How I find the time/resources to travel

OK, here’s a slightly off topic (since I’ve mostly been covering my travels lately) post about the question that I’m asked most often. I’ve inferred it throughout my posts and in general most that have been reading my blog for a while could probably figure it out, but I’ll spell out the answer in one post.

The question is along the lines of “how do you find the time/resources to fly 200,000 miles a year as a student?”

The answer is pretty simple.

Several years ago I got an email from the chief auditor of the Nigerian National Bank. As it turned out a well off government official had passed away, and it was determined that I was the next of kin. After doing some paperwork and simple wire transfers I was awarded a lump sum of $17,350,000.00 (seventeen million three hundred and fifty thousand dollars). It was that easy. Ever since I’ve been traveling whenever I have time, because with $17mil+, how can I afford not to?

OK, maybe that’s not the whole truth. Fine, maybe that couldn’t be further from the truth and is just an email sitting in my blog inbox right now. Would be nice if it was true, but the reality is a bit different.

The truth is that I wasn’t born into money and am far from rich. A majority of my travel is self funded, although I think most would be surprised by how little I spend. I’ll avoid going into exact figures, but ultimately my mileage runs make my “real” trips cheaper. So basically the amount I fly (and thereby spend) in order to earn enough miles for a premium cabin international award is substantially less than I’d pay for a coach ticket on the same route.

I’m very creative. On this past trip, for example, we stayed at several five star hotels, none of which were fully paid for (in $$$). I would NEVER pay a premium airfare to sit up front (I just don’t think it’s worth it), and I’d never actually pay full price for a very nice five star hotel (unless it’s ridiculously cheap, as is the case in many parts of the world).

My mileage runs are also partially funded by my parents, but there’s something in it for them. Most of our relatives live in Germany, so we visit them frequently. Ultimately I’ll use my miles to get my family first and business class award tickets, and they’re paying less for my mileage runs (those that they actually pay for) than they’d pay for a simple, cheap coach ticket to Europe. It really is that straightforward, and works out for both of us.

As to how I find the time to fly that much, that’s more of a toughie which I can’t really give a good answer to. I guess I just find the time somehow. I still go to school fulltime, work, and have a semi-social life (as much as one can have anyway doing as much traveling as I do). Much of my travel is on weekends and holidays, so I never miss class for my hobby.

Somehow it all works out in the end, and I’m pretty damn happy with it.

If anyone would like clarification or has more questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I’m all for openness and sharing my experiences, or else I wouldn’t have started a blog.

Comments

  1. That is really amazing. I have a full time job and I wonder if I will ever be able to do mileage run. I really want to try out as I would love to visit HK every few months if possible (of course dreaming).

  2. Maybe, Ben, something about methods/ethics of the ever-elusive (for some folks) cheapening of travel based on a mileage run? I know you’ve mentioned vouchers and skykits a few times, and, I have a pretty good idea as to how these work, but, maybe a post on the different types of vouchers, which can be redeemable for travel, and which are as good as cash? Moreover, I’d be interested in learned the best way to secure the best possible compensation during denied boarding (both VDB and IDB), and the best items for which to attempt to seek compensation.

    I’ve always been admirer of your Robin Hood and Gang of Merry Men type approach to ferreting out and capitalizing on the troubles of air travel to grab more for the little guy. If you can share some of your tips with some of the even-littler folks trying to join said Gang, it’d be most appreciated.

    Thanks!

  3. Oh, as well, I’d be interested in a post about, and apologies if this is a bit confusing, the more “general” type ways to eke out the best premium classes and hotel rooms: is it miles? redeeming hotel points? undergoing various hotel challenges that allow you free room upgrades?

    For us travel nerds, you’re a pioneer, and we certainly admire your abilities. Thanks for all of your tips and tricks, thus far.

  4. Gray, all excellent topics. I’ll add them to my “to do” list (which is way too long right now), and hopefully get to them within the next couple of weeks. If I don’t, feel free to shoot me an email as a reminder.

