Travel More, Fly First Class and Pay Nothing?

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Last summer, my wife, my daughter and I traveled to the other side of the world. We went from NYC to Hong Kong to Bali to Australia, then L.A. and back to NYC.

It was am amazing trip. Life-changing for all of us.

One that taught us all so much about the world and about travel and how interconnected we all are.

Funny enough, though, one of my first memories of the trip was boarding the 15-hour flight from NYC to Hong Kong. Walking through the first-class cabin, spacious with with reclining, super-plush, sleep-chamber seats, my daughter looked up and smiled. How cool is this plane, she said.

Then…we kept walking. lol.

Into the massive, every-seat-packed like sardines coach cabin, where we’d stay sandwiched in for the next 15 hours. I’m a reasonably compact guy, but it was pretty tight. Can’t imagine how someone larger than me would’ve dealt. I was with my girls, though, we were on an adventure and we made the best of it, knowing there was lots of magic to come. In that context, no big whup.

We took a lot more flights throughout our travels and that adventure kindled a giant desire to travel a lot more in all of us. And, I have to confess, numerous times I peeked up front and thought how sweet it would be to be chilling there in my own private fully-reclined flying Barkalounger.

So, as I start planning our next big adventure, I’ve been wondering about two questions:

  • How much more often would we travel if the flights and hotels cost next to nothing?
  • How much farther would we go if we could fly business or first-class, especially on long hauls?

And, here’s the thing, we could have done both on our travels last summer…if I’d just paid attention to what my buddy, Chris Guillebeau, was trying to teach me about travel hacking. But, never having traveled like that, I didn’t pay much attention (sound of hand smacking forehead).

Every flight and hotel could have either cost nothing or rounded pretty darn close. And the long-haul flights could all have been business or first class.

A lot of you guys already know Chris. He writes the blog, came out with a huge-selling book by the same name earlier this year, then promptly launched a 63-stop U.S.-Canada book tour. And he’s now in the later stages of a 5 year quest to visit every country in the world.

Not only has he traveled so much without going poor, he’s actually done a lot of it for next to nothing, including flying business or first-class.

As Chris just shared in a post on his blog last week:

Earning the miles is fun, but using them is even better. Last year I redeemed 400,000 miles for my big trips to Kazakhstan, Belarus, Cameroon, Thailand, the Maldives, and multiple repositioning flights between Europe and the U.S.

Next month I’m flying to the Mideast to begin a Round-the-World trip. I used AA miles to book my Business Class flights on British Airways and Royal Jordanian. Cash price: $4,500. Price with miles: $84 in taxes. On the way I’ll layover in Heathrow at the Sheraton airport hotel. Cash price: $220. Price with Starwood points: free.

Chris, you see, is a professional travel-hacker.

He lives and breaths ways to score more than a million air-miles a year, many without ever setting foot on a plane or even spending a dime, then cashing them in big time (Don’t tell him I told you this, but if I remember correctly, the dude once got a hair-transplant evaluation even though he’s got a great head of hair just because there was a rare crazy deal that gave him 20,000 miles for doing it…pretty sure I didn’t dream that!).

So, now we’re looking at our travel plans for next summer, time to set up our next great adventure. After last summer, my daughter now loves to travel. She’s got skype-pals on the other side of the world. How cool is that? It’s so important to we keep building on our experience of the world outside our relatively cloistered existence.

But, I also wouldn’t mind being able to:

  • Fly better than coach,
  • Travel more often, and even
  • Pay a lot less money to do so.

Which is why I’m so insanely excited about the project Professor Guillebeau is launching today…

The Travel Hacker’s Cartel.

The Travel Hacker’s Cartel is a membership program that ferrets out all sorts of insane limited-time air mile deals and sends you alerts that let you amass a mountain of air-miles, often without setting foot on a plane.

I know my plan is to do just that before our summer adventure, so that we can travel like rock stars for pennies on the dollar.

Plus, Chris’ travel hacks should also let us do more when we’re in other countries and have more to give when we’re there.

If you don’t have any real desire to experience the world, totally cool. Until recently, I didn’t either. You’ll probably still want to check out Chris’ blog and book, though. Both are amazing.

But, if you’re like me and traveling, either alone or with family and friends, is something you’d love to do, but would also love to fly farther, in more luxury, spend less, give more and do it all more often

Head over to check out what Chris is
up to at the Travel Hacking Cartel.

[Disclaimer: Chris is a good friend of mine. Even though he looks exactly like The Dread Pirate Robert from The Princess Bride, I don’t hold it against him…I just wish he wouldn’t always wear the black eye-sash at parties and walk around shouting “as you wiiiissssshhhhh!” (it’s getting old). If you sign up for his gig, I get some kind of commission. I don’t remember what it is, but honestly, the membership fee is so affordable, I don’t really see how I could end up making enough to retire yet, but, hey, I’m not complaining because he is, in fact, the Dread Pirate Robert and has mad sword skills, so I don’t want to piss him off. So, buy, don’t buy, the real reason I’m sharing this is because I trust Chris and if you travel the way I’m starting to, it can make the process a whole lot more fun and save you a bundle. Then again, if you had the power of invisibility, you could sneak onto any flight you wanted, but you’d still have to stand the whole time and peeing could be a real issue, which would kinda suck, oh look, shiny…]

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25 responses

25 responses to “Travel More, Fly First Class and Pay Nothing?”

