Jenny McIver, 41, event planner, Atlanta
Weeks traveling a year for work/leisure: 20/10
Typical annual travel spending: $10,000
In 2005, McIver spotted an interesting article in the newspaper. It detailed the adventures of a writer who sold his house and traveled for a year. The tale struck a chord, says McIver: "Taking a year off wasn't really an option, but I decided I could do a month."
And that's what she did -- that year, and every year since. Her first move was to take advantage of her travel-heavy job (McIver, who runs her own business, spends about 20 weeks on the road a year).
She uses a rewards credit card for travel, socking away all her miles in a personal account, and once a year she plunks down a whopping 280,000 miles for a round-the-world business-class ticket. This fare lets her circumnavigate the globe, making six stops where she can stay as long as she likes. She often adds destinations by taking a short-hop flight from one of her primary stops.
This year, McIver's globe-spanning voyage took seven weeks, touching down in Argentina, Antarctica, the Canary Islands, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia: in all, about $30,000 worth of flights that cost McIver $1,400.
A highlight, she says, was her visit to the Whitsunday Islands, off the coast of Queensland, where she took a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef. They flew low enough that she could spot sharks and sea turtles. "It was one of the most incredible things I've ever done," she says. Then there was her visit to Antarctica. She'll never forget the towering icebergs and other marvels she saw there, says McIver: "It's not a vacation. It's an expedition."
Choose the right plastic. McIver uses a Platinum Delta Skymiles American Express card, which earns her two miles for every Delta mile flown. While this card works for her, reward cards are not one size fits all.
To find the right card for you, don't focus just on extras like sign-up bonuses, says travel blogger Dima Zemsky. Instead, think about how you'll earn miles once you have the card and how often you plan to redeem. If, for instance, you don't travel on a regular basis, you'd be better off with an option that offers you extra points for buying gas or groceries.
Consider round-the-world. These multistop tickets sound exotic, but many airlines offer them, and they provide better value than booking each leg separately. You can get one for fewer miles if you go coach.
On Delta, for one, flying in the cheap seats drops the fare to 180,000 miles (a roundtrip to Thailand alone requires at least 80,000 miles). Carriers limit the number of round-the-world tickets they offer, so book early. McIver usually reserves hers about five months before departure.
Fly local. When adding short detours to her Delta itinerary, McIver looks for cheap seats on local airlines.
In Asia, for instance, she often checks Air Asia, which she has flown for less than $40. To find these carriers, McIver uses Skyscanner.net, a site that compiles prices for flights from anywhere in the world.
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