    Thanks! 🙂

  5. So with school, work and a social life (outside of FT!), I can only guess you blog in your sleep. Or DO you sleep? 😉

  6. Wow, Lucky, your story is stunning….it really sounds as if it came from a movie! so I guess my question has been answered! (I think I understand why you chose that username 😉 )

    By the way, awesome blog…

    cheers from Paris,

  7. How did I miss this when you originally posted? Laughing out loud about the Nigerians – love it – enjoying going through your archives today. John and I have just returned from our European vacation (thanks for all your help and advice on that) The travel experience was so good that he is a points/miles convert – he wants to go on a MR tomorrow but I am making him read FT and your blog first so we get the right CPM.

  8. Hi Ben,

    The explanation above reminds me a little of the story of the widget vendor sales manager whose accountant tells him he’s losing $5 per sale: “Don’t worry about that, we’ll make it up on volume!” replies the manager.

    Seriously: mileage and mattress runs are all expenses for your business, and you can’t pay the rent with an award ticket.

    I’m interested to know where the income side of the balance sheet comes from. I guess a slice of it is from advertising revenue on this site. Consultancy fees? What’s the actual product offering? Roughly speaking, what’s the revenue mix? Do you worry about competition from free sources like Flyertalk and so on?

    I find it fascinating it’s possible to generate a profit this way.

    Do you ever think you’ll tire of flying? I fly perhaps 150-200K miles a year (international first and business class) because my employer asks me to: at this point in my life (mid 30s) you couldn’t get me on a mileage run at gun point.

  9. Aha! So what you’re telling us, Lucky, is that you were the inspiration for the movie, Up In the Air. LOL! Thanks for the backstory. It also doesn’t hurt, I’m sure, that you’ve been flying & earning miles since you were in short pants.

    Great blog, thanks!

  10. Hey Ben,

    Must say I was extremely intrigued reading your blogs/view photos on your instagram etc which I just discovered myself today.

    In reading your blogs, I relate to almost everything you say in myself, from the curiosity of wondering which corner of the world passengers are travelling to as well as the buzz I get from trying out a new lounge or a new airline etc.

    I would just like to state that similar to you I have been fortunate enough to travel the world and experience the various 5 star hotels of the world throughout my life as a student in the UK. (thanks to my parents of course)

    Upon graduation however, my dad insists that I put a halt to this and start getting serious in life as this can’t go on forever.

    Therefore the questions I have for you are:

    1) Do you agree with my dad?
    2) Is there realistic scope of doing something like this for a living – in terms of possibilities of setting up an official bespoke review company (reviewing first/business class lounges and 5 star hotels) which would allow us to travel for a living? – to be targeted at A-list clientele.

    Finally do you visit either Dubai or Mumbai often? As I am currently in Mumbai on an internship however Dubai is home and shall be returning back shortly.

    Please do let me know, as travelling has always been my passion and I can’t seem to live without jetting off to another country every other week.
    However would very much like the idea of doing it for a reason and a living rather than purely pleasure which has been the case for me in the last 10 years of my life.
    Couldn’t have thought of a better person to approach/take advice from that someone such as yourself who has already been doing this for the past 6 years.

    It would also be very nice to meet you in person to discuss on this further.
    So do let me know if you in Dubai/Mumbai in the next couple of months.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards, Nick

  11. @ Nick — I’m a firm believer that if you’re passionate about something you can make a living doing it… long term. I started doing this as a hobby almost a decade ago without ever expecting I’d make a living doing it. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d be in the same place if I started off doing this as a business, as opposed to starting it off as a passion and eventually turning it into a business.

    So I do think there’s potential to do something like this long term full time… but it might be tough to make a living with it at first.

    Here’s another post I wrote about tips for blogging, which I think you might find interesting:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2014/02/18/tips-becoming-travel-blogger/

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