$72,000 Worth of Luxury Travel for 654K Miles/Points and $2.5K in Fees

World map

“You’re full of @#$%, is that even possible?”

That’s what my close friends said when I told them how much I paid versus the retail price of my parents’ upcoming trip to Dallas, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat, Hanoi, Saigon, and Hong Kong.

This blog post is for my friends, the doubters.

It’s also for anyone wants to splash out in absurd luxury but assumed it was outside their means.

I’ll show and prove with screenshots that even circumnavigating the globe in First Class while
staying in five-star hotels in the world’s most expensive cities is not only possible…but pretty easy.

In chronologial order of my parents’ travel dates I’ll outline:

  • How much flights and hotels cost without miles/points
  • How much the same flights and hotels cost with miles/points
  • Commentary on why I choose each flight and hotel
  • Final breakdowns of miles/points versus retail costs
  • How many credit cards were required for this trip?

(An aside: I’ll refer to frequent flyer miles and hotel points as simply, miles/points. Prices are in US dollars).

March 16th, 2015

Flight: Denver (DEN) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – American Airlines Economy

Flight Cost at Retail: $584.20

PAID-DEN-DFW

Flight Cost with Miles: 7,000 Membership Rewards + $11.20

REWARD-DEN-DFW-Gary-Peggy

Flight Summary:

Short version: I converted 7,000 American Express Membership rewards into 9,800 British Airways Avios during a 40% transfer bonus promotion. OneWorld flights under 650 miles can be booked on ba.com for only 4,500 + $5.60. The American Airlines flight from Denver to Dallas is 641 miles!

Longer-geekier-verion: This redemption killed two birds with one stone. First, I positioned my parents to take advantage of Emirates free stopovers on one-ways by flying them non-stop from Dallas to Dubai. Emirates allows free stopovers—up to 12 months, I believe—, but all segments must be on Emirates planes. Second, I fulfilled one of their two Holiday Inn stay requirements for the current IHG Into the Sights hotel promotion. Basically, from now until April 30th if they pay for 6 Holiday Inn stays they’ll receive 120,000 points. These points can later be redeemed for almost 5 Intercontinental hotel stays ($1,500 value) or up to 24 nights when stays are 5,000 per night during the rotating IHG PointsBreak promotion.

Hotel: Holiday Inn Dallas-Fort Worth Airport S

Hotel Cost at Retail: $135.64 x 2 reservations = $271.28 with breakfast

PAID-HOLIDAY INN DFW PEGGY

Hotel Summary: This Holiday Inn is nothing special, just relatively close and relatively cheap. The free airport shuttle to and from the aiport is a nice albeit necessary touch. If you’re not spending money to complete hotel promos, then DFW’s Hyatt Regency for 8,000 points is also a good option. Knowing my parents would find it novel to sleep inside the airport, I originally booked the Hyatt but later cancelled because the IHG Into the Sights promo was too lucrative to ignore.

March 17th, 2015

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Flight: Dallas-Forth Worth (DFW) to Dubai (DXB) – Emirates First Class

Flight Cost at Retail: $37,048 (Seriously)

PAID-DFW-DXB-KUL-GARY-PEGGY

Flight Cost with Miles: 200,000 Alaska Airlines + $82.60

MILES-DFW-DXB-KUL-PEGGY

Flight Summary: I dusted off this blog after a five-month hibernation in order to share this ridiculous price with the world…and to brag that I’m spoiling my parents with said ridiculousness. $37,048. That’s $1,684 per hour. Chauffeur service to and from the airport, exclusive airport lounge access, five-course meals, private suites, on-board showers, and in-flight standing lounges with open bars with Hennessy Paradis that costs $750 per bottle. Only the richest of the rich can afford to fly this First Class…and those of us who know how to easily accumulate Alaska Airline miles.

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Airport chauffeur: Included when flying Emirates First Class

MILES-DXB-HOTEL

Chauffeur Summary: Book your private chauffeur here.

