This is the final part of our 15 part series on the Best of Our Selfish Years of Traveling. You can check out the other parts below:
- It’s Almost Over: The Selfish’s Top 20 Experiences
- Now THIS is Living: The Selfish’s Top 10 Stays
- Stop Drooling: The Selfish’s Top 20 Eats
- The Selfish’s Top 10 Biggest Letdowns
- The DO’s of Traveling
- The DON’Ts of Traveling
- 10 Tips for Haggling Abroad
- 15 Things to Pack for a Year Long Trip
- 33 Things We Learned While Traveling Abroad for a Year (Part 1)
- 33 Things We Learned While Traveling Abroad for a Year (Part 2)
- 33 Things We Learned While Traveling Abroad for a Year (Part 3)
- The Selfish Guide to Photography – Part 1
- The Selfish Guide to Photography – Part 2
- A Selfish Year in Pictures
Our great Selfish Years adventure started when I discovered the world of miles & points, back in September 2011. Mrs. Selfish and I applied for 2 Citi AA cards, for a grand total of 150,000 AA miles a piece: enough for two business class tickets around the world!
We’ve done some pretty awesome things, flown some amazing flights, and stayed at some world class hotels. So how much did it all stack up?
Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?
Mrs. Selfish and I spent a grand total of 372 days of straight traveling, leaving the States in August 2012, and returning in August 2013. During the course of the trip we saw 102 cities and flew 61 flights across 25 countries.
We spent the most days in France, followed by Japan, Australia, and England. Expensive countries, indeed – though surprisingly, Australia was the MOST expensive country – coming in at roughly 50% more in costs than any other country.
Some random factoids:
- Miles traveled: 70,150
- Number of pictures taken: 50,326
- Average number of pictures taken daily: 136
- Best award redemption (value for cost): Park Hyatt Sydney
- Best business class flight: Qantas, Sydney to Los Angeles
- Number of beds we slept in: 97
- Average number of days in same bed: 3.81
- Best bed: Heavenly Bed, any Westin Hotel
- Amount of time spent packing & unpacking bags: 3.36 days
- Number of massages: 46
- Number of native languages we encountered: 16
- Number of languages we learned “hello” and “thank you” in: 8
- Most expensive economy ticket: Siem Reap to Bangkok at $1.31 per mile
- Most free attractions: Paris
- Days we spent no money: 1
Experiences and Expens(iv)es
Otomezushi in Kanazawa, Japan
So what costs did we incur? For all we talk about food, our meal costs were relatively low. In fact we only had a handful of “fancy” meals, including Otomezushi in Japan, and the Amisfield Winery in Queenstown.
We did have more than our fair share of expensive experiences, however, including Flying the Milford Sound, Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Holding a Baby Panda in Chengdu, Staying at El Nido in Palawan, and Upgrading to an Overwater Bungalow in Bora Bora.
Flying in the Milford Sound
While these once-in-a-lifetime experiences were certainly expensive, they were few and far between. The heaviest hitters for cost, transportation and housing, were largely covered by points and miles.
Good thing too. I couldn’t imagine affording this trip without ‘em!
Points Earned, Points Burned
Since we started accumulating points & miles back in September 2011, Mrs. Selfish and I have banked a combined total of 3.37 million miles & points! Awesome.
Even better, is the fact that we earned over 1.5 million miles during our year abroad. Roughly 85% of those were earned through credit card app-o-ramas, as follows:
The majority of the points we earned were from hotel programs, which isn’t too surprising, since hotel points seem to be worth less, and it’s much easier to rack up 70,000+ points per application.
On the points burning front, we spent a whopping 1.7 million miles and points. I was utterly surprised by the amount, since it means we only spent 200,000 more miles & points than we earned on this trip!
Of 1.7 million miles & points, we spent roughly 900,000 on hotels for a total of 28 free nights, and 12 nights at the cash & points rate.
We spent over 450,000 HHonors points, which is pretty good, considering we focused one app-o-rama on HHonors points, for a total of 390,000 HHonors points. Of note is that all 110,000 points we spent on Hyatt were originally Chase Ultimate Reward points.
We also accrued 13 free hotel night certificates, 11 of which we burned on the trip. Bringing the total number of free nights up to 39 nights.
When you factor in the 35 nights we spent with friends & family, and the 2 nights we spent in the air, we ended up with 88 nights (~24%) that were free or greatly reduced in cost.
