Success Story: Matt’s Frugal Round-the-World Solo Trip

Remember at the start of all this, when we were saying how we likely wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere in “March and April”?

Well, look everyone, it’s the end of April – we’ve made it!

I’m only joking, of course. It seems likely that we won’t be expecting to go anywhere in May, either, so I hope that a feel-good Reader Success Story for April 2020 may provide you with some travel inspiration at a time when many of us are developing cabin fever.

This one features Prince of Travel reader Matt B., who shared with me his experience of booking a solo trip that was both frugal and epic, paying very little money out-of-pocket while achieving a memorable journey involving no less than 10 unique cities around the world. 

Hi Ricky, 

Like many other fellow Canadians, I’m stuck at home going stir-crazy these days, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on my recent travels and share the success story of my Aeroplan Mini-RTW earlier this year.

This was a crazy, full-month-long solo jaunt around the world in economy class. Yes, economy. I wasn’t initially planning on taking a Mini-RTW, but when I found out over the summer that the window for three-stop Mini-RTWs was closing, I knew right away that I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Alas, I barely had enough Aeroplan points to even book in economy, so business class was off the table. However, I was totally fine with this given that I have an unusually high tolerance for flying economy compared to others!

Starting from Vancouver, this trip would see me stopping in Bali, South Africa, and Lisbon. Along the way I incorporated six long layovers to get a taste of six new cities: Taipei, Singapore, Zurich, Porto, Marrakesh, and Copenhagen.

Views from Table Mountain, Cape Town

Views from Table Mountain, Cape Town

For this trip, I was definitely sticking to a budget, so I made sure to pick relatively cheap places to visit as my stops, while electing to visit some of the more expensive cities on my long layovers. 

In addition, having never done long layovers before, I really wanted to take this opportunity to use Aeroplan’s generous routing policies to experience as many cities as possible throughout this trip. I must say, although it may not be for everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed my long layovers as they gave me a small taste of what each city has to offer and also a sense of which ones I might want to return to in the future to further discover.

The Itinerary

  • Vancouver – Taipei (16-hour layover) 

  • Taipei – Bangkok (connection)

  • Bangkok – Bali (8 nights) 

  • Bali – Singapore (10-hour layover) 

  • Singapore – Johannesburg (10 nights)

  • Side trip: Johannesburg–Cape Town (8 nights) 

  • Johannesburg – Zurich (12-hour layover)

  • Zurich – Porto (22-hour layover)

  • Porto – Lisbon (4 nights)

  • Lisbon – Marrakesh (23-hour layover)

  • Marrakesh – Geneva (connection)

  • Geneva – Copenhagen (22-hour layover)

  • Copenhagen – London (connection)

  • London – San Francisco (connection) 

  • San Francisco – Vancouver 

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To keep taxes and surcharges to a minimum, I mostly selected airlines such as EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, TAP Air Portugal, SAS, and United.

I should also note that I had a very slight schedule change that enabled me to tweak the end of my itinerary, thus allowing me to fly through London Heathrow without having to incur any of their notoriously high taxes.

My out-of-pocket expenses for the airfare came to the following:

  • Aeroplan taxes and fees (including booking fee): $371.31

  • South Africa domestic round-trip flights JNB–CPT: $146.48

  • Total airfare cost: $517.79

The Points

The bulk of the Aeroplan miles used for this Mini-RTW were obtained through the welcome bonuses of three specific credit cards:

  • Amex Gold Rewards Card, 25,000 Aeroplan miles after 1:1 transfer from Amex MR, First Year Free (at the time)

  • TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, 30,000 Aeroplan miles, First Year Free

  • Amex Bonvoy Card, approximately 33,000 Aeroplan miles after the 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points were transferred to Aeroplan during a 35% bonus promotion, $70 annual fee after Great Canadian Rebates cash back

  • Total fees: $70

This covered most of the 100,000 Aeroplan miles required for the booking, along with the rest of the points earned from miscellaneous sources such as Aeroplan eStore purchases.

Additionally, I applied for the Amex Business Platinum Card specifically for the unlimited Priority Pass visits and the automatic Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy. Both of these would be very valuable on this trip. 

I love to lounge-hop and ended up visiting 30 Priority Pass lounges on this trip, as well as the Amex Centurion Lounge in San Francisco. Needless to say, when doing a Mini-RTW in economy class, the lounge access in an absolute must! I will, of course, also be using the juicy welcome bonus from this card to help fund my next big trip too!

The Accommodations

For the accommodations, I stayed at a wide range of places – everything from Marriott hotels, to guesthouses, to hostels. I should mention that I consider myself a “flashpacker” because I am a budget traveller by heart, but at the same time I do like to maintain a reasonable level of comfort throughout my travels and even throw in a splash of luxury here or there.

For the Marriott stays, I used 12,500 points for a two-night stay at Protea Balalaika Sandton in Johannesburg. I was fortunate enough to receive an upgrade to a suite after emailing the manger beforehand expressing my enthusiasm and excitement towards my upcoming stay at the property and the city of Johannesburg as a first time visitor.

This Category 1 property was a bit outdated, however more than adequate nonetheless. The location was ideal, being situated in the pleasant Sandton business district.  

In Cape Town, I used 47,500 points for eight nights at Protea Cape Town Mowbray. I took advantage of the fifth-night-free benefit here at this Category 1 property. I was not able to get an upgrade as the hotel was sold out given that January and February is peak season in Cape Town.