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Hotel: Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah Dubai

Hotel Cost at Retail: $560.83 (1 night)

MILES-Waldorf Astoria Dubai

Hotel Cost with Points: 80,000 Hilton HHonors per night

POINTS-Waldorf Astoria

Hotel Summary: Would I redeem 80,000 points for one night? No, because those same points could be used for eight free nights in other five-star hotels such as DoubleTrees in Asia (see below). In short, I booked this hotel on ‘The Palm’ to continue with my parents lavish and extravagant treatment. By this time they’ll have eaten gourmet h’ordeuvres in exclusive lounges, been pampered at 35,000 feet, showered at 560 mph, and been whisked away by private chauffeur to their beachside suite on the Persian Gulf. A critique: unlike at most Hiltons, my parents’ Gold status will not get them free buffett breakfast at this property. Cry them a river, right?

March 19th – 20th, 2015

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Hotel: Radisson Royal Hotel Dubai

Hotel Cost at Retail: US$625.40 after taxes (2 nights)

POINTS-ROYAL DUBAI

Hotel Cost with Points: 70,000 Club Carlson (2 nights)

POINTS-Radisson Royal Hotel

Hotel Summary: My parents raised me in a rural town of 5,000 people. Though they’ve visited every continent—including Antarctica—, big cities still seem exotic and dangerous to them. I can see their thoughts now: “That’s Dubai, it shouldn’t exist, yet there it is, right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of our 42nd floor corner suite.” I considered booking the Park Hyatt or the JW Marriott, but the Royal Radisson Hotel is in the thick of the desert’s futuristic towers. This booking is all about the view. Both US Bank Club Carlson credit cards offer the incredible 2-for-1 redemption benefit, bringing the per night cost to 35K instead of 70K.

March 21st, 2015

Emirates First Class Chauffeur-Drive Mercedes 2_tcm133-780072

Airport chauffeur: Included when flying Emirates First Class

MILES-DXB Chauffeur-TW0

Chauffeur Summary: Again, you can book your private chauffeur here. Unfortunately, there is no chauffeur service in Kuala Lumpur…so instead I’ll test my newly-learned trick for free Uber taxi rides. I’ll fly from…I haven’t yet decided…to KL to meet my parents at the airport.

March 21st, 2015

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Flight: Dubai (DXB) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) – Emirates First Class

Flight Cost at Retail: $37,048 (I’m not making this up!)

Flight Cost with Miles: 200,000 Alaska Airlines + $82.60

Flight summary: Dubai was a stopover en route to Kuala Lumpur. This final segment is the continuation of the one-way from Dallas-Fort Worth to Kuala Lumpur. I won’t clutter up this post with more screenshots. My dad will take plenty of awkwardly-framed in-flight photos so I can update this blog afterward.

March 21st – 22nd

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Hotel: Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie

Hotel Cost at Retail: $135.64 for 2 nights x 2 reservations = $271.28

PAID-HOLIDAY INN KL GARY

Hotel summary: This hotel fulfills my parents’ second Holiday Inn stay requirement for the IHG Into the Sights hotel promotion. For $542.56 out-of-pocket and while paying for hotels they needed anyway (and a few they didn’t), they will earn 120,000 points. Again, these points are worth almost 5 InterContinental nights ($1,500 value) or 24 PointBreaks nights. The best hotel deal in Kuala Lumpur, however, is the five-star DoubleTree by Hilton for 10,000 Hilton HHonors per night. We’d have stayed here for the duration of our time in Kuala Lumpur if not distracted by hotel promos. As a consolation prize for missing a weekend of downtown luxury, I’ll surprise my golf-obsessed dad with 18 holes. The Holiday Inn Glenmarie is, literally, on the course.

