This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles & Points for an Epic 29-Country (and Counting) Journey!

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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Brett is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.

This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles Points For An Epic 29 Country And Counting Journey
Bucket List #5310: Visit the Taj Mahal…Check!

A big thank you to him for sharing his story!

1.  What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?

My name is Brett Sato and I’ve been blindly collecting miles for over a decade, but with no real direction.  It was only in 2015 when I really started learning the power of miles & points…and how far down the rabbit hole actually goes.

2.  What was the goal of your trip?

The main goal of this trip was to unleash freedom and enjoy my life by experiencing new places, cultures, and foods.  Having served 20 years in the US Navy, I was counting down the days to retirement from active duty where I would finally have the time to embark on an epic adventure.

I started my trip in July of 2016 and have been to 29 countries so far!

3.  How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?

It took me ~1.5 years to earn approximately 850,000 miles & points prior to my trip.

4.  Which points did you save to take your trip?

I mainly focused on bank points like AMEX Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  That way I could have the most transfer options and flexibility.

I also jumped on easy deals, like the Citigold® Checking Account deal for 50,000 American Airlines miles.  And I got the JetBlue-Virgin America points match offer of 75,000 JetBlue points for taking one round-trip flight!  (These offers are no longer available)

This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles Points For An Epic 29 Country And Counting Journey
I’m About to Get Fat on Amazing Food and Drinks in Yokosuka, Japan!

Throughout my trip, I have found United Airlines miles and British Airways Avios points to be the most valuable and useful.

I used United Airlines miles for most of my flights in Central and South America.  And I used British Airways Avios points for shorter flights within Japan and everywhere else.

JetBlue points have been great for reaching spots in the Caribbean.

5.  Which cards would you recommend to open for a trip like yours?

I’d recommend premium cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠.  But I wouldn’t apply until the bonuses are at their highest.

Military personnel have an awesome opportunity with American Express!  American Express waives the annual credit card fees for active duty personnel under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles Points For An Epic 29 Country And Counting Journey
The Treasury of Petra, Jordan, Indiana Jones Style!

I recommend military personnel get all of the AMEX Platinum cards that are available.  And keep them for as long as they stay on active duty.

I had the personal AMEX Platinum card and The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz (no longer available to new applicants).

Every year, I would use the $200 airline credit from both cards to buy American Airlines gift cards.  That’s $400 of free money each year, plus lounge access and lots of additional perks!

I even used the American Airlines gift cards for hotel stays by converting them to Hotels.com gift cards on the Hotels.com website.

6.  How did you search and find the award flights?

I use Award Hacker to find the cheapest award flights.  It even has the numbers listed for booking award travel with each airlines.

When there are no available award flights to the destination that I want to go to, I look for alternate routes using FlightConnections.

7.  How did you find your hotel accommodations?

I mostly use Airbnb and Hotels.com.  And I always stock up whenever eBay has sales on gift cards for those particular sites.  You can usually find Hotels.com gift cards for 10% off and Airbnb gift cards for 8% to 10% off.

I love the Hotels.com rewards program because you can stack deals.  Since every 10th night is free, it’s basically a 10% discount.

I can combine that with a Hotels.com gift card that was 10% off on eBay, and I usually earn another ~4% cash back by using a shopping portal when I book the room.  That adds up to 24% off!

This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles Points For An Epic 29 Country And Counting Journey
Time for a Break After a Rough Day at the Office on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos!

Also, after a few stays, Hotels.com will usually send you an email with a 5% off coupon for writing a review.

8.  What was the most challenging part about planning your trip?  How did you solve it?

The most challenging part is always finding awards flights on the dates I want to travel.  I have to get creative and find different routes to take.  Since I like to make the most of my miles & points, I stay flexible and go where the available seats take me!

This means sometimes I end up going to places that weren’t necessarily on my list.  But if it’s a detour to a country that I haven’t been to, I really don’t mind.  Because it’s a new adventure and another notch on my belt.

9.  Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

Catch a bullfight in Madrid at the Plaza de Toros de la Ventas.  For some people, it may be controversial and cruel.  But for me, it was totally impressive and utterly mind-blowing!

Try some Percebes (gooseneck barnacles) in Portugal or Spain.  They can be super expensive (~$90 a kilo), but they’re some of the best seafood out there.  And they are perfect with a beer!

This Retired Veteran Is Using Miles Points For An Epic 29 Country And Counting Journey
The Sunset Was Surreal in Bagan, Myanmar!

I’d also suggest visiting Myanmar before it gets too touristy.  Rent an e-bike in Bagan and do a DIY tour of all the ancient temple sights!

10.  What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

I learned that I really hate work.  When I was at work I felt that I was wasting my life away in the daily grind.  My freedom and time off are far more important to me than a good job and money.  You don’t need to be rich to travel.  I’m definitely not a rich person, but I am wealthy because I invest in once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Most people spend their lives grinding it out at a job trying to make the most money.  They spend all their time and energy at work and only travel to escape life.  I travel so life doesn’t escape me!

11.  What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip?  Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

Many people are intimidated by the cost of travel, logistics planning, and language barriers etc.  But most of the things you want in life are on the other side of fear!

Invest the time, do the research, and learn miles & points techniques.  They will pay huge dividends later!  A little bit of knowledge can counter those fears and illusions of barriers.

Travel educates you in things that can never be learned in a classroom.  It opens your mind, challenges your preconceptions, and makes you a better person.  So get away from the daily grind.  Life is meant to be lived not worked!

Want to Share Your Story?

If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send us a note!  We’d  love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!