The road not taken: Greg’s abandoned plans for 3 Cards 3, Continents


Here’s a piece of hard-earned advice: If an ANA rep tells you that they don’t need your credit card security code to finalize an award, the wrong response is “Oh, OK.”  On August 3rd, I wrote about my updated plans for the 3 Cards, 3 Continents Challenge.  At the time, I thought that my award bookings were all set.  Then, on Thursday August 4th, an ANA agent called.  Due to mistakes on their end, the award wasn’t yet ticketed and some of the required award space was gone.  Yikes!

What is 3 Cards, 3 Continents? Frequent Miler loves creating fun and competitive team challenges. This year Greg, Nick, and Stephen are competing to book the most amazing 3-continent dream-trip using 3 credit card welcome bonuses.

a map of a train and a train

The ANA agent admitted that she had made a mistake when she didn’t collect my credit card security code.  Worse, when the ticketing department realized the problem, they left her a message about it… on the wrong voice mail.  As a result, it took 4 days for her to realize that there was a problem and, by then, some important legs of the trip were no longer bookable.

To the ANA agent’s credit, she owned up to the mistake, was deeply apologetic, and worked like crazy to help me find a good alternative plan.  Ultimately, we developed a new plan that I like better than the original, and she stuck with me on the phone for hours to ensure it was properly ticketed this time (she also waived award cancellation and rebooking fees, as was appropriate).  In the end, yes, my hair is even greyer than before, but I have a great new plan.  And, thanks to this change, I can now share with you the part of the trip that won’t happen…

The trip that won’t happen…

In the original plan, near the end of our Round the World adventure, my mystery travel companion and I would have landed in Madrid, Spain and a few days later we would have flown onward from Lisbon Portugal.  In-between, we had some exciting plans.  Actually, “plan” is too strong strong of a word.  We had some exciting notions…

José Reunion

a man in a white shirt cutting food in a kitchen

Regular readers may remember that a guy named José saved my 2019 40K to Far Away stay in Madrid.  I had flown into Madrid with no cash budget to spare and no concrete plans for where I’d stay that night.  To make matters a bit worse, the free walking tour I had booked cancelled on me.  While in Madrid, I posted a desperate plea to the CouchSurfing Last Minute Madrid forum and José stepped up and saved the day.  He messaged me with self-guided walking tour instructions, prepared a Spanish meal for dinner, made up a comfy bed for me in his living room, and even got up ridiculously early the next day to provide me with coffee and toast before I darted off to the airport for my next adventure.

In this new contest, food & activities aren’t part of our strict budget and so I hoped to reciprocate José’s generosity.  My intent was to book a spectacular high-end restaurant and invite him along.  Unfortunately, the new plans no longer take us to Madrid and so I’ll have to wait for another time thank José properly.  Fortunately, plans hadn’t cemented enough yet to have invited José and so I didn’t have to withdraw an invitation from him.  Of course, I don’t know if he would have been available for this dinner anyway, but I was sad to let this idea go.

The trains in Spain…

a map of spain with a route
Image of the AVE high-speed train network courtesy of the Eurail website.

Spain has a great network of high-speed trains, and they’re very reasonably priced.  I found that it was possible to book train rides from Madrid to southern Spain for less than $40, and that the journey takes less than 3 hours.  This looked like it would have been a great way to hop around Spain.

Ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar

a map of a city
Image courtesy of Google Maps

Two ferry companies offer high-speed ferry rides across the Strait of Gibraltar, between Tarifa Spain and Tangier, Morocco.  As you can see in the dotted lines in the image above, there are other ferry routes too, but this is the route that will get you directly to or from the action in downtown Tangier.  Ferry rides cost approximately $40 one-way when traveling without a car.

We had planned to take advantage of this route to add Africa to our list of continents for this trip and we were going to try to time a ferry crossing with the rising or setting sun for a hopefully spectacular view.

Lisbon, Portugal

a collage of a room with a pool and a chandelier
Penha Longa Ritz Carlton Resort, Lisbon, Portugal

Our final European stop in our abandoned plans was to be Lisbon, Portugal.  There I hoped to use one of my Marriott 50K certs to stay at the Penha Longa Ritz Carlton Resort.  This resort was listed in Travel & Leisure’s Top 100 Hotels in the World for 2021 (See: The Best Points-Bookable Hotels in the World).  Of course we planned to tour Lisbon as well!

TAP Portugal

a seat in a plane
TAP Portugal Business Class

TAP Portugal flies between Lisbon and a number of North American airports as shown by FlightConnections:

a map of the world with blue dots

The great thing about these flights is that business class award availability is often pretty good, they offer true lie-flat seats, and they don’t impose fuel surcharges.  The latter is especially important when booking with ANA miles since ANA would pass along fuel surcharges if there were any.  When I first started looking for Round the World award options, there were plenty of seats available when I needed them from Lisbon to Boston.  By the time I actually booked, though, the only options still available were to Toronto and Montreal.  I had booked myself to Toronto and my mystery travel companion to Montreal.  Or was it vice versa?  I don’t remember.  It doesn’t matter since our new plans don’t involve TAP Portugal at all.