March 23rd, 2015

Executive Lounge Balcony

Hotel: DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur

Hotel Cost at Retail: $140.46 (1 night)

PAID DOUBLETREE KL

Hotel Cost with Points: 10,000 HHonors with buffett breakfast (1 night)

REWARD-Hilton by DoubleTree KL

Hotel summary: After my DoubleTree Beijing experience I can confirm that three-star hotels in Asia are like five-star hotels elsewhere. And this DoubleTree is actually a five-star, with views of the famous Petrona Towers. There are so many Hilton HHonors earning opportunities from the multiple credit card sign-up bonuses available that it’d perfectly possible, if inclined, to live in the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur getting fat on endless bacon and eggs for one month with 300K points. If the hotel is as nice as the DoubleTree Beijing I’d be tempted do just that. I’m looking for a place to hang my hat for the months of May and June 2015.

March 24th, 2015

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Flight: Malayasia Airlines Economy

Flight Cost at Retail: $165.52

Malay Air

Flight Cost with Miles: 7,000 Membership Rewards + $37.04

REWARD-KUL-PNH-GARY-PEGGY-TREVOR

Flight summary: The screenshot reservations are for three people because I’ll accompany my parents in Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat, and Siem Reap. (I siphoned off some of their miles as a travel planning fee, shhhhhh). To standardize this trip report the math is for always for two people…Where was I?…Ah, yes, flights from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh for 4,500 Avios per person. A 40% transfer bonus converted 7,000 American Express Membership Rewards into 9,800 British Airways Avios which I then redeemed for two seats on Malayasia Airlines. I should mention that AirAsia flies this same route, on the same dates, for two people, for $89.62. Why burn miles when tickets are so cheap? Comfort, mostly. Emirates First Class to AirAsia would be a very hard fall from grace for Her Queen and His Majesty…I mean, my parents. Also, 7K Membership Rewards are of so little consequence, why not?

March 24th – 25th, 2015

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Hotel: InterContinental Phnom Penh

Hotel Cost at Retail: $449.62 (2 nights)

PAID-Intercontinental Phnom Penh

Hotel Cost with Points: 50,000 IHG Points (2 nights not yet booked)

Hotel summary: Thanks to the IHG Into the Sights promo my parents now have 120,000 IHG points…but I doubt they’ll deposit in time to make this Phnom Penh reservation. In February 2015 my mom is due for another round of new credit cards. She’ll apply for the Chase IHG card with 80,000 point sign-up bonus. Not only will the 80,000 easily cover this two-night stay but it’ll begin the clock on getting the 1 free night at any IHG hotel upon paying the meager annual fee of $49. In other words, for the $49 annual fee she can redeem this free night certificate for a $800+ hotel night in London. Or Paris. Or Bora Bora. Later I’ll probably book my parents an upscale weekend getaway by combining my mom and dad’s free night certificates.

March 26th, 2015

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Flight: BassakaAir Economy

Flight Cost at Retail: $90 (to be booked on February 1st)

Flight summary: The above photo is from Bassaka’s inaugural flight celebration in October 2014. While congratulating themselves on ribbon cutting they forget to tell the IT guy to set up their online booking system. Actually, the only airline with online booking that flies between the sweaty city of Phnom Penh and the sweatier town of Siem Reap is Cambodia Angkor Air. For this priviledge you’ll pay $90 per person, double Bassaka Air’s $45, 45-minute flight. Bassaka’s ‘Ticketing Team’ confirmed via email that flights will be bookable online beginning on February 1st, 2015. This Wiki page shows airlines that service Siem Reap. There are no award flight options available.

