Travelling the globe with Airline/Hotel/Credit card points. Once you know the broad categories, it becomes easy to find out where to look for a plan.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Discomfiture was scrawled across the faces of personnel from one of the leading national magazine of the country when they had visited Sujoy Mitra’s home in Gurgaon for a photoshoot which they had to cancel as they, to their utter disbelief, found his house too modest’ –in other words, too small- to enable a proper shoot. It rang a bell for them and they wished to double-check if a man with such limited means could really have visited 106 countries, with his wife, that they had come to speak to him about in the first place.
Curiosity and restlessness, when peppered with the courage to take on the fear of the unknown, result into the magical world of creativity, innovation and clever solutions. Little did Sharmishtha know, when she was marrying Sujoy seven years ago, that she was about to embark on a lifelong honeymoon which would span seven continents and 134 countries (till Aug, 2019). Already the Limca Book record holders as the couple that visited the most countries, together they aim to visit all the 198 countries (193 UN Nation + Vatican City, Kosovo, Taiwan, Palestine + Antarctica) that the world has to offer. And that’s not the most fascinating part about their worldwide rollercoaster married lives. The best part is that they accomplished their little feat while travelling business, staying in plush suites but WITHOUT having spent even half the money that was all worth.
How was it possible ?
When short on resources, desire becomes the fuel. Coming from a small town, like millions of the populace, Sujoy had a deep desire to see the world. But unlike most of those millions, Sujoy had spent his early life creating silly business plans with friends, building deep and meaningful relations, and tinkering with the world outside his comfort zone. He had grown accustomed to failures and never stopping to have his fun in the moment. All of those talents were on their work when he got his serendipitous encounter with the ecosystem of the holy trinity of airlines miles – hotel loyalty rewards -credit cards. To fulfill his desire to touch a new land, he took help from his frequently traveling colleagues, friends and their network, accumulated points for flights and hotels and booked his first trip. Fast forward seven years, he not only has helped himself and his wife travel the world with a minimal expenditure but also is managing traveling-itinerary of his high net worth clients, saving them loads of money annually.
While cryptocurrency is yet to become the accepted norm across nations and towns, today’s virtual currency, in operation, is loyalty rewards. Like finding out an internet plan that suits the self and the family the best, one needs to brush up about the existing turf of the aforementioned trio and optimize a plan that best fit one’s and one’s family’s needs and comfort.
The points/loyalty system seems overwhelming and intimidating at first. But once you know the broad categories, it becomes easy to find out where to look for a plan.
By the end of 90s, certain groups of airlines formed their consortiums that enables travelers to utilize the ‘miles’ (a term for points earned from air-travel) earned on one airlines to be used interchangeably on a partner alliance airlines. Broadly, the consortiums are Star Alliance, SkyTeam, One World and other individual consortiums where Emirates and Jet are partners, and Etihad and Jet being another set of partners.
Now, one has to be well-versed with the rules of individual partner alliance to best utilize the miles. For example, let’s say A travels makes a roundtrip from New Delhi to New York with Air India on a deep discounted ticket (E Class Economy) which is approx. 14600 Air miles travelled. Since Air India rewards only 25% of the miles travelled as reward points, the points accumulated on the roundtrip is a meagre 4000 points. Now booking a ticket from New Delhi to Mumbai, the points needed are 10,800 which implies making many trips from your pocket before being able to utilize those points. And this makes it less than attractive. But, comes into picture the power of airline consortium – Air India is a partner of Star Alliance; Turkish Airlines, being another partner, will reward whopping 50% of the miles as reward point for the aforementioned New Delhi – New York trip instead of the mere 25% of Air India! Club it with the one-time 1000 bonus points of Turkish Airlines, A can now book a New Delhi-Port Blair (Air India) one way trip using partner airline 7500 Turkish Airways points. Since Air India requires 18000 points to book the same flight, it would imply completing 5 round-trip flights from New Delhi to New York to accumulate the points needed for a single New Delhi to Port Blair flight when choosing Air India Frequent flyer program to earn points. Interestingly Miles and More loyalty program of another star alliance partner Lufthansa Airlines will accumulate Zero Points on same travel (As per Lufthansa earning policy- It is not possible to earn miles in booking classes E, L, P, S, T or U of Air Inida)
This is just one of the many tips and tricks that Sujoy has under his sleeve. There are various other facilities provided by airlines, knowledge of which may be used to optimize and trot the world in exceedingly low cost. For example, Air India provides a family account wherein all the miles earned by family members can be clubbed. British Airways, of One World consortium, allows clubbing points of up to six persons with the same residential address. Under the SkyTeam consortium, Saudi Airline too allows clubbing family member points and the same is allowed by some of the other individual consortiums such as Jet and Etihad duo. Speaking about Jet Points, Sujoy says that its’ best utilization is not with a domestic flight and paying taxes of approx. INR 700. Instead, how about booking on the New York- Buenos Aires sector with taxes only INR 156 and the rest by points on the partner American Airlines! Similar, a Delhi-Tokyo flight with Air India costs only INR 208 for a one way leg.
Hotel Loyalty Points
Parallel of airlines consortium in the hotel space would be the international hotel chain systems. As a world hopper, Sujoy eyes those chains which have their properties scattered all over the world. Hence he goes big over Hyatt and Marriott chains primarily. (An interesting news update for readers: SPG, Marriot and Ritz-Carlton online merger of loyalty points in 2018 . This is an eagerly awaited development for travelers all over the world.) Hyatt as a consortium has chains like Park Hyatt, Hyatt Regency etc. This is further divided into category 1 to 7 and as per points required to redeem. (An interesting news update for readers: We can Earn/Redeem World of Hyatt Loyalty Points for stay at Small Luxury Hotels of the World .) Value of points can be low as Rs 0.5/point when you book category 2 hotel Hyatt Regency Gurgaon and as high as Rs 3/point when you book Category 6 Park Hyatt Maldives in New Year Season. Here’s another free-tip from Sujoy –unlike Airline miles, deadline for the lapse of hotel loyalty points can be avoided by showing an activity like booking a random destination and refunding it back to your pocket in case you cancel the booking. Also one may gift hotel loyalty points within a chain or across different chains such as Marriott and Hilton. Some enable the service free of cost while some charge a certain amount to enable the transfer.
Similar to Hyatt the Marriot Chain also have category 1to 8. And they too have interestingoffers like 5th night free when staying for 4 nights using points. So when it comes to redeeming, Marriott category 1 hotel like Livingstone, Zambia, which otherwise would cost INR 12000-14000 per night, comes down to 7500 Marriott reward points per night. One needs to keep an eye on the room availability, also Marriott and Hyatt has no-blackout dates for points redemption. So Sujoy and Sharmistha are used to keeping a track of their holidays much ahead in future, as Sharmishtha has a full time job, and they book both flights and hotels months ahead in advance keeping in mind blackout dates of hotels and availability of limited number of seats reserved for miles exchange in flights.