Recap: Stephen’s World Record Journey (3 Cards, 3 Continents)

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It was an unworkable concept for my 3 Cards, 3 Continents trip that ultimately led me to choose a world record theme for my dream trip.

When coming up with ideas for what to include on my dream trip, I really wanted to include the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix in my plans as that’s a prime event on the F1 calendar. Not only is it a street circuit, but the race happens at night which adds to the excitement. Knowing that I could – based upon availability – also fly the world’s longest flight between Singapore and JFK would make for even more of a dream trip.

Singapore Airlines SIN-JFK SQ24 Business Class Cabin
Singapore Airlines SIN-JFK SQ24 Business Class Cabin

Unfortunately the Singapore Grand Prix wasn’t until the first weekend of October which was too late for 3 Cards, 3 Continents seeing as we were trying to conduct the challenge in mid-September. I couldn’t get the idea of taking the world’s longest flight out of my head though.

I forget where I first heard about it, but some time ago I read about the world’s shortest scheduled flight being in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. At less than two minutes, it was a short journey I was fascinated in taking at some point even though I wouldn’t consider myself an AvGeek.

With those flights being on two separate continents, I decided that this would be my theme. I’d book a round-the-world trip with a world record theme that incorporated both the world’s longest and shortest flights.

Aboard one of Loganair's Britten-Norman BN2B-26 Islander airplanes
Aboard one of Loganair’s Britten-Norman BN2B-26 Islander airplanes

Constraints On My Plans

Having set my mind on this idea, I looked into how I could go about booking those two world record-setting flights and discovered some immediate limitations.

For the world’s longest flight, Singapore Airlines doesn’t provide much availability on that flight in business class, especially when you’re trying to book only a few months in advance. They also often don’t make that available to airline partners, so the cheapest I’d be able to book it for was with 99,000 KrisFlyer miles + $54.57. Being able to book a ticket on this flight would therefore be my biggest issue.

As for the world’s shortest scheduled flight between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray, I didn’t have those particular concerns. Loganair operates the flight and seemingly only charges £17 each way ($20.95 at the time when I was planning my trip, but cheaper now due to currency fluctuations). Availability and pricing for the flight itself wasn’t an issue, but getting up to the Orkney Islands in the first place is what would prove to be more costly.

Loganair plane for Papa Westray to Westray flight
Loganair plane for Papa Westray to Westray flight

To get to Westray or Papa Westray, I’d first have to get to Kirkwall – the airport on the largest Orkney Island. To get to Kirkwall, I’d first have to get to some other airport in the UK. Those were primarily in Scotland, although there were a few regional airport options in the UK but none from London.

This meant I needed to fly from the US to somewhere in the UK, then take at least three more flights to get to Papa Westray or Westray – something that wouldn’t be cheap when using miles or cash.

Working Around Those Constraints

Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of all major transferable currencies other than Bilt. Transfer bonuses to Singapore Airlines are rare, so I would have to go under the assumption that I’d need to transfer the full 99,000 transferable points. That meant picking some kind of Amex personal Platinum card was a no-brainer because at the time they had bonuses of either 100,000 Membership Rewards or 150,000 Membership Rewards.

As for the Loganair flights, I’d need to pick at least one card in the card draft that would have a signup bonus that could be redeemed for a large amount of cash.

These two flights would check Europe and Asia off the lists, so I’d need a third continent for the challenge. It quickly became apparent that Egypt would be my best option because even though it’s in Africa, both United and American Airlines class it as being part of the Middle East. The Middle East is closer to Asia than Africa is, so award redemptions are far cheaper with both the MileagePlus and AAdvantage programs. Ultimately I settled on picking an American Airlines card in the card draft so that I could take advantage of its sweet spot of only 40,000 AAdvantage miles from the Middle East to Asia in business class.