We spent a little over 800,000 miles & points, to pay for 31 of our 61 flight segments. While this might not seem like a lot, most of our paid flights were cheap inter-country flights, while our award flights were primarily international long-haul flights.
Here’s how it looks by program:
For American Airlines, we booked two business class one world explorer tickets, and round trip tickets from Sydney to Tahiti, one direction in business. For United we booked two business class tickets to Europe with a stopover in London, and an open jaw to Lisbon. The big surprise was catching a first class flight back on Lufthansa’s new Frankfurt-Washington Dulles route.
The remaining Chase UR points and American Express MR points were converted into United Miles or British Airways avios and used to book short haul flights across Asia and Australia.
Adding it All Up
The Cliffs of Mohr: uhh, I’m sure there’s an analogy about m&p here.
So how much was it all worth? What did 1.7 million miles & points actually come out to dollars and cents?
While it’s nearly impossible to accurately judge how much something is worth, the internet allows me to calculate how much something retails for – that is, how much a person would actually have to pay in cold, hard cash, assuming they paid everything through a hotel or airline’s website and not a third party site like Priceline.
In order to calculate the total retail value of hotel stays, I used the hotel websites themselves, plugging in comparable dates in 2013 & 2014. For cash and point stays and upgrades I subtracted the value of actual cash we paid from the retail price.
For flights, I used kayak.com to see how much the same routes using the same carriers would cost a year later. Unfortunately, because flight tickets vary so much in price it’s impossible to tell how much we actually would have paid if we bought the tickets when we did, so consider this a rough approximation.
Hotel stays varied in quality drastically, with highlights including the Hilton Bora Bora, Conrad Koh Samui, Park Hyatt Tokyo, Park Hyatt Zurich, and Park Hyatt Sydney.
Room with a View: The Park Hyatt Sydney
Our most expensive hotel stay was the Park Hyatt Sydney, where we received a deluxe opera view room. While it was beautiful, I was surprised to find out that the room regularly retails for $1500 AUD (~$1397 USD) a night!
Second place went to the JW Marriott Hong Kong, where we were fortunate enough to be upgraded to a Harbor View Suite, which retails for $6600 HKD a night (~$851 USD).
One of my favorite hotels, the Park Hyatt Tokyo, came in at a bargain at “only” $480 a night. Yeesh.
All in all, when I factored in the total cost of our 51 free or cash & point nights for hotels, we saved a total of $24,344 off the retail rate! That’s an average of 2.7 cents per point!
So what about flights? The general consensus of the internet is that hotel points are worth anywhere from .4 cents per point to 2.2 cents. Airline miles, by contrast, are worth anywhere from .8 cents per mile, to 2.0 cents per mile.
Given how volatile airline tickets are compared to hotel stays, I’m inclined to agree. Especially when you look at the overall “retail value.”
We ran through Lufthansa’s 1st Class Lounge in Frankfurt.
The #1 most expensive segment on our travels was easily our first Lufthansa class flight from Lisbon to Washington via Frankfurt, which retailed for roughly $9235 a ticket. Wowza.
Following that our 16 segment ticket in business class priced out at $25,124 per person, and our Washington-London-Vienna ticket priced out at $7060 per person. Our last big flight was our round trip tickets from Sydney to Tahiti, which clocked in at a little under $3500 per person.
The remaining award flights were smaller inter-country flights in Asia and Australia, so I won’t enumerate those here.
When I added up all of these “retail” ticket prices together, the total we saved by using miles was a whopping $94,177! That’s an average of 11.7 cents per mile!
The Grand Total
In the end our 1.7 million miles and points were worth a total of $118,541 in retail value. Even assuming flights were actually worth 1/2 the amount kayak priced them at, that’s still a savings of over $70,000.
Are the hotel nights & flights really worth that much? Probably not.
This isn’t anything I’d ever spend that much money on, though the posh stays and fancy flights definitely did make our year long trip that much more exciting. More importantly we had an amazing 372 days on the road, filled with spectacular memories. It will likely go down as the best year in our lives, though I look forward to trying to top it in next 30 years.
The biggest take away here is that this is all doable, FOR ANYONE. If you had asked me 3 years ago whether or not such a trip was possibly in our budget I would have laughed in your face. Now, I’m starting to eye all the possibilities miles & points can bring.
Miles and points can take you pretty far, but only if you make the time and the effort to use them.
So go on. Get out there!