One family of four is flying around the world in business class for free. Pedro Pla, 35, from Puerto Rico and Grace Cheng, 36, from Singapore are travelling with their two toddlers for six months.
In the span of a year, the couple managed to rack up a million travel miles with their credit cards. The couple says they used their credit cards to pay for absolutely everything — big purchases and small.
They say the trick is to use multiple credit cards that have generous signing bonuses. And of course, to pay your balance in full before the end of the month. The couple also runs an online business, where they get a commission if anyone applies for credit card, loan and insurance policy through their website.
When it comes to travelling with their two boys Ramses, 4, and Ranefer, 2, the couple says it’s about planning in advance. The couple family began their adventure in January and have been travelling for four-and-a-half months. So far, they’ve been to South Africa, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, Bahamas and Canada, to name a few. The family still has two more stops in Asia.
Global News interviewed the couple to understand why they decided to start such a journey and how they managed to do it for free with two toddlers in tow.
How did you get inspired to travel around the world?
Grace and I have always lived a somewhat unconventional life, prior to marriage and even after marriage with kids. We are both intrigued by the vast experiences in the world out there and also passionate about getting the best deals in life.
It is with this innate need to get out and get more of what life has to offer, that spurs us towards our lifestyle of travelling and working full-time on our website GET.com which we founded back in 2011. Being the credit card geeks we are and crazy about collecting air miles for travel, we’ve naturally created the website to help others get more for their money, especially when it comes to travel.
We began our epic adventure on 15 January 2017 from Singapore, and so far, we have travelled to South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Switzerland, Spain, U.K., Finland, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, U.S. and Canada over the past four months. We still have two more stops in Asia.
How are you doing it for free?
We made it our family goal at the start of 2016 to collect a million air miles through travel hacking. In order to reach this goal, we had to research and plan meticulously so that we were able to maximize the earning of credit card points or miles per dollar of spending.
We aren’t elite frequent travellers who fly several times a week and thus chalk up lots of miles in return. Instead, the bulk of our one million miles was earned from the ground, which means that we earned them as credit card rewards points or miles when we use our credit cards to pay for purchases. As credit card geeks, we live by this maxim: When you use cash, you lose cash. Using cash means you are missing out on getting credit card rewards points, miles or cash back. We used our credit cards to pay for everything, if possible.
How long did it take to plan this trip?
It took nearly a year with a lot of military precision research and planning for our epic trip. We reached our goal of one million miles within nine months by September 2016. The challenge we faced next was to sort out our redemption of air miles and pin down our itinerary with the airline and its network.
We had already decided on transferring all our credit card points or miles to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program since SIA (a member of the Star Alliance network) is one of the best airlines in the world. While booking our round-the-world (RTW) flights with SIA, its customer service representative told us we had “hit the jackpot” as they had never encountered anyone redeeming for RTW award tickets on business class before, let alone for four people.
Redeeming our miles with SIA took more than a week as it entailed several phone calls and emails with SIA. It probably would not take that long if you were booking just one award ticket, but in our case, since we were booking four award tickets and on business class, it was a lot trickier.
What about income? Besides the free air miles, are you making any money?
While we are financially independent, we are always on the lookout for the best deals. If we can enjoy the finer things in life for a fraction of the usual cost, we’ll find a way to make it happen. This family adventure is an example of that — we got US$54,000 worth of round-the-world business class air tickets just by crazily collecting air miles over the course of a year.
What about travelling with a family. How is that going? School/logistics/if kid gets sick etc.?
Travelling with toddlers is definitely more challenging for sure as everything takes a lot more planning and we have to pack all kinds of things just for them, such as toys and books. As we are travelling to five continents on this six-month round-the-world trip, we also have the additional consideration of packing for both warm and cold climates as we traverse from the southern to northern hemisphere, and then down south and then up north again, and so on.
Ramses and Ranefer are still toddlers, so they have toddler-specific needs, such as needing rest time and play time. As we are travelling on our own, we have the freedom to plan how we want to spend each day. They have napped everywhere, be it in a pool cabana, safari jeep, plane, taxi, museum, restaurant, or national park.
We talk to them about the different cultures and landmarks of each place and they ask a lot of questions. One of our favourite places on this trip was the Masai Mara in Kenya. Getting up close to nature (we had lions literally brush against our jeep) and having our children see in person things that are usually only seen in documentaries was amazing. We also visited a local village and school where our children got to see how other children live and study and they were fascinated with it. Travelling has definitely broadened their horizons and helped them become more adaptable to different environments and scenarios.
What does travelling offer you and your family?
It’s been a joy to listen to our children talk about the places we’ve been to and watching their knowledge of the world grow and seeing their developing interest in different cultures, nature and geography. Most of all, the highlight of travelling with our toddlers is spending so much time with them and building our bond, while exploring the world together.
What about someone’s dream to travel the world? With responsibilities, mortgages etc., what advice would you give to someone to make it happen?
People tend to associate travelling the world as an unattainable goal due to life commitments like family, work and finances, etc. However, it’s possible to see the world even with toddlers in tow, with small budgets or work while travelling as with digital nomads. It would be useful to assess how you could sustain your travel lifestyle and be prudent with your expenses.
There are many ways that you could travel cheaply or even for free. Travel hacking is one option and it is something everyone can do. You just need to set your own goal of how many miles you need to redeem for a free flight to your dream destination and then use the best credit cards to help you earn the most points or miles per dollar spent on your card. It is important not to carry a balance and pay interest which would otherwise defeat the whole purpose of getting more for your money without spending more.
— The interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.