My seat in Etihad business class
My seat in Etihad business class

There were two pieces of the flight puzzle remaining. Flying from the US to the UK and flying from the UK to Egypt. Given how little cash and miles I’d have left, I knew flying business class for both those legs wouldn’t be possible unless there was some kind of mistake fare. I was able to somewhat overcome that for the transatlantic flight by booking Premium Economy with Norse Atlantic Airways. While that’s obviously not anyone’s idea of a “dream” experience in and of itself, it would enable me to put together a dream trip for myself while experiencing a great value and comfortable flight. It’s an airline my wife and I will likely fly in the future when heading home to the UK, so I was intrigued about it and figured at least some readers would be interested in reading about what the experience would be like seeing as the New York to London flight only launched a month before my trip.

There weren’t any particularly great ways to get from the UK to Cairo due to the high Air Passenger Duty levied on flights out of the UK, so I had to make do with what was effectively a Miles + Cash booking, redeeming the 20,000 AAdvantage miles that would otherwise have gone to waste for a flight on British Airways. This saved ~$200 which free up some much-needed cash.

British Airways economy cabin on A321neo
British Airways economy cabin on A321neo

The 3 Cards I Picked

As a quick recap, here are the three cards I picked in the Card Draft:

  1. Amex Platinum card (consumer 150K offer)

    • Welcome bonus: 150K Membership Rewards points
    • Minimum spend: $6K
    • Total points earned: 156K Membership Rewards points
    • Annual fee: $695
  2. American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red

    • Welcome bonus: 60K American Airlines miles
    • Minimum spend: $0 (bonus after first purchase, no minimum)
    • Total points earned: 60K miles
    • Annual fee: $99
  3. Chase Ink Business Unlimited

    • Welcome bonus: 75K Ultimate Rewards points
    • Minimum spend: $7,500
    • Total points earned: 86.25K Ultimate Rewards points
    • Annual fee: $0

How Many Points, Miles & Cash I Had

As you can see, this gave me 156,000 Membership Rewards, 60,000 AAdvantage miles and 86,250 (non-transferable for the purposes of the challenge) Ultimate Rewards based on how many miles and points I’d end up with after completing the minimum spend requirements.

For the challenge we were limited to picking cards that required a maximum total of $15,000 spend. Any underspend we could allocate against one or more of the cards to earn extra points/miles. In my scenario, my minimum spend requirements came to $13,500, thereby giving me an extra $1,500 spend to play with. I decided to allocate that to the Ink Unlimited card as that earns 1.5x Ultimate Rewards which meant I’d earn 2,250 more points worth $22.50 when cashed out.

That meant I had to book all my flights and accommodation and pay any applicable country’s visa fees and transportations costs to and from airports to accommodation with the following:

  • 156,000 Membership Rewards
  • 60,000 AAdvantage miles
  • 88,500 Ultimate Rewards

How I Redeemed My Miles & Points For 3 Cards, 3 Continents

Ultimate Rewards

The 88,500 Ultimate Rewards couldn’t be transferred to travel partners because I hadn’t picked a premium Ultimate Rewards-earning card, so for the purposes of the challenge those were cashed out for $885.

AAdvantage Miles

40,000 of my 60,000 AAdvantage miles were redeemed for the one-way business class flight from Cairo to Singapore via Abu Dhabi on Etihad. The other 20,000 were redeemed to get me from London Heathrow to Cairo.

Membership Rewards

99,000 Membership Rewards were already earmarked for the Singapore Airlines flight and I wanted to transfer 7,000 of them to Marriott Bonvoy for one of my hotel nights. That surprisingly conveniently left me with exactly 50,000 Membership Rewards.

Those weren’t going to be very useful for transferring to travel partners based on the remaining flights I needed to book, plus I ideally needed to boost my cash balance to ensure I had enough money to pay for the various Loganair flights I needed to book and for taxis to and from the airport. I therefore chose to cash out these points in a suboptimal way.