Wrap up

As you can see above, my travel companion and I had some exciting plans for the tail end of our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge trip.  Those plans were blown up when ANA failed to properly ticket the award for one of us.  This forced me to go back to the drawing board and, very luckily, I was able to find what I think is an even better plan which will be revealed as we travel the route in September.

What do you think?  Was the original plan pretty cool?  Or, are you thinking “no way, José” because you could have come up with a better plan?  Please comment below.

A final scare…

The initial conversation where ANA told me that they had messed up happened last Thursday afternoon and on Friday morning she called me back and we finalized the new plans.  As I wrote above, she even stayed on the phone with me while the ticket was issued in order to make sure there were no problems.  Once it was ticketed, I was super relieved.  The next day I was heading into a 4 day weekend vacation at a Miraval resort and I really didn’t want to have to worry about finding award flights during this trip.

Then, on Saturday, as I was waiting at the Miraval desk to check-in, ANA called.  Yikes…  United had cancelled a segment of my award with the message to ANA saying only “duplicate booking.”  Oh no!

I knew I hadn’t booked the United segment twice, so what could the problem have been?…  Aha!  A while ago, when testing out various itineraries, I had booked a placeholder award with my United miles because they’re fully refundable.  Since United believed that I was supposed to be flying on that day on a completely different route and with a different carrier, they rejected the new booking.  While still on the phone with ANA, I cancelled the United placeholder award.

a screenshot of a web page
Switch to “Cancel trip now and redeposit miles” when cancelling United awards!  When cancelling United awards, United shows two options. The default option is to rebook within a year, but the better option for most situations is to “Cancel trip now and redeposit miles.”

The ANA agent then said that she would call United to try to get my ticket reinstated.  Later the same day I got an email from ANA confirming that my flights were ticketed (once again!).  So, I believe that I’m all set.

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I recently went to Spain and went from Madrid to Malaga by train then took a bus to La Linea and stayed in Gibraltar for a few days then took the ferry to Tangier. This post inspired me to do that trip, it was pretty cool thanks! I also tried Air Europa 787-9 business class and Royal Air Maroc business class too!

Michael Scott

I really like the idea of taking a ferry to Africa to meet the challenge requirement and then just going back the way you came. I would not have thought of that. Much better than Nick flying to some random island that isn’t even part of an actual continent.


Like what was posted before Check the Reviews,Weather,ect before.Been on many but Lucked out in ATH a storm the day before all ferries in port. So I got a 4 person cabin for ME. Met a couple who got burned too had to fly at the last min from ATH as in $$$$$$$$$$. Ferries can be really trouble booked way out but Perfect if it happens 4**** Food too..


Penha Longa Resort is OK. Nothing all that great. I used a couple of 35k certs there in May at the end of our trip and it was fine as a base for a day in Sintra but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there.

Big Ern Mckracken

This is why I bet my kids College Fund on Stephen Pepper ( on Draftkings ) to win this thing… 4 to 1 odds.


How did u get a hold of the same agent? Just curious.

For a heavy hitter like u, I thought u would have checked ANA website to check if you were ticketed? Besides, didn’t u want to confirm your seating or select your own seat?

Here is another lesson learned, I booked a domestic flight on AA using all gift cards. Well if your gift card doesn’t have enough cash to cover the cost, the system accepts the transaction anyway and if u don’t check your email the next day, your reservation gets cancelled.

Jan W

Reads like you took a trip even before you left! Whew…that’s a lot of planning and rearranging. Can’t wait to watch the real thing unfold…

Ric Garrido

Ritz-Carlton Penha Longa Resort was a hotel stay I looked forward to at the end of June. Ended up in isolation at Holiday Inn Thessaloniki Greece instead after testing postiive for Covid the night before our flight to Lisbon.


ATH 9/14..There is no Tests today in or out Correct from USA ??
Sorry u had a bad time Travel Ins.. ??


If you ever do end up taking the high-speed ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar, ensure you have your dramamine or ginger tablets at the ready. I have never been seasick, but the closest I came was on a hydrofoil on the way to Tangier with all the other people who were throwing up. Maybe just as well you are not going to Africa that way?


It would have been great for you to return the favor to Jose. It is a shame it will not happen in this challenge. The ferry also seems interesting, and it is a clever way to add a stop in Africa. I would like to read how you tour Lisbon in a short time.
Btw, Miraval resort bottom line review coming?


Trust No One !!! or more PC ” Trust But Verify ” … Any more Questions ?

This isn’t so bad but how about when Doctors do that ?

Been There..V Bernie

Last edited 1 year ago by Cavedweller

That’s a huge red flag, if ANA is storing card CVV number and passing between their departments in plain text


I donate a lot and let them keep my card But CW no way !!! How do u tell that to the CC company ?