March 26th – March 28th (Parents) /
March 29th – April 2nd (Trevor)

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Hotel: Le Meridien Angkor Wat

Hotel Cost at Retail: $575.09 (3 nights)

Le Meridien Angkor

Hotel Cost with Points: 10K SPG (2 nights parents) / 16K SPG (5 nights Trevor)

REWARD-Le Meridien Angkor

Hotel summary: I’m excited to sleep within walking distance of the ancient wonder, Angkor Wat. I’ve heard the ruins are some of the most mind-blowing structures on the planet. Their size, their scope, their timelessness. To explore the jungle temples with my parents is timeless in its own way too. The numbers: this redemption averaged 3,333 per night thanks to the weekend discount (It’s normally 4,000 per night). Unfortunately, the fifth night free promo (e.g. redeem 5 nights for the price of 4) doesn’t apply to Category 2 hotels like Le Meridien Angkor. This chart outlines SPG redemption options. When my parents fly to Hanoi, Vietnam to begin a group tour I’ll stay in Le Meridien another four nights (hence the 26,000 point screenshot). During this stay I’ll wander the ruins in the morning, work with MileMethod clients in the afternoons, check out Siem Reap nightlife in the evenings.

March 29th, 2015

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Flight: Vietnam Airlines Economy

Cost of Flight at Retail: $190

Flight summary: By pure chance, Vietnam Airlines ran a sale that coincided with my parents unflexible travel dates. Without the sale the same seats from “Siem Reap, Indochina”—Vietnam Airline’s words, not mine—to Hanoi regularly sell for $600. C’mon! It’s a less-than-two-hour flight! Tourist gouging at its finest. While investigating other options I almost transferred 20,000 American Express Membership Rewards (MR) to Air France’s Flying Blue program in order to redeem seats on Vietnam Airlines (transfers and booking can be done online). The redemption still incurred over $100 in taxes and fees. Essentially, it would have been like trading 20,000 MR for $90. Stupid, stupid, especially since 20K MR can—and will—be redeemed to visit untouched locations in Melanesia (stay tuned). In the end, I booked two sale seats one day earlier than their ideal departure date. With that extra day in Hanoi I’ll arrange my parents to visit two Hanoi Hiltons: one offers room service, the other tortured prisoners.

March 29th – 30th, 2015

Hotel Exterior

Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi

Hotel Cost at Retail: $242.55 (2 nights)

PAID - Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi

Hotel Cost with Points: 20,000 Hilton HHonors (2 nights)

REWARD-Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi

Hotel summary: I Couchsurfed nextdoor to this Hilton during my visit to Hanoi in December 2012. Based on the building’s exterior and website’s lackluster photos, I’m guessing this will be an average stay for my parents. A place to relax before the social atmosphere of their group tour. This cookie-cutter Hilton has a few things going for it: its location (a few blocks from the 4x more expensive Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel); its 10,000 Honors points per night price; and its free continental breakfast. Honestly though, I’ll recommend my parents step to the street for steaming hot noodles served by sweet ladies in conical hats. In February my mom will apply for the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card that offers a 25,000 SPG point sign-up bonus. When the SPG points deposit, I’ll likely cancel this Hilton then rebook my parents into the much nicer Sheraton Hanoi for only 3,000 SPG points per night.

March 31st – April 17th

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Summary: My parents enjoy Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) group tours. During these dates they’ll travel with other retirees on OAT’s Inside Vientam all-inclusive tour package (I did not include the package price in this trip report’s calculations). While they’re touring north to south I’ll stay in Angkor Wat a few days more, then fly to Saigon to await my parents. Can’t wait to cruise my dad through the seas of motorbikes on my moped. I’ll find a place to stay for up to one month in HCMC before flying to Myanmar. Fingers-crossed for the InterContinental Saigon on the next IHG PointsBreak list.

April 17th – April 19th, 2015

Park-Hyatt-Saigon-Exterior

Hotel: Park Hyatt Saigon

Hotel Cost at Retail: $745.84 (3 nights)

PAID-Park Hyatt Saigon

Hotel Cost with Points: 3 Hyatt free night certificates (not yet booked)

Hotel summary: When my dad and I stayed in the Park Hyatt Moscow (where Madonna also stayed) we were treated like…less attractive, less talented pop stars…which is to say, better than we’ve ever been treated in our lives! Luxurious does not describe the Park Hyatt experience. After I discovered the automatic window blinds and heated bathroom floor I clicked all buttons in the room just to see what would happen. A refuge amidst the Saigon craziness, the Park Hyatt Saigon will be the perfect send-off for my parents after what will be undoubtedly the most lavish vacation they’ve ever experienced. In February my parents will receive 2 free night certificates upon paying $150 in annual fees on their Chase Hyatt credit cards. I’ll also receive 1 free night certificate upon paying the $75 annual fee on my Chase Hyatt credit card. That’s three free nights. How? Once the certificates are redeemed at the Park Hyatt Saigon we’ll cancel the cards to get the annual fees refunded. If you a cancel card within 30 days of the annual fee a full refund will be issued.

