in march, pork belly and i traveled the world for under $1,500. yes that means we only spent $1,467.56 cash on airfares, trains, and hotel for TWO people traveling to milan, venice, florence, rome, paris, prague, bangkok, koh samui, hong kong, taipei, beijing for three weeks. although we traveled on a budget, we still got to stay in suites and villas at hotels such as hilton and conrad which normally would cost around $600 to $800 a night.
thanks to credit cards miles and hotel points, we were able to do this. here’s a breakdown on how much cash and points we spent on everything:
airfare paid by cash:
may 2014, i took advantage of an airline pricing glitch and booked my flight from new york to milan, prague to bangkok for only total of $415.30. these airline system error fares happen more often than you might think. i also booked a round trip tickets from new york to mumbai, india last xmas for only $300 for sept 2015. tickets to the philippines were also available for under $200. i recently booked round trip tickets from LA to jakarta, indonesia for $386 for feb 2016; we are also planning to visit bali and vietnam.
finding out about these deals def requires some hard work. i pretty much check websites such as http://www.theflightdeal.com/ http://www.flyertalk.com/ http://thepointsguy.com/ daily and have them on notifications so i can snatch these deal right away. deals like these usually last a few hours if not a few mins. if you are not 100% sure if you can go or not, book them anyways, you can always cancel within 24 hours with no penalties.
other flight tickets we paid by cash on this trip were: rome to paris, paris to prague, and bangkok to koh samui. there are a lot of low cost carriers in europe. although they are not the safest flights, you can fly to most places in europe for as low as $30. when we landed in germany for a transfer to prague, another german wing flight crashed on the way to barcelona. flights to koh samui are pretty expensive for the short flights, but they serve you a full meal even on an one hour flight to koh samui. we found booking through Bangkok Airways to be the cheapest.
airfare paid by points:
pork belly booked all his flights using his united and chase points. from boston to milan he used 30k united miles. from prague to bangkok, he used his 31k chase points by booking from the chase website directly. it was a lot cheaper in points than booking through the airline website. chase points to united has a 1:1 points to miles transfer. it wouldve cost him 55K miles if he booked through united website. altho he saved 20k points by booking through chase, the flight from prague to bangkok was an adventure on its own. he had to fly Ukraine International Airlines over russia with a transfer in ukraine. after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 got shot down killing all passengers near Ukraine–Russia border, flying that route seems pretty scary.
we both booked our flights from koh samui -> hong kong -> taipei -> beijing -> boston using 52K united miles each person. we set hong kong as a layover and beijing as stopover points. the biggest advantage of booking flights using miles are stopovers. a stopover allows you to stay in a connection city for more than 24 hours for no additional points. in this case, beijing was my stopover from thailand to boston, i stayed in beijng for one week with no additional costs. we stayed in hong kong for a 23 hour layover. hong kong is one of my least favorite places in this world, but pork belly had never been there prior to this trip so i figured 23 hours were more than enough to stop by and eat pork belly’s favorite food, dim sum. there are plenty of websites out there to teach you about how to take advantage of stopovers so i wont go into details here.
how to get points and miles:
the fastest way to get a lot of points is to sign up for credit cards. credit cards like the chase sapphire preferred card which i used gives you 50k points signup bonus. that’s almost a round trip to anywhere in the world. you can also earn double/triple points/miles when you spend on travel and restaurants. pork belly travels a lot for business trips; it’s even easier for him to earn miles when he puts airfare and hotels on the card. my card not only help me earn miles but also covers car rental insurance and has no foreign transaction fees. there are many cards out there, you can read more on http://thepointsguy.com/
within italy, we took high speed trains from city to city. trains are relatively cheap in italy; it costs as low as $9 from milan to venice if you book in advance. venice to florence was the most expensive trip, but luckily it was a saturday! italian trains have a 2 for 1 saturday promotion, so for parties of 2 traveling on a saturday, you only pay for the price of one ticket instead of two. yay!
i used both http://www.trenitalia.com/ and http://www.italiarail.com/ to book my train tickets.