  1. Jonathan, if you get the chance, please do not pass up a visit to Helsinki! I lived there for several years and it’s absolutely amazing!!! Just don’t go in the winder! LOL If you go around the end of June, you’ll be able to catch Mid-Summer Night’s Eve celebrations and those are pretty awesome too. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Stockholm and Oslo…also incredibly beautiful! Your daughter would also love getting to see Lapland and the folks who actually herd reindeer – pretty wild!

    …Now it’s off to share this and check out the “cartel” (grin)

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Sounds awesome, will definitely add that to our explorers’ list. Thanks!

  2. Sonia Simone says:

    Whoa, I never saw the Pirate Roberts thing until now, and it is SO OBVIOUS.

    Everything is getting much clearer now.

    I’m with you — I’d love to be able to fly up in the nice seats. I picked up Chris’s earlier PDF and I’m going to pick this one up for sure — travel is one of my great joys, and right now it’s costing me a fortune.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, he tries to keep it under wraps, then I saw him opening letters with crazy skills and it all fell into place. 😉

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grant Griffiths, kurio's resource, Shawn Clausing, Santi Chacon, TwittyBean and others. TwittyBean said: Travel More, Fly First Class and Pay Nothing? […]

  4. Angela I. says:

    Hi Jonathan, I love your blog It is so fun to read about all your great adventures!

  5. Not preaching – just asking…

    If one were to do all that flying, should one start counting one’s CO2 emissions, and thinking about offsetting them?

    I’ve been happy enough not to bother so far, as I don’t fly all that much, and I have my own CO2 reduction program in place (chopping my own firewood, recycling building timber for firewood,super-insulating the house, enhancing heating controls etc.) I’d buy a hybrid if the CO2 economics made sense – last time I checked, they didn’t.

    But, if I were jetting around the world, I’d have to think again. Problem is, a lot of the carbon offsetting is poorly done, and some is outright scammery, from what I know. More research needed I think.

    Anyone looked into that much?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Really good question, I’d love to learn more about how to do this the right way as well.

    • Great question, Brendan. Hopefully Chris is thinking about this. I asked him on his blog about it, but my comment didn’t make it through moderation. It’s worth considering how off-setting really works and it’s too bad much of it is a scam. I didn’t know that.

      • Yeah Katie,

        looks like a lot of the money that goes into offsetting would be better used somewhere else. There’s an interesting article at

        about this. Sadly, it looks like they’ve ruined what seemed at first to be a good idea.

        I guess we can do our own carbon offsetting, and teach our children to consider it in their lives. I’m not a pure-bred eco-warrior – I like my car and my oil-fired heating – but I do have a notion that this planet has a very delicate balance, and we ain’t getting another one soon, especially if we break this one!

        Of course, if you’re going to fly anyway, First Class would be nice…

        • Katie says:

          I’m all for travel, first class or otherwise for the expanded awareness it brings, as Jonathan points out. What I object to is the kind of travel based purely on getting points – some people even take a flight to somewhere they don’t want to go, never leave the airport, then fly back just to reach the next level of some reward plan. That sucks. Thanks for the interesting perspective and article, Brendan.

    • caitlyn says:

      I struggle with the idea that travel is irresponsible. We have even curtailed our hiking habits in favour of walking through our neighbourhood and working in the garden … including planting a few of our own vegetables.

      This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a first class flight to somewhere cool. Not sure I believe the carbon offset programs really are the answer but would like to know how to know.

      • Jonathan Fields says:

        I also look at the benefits that come from travel that’s not just vacation, but travel that introduces you to parts of the world and people that expand both your awareness of how interconnected we all are and your ability and motivation to do something about it.

  6. jason says:

    Do you know if this will work for people outside the US, in the UK for example?

  7. Chris Shouse says:

    I really liked this post. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Hi Jonathan –

    I pay for a latte with my mileage card. It does build up.

    One other tip. Not for first class air but air and hotels.

    Get familiar on how to bid on Priceline. Little tricky but your readers are smart.

    I do all my son’s travel. He’s always on the road with his job and has a per diem. Which is never enough.

    You can’t tell Priceline the time you want to fly – just the date.

    You can’t tell them the hotel you want just the area of the city.

    You can tell them whether you want deluxe 4 stars or economy.

    I always get 40 to 50% off when I bid. Just saved him $487. on a ticket. Last minute too.

    (FYI This is not an affiliate link. Just a tip)

  9. Contrarian says:

    Isn’t a cartel is an arrangement among competing firms where they agree to fix prices, marketing, and production to squeeze the end user consumer? Isn’t that the definition of the airlines? So let me get this straight … Chris has formed a cartel to put the squeeze on the cartel? 😉

  10. Rex says:

    Dang! You are exactly right! Chris does look like the Dread Pirate Robert!

    But I trust him, because we chatted in Seattle during his amazing book tour. He’s got no sword. But he does have a mean pen, and we all know that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

    My wife and I are complete homebodies. We never travel for anything, except the long road trip to the grandparents and cousins every year.

    But this whole Cartel thing makes me want to get out there! Maybe a huge discount would help us grab an adventure.

  11. Gotta love Chris. One of my favorite interviews I’ve done (besides you Jonathan 😉

    Always great to see people doing things…differently.

  12. That is the best disclaimer I’ve ever read, and some of your most creative writing, Jonathan.

    First time I saw Chris I said “inconceivable!”

  13. Dustin says:

    I’m a super fan of both yours and Chris’s blogs. Although I’m not currently interested in traveling I will definitely keep this program in mind.

    Thanks guys!

  14. Marie davis says:

    Great idea, I’ll tell my partner to look intuit!

  15. […] Travel More, Fly First Class and Pay Nothing? Jan 25, 2011 … Last summer, my wife, my daughter and I traveled to the other side of the world. […]