April 20th – 22nd, 2015

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Flight: Cathay Pacific Economy

Flight Cost at Retail: $1,366

PAID SGN to HKG

Flight Cost with Miles: 10,000 Membership Rewards + $79

REWARD SGN-HKG

Flight summary: British Airways Avios program is distance based (here’s a calculator to simplify the math). Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong = 925 miles = 7,500 Avios x 2 passengers = 15,000 Avios. Once again I leveraged the American Express Membership Rewards (MR) 40% transfer bonus to convert 10,000 MR into 14,000 British Airways Avios. (The 15,000 Avios was completed by the 1,600 Avios leftover from the two earlier transfers). All in all, this was an almost free way to fly one of the world’s great airlines. The PERFECT redemption would be to redeem Alaska Airlines miles on Cathay Pacific First Class from Ho Chi Minh to Chicago, with a free stopover in Hong Kong. However, the 200K Emirates First Class flights wiped my parents’ Alaskan Airlines accounts clean. Oh well, my parents will survive two hours and 45 minutes in Economy.

April 20th – 22nd, 2015

JW-Marriott-Hong-Kong

Hotel: JW Marriott Hong Kong

Hotel Cost at Retail: $1,574.59 (3 nights)

PAID JW Mariott

Hotel Cost with Points: 120,000 Marriott points (3 nights)

REWARD - JW Marriott Hong Kong (Combined)

Hotel summary: Last time I visited Hong Kong I redeemed a free night certificate at the Grand Hyatt, with harbor views from Hong Kong Island. A perfect stay. Though I believe the skyline views better from Kowloon (the mainland), most parent-style activites are island side, namely taking the tram up Victoria Peak and walking the English-Asian hybrid neighborhood around Central Station. As my mom is limited-mobility after a stroke much of Hong Kong’s gems are off-limits as they’re high on the hillside or guarded by steep steps. The JW Marriott is walking distance to Admiralty Station, from which transport is easy and affordable to anywhere in the city. The upscale JW Marriott will be the final hotel before my parents fly across the Pacific.

April 23rd, 2015

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Flight: Cathay Pacific First Class

Flight Cost at Retail: $27,356.14 First Class

PAID Parents HKG to SFO

Flight Cost in Miles: 140K American Airlines for First Class

REWARD-Hong Kong to Denver (Peggy)

MomFirstClass

GaryFirstClass

Flight summary: When I booked my parents into Economy (first screenshot) I estimated a 70/30 chance of upgrading my parents to First Class, a retail difference of $24,000+. Cathay Pacific sometimes opens up one of its six First Class award 21 days before departure then almost always makes unsold First Class seats available 72 hours before departure. My parents each had 35,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles on standby to upgrade to First Class. It was a waiting game. Sure enough, 48 hours before departure I was able to upgrade them to lie-flat beds from Hong Kong to San Francisco, then regular First Class onward to Denver (second and third screenshots).

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Final Breakdown of Miles/Points Vs. Retail

This breakdown is for two people, mom and pops.

