How to Travel the World for Free *: A Detailed Guide (Review)

Posted by on May 19, 2014

How to Travel the World for Free *:
A Detailed Guide (-Book Review)

Though I may not talk about it much on here, I consider myself a fairly savvy participant in the frequent flier and hotel points game. If you’ve been reading for a long time, you may remember a few years ago when I made a detailed write-up of how I got about $4000 worth of flights for $427, but that was the last time I wrote about the topic in any great detail. Why? Because Points and Miles are complicated.

I’ve tried talking to friends and family about this, but generally about twenty minutes in when I start asking about their credit worthiness and whether they think they would be able to open three or four more cards they excuse themselves to take care of a food in the oven. There are certainly better ways to ease somebody into it, but to really get the most out of it takes quite a lot of explanation.

When given the opportunity to review the Points Away – Deluxe Edition guide, then, I was torn between looking forward to seeing if it could teach me anything new and worrying that the huge book (over 300 pages in pdf form) would be  a beginner’s guide that just re-hashed tons of information I already knew. The verdict? A good bit of both.

istanbul hagia sophia at night

One of the many photos I’ve taken on free stopovers in Istanbul over the last few years. Just one of the many perks of maximizing frequent flier miles!

 

The book starts off with some sample itineraries that have been given for readers who needed help booking their trips, and I’m pretty sure I can point to which airline is used in each. However, it then goes on into a pretty informative discussion of the financial side of the hobby (including earning points/miles through credit card spending). Whether from credit card sign-up bonuses or earning extra points through shopping portals like Chase Ultimate Rewards or cashback portals like BigCrumbs and MrRebates, this has long been the fastest way to score tons of frequent flier points and the free flights that come with them. I was happy then, to see that the PointsAway book offers a pretty solid overview of the options for earning here.

While tons of people are comfortable with how to earn miles, though (I mean… you fly and spend money on rewards cards and then BAM, miles!) I think a lot more have trouble understanding the best value for using those miles. Whether for revenue-based programs like Southwest (which by the way is offering a 750 point sign up bonus through June 15) or region based charts (the majority of programs) that may change depending on the time of year or seats available, this seems to be the most confusing aspect of understanding how to travel the world for free with the points/miles game.

kayaking in rock islands palau

Kayaking in the Rock Islands of the little country of Palau? 32.5k United miles round-trip from Hong Kong, including a long layover in Guam AND a two-week stopover in the Federated States of Micronesia!

Redeeming for Free* Flights

This is probably the most convoluted thing to explain to somebody new to the game, as there isn’t really a brief way to do so. Rules for stop-overs, open jaws, close-on bookings, award levels, partner awards, airline alliances, and more all vary by which Airline program you’re looking at. Even assuming you already know what all of the above mean, keeping track of all of it for all the major airlines is nearly impossible!

My own flight patterns over the last 6 years have put me mostly on Continental/United and their Star Alliance, so the current United Airlines is the program I know best. Reading through this section of the book, I definitely noticed that it addressed issues that have caught me unaware before (such as 0% earning for some economy tickets with partner airline Lufthansa). It has also been updated to reflect the most recents changes to the program, including the much hated separate award chart for partner bookings.

Having recently started acquiring miles with Alaska Airlines and US Airways/American, I’m counting on this guide to be my go-to source of information when I do start booking reward tickets with those miles. Specifically, the book covers the following programs:

– American Airlines
– United Airlines
– Delta Airlines
– Alaska Airlines
– British Airways
– Southwest Airlines
– JetBlue
– Amtrak Trains

* I’ll add here that many (but not all) programs do charge airport taxes and similar small fees even on reward tickets. Knowing how and when to book to minimize these is just as much a part of the game as earning and burning miles in the first place.

Hurghada Egypt Hilton Resort

Hanging out on the Red Sea in Egypt. Cost: 4000 Hilton Honors points per night + $0.

Sleeping in Free Hotels

Once you get TO your destination you of course also want to see a few things and have somewhere to stay, right? This is the other major side of the points/miles game, and while it tends to be less convoluted a lot of people still don’t take full advantage of this side because they don’t know all the little tricks. As much as I’m excited by the Airlines half of the PointsAway ebook, I’m actually a little disappointed by the Hotels portion! Primarily, this is because it covers only a very limited number of programs:

– Starwood
– Hyatt
– Marriott
– Hilton

This list is missing what are, to my mind, the two most valuable hotel redemption options: IHG and Club Carlson. For example, did you know you can spend one night a year at any Intercontinental Hotel in the world for effectively $49?

The programs it does cover, however, offer the same detailed insights as the airline programs mentioned before. Up to date information on how to redeem points with the program, tips to spend as few points as possible while planning rewards, and ideas for how to quickly amass points in each specific program. The postscript of the book does promise to provide updates and new chapters, so hopefully a number of the other high-value programs will make it in soon as well.

gezi park protest intercon istanbul

If you’re ever in Istanbul during a big Taksim-area protest, a night at the Intercontinental keeps you right in the thick of the action.

My biggest serious complaint here is that, like most of the Frequent Flier blogs I’ve ever seen, the information is highly US-centric. There are extremely good programs outside of the US, for example Turkish and Aegean in Star Alliance, that make a lot of sense as primary loyalty choices for those based internationally. I would love to see a guide like this that addresses which program might be best for a Europe or Middle East or Central Asia based flyer – though I do readily admit that the audience there is much smaller. Most of you reading this are US-based, though, and for the novice frequent flier looking to get into the this is a really good resource to learn how to travel the world for free. Even for those who know a bit it can be a useful tool in learning about the sweet spots in your own programs or in finding out which new Airlines or Hotel chains might be a good match for your travel habits.

If you want to check it out, head over to PointsAway to read more. If you’re still not sure whether its right for you, they have a sample version of Chapter 1 to give you an idea how the resource reads. If you have any experience flying around the world and sleeping in classy kinds of places for free, I’d love to hear about them!

 

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The PointsAway-Deluxe Edition book was provided as a review copy, but all opinions here are my own. No matter where you are in the points/miles game, total newbie or old hand that needs a quick resource to refer to, this book should be beneficial. If you are planning to start getting heavily into points/miles programs, I would also highly suggest signing up for the AwardWallet service and using it to keep track of your points totals and expiration dates. Never let good miles go to waste!

 

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6 Responses to How to Travel the World for Free *: A Detailed Guide (Review)

  1. Jonny Duncan

    All those points systems do my head in sometimes! I use American Airlines program myself on OneWorld. It is rather annoying in Britain though that you don’t get the great sign up offers that you get in the US for getting a credit card to earn points. Generally like you mentioned all the really good air miles sign up stuff is US based from what I have seen.

    • Stephen

      Yea, we have a but of a lucky anomaly with there being so many to choose from. I’m pretty sure there are European programs that do as well, though, even if they aren’t quite so lucrative on the sign-up bonuses. Have you ever checked into B.A. or Air Berlin?

      • Jonny Duncan

        Yes have checked around. What I meant to have said was you can get credit cards to earn points such as a Lufthansa credit card for example, but what you ca earn in Europe doesn’t compare to the US from what I have seen. Must get a US credit card! 🙂

        • Stephen

          Must get a US address, first! In the meantime, though, take what you can get. There are still some decent value redemptions on Air Berlin and BA for sure, not sure about the rest of the European programs.

  2. Mom

    Just to point out, you do have a free place to stay in the heart of Texas 🙂

  3. Agness of aTukTuk

    Amazing tips, Stephen! Very motivational post!

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