Protea Cape Town Mowbray

Protea Cape Town Mowbray

Many of the Marriott properties in Cape Town were Category 2s and Category 3s; however, this one caught my eye from the distinctive and unique Dutch colonial influence of the building, not to mention the lower Category 1 designation. This property was really quite charming and was well worth the 12-minute Uber ride into the city each day!

Altogether, I spent 10 nights in South Africa for a grand total of 60,000 Bonvoy points! As has been mentioned before, South Africa remains a terrific destination to redeem Bonvoy points given the long list of low Category properties littered all over the country (although I do believe many of these properties have gone up in category due to last Bonvoy devaluation.)

For the rest of the trip, I stayed in simple, no-frills accommodation. That meant everything from a $40 hostel dorm bed in expensive Copenhagen, to a beautiful (and ridiculously cheap) guesthouse in Bali where I was living like a king for $31/night, or even a quaint room in a charming little riad in the heart of Marrakesh for $50/night. 

A riad in Marrakesh, Morocco

A riad in Marrakesh, Morocco

I put a lot of research into finding great accommodation within my budget and my expectations were exceeded in almost every accommodation I stayed at. This wide variety of accommodation accounted for 15 nights all together, and the vast majority of the costs were covered from the gifts card that I redeemed for 30,000 Avion points (thanks to the RBC Avion Visa Infinite card) during a 25% transfer bonus promotion. 

In the end, my total out of pocket cost for accommodation this whole entire trip was a measly $224.40. This is one of the reasons why I love RBC Avion points so much! They are so versatile!

Between flights and accommodation, my total cost was only $742.19. Heck, my biggest expense of the trip ended up being tours!

The goal of this trip was to see as much of the world as possible while spending relatively little money doing it. At the same time, I’m not a hardcore backpacker and wanted to travel comfortably too. In the end, I enjoyed an epic four weeks exploring a wide array of unique cities around the world and it would not have been possible without the help of Miles & Points to heavily subsidize this trip. 

I remember thinking to myself while standing on the top of Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, just after reaching the summit of my hike: I simply can’t believe how fortunate I am to have the ability to do a trip like this. All thanks to Miles & Points and also learning a thing or two from your blog, Ricky!

Man, I do love this game.

Say, Matt, just how amazing is that feeling of hiking up to the summit, drinking in a sweeping view of the city below, and revelling in the fact that Miles & Points made it all possible? It’s just one of the best feelings in the world, and for me, it’s what keeps me coming back for more day after day, year after year.

I was very happy to receive Matt’s success story of a round-the-world trip in economy class, because it struck me as a trip that I could see myself taking a few years ago, back when I was just getting started in the game. 

Indeed, before I got into the habit of flying business class, I used to do things like fly extended economy class itineraries (like Toronto–Beijing the long way around, via long layovers Frankfurt and London) purely out of the love of travel. While the luxury factor is always nice, I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say that the rush of excitement when exploring a new destination is ultimately the real motivator.

And what better way to see as many new destinations as possible than a three-stop Aeroplan Mini-RTW with lots of long layovers along the way? The trip may have gotten exhausting at some point, but between the excitement of seeing as much of the city in a short time and the unlimited lounge-hopping before flights (30 Priority Pass lounges, wow!), I’m sure Matt managed to get by just fine.

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco

Amex Centurion Lounge San Francisco

Having said that, the art of maximizing long layovers may not be suitable to everyone – I get the sense that Matt is a younger and fitter traveller who’s happy to zip around the world at lightning speed, and while I personally have the same tolerance for fast-paced adventures, I know many other travellers would prefer a more relaxing journey with more time at each destination. 

Looking at the Aeroplan routing, I must say that the little backtrack from Lisbon to Marrakesh and then back to Switzerland was a real masterstroke, and one that many other travellers who might be curious about Morocco could consider incorporating into their trips.

Then, let’s talk about the accommodations that Matt chose for this trip, which were divided across a wide range of price and quality.

Just like Becca’s Success Story last month, South Africa is a wonderful place to redeem Bonvoy points due to the wealth of lower-category hotels available. Meanwhile, even though we mainly focus on maximizing loyalty programs to stay at hotels here at Prince of Travel, there’s no denying that a lot of value can be found in cheaper lodging options as well.

That’s especially true in places like Bali – sure, the St. Regis has their private pools and killer breakfast and all, but one can just as easily live like royalty in a guesthouse (which usually come with private pools as well) for less than $50/night. 

If you’re not dead-set on hotels, there’s a real case for diversifying your accommodation range (perhaps with the use of gift cards via RBC Avion points to offset the cost, as Matt had done) and thus making your hotel points go farther when you do want to redeem them.

Thanks for sharing, Matt, I’ll be sending you 5,000 Aeroplan miles as a reward to get you closer towards the next big trip, which I hope you’re spending this time at home productively planning out!

And if you’d like your story to be featured too, send me an email with “[Success Story]” in the subject line for a chance to be selected for the May edition!

  1. Richard

    Thanks for sharing your love for travel in such a refreshingly non-pretentious way.

  2. Victoria@TheBritishBerliner

    Great story. Nice one!

  3. Timbo2

    Amazing trip Matt….. how about a follow up article detailing your secret formula for an "unusually high tolerance for flying economy". I can’t be the only one curious.

    1. Matt B

      Thank you for the kind comments everyone! Timbo2, my secret formula is the innate ability to fall asleep instantly on command. Enjoying a few preflight beverages helps too… 🙂

  4. Jason

    Thank you Matt for the wonderful ideas!

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