Final Flight Breakdown

Denver (DEN) to Dallas (DFW): 7K Membership Rewards points + $11.20 vs. $584.20
Denver (DEN) to Dubai (DXB): 200K Alaska Airlines miles + $82.60 vs. $37,048.00
Dubai (DXB) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL): (included in above calculations)
Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Phnom Penh (PNH): 7K Membership Rewards points + $37.04 vs. $206.66
Phnom Penh (PNH) to Siem Reap (REP): $90
Siem Reap (REP) to Hanoi (HAN): $190
Saigon (SGN) to Hong Kong (HKG): 10K Membership Rewards + $79 vs. $1,366
Hong Kong (HKG) to Denver (DEN)[First]: 140K American Airlines miles + $101.60 vs. $27,356.14

Flight Total Costs in Retail: $66,841
Flight Total Costs with Miles/Points: 364K + $591.44
Flight Total Miles Earned: A few Delta Skymiles from the REP to HAN flights

Final Hotel Breakdown

Denver (Holiday Inn DFW)[1 nights]: $271.28 (IHG Into the Sights promo for 100K)
Dubai (Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah)[1 night]: 80K Hilton HHonors points vs. $560.83
Dubai (Royal Radisson Hotel)[2 nights]: 70K Club Carlson points vs. $625.40
Kuala Lumpur (Holiday Inn)[2 nights]: $271.28 (IHG Into the Sights promo for 100K)
Kuala Lumpur (DoubleTree by Hilton)[1 night]: 10K Hilton HHonors points vs. $140.46
Phnom Penh (InterContinental)[2 nights]: 50K IHG points vs. $449.62
Siem Reap (Le Meridien Angkor)[3 nights]: 10K Starwood Preferred Guest points vs. $405.84
Hanoi (Hilton Garden Inn)[2 nights]: 20K Hilton HHonors vs. $242.55
Saigon (Park Hyatt)[3 nights]: 3 Category 4 certificates vs. $745.84
Hong Kong (JW Marriott)[3 nights]: 120K Marriott points vs. $1,574.59

Hotel Total Costs in Retail: $5,287.69
Hotel Total Costs with Points: 360K points + 3 free night certs + $542.56
Hotel Total Points Earned: 120K IHG points from Into the Sights promo

Final Flight and Hotel Breakdown

Flight and Hotel Total Costs in Retail: $72,128.69
Flight and Hotel Total Costs with Points: 654K miles/points + $1,134 out-of-pocket
Hotel Total Points Earned: 120K IHG points from Into the Sights promo

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How many credit card sign-up bonuses for this trip?

19 sign-up bonuses…with 171,000 miles/points leftover.

Below are the credit card sign-up bonuses that funded this $48K (potentially $71K) worth of travel:

  • 50K American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum: $75 unavoidable fee
  • 75K American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass (x2): $150 in unavoidable fees
  • 25K American Express Starwood Preferred Guest: No fee
  • 25K Bank of America Alaska Airlines (x8): $600 in unavoidable fees
  • 70K Chase Marriott (x2): No fees; 2 free night certificates
  • Chase Hyatt (x2): No fees; 6 free night certificates
  • 100K Citibank AAdvantage Executive (x2): $500 in fees; avoidable but paid
  • 85K US Bank Club Carlson: $75 unavoidable fee; 2-for-1 redemption benefit

Total Credit Card Fees Paid: $1,400

Ok, let’s adjust my calculations for this trip….

  • 654,000 miles/points
  • $1,134 out-of-pocket expenses
  • $1,400 credit card fees paid

Flight and Hotel Total Costs with Miles/Points: 654K miles/points + $2,534

If we subtract the $1,500 minimum value of the 120,000 IHG Points earned….
And take into consideration the free Hilton buffett breakfasts with Gold Status….
And the free private chauffeur service to and from the airport….
And the free Priority and AAdmirals airport lounge access….
And the 8 free hotel night certificates at Marriotts and Hyatts….
And other tangibles and intangibles that could be debated….

I’d argue that this trip’s true cost was a bit of time, a bit of knowledge,
and the 654,000 easily earned miles/points using MileMethod.

True, $2,534 spent is $2,534 spent, but this experience is truly, “once-in-a-lifetime.”

Either way, $72,128.69 worth of travel for $2,534 is just insane.


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