As you read this, Grace Cheng, 36, and her husband Pedro Pla, 34, are traipsing around the world with their sons, Ranefer, two, and Ramses, four, inducing major wanderlust envy by documenting their adventures in five continents on Instagram and on their blog. In one year, the co-founders of personal finance website Get.com chalked up almost 1 million miles just through credit card spending, and have redeemed four round-the-world business class air tickets. Grace, a former forex trader, tells us how they pulled off this feat.
#1: Pay for everything in credit.
“My maxim in life is: When you use cash, you lose cash. You’re basically leaving money on the table when you use cash — you don’t earn rebates, points or miles. I use my credit cards to pay for everything, even when I’m having a $3 burger at McDonald’s or chicken wings at Food Republic.”
#2: Don’t go out of your way to spend.
“We chalked up miles through a combination of everyday purchases and big purchases such as birthday presents or air tickets. One of the things about travel hacking is to be able to use credit card miles to get free travel, but at the same time, not spending more than we need to. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose. We probably spent the most on a family trip to the Maldives [last year]. That said, you do need to work backwards and plan how many miles you need, and what needs to be accomplished [to get those miles].”
#3: Coincide the application of a credit card with your big purchases.
“Many cards will have signing bonuses. For example, Citi PremierMiles gives you 42,000 miles as a signing bonus but it requires you to spend $10,000 within the first three months. So if you’re planning to travel, or buy big ticket items like a new TV or a laptop, coincide that with the application of a new credit card since you’re more likely to meet the minimum requirement then. You can buy a car with a credit card, up to a certain amount, and that amount varies among car dealers. We did that two-and-a-half-years ago prior to our goal of earning 1mil miles. But we’d already planned to buy a car, and didn’t do it to earn miles.”
#4: Aim for business class.
“It’s more value-for-money to use your miles to redeem business class tickets, rather than economy class. When you buy the tix with cash, business class tickets cost three to four times more than economy class tickets. If you redeem with miles, it’s only twice as many miles needed.”
#5: Be flexible and very, very patient.
To book the flights, they spent a total of five hours on the phone with airline customer service staff over the course of one week. “The round-the-world (RTW) ticket allows you to fly from one destination to around the world in one direction and back to your original point, and you can choose a certain number of stopovers, but the total distance travelled is 35,000 miles maximum. You can only redeem the flights on the phone, not online. We had to throw out our original itinerary because it was impossible to get business class tickets on some segments [of travel] as there were limited seats available. So we had to plan our itinerary over the phone. You just have to be really patient and flexible with your travel plans. The maximum validity is one year, and since we’d decided we’d travel for six months, that gave us a lot of flexibility to choose flights on alternative dates if we needed to.”
#6: A cashback credit card isn’t fab for earning miles.
“Cashback cards don’t allow you to earn miles because you get rebates. You want a card that lets you earn miles that can be transferred to an airline partner, for example, Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer frequent flyer programme, so that all your credit card points can be transferred to Krisflyer miles.”
#7: To amass even more miles, don’t shop direct from online stores.
“If you wanna shop online at ASOS or eBay for example, go via the Krisflyer spree website. You earn extra miles, in addition to what you normally earn on your spending.”
#8: Stay alert for deals.
“I’m always on the lookout credit card offers. Sometimes, there are seasonal promos and for two months, you may get extra miles for certain things. My husband and I are really credit card geeks, thanks in part to what we have on Get.com ’cos [we have the technology] to automatically sort out the best cards for each purpose and find the best deals and it made our life easier.”