http://www.trenitalia.com/ is the official italy train tickets website. some people found it hard to use because you need to put your destination names in italian. http://www.italiarail.com/ is an english website to help you purchase italian train tickets. you can just search by english names, but they do charge a fee. however, the fees can be refunded if you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your tickets confirmations and just ask for refunds. honestly, despite of the fees, i found the offical website trenitalia.com is so much easier to use than italiarail.com.
you dont need to print out your tickets or validate express train tickets since they already have a specific date and time. just show the conductors your PNR number when they check your tickets on the trains. these high speed express trains were pretty comfortable and empty. some trains even have wifi for the cost of 1 cent. there is luggage storage at all trains stations in italy. you can just leave your luggage there and go on with your day. i found it to be a lot more convenient and time saving than having to go to your hotel and drop off your luggage.
as you can see in my spreadsheet, we stayed at all hilton hotels except for hong kong and taipei. pork belly has a lot of hilton points from his business trips. pork belly also has a hilton credit card which automatically gives you a gold member status. as a gold member, not only do you earn points a lot faster, you also get free upgrades whenever there are rooms available. we got upgraded to suites (sells for $700 per night) or better rooms on the executive floor almost every night in europe. you also receive free breakfast for two people and free access to lounges on the executive floor. the executive lounges offers free drinks and food throughout the day, even wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages during happy hours. if we really wanted to be cheap, we couldve just survived on the free food and drinks that hilton offers. a lot money saved.
a tip: when you book hotels with points, check the website every now and then after you make the reservation because the amount of points do go up and down sometimes. you can cancel and modify your reservation up to 24 hours before the reservation without any penalties. i was able to re-book some of my rooms for a lot less points.
lounging at Hilton Molino Stucky Venice
best part about getting the hilton credit card? you get two free weekend nights of stay in ANY HOTELS UNDER THE HILTON BRAND and one free night every year after the first year. we originally got the card because we were planning to go to bora bora this year. a night in bora bora can cost around $700-$1,000. we planned to use our two nights free stay there. things dont often turn out how you plan; we couldnt go to bora bora this year. averaging $600 a night, conrad koh samui and conrad bali are the other two most expensive rooms under the hilton brand, so we decided to go to koh samui and use the two free nights we received when we were in thailand.
conrad koh samui, indeed, was def one of the most beautiful resort ive ever stayed. positioned on a secluded hill on the southwest tip of the island, the conrad koh samui comprises a collection of one-bedroom luxury villas. each villa has its own private infinity pool facing the turquoise ocean. it’s truly a destination on its own. one day if i have a lot more money to blow, i would return here in a heartbeat.
when i was in college, i used to go back to beijing during summer vacations for four months each year. my chinese visa only allows me stay in china for 3 months at a time, so i had to get out of the country and re-enter after 3 months during my four months stay. hong kong def is NOT my favorite place to visit, but it’s the closest, cheapest way to get out of china thanks to my aunt that used to live in hong kong, i could stay at her place whenever i was in town. hong kong hotels are notoriously expensive and small. my aunt moved away so we had to find a hotel this time. the hilton hong kong wouldve cost us TOO many points. since we were just there for a transfer and with no experience of booking hotels in hong kong; i just booked a cheap hotel on expedia. the hotel was located in central which was super convenient, but the size of the room was the size of my bed at home. i am claustrophobic and the humidity just made it a lot worse. i totally regret it!
there are no hilton hotels in taipei so we couldnt use our points in taipei either. i found a decent local hotel conveniently located to ningxia night market which is the best night market in taipei for food. the hotel was very clean and the staff was super nice. i accidentally left my camera memory card and reader in the room after we checked out without knowing; they even notified me via email and i was able to get it back.
in the end, we only paid $1,467.56 in total for all of our airfare, trains, and hotels. just do some research on how to travel on points and get alerts from flight deal websites, this can easily be done by anyone.
here are some pictures from our trip. please stay tuned for my more detailed posts on each place we visited.