Steve Kamb is getting ready to embark on an 11-month, 35,000-mile trip to four continents in 2011. The flights for the round-the-world trip are costing Kamb, the founder of NerdFitness.com, a total of $418. How is Kamb able to fly the equivalent of 1.5 times the circumference of the globe for $418 you ask? By travel hacking. Below, he explains his journey.
OOTS News: Could you tell me a little bit about travel hacking and how you got into it?
SK: I had never done any world traveling, but about a year ago Chris Guillebeau released a book called “Frequent Flier Master” about how you can earn a bunch of miles without having to fly a bunch of separate flights. At the time I was working at a desk job while still working on my website on the side. I had never traveled, but that is something I would like to do eventually, so I just figured I would started racking up the miles now and would figure the rest out later. I signed up for a couple of really high credit card mile deals and made sure I hit the limit for each of them. I paid them off in full each month. I only bought things I was going to buy otherwise and within 10 to 11 months, I had racked somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 airline miles.
Also, my two roommates were moving — one was going to be moving to Alabama and the other one was going to be moving in with his girlfriend — so I had this opportunity. Otherwise I was going to be homeless. So I had this idea that if I wasn’t going to have a place to stay, why don’t I try to sell my car and use all of these miles and go on a really crazy trip around the world. I think I will get a great story for my website, and it will allow me to do a lot of things that scare me which is a big part of what I do on my website. I am just trying to find ways to live a better life so I started putting this big trip together. I didn’t really have a lot of travel hacking skills, but I just started reading the fine print and explored the airline websites. If you have airline miles and you have the time to do it, you can book a pretty crazy trip. That is what I did. That is why I am traveling 35,000 for $400 in 2011.
OOTS News: Tell me a little bit about how it is possible to travel to so many countries for $400.
SK: The flight is booked through American Airlines because that is where most of my points were, and it is part of a thing called a One World Alliance. That alliance is made up of 10 or 11 airlines all around the world, like British Airways, Iberia Air and Japan Air. How is works is I booked a flight called a One World Award. The flight is based on the total number of miles you fly instead of where you go. I had to pay by points. For 140,000, I could fly 35,000 on any airline in that alliance. I could make up to 16 stops on that trip. It is not a secret, but they don’t necessarily advertise it. If you type in One World Award it will bring up the rules and regulations. You are not allowed to go in and out of the same city and you have to return to the city of origin and you are only allowed to have one gap in the trip. After reading about all the loop holes of what I could and couldn’t do, what the restrictions were, I was able to put together my trip.
My flight is Boston to Los Angeles to Sydney to New Zealand then I head through Southeast Asia back to the United States by way of San Francisco instead of Los Angeles. Then on my way back out I go Chicago to Dublin to Madrid back to Boston. So I never hit the same city twice, which is why I was able to book such a crazy flight.
OOTS News: You earned so many miles, but you said you didn’t spend any extra money. How did you earn so many miles?
SK: I had four or five credit cards. The easiest one to explain is the one from British Airways VISA that was available for just a couple of weeks in February. I had never flown British Air, never been to Europe, so most people would look at that and say, I will never fly British Air so why would I need that card? But that card said if you spent either $1,500 or $2,000 in six months, they give you 100,000 miles on British Airway miles. I signed up for the credit card and then over the next couple of months, I just put everything I needed to buy on that credit card: my cable bill, my car insurance, my groceries, my gym bill, anything at a bar, if I bought a stick of gum, pretty much every single thing that I purchased I put on that card until I got the bonus.
After I acquired those points, I just looked for the next credit card deal. I thought to myself, I need to cancel that card before they charge me the yearly fee. Then I deactivate that card and move to the next card, which might have 50,000 America Express points that I need to spend $3,000 for in a year. Then I would just put everything on that card until I hit the amount. Then move on to the next one. I would probably have four or five cards going at one time. But I would pay them all off in full. People would say, ‘Oh, your credit stinks,’ but my credit score is actually in the 85 percent or 90 percent because I pay it off in full and have zero credit card debt. Other than that, I have a small student loan, and I just sold my car so my credit score is up there. Signing up for all of these credit cards has not given me a negative credit score other than maybe a couple of points and it is already starting to climb back up there again.
OOTS News: How many credit cards did you have before you began travel hacking, and did you sign up for all the new cards at once or did you space them apart?
SK: Before I knew about all of this I had one or two credit cards and I had earned miles on them, but it was very slow going. Something like you spend $500 this month, you get 500 points. That will take a long time to get to 25,000 miles because I don’t spend a lot of money. What I would do is try to find cards that had low thresholds to get all of those bonus miles. I would sign up for one card at a time, and when I hit the bonus miles, I would put it safely away in a drawer and make a note to cancel this card in 11 months and then move on to the next one.
OOTS News: Have you ever been denied a credit card?
SK: Initially I was denied for that British Airways card, but they sent me a letter three weeks later and said they denied it in error. So actually, I have not ever been denied.
OOTS News: Have you ever done anything or tried things out to get extra points?
SK: No, I haven’t done any of that yet. I think maybe when I get back to the United States, if I am looking for some funny ways to get some bonuses, I might.
OOTS News: What do the airlines and credit card companies think of travel hacking?
SK: You would expect that it would be something they would quit doing immediately. However, the amount of people doing this in comparison to the amount of people signing up for cards and acquiring credit card debt and never using the miles is so much greater. So it is a small percentage of people accruing miles and then using them to book really high-value trips.
OOTS News: Your flights are covered, but what will you do once in each location? Will you be making money along this trip?
SK: When my article got reposted to Gizmodo, I started getting 500 to 600 emails from people all over the world. They would say like, ‘Hey, we would love to put you up when you come to our neck of the woods.’ I have a dozen people who said they would be willing to put me up for a night or take me out to dinner, which is really cool, but my plan is to book my first night in each location.
After that I will just kind of figure it out. I will be staying in hostels or on couches and such. I have accepted that fact.
I definitely plan to continue to be working on my business. I have turned it into a global business that I can run from anywhere with an Internet connection. I am looking at the entire trip as a business trip. I no longer pay any rent in the U.S. I have sold my car. As far as my monthly payments back in the States, they are minimal. I have a couple hundred bucks in student loans that I have to pay and I will be picking up travel insurance, but other than that my expenses are tiny. I will be able to spend my money setting up shop in cheap hostels around the world, meeting with folks I have met through my website and then using the majority of my money to do the adventure stuff that I would incorporate into my website, like scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, sky diving over England and hiking the Great Wall of China.
OOTS News: What do your family and friends think about this?
SK: They are all super excited. At first they were like ‘Really, you want to do that?’ But since then they have come around. They kind of get to live through me. I will be writing about my adventure on my website. So they will get a chance to see pictures and videos. I think they think it is kind of cool to see my transformation from a guy who worked at a desk job a year ago to running a successful online business and being able to travel the world and inspire folks.
OOTS News: Well, thank you for speaking with me. Good luck with everything. Anything else you would like to add?
SK: Most people can’t take off for 11 months, but they can sign up for one or two credit cards and put together a trip of a lifetime. Maybe a two-week trip to Peru or Italy, a one week trip to Brazil. If people deal with airline miles and get creative, these trips can happen. It doesn’t have to be an 11-month trip.
OOTS on Wealth is a new series on what it means – and how much money it takes – to feel and be wealthy in America. Read previous pieces from the series here.