When my method of redeeming the 50,000 Membership Rewards was shared on the site (I think during a podcast episode), one or two readers didn’t seem to like the way I’d gone about it, but I felt like it was fair game. Nick had chosen the Schwab Platinum card specifically for its ability to cash out Membership Rewards at a 1.1cpp ratio which meant that cashing out Membership Rewards was within both the spirit and letter of the rules.

For my 50,000 Membership Rewards, I redeemed those for a $500 Home Depot gift card. I was able to resell that for 91% and so got $455 cash. (Side note: in reality I didn’t actually do this, but it’s how it’s accounted for as part of the challenge, similar to how Greg “redeemed” 50k Marriott certificates from the Marriott card he picked but in reality redeemed points for some of his stays as that was better value.)

Singapore Airlines SIN-JFK SQ24 Business Class - Seared pepper crusted tuna
Seared pepper crusted tuna on Singapore Airlines flight

Award Redemptions

Here are the flights and hotel stays I booked during 3 Cards, 3 Continents using points and miles:

  • Moxy Aberdeen Airport hotel – 7,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (transferred from Membership Rewards)
  • LHR-CAI flight – 20,000 AAdvantage miles
  • CAI-AUH-SIN flight – 40,000 AAdvantage miles
  • SIN-JFK flight – 99,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles (transferred from Membership Rewards)

Cash Expenditure

For the 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge we started off with $1,000 cash. That had to cover annual fees for the credit cards we picked, flight taxes and fees, accommodation, transportation to and from airports, country visas, etc.

The annual fees of the cards I picked came to $794, thereby leaving me with only $206 cash. I was able to boost that cash balance considerably by redeeming all 88,500 Ultimate Rewards for $885 cash and converting the 50,000 Membership Rewards to $455 cash. That meant I started the challenge with a total of $1,546 cash.

Here’s a breakdown of everything that I spent my cash balance on:

  • $228.80 (Norse Atlantic Airways premium economy flight JFK-LGW)
  • $64.05 (easyJet flight LGW-ABZ including up-front seating & extra carry-on bag)
  • $25 (2,000 Marriott Bonvoy points purchased to top up 7,000 transferred as award was more expensive than anticipated)
  • $102.87 (Loganair flight ABZ-KOI)
  • $22.18 (Loganair flight KOI-PPW)
  • $20.95 (Loganair flight PPW-WRY)
  • $18.26 (Taxis to & from Westray airport and accommodation)
  • $39.94 (Accommodation on Westray)
  • $45.60 (Loganair flights WRY-PPW-KOI)
  • $92.84 (Loganair flight KOI-ABZ)
  • $174.60 (British Airways flights ABZ-LHR-CAI; this was for the taxes and fees that went with the 20,000 AAdvantage miles redeemed)
  • $12.16 (Round-trip Hotel Hoppa bus to & from Heathrow airport and hotel)
  • $69.20 (Premier Inn London Heathrow Terminal 4 hotel stay)
  • $25 (Egypt visa)
  • $14.50 (Uber from Cairo airport to hotel)
  • $240 (13,000 World of Hyatt points purchased)
  • $15.07 (Uber from hotel to Cairo airport)
  • $71.70 (Etihad flights CAI-AUH-SIN; this was for the taxes and fees that went with the 40,000 AAdvantage miles redeemed)
  • $19.03 (Grab (similar to Uber) from Singapore airport to hotel)
  • $97.18 (Shangri-La Singapore hotel; this cost $297.18, but $200 of the cost was offset by $200 Fine Hotels & Resorts benefit on the Amex Platinum card)
  • $16.07 (Grab to airport after hop on, hop off bus tour)
  • $54.57 (Singapore Airlines flight SIN-JFK; this was for the taxes and fees that went with the 99,000 KrisFlyer miles redeemed)

That made my total cash expenditure $1,469.57, thereby meaning I had $76.43 cash left over.

My room at the Shangri-La Singapore
My room at the Shangri-La Singapore

Food & Activities Expenditure

When we were originally coming up with the rules for the 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge, we’d discussed having some kind of budget for food and activities. Ultimately it was decided that we wouldn’t have any kind of limitation on that expenditure.

