I Spent $0 Instead of $4,000 on Travel in 2023

Instead of spending $4,000 on travel in 2023, I spent $0.

Yes, all my travel this year has been funded by credit card points.

Okay, that’s not 100% accurate. For a few flights and hotels I did have to pay taxes and fees, but the amount I had to pay (at most $50 combined) pales in comparison to the total.

Since falling down the YouTube rabbit hole of “traveling with points and miles” a couple of years ago, I have accumulated almost half a million points through regular spending and credit card sign-up bonuses (SUBs).

If you are interested in knowing how I earned all these points, check out some of my older blog posts:

In this blog post, I will focus on the redemptions. That’s the more fun part for me.

There’s no point in accumulating and hoarding onto credit card points. Companies across the board keep devaluing their currencies. Just look at the examples of Hyatt, United, and Delta recently.

If you have credit card points, use them, and travel the world. It’s not worth holding onto them only to watch them lose value every year.

Okay, with that said, let me go over my $4,000 worth of travel redemptions in 2023.

Air Canada Business Class From Toronto to Atlanta

In my recent newsletter, I told you folks that I just relocated from Canada to the US.

Toronto to Atlanta is a short 2-hour flight. It makes no sense to fly business.

However, turns out, it’s difficult to pack one year’s worth of things into a carry-on luggage. I live a very minimal life, so clothes, shoes, tech-wise I was good.

There was only one problem: books! I have too many of them.

Unlike economy tickets in Air Canada, Business class comes with 2 checked-in luggage for free. I had one oversized. That was a good enough excuse for me to book business.

In reality, now that I was more comfortable with the whole points and miles games, I wanted to try these out:

    Business class in an “international” flight

    Maple Leaf Lounge Access in Toronto airport

I will write more about my experiences in a different blog post. For now, let’s look at the redemption.

Cost Breakdown

Price: USD $500 Aeroplan Points: 25K Cents Per Point (CPP): 2

How Did I Earn Points?

Credit Cards: AMEX Gold & AMEX Cobalt Points Type: Membership Rewards (MR) Transfer Ratio: 1:1

5 Hotel Nights in Atlanta, Georgia

Once I reached Atlanta, I needed to stay in a hotel for 5 nights, before moving into my new apartment.

I had a ton of Hilton and AMEX points, so the decision was straightforward.

I booked 5 nights at a hotel in Sandy Springs, about 30 minutes North of midtown Atlanta.

Cost Breakdown

Price: USD $800 Hilton Honors Points: 120K Cents Per Point (CPP): 0.7

Hilton points are valued at half of other credit card points, so 0.7 in my opinion, was good enough.

How Did I Earn Points?

Credit Cards: Hilton Honors Business Card Points Type: Hilton Honors Points

Even though Hilton points are not valued as highly as other points, the Hilton cards are tremendous points earners. You can rack up thousands of points very quickly.

If you are someone who stays at Hilton Hotels at least a few times every year, their cards are must-haves.

Roundtrip Flights from Atlanta to San Francisco

After taking a few weeks to settle into my new apartment in Atlanta, I really wanted to go visit friends and coworkers in San Francisco.

With some international travel coming in December, I really didn’t want to spend cash on transcontinental tickets. They tend to be pretty expensive.

Enter credit card points again.

Cost Breakdown

Price: USD $577 Virgin Atlantic Points: 30K Cents Per Point (CPP): 1.9

How Did I Earn Points?

Credit Cards: AMEX Blue Business Plus and AMEX Gold Points Type: Membership Rewards (MR) Points Transfer Ratio: 1:1

Virgin Atlantic is one of American Express’s best transfer partners.

I transferred my MR points to Virgin Atlantic and then booked roundtrip delta flights between Atlanta and San Francisco.

I paid around $5 in taxes and fees, but in the grand scheme of things, I tend to ignore that.

5 Hotel Nights in San Francisco, California

Hotels in downtown San Francisco are extremely expensive.

If I want to stay at the more reasonable hotels, I have to move towards the sketchier parts of downtown SF, which I always tried to steer clear of all my 3 years in SF.

Even though I was booking with points, I just couldn’t justify spending >80,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Instead, I booked 5 nights at a hotel near Daly City, south of San Francisco. I will rent a car, so that takes care of the regular short commutes to the city.

Cost Breakdown

Price: USD $1,050 Hilton Honors Points: 180,000 Cents Per Point (CPP): 0.6

How Did I Earn Points?

Credit Cards: Hilton Honors Business Card Points Type: Hilton Honors Points

Hilton points are typically valued at 0.5 CPP. As long as I can find bookings in that ballpark, I am happy.

You might be wondering, how did I earn that many Hilton points? The answer is simple — Sign-up-bonuses (SUB) and spending in high multiplier categories (7X, 6X) with the Hilton Honors Business Card.

Even though Hilton points are not as valuable as Hyatt’s, it’s incredibly easy to accumulate them because of the high spending multipliers.

Round Trip Flight Atlanta to Dhaka, Bangladesh

Now, let’s talk about the redemption that even I did not see coming at the start of the year.

After not being back home to Bangladesh since 2020, I really wanted to visit this year. Since January, I started looking at different American Express travel partners, but nothing stuck out.

From Atlanta, there are only a few airlines that I can take:

    Qatar Airways

    Turkish Airlines

If I expand my options to starting from New York or Boston, I can unlock a few others:



Finally, if I timed my travels in such a way that I could fly from the West Coast, I could also fly Cathay Pacific.

Unlike my domestic travel, when going to Bangladesh, I usually have checked-in luggage — gotta pack all the gifts, chocolates, etc somewhere. Because of that, taking a short-haul domestic flight to “position” in NY or Boston wasn’t a realistic option.

I also eliminated Cathay Pacific pretty quickly in the research process because of a lack of planning flexibility, and poor point redemption options.

That left me with only two — Qatar and Turkish.

Luckily, Qatar is an American Express transfer partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio. However, it costs an arm and leg, even when spending points.

So, I was left with one realistic option — Turkish Airlines.

Around that time, I also started looking at some premium travel credit cards. After spending time in airport lounges in multiple cities — San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Toronto — I was spoilt!

Thinking about this for a while, I merged the two solutions:

    A Turkish Airlines points accumulation system for my trips to Bangladesh

    A relatively low annual fee premium travel credit card with lounge access

There was one clear winner — Capital One Venture X.

Cost Breakdown

Price: USD $1,200 Turkish Miles: 68,000 Cents Per Point (CPP): 1.8

How Did I Earn Points?

Credit Cards: Capital One Venture X Points Type: Capital One Mile

I have loved using this card so far!

I put all my relocation spending on this card — Ikea furniture, Amazon purchases, internet, phone, and utility bills, kitchenware, etc.

Through those regular spending, I hit the SUB which was 90,000 Capital One Miles. That’s enough for my round-trip ticket and then some.

I am also looking forward to using the card for all my airport lounge visits (especially long layovers in Istanbul), 2X points on all my miscellaneous expenses, and, finally having a VISA credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Summing Up

If you add everything up, that’s $4,127 travel expenses in 2023 that would have come out of my pockets, if not for credit card points.

It’s been an exciting year of traveling, and I am looking forward to wrapping things up with my upcoming San Francisco and Dhaka trips.

I will write more about my future credit card setups, travel redemptions, and overall my travel experiences and photographs I take along the way.

If any of these interests you, please give me a follow on Medium or subscribe to my newsletter.

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Irtiza Hafiz