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The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking-related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.
People respond in different ways to my articles and Instagram pictures. Sometimes, they’re met with praise and appreciation. Other times, with resentment. But my favorite reaction of all is when people are inspired by my travels to take trips of their own.
That’s what made me so happy about an email I received back in January. Longtime TPG reader David Forman had wanted to explore the South Pacific when he spotted my column about my two-month-long backpacking trip across the South Pacific using points and miles.
Forman was inspired, so he decided to book his own version of the trip.
In all, Forman’s 17 day trip (which included stays at the Fiji Marriott Momi Bay and Le Méridien Bora Bora), had a value of approximately $9,050. However, his final cost was just $1,745 after redeeming 246,784 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, 165,000 Marriott points and 96,000 Delta SkyMiles.
He earned these points and miles with his Chase Sapphire Reserve, the former Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, as well as travel from a consulting job. (You can see the new Marriott Bonvoy credit card offers here.)
I was thrilled for him and excited about his adventure, especially because I was seeing some of the exact same places he was going to see just a few weeks after. My journey ended one day before his, and now that we’ve both returned to the US, I asked him about his experience. We started way back, at the beginning.
Discovering The Points Guy
“I have been a diligent reader of The Points Guy since 2014 when I graduated from college and was looking for advice on my first credit card to bank business trip rewards as an inexperienced 21-year-old,” Forman said. “I was new to travel and had only visited four countries, and I had accepted a job as an IT consultant knowing that I could expect some domestic travel. I landed on The Points Guy website after researching best hotel loyalty programs and co-branded credit cards.”
“Fast forward to present day. I just celebrated my 26th birthday, have now traversed 46 countries and 46 states and completed 600 hotel nights in five years. I maintain Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite [status] and have been either a Delta Platinum Medallion or Diamond Medallion for the last four years. Travel has turned into a fulfilling passion for me, but it would have not been accessible or affordable for someone my age without learning how to maximize rewards and understanding the many alliances or partnerships that exist between the major loyalty programs.”
Dreaming of the South Pacific
“On a trip to Auckland in 2017, I had an ‘aha’ moment when I laid eyes on the giant departures board in the international ticketing area,” Forman said. “It was the first time I had witnessed all of these bucket list island destinations like the Cook Islands, Fiji and Tahiti being accessible as nonstop routes, and I swore that I would one day return to that side of the world to really explore.”
“Last Christmas, I had a break in my work schedule to allow for planning a new trip.” So Forman sat down at a coffee shop to plan his itinerary and discovered my article about planning a South Pacific trip using award chart sweet spots and “minimal out-of-pocket costs.”
Forman also said that by following my trip to Tahiti, Easter Island, Vanuatu and elsewhere in the region on Instagram, he, “had a good idea of what parts [he] wanted to replicate.”
South Pacific Trip Highlights
“The experience atop Vanuatu’s Mount Yasur volcano; spending four nights in an overwater bungalow at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay; and having Ahu Tongariki basically to myself on Easter Island make the short list for the highlight reel,” Forman said.
Lessons From the Road
“I thought I would have a bit of an edge, being a fairly seasoned traveler going into this trip,” said Forman, “But you always learn something new when you are on your own.”
“One lesson was that I need to give hostels more credit when planning future trips. I stayed at both a five-star Marriott resort in an overwater bungalow and a $35 per night hostel during this trip. I had more fun in the hostel than looking at water from my bed. I realize hostels are not for everyone, but you tend to find more inspiration for future trips talking to other backpackers than the couple who is just visiting the resort for their honeymoon.”
“Another lesson is to read reviews about your destination before you go and to utilize tools like Google Flights to determine options. I would have never discovered Mount Yasur, experienced one of the more incredible bike rides of my life along the coastline of Easter Island … or even known about a weekly 3am nonstop flight from Tahiti (PPT) to Easter Island (IPC) had I not read up on the experiences of other travelers on websites like this one. While I do regret not applying more sunscreen during this trip, any of the more stressful moments were completely outweighed by the memories that I know many people will never experience.”
“I was a longtime, silent reader on the site and definitely fell into the mental block every so often that there is just so much to learn about traveling (and traveling on points) that it can become discouraging,” Forman admitted. “Similar to when I introduced my friends and family to The Points Guy, it is important to understand that you do not have to be a road warrior and stay in hotels 100 nights per year to access these types of itineraries.”
“The Points Guy taught me to focus on how I am paying for my everyday expenses and to take advantage of rewards categories and sign up bonuses, which is something anyone who spends money on a credit card can apply regardless of age or income.”
“After trying a little bit of everything on this trip, I realized that the memories are going to be gained from excursions and adventures on the ground, as opposed to the legroom on a flight or the room service at a hotel. I flew in the main cabin of planes for over 24,000 miles during my 17-day trip with the exception of one leg in LATAM business class (thanks to booking through the Spanish version of LATAM’s site). Each flight was as uneventful as the next, had no delays and arrived on time or early to all destinations. I would have been disappointed if I had pushed this trip another year just to make sure I was able to lie flat for a 13-hour flight segment. Instead, I saved the extra points and can travel again soon!”
There is a lot to love about Forman’s trip, but what stands out for me is that, despite being well-traveled, this was his first backpacking journey in which he covered many stops and learned the joys of hostel life. (After all, backpackers aren’t opposed to premium travel — we are just opposed to paying for it). This is just the beginning of a whole new world of travel for him.
I also think Forman’s tips can help other readers and aspirational travelers. It’s easy to read about TPG staff member trips and think it’s unattainable for everyday people. But with an intelligent credit card strategy, anyone can bank enough miles for a trip like this. Even my trip across the South Pacific was completely funded by my personal points, miles and cash.
Though Forman’s story feels similar to mine — from his career to his approach to travel — one big difference is that The Points Guy wasn’t around when I was a traveling consultant. While I did fairly well earning points and miles, I made the big mistakes of avoiding annual fees, not transferring points to partner programs and missing bonus earning categories. Forman, on the other hand, has learned all this from the beginning. And it’s paid off.
This year, Forman plans to visit Australia, Dubai, South America and Iceland to, hopefully, take advantage of discounted lodging after the WOW air collapse — adventures he will document on his Instagram account. Hopefully, his story will inspire other readers to make their travel dreams a reality.
Know before you go.
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