have been to Kuala Lumpur, or Malaysia for that matter, before! If you have any tips for our contestants, make sure and comment on their individual journal posts here!

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.

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

DoubleTree KL (Ampang) is a solid choice for hotels. I stayed there on 2 occasions using anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 Hilton points.. Five minute walk to KL Rail. One stop from Twin Towers. Hotel attached to a mall with many eateries and grocery store. Amazing free breakfast..

Biggie F

Maybe it’s just me (and, whether it is or is not, I am very impressed by what everyone — contestants and judges alike are doing here), but …

Isn’t it a heck of a lot harder a priori to get from semi-rural upstate New York, to Morocco, via Los Angeles, than from the Seattle area to Switzerland, via Los Angeles? What with the Olympics coming up, seems like Nick should get a few degree of difficulty points thrown in somewhere.


Yes, it did seem as if Morocco was much harder to get to and leave from then either Switzerland or Croatia. Nick is a booking whizz, so if he couldn’t find the flights — and it seems as if the rest of the team were trying to help as well, which makes me think that availability was very limited given the arrival time contraints. I’m not sure that Nick needs bonus points for difficulty– as he himself said in a reel, we shouldn’t feel sorry for him — but I was glad that he didn’t get docked for being a bit late to the check in (especially as he had an hour less than the others due to being in a different time zone.). But maybe something to consider for a future challenge, making sure that locations are on par with each other with respect to booking difficulty.
I’m really enjoying this challenge, and the creativity of all of the team!


I assure you time works the same way in Marrakesh as in Zurich or Zagreb and that they all got the same amount of time to reach their destinations. Or if you prefer to think of it your way, Greg and Tim got “an hour less” to start Stage 2 as it was already 3am in Zagreb/Zurich and only 2am in Marrakesh, when their destinations were announced on the livestream at 6pm in LA – so in the end, it all “balances out” 🙂

As I argued further down, Nick got off really lightly in Stage 2 by not getting any penalty and for getting a bonus point for his troubles. Being late to the Stage 1 livestream would have resulted in 0 points for that stage, a penalty of 3-7 points depending on how you could have scored.


The leg to LA was a little more difficult for Nick and perhaps he should have been allowed to start from NYC instead. But it also gave him opportunities for lie-flat that were not available to the others.

Separately, Morocco might have been a little more difficult than Croatia or Switzerland but the other contestants also had to connect both in the US and in Europe and only Tim even had a possible routing without a connection.


Reminder, don’t just let Greg win just because he’s the boss!


KL is a great spot to use up Amex Plat FHR credits

Tim Steinke

We agree 🙂


Do the contestants get bonus points for updating their own journal?


Hey FM team, Tim’s journal post has gotten commenting turned off again.

Kunal Goel

I just came back from Malaysia (and Singapore). Its going to be very humid, so be prepared for that. Otherwise, yes lots of amazing food options: Nasi Lemak (most basic), Hokkien mee, Ikan bakar (bbq fish in sambal), satay and the interesting desserts – Ais Kacang and Cendol.

In KL you can pass on the over-popularized Jalan Alor market and instead try different foods at street side restaurants or the food court at Pavillion (air conditioned). Other places in Malaysia have even better and diverse food options, but KL is a good start.

Greg The Frequent Miler

I can’t wait. Already adored the Nasi Lemak that was served on my Malaysia Airlines flight to KUL so I’m sure it only gets better from there!


For Nick’s challenge, he should get you all to the Batu caves and climb 200+ stairs. Although you can take the train which is super easy, coz you’re 3 a grab taxi would be economical as well and more convenient.
It is better to go super early (I took the first train and reached before 7:45am) before the tourist buses start arriving around 9am.


If you guys didn’t already know, Malaysia has one of the world’s great unheralded cuisines. The combination of Malay, straits Chinese (peranakan) and Hindu and Moslem Indians makes for an incredibly rich culinary experience. Singapore is justifiably famous for it’s street food and hawker centers but it’s really just a breakaway province of Malaysia which remains, in my mind, more authentic.


As soon as I saw Tim’s Park Hyatt vs Greg’s Hilton Garden Inn, I know Tim got this.
The flight portion is much closer. I am surprised more live stream audience picked 2*2*2 over a seat with more privacy, while both Tim and Greg got a good night of sleep.

Dina L

Interesting. My husband had a suggestion. If the judges know everything about the challenges ahead they could see what could you book when you had more time and then compare that versus what was actually found to demonstrate what cost or benefits of long range booking vs short term. It would be cool if FM had something like that.


Please compile all lessons learned & execute a podcast.


I’m sure this challenge will result in lots of new content in the blog and on the podcast (although a whole-group retrospective might fit better into the AUA format).

David Brown

I was bored and was wondering if Nick’s big mistake was rushing to get out of LA and flying to Chicago, so I checked a few things (all great circle miles):

Nick: LAX-RAK nonstop is 6045 miles. He actually flew LAX-ORD-DFW-MAD-RAK at 8172 miles

Greg: LAX-ZAG is 6255 miles nonstop. His actual route of LAX-YVR-AMS-ZAG is 6569 miles

Tim: LAX-ZRH is 5938 miles. His actual route of LAX-SEA-FRA-BSL-ZRH is 6287 miles

Nick added a huge 2000 miles to the trip while Tim and Greg were only about 300 extra miles. A hypothetical LAX-DFW-MAD-RAK route is only 6861 miles, so the ORD stop added over 1300 miles to the trip. I understand why Nick rushed off, but interested to know if he would do this again vs. spending more time searching first.