I’m a fairly frugal person; my wife and I are on an 8 year, 50 state road trip and live in hotels and Airbnbs full-time. We did the first four years of our trip on a budget of $100 per day and upped that to $125 per day for the final four years of our trip (we’re currently in year 5). That has to cover the cost of accommodation, hotel pet fees, gas, food, activities, cell phone bill, etc.

I’m therefore not really one for spending lavishly – I simply don’t enjoy spending large amounts of money. Having said that, we will splash out for truly special experiences. For example, we visited Rwanda back in 2008 and hiked up to see the Susa group of mountain gorillas. That wasn’t cheap – and is apparently significantly more expensive now – but we’re willing to spend more on experiences that’ll last a lifetime.

Mountain gorilla in Rwanda
Mountain gorilla in Rwanda

A dream trip for me therefore involves having a great time in the places I visit but, for the most part, doing it in a somewhat economical way. While that might not appeal to some readers, I’m sure there’s at least a decent percentage of readers who travel the same way. I therefore wanted to show not only what kind of round-the-world trip you could put together using the signup bonuses from three credit cards, but that the accompanying experiences don’t have to break the bank either.

As a result, here’s a breakdown of the cash I spent on food, activities and transport to and from activities.

Food & Drink Expenditure

It didn’t seem worth giving a detailed pricing breakdown of each meal I had, so here’s the total of what I spent on food and drink – $195.98.

That’s even lower than I thought it might be considering I was traveling for 10 days. That was kept so low due to meals during flights, complimentary breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Cairo West and Shangri-La Singapore due to status and the FHR breakfast benefit respectively and food in airport lounges throughout the trip.

Activities Expenditure

It seemed more worthwhile giving a breakdown for this section:

  • $10.84 – Dunnottar Castle near Aberdeen
  • $35.11 – Mandai Night Safari in Singapore
  • $19.92 – Cloud Forest & Flower Dome in Singapore
  • $25.50 – Hop-on, hop-off bus tour
  • $27.04 – Rooftop swimming pool in Aerotel at Singapore airport
  • Total expenditure = $118.41
Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland

Transportation To & From Activities

  • $94.34 – Rental car in Aberdeen
  • $22.41 – Gas for rental car
  • $26.25 – Taxis to & from Kirkwall from the airport to visit Highland Park Distillery store
  • $16.70 – Ubers to & from hotel into downtown Cairo to get to the Tahya Misr Bridge (the world’s widest cable stayed bridge)
  • $38.06 – Grab to & from hotel to Mandai Night Safari
  • $28.08 – Grab to & from hotel to Gardens by the Bay
  • Total expenditure = $225.84

That means that my total expenditure on food, activities and other transportation came to $540.23.

Indoor waterfall at Cloud Forest in Singapore
Indoor waterfall at Cloud Forest in Singapore

Conclusion

One of the great things about the 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge is that it showcased three completely different trips that could take you around the world using the points and miles from three credit card signup bonuses.

Another great feature of the challenge is that the fact that we had to put together a dream trip meant that how that looked was completely open to interpretation.

All three of us took that dream trip idea to heart by creating a trip that each of us was individually passionate about. Greg’s culinary trip won’t have appealed to everyone, Nick’s fast-paced trip won’t have appealed to everyone and my more low-key trip won’t have appealed to everyone, but our trips were truly dream trips for each of us and I hope that shone through in our posts throughout the trip.

The best part of my trip was taking the world’s shortest scheduled flight in both directions. It really was an incredible experience, especially landing on a grass airstrip the second time I took the flight.

I loved getting to explore Singapore too. Shae and I realized today that we have a 36 hour layover in Singapore in January on our way from Australia to South Africa, so I’m looking forward to getting to show her some of the activities I enjoyed there and also getting to see more of the city that I didn’t have time for on this trip.

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