Tim Steinke

Nice analysis! That’s a great question for Nick that I was wondering myself, although we all know that hindsight’s 20/20.


I think the decision to go to Chicago, while having some logic, will go down as a big mistake. The problem was that Nick was expecting easy last minute connectivity onwards to a bunch of gateway cities and it wasn’t there. Tim and Greg also had to position on Thursday but had no trouble doing it from LA but Nick, with his “get in position to be able to position” did.

It would be interesting to know if those flights Nick was planning on existed and were sold out, or just were never available to begin with. I’ve been flying AA domestically this week and last and so my flights are sold out.

I also wonder if Nick headed east instinctively to get to familiar award-booking territory.

Tim Steinke

I do think that you’re onto something about domestic availability. It’s been so tight recently…not sure if it’s the beginning of Summer vacation or the cycles of the moon, but even intra-West Coast stuff has been packed-to-sold out.


So far Nick’s been mostly on AA and I recall reading that they were facing capacity challenges this summer due to one of the several delays in Boeing deliveries. I think Nick had options in ORD on other carriers but there was no airside transfer at that time of the morning. Maybe AA space is tighter than other carriers?


I agree that I think Nick’s biggest mistake was rushing off to ORD instead of taking an extra few min to figure out where to reposition to (could have pulled up Seats.Aero and just done a quick multi airport search to EUR and seen what the options were for the following day as a starting point)


When the dust is settled I’d like to hear the details from Nick. The live stream ended at 7pm and I don’t think he was on a flight until midnight or after. I think he did look for obvious possibilities before flying to ORD. The question is why didn’t he find the JFK flight? Not available yet? I think he might have found it en route to LAX but, if so, why didn’t he fly direct to JFK? Last red-eye already gone?

Tim Steinke

He did indeed find on the way to LAX (I was driving him). I believe that he was trying to change his ORD booking to JFK, but if I remember correctly, there were no red-eyes left. And you’re correct, we all did a solid 3ish hrs of searching before he made the call to go to ORD.


Several people seem to be calling it a “big mistake,” which is easy in hindsight. I’d frame it differently; Nick’s strength is creativity as well as his willingness to take chances. It’s paid off handsomely in previous challenges, but this time, his gamble didn’t work out and it’s part of the game. If it had and he’d made it to his hotel first, you’d all be praising it as a genius move 😉

As an aside, I think the judges were very lenient on him and his failed gamble. Not only did he not get a penalty, but he got a bonus point for his troubles! If I recall, not being present for the start of the livestream in LA would have resulted in 0 points for Stage 1. Big difference in scoring standards between Stages 1 and 2 I’d say, and a little unfair to Greg and Tim who got there on time. I was also a little surprised how Nick earned 3 points on hotel value given pretty much everybody has been saying how awful and disappointing Hyatt’s decision to go dynamic on Mr & Mrs Smith redemption is. After all, both Greg and Tim got above the FM RRV on their respective awards, while Nick didn’t…

Daniel A

Agree with the Mr and Mrs Smith point. Getting way below the reasonable redemption rate for Hyatt points should have been an automatic zero.

Last edited 15 days ago by Daniel A
Daniel A

Thanks for the analysis David! Another way to think about is minimizing flight legs. All could have done their journey with 2 legs but none did. Also all of them required a staging flight. Nick struck out hardest on both measures with 4 legs and a staging flight on both ends. I’m really surprised no one could find long haul flights out of LAX. Apparently LAX last minute award availability to Europe is terrible.


The Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur is very luxurious, has great suites, a fabulous club lounge, and an amazing breakfast for Globalists, all set in a lovely part of town near the Petronas Towers. I hope someone lands there.

Tim Steinke

Thanks for the input…we’re certainly eyeing that one.

Wai Boon

if you want view, W KL would be perfect, in terms of ease, can try Ritz KL, they do give free club lounge access for Titanium members and the location is right smack at the Bukit Bintang area where you can eat, shop and experience. Westin KL Lounge has some nice guiness draft and JW KL breakfast is good as well

Wai Boon

for activities, you can take a KTM train from KL Sentral to the Batu Caves for a hike ( a lot of monkeys. dinner you can go to Jalan Alor near bukit bintang for some “authentic” food. then as usual for Tim, you can visit Changkat bukit bintang for bar hop activities.

you guys can visit Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur bridge for the spectacular view, unfortunately the World Tallest Park Hyatt KL will only be ready by end of 2024, else you couldve burn your hyatt points there. but Marini 57 (a nice rooftop bar) next to the twin towers will get you a very nice rooftop view / with a nice cocktail.

if you have spare time, can visit bamboo hills for a nice Malaysian Craft Beer( one and only) its called Paperkit Brewing Co and its located in Tap Room (it will be crowded but nice!)

this is a bonus, if you want the worlds best Nasi Lemak (malaysia authentic coconut rice with fried chicken and anchovies) you can visit Village Park, its spicy but very tasty.

Wai Boon

OMG you guys coming to Kuala Lumpur !cannot believe you guys are coming to my hometown ! lets have miles meet up! haha. Share your magic tricks on miles and points to our fellow South East Asians in KL!

Last edited 16 days ago by Wai Boon