Virginia has been a member of the milesopedia community for almost a year. She impressed me with her quick learning of the different programs and especially Aeroplan, in order to make this trip of several months around the world. Virginie will therefore report on her trip directly on milesopedia in the coming months!Jean-Maximilien - Président-Fondateur de milesopedia.com
Right off the bat, I introduce my wife and I, both doctoral students, I affiliated with a Canadian university, she a French university. We are both passionate about travel and adventure.
Our experience as points hunters began in early January 2019 thanks to milesopedia, and we booked our first “mini world tour” in early August 2019, about 8 months after our first stumbles in the matter.
This post is a little insight into how we managed to book a mini world tour with Aeroplan and how we view travel hacking as students.
Why go on a mini world tour as students?
In our case, everything is meticulously planned to meet a specific research need (and even if it didn’t meet a specific academic objective, I would say that it is a great way to see the world)!
Two Quebec women doing research on Latin America are led to do research stays in Europe (Paris for one and Brussels for the other). So we already had our first destination (Europe zone 1).
Then, as our research focuses on South America, it was natural to go there for 3 to 6 months. So we had our second destination (South America).
So we had two destinations, on two continents.
According to Aeroplan’s point grid:
- 60,000 Aeroplan Miles for Europe 1 (destination Paris, France)
- 60,000 Aeroplan Miles for South America (destination São Paulo, Brazil).
A total of 120,000 Aeroplan Miles each plus taxes, for two separate trips.
That’s when I had the crazy idea to change the “destination” to Perth, Australia, knowing that it was one of the most remote destinations and that it offered a high number of miles(Maximum Mileage Permitted).
The cost of this destination? 90,000 Aeroplan Miles per person.
- a stop in Paris on the outbound journey
- a stop in São Paulo for the return trip
We were then able to save 30,000 Aeroplan miles each, compared to two trips. Perth became a bonus on our route.
In our case, we relied on the exploitation of Aeroplan miles without luxury in order to be able to reproduce the experience as often as possible and especially to keep the costs very low.
The cost of the plane tickets for 2:
- 180,000 Aeroplan Miles
- 737 CAD in taxes and surcharges
The itinerary of our mini-tour of the world
Here is our itinerary, consisting of a destination and a stop on the way there and back, as allowed by Aeroplan at the time of our booking:
- Montreal (YUL) – Washington (IAD) – Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) with United – 1st stop
- Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) – Singapore (SIN) – Perth (PER) with Singapore Airlines – Destination
- Perth (PER) – Singapore (SIN) – Johannesburg (JNB) – Sao Paulo (GRU) with Singapore Airlines and South African – 2nd stop
- Sao Paulo (GRU) – Washington (IAD) – Pittsburgh (PIT) – Montreal (YUL) with United and Air Canada
In total, this itinerary in economy class cost us, per person:
- 90,000 Aeroplan Miles
- 368.50 in taxes and surcharges
Note that to keep the cost of taxes low we have opted to fly with United, Singapore and African airlines. Air Canada imposing significant surcharges. This explains why, although direct flights exist between Montreal and Paris, as well as between São Paulo and Toronto, we do not operate direct flights between these destinations.
Our accumulation of miles
As mentioned, our Aeroplan Miles accumulation started in January. With nothing to lose and good credit, we went for it. In order to accumulate for this project we needed to accumulate 180,000 Aeroplan and here is how we did it in our first wave of application:
- An American Express Corporate Platinum card obtained through milesopedia’s referral page giving 75,000 bonus Membership Rewards points + approximately 8,500 spending Membership Rewards points or approximately 83,500 Membership Rewards points for $499 in card fees. Expenses required: $7,000
- A referral to my mom offering me 25,000 Membership Rewards points for $0.
- A referral to my spouse for an American Express Small Business Gold card giving me 25,000 Membership Rewards points for $0.
- An American Express Small Business Gold Card with 40,000 Membership Rewards points + approximately 7,000 Membership Rewards points on spending for a total of 47,000 points for $250. Expenses required: $5,000
Total 180,500 Membership Rewards points earned for $749 in card fees.
Of course, unlocking the bonuses of these cards required a lot of spending. A total of $12,000 over 6 months.
Total cost of air travel
The total cost of our trip was $1,678 when we added the card costs, taxes and Aeroplan reservation fees.
Add to that the benefits of the American Express Corporate Platinum Card and especially the access to the lounges we enjoyed on our other trips.
We calculated that in general at the airport, if you don’t have access to a lounge, you end up spending 20-25$ at least before a flight (bottle of water here, bag of chips there, anything to pass the time).
Since January 2019, we’ve done about 20 trade shows, from Europe to deep in Chile! Needless to say, we have saved a lot of money just on this point.
The rest of the total cost of the trip in a few months!
How do you unlock such bonuses on student salaries?
One of the first things we did was to use our student insurance (which we were required to pay through student fees) and made our annual appointments for teeth cleaning, repairs and eye exams. We found dental and vision centers that took payment through AMEX and paid for it ourselves before making the claim.
Then, we lived in an apartment block managed by a company and were able to pay a few months of rent through Plastiq. We calculated a total of 124$ in fees with Plastiq, because we took advantage of different promotions.
In the end, we preferred stores that accept AMEX for all our purchases. If American Express was not accepted, we would purchase gift cards like IGA on the ebatesgiftcards.ca platform, which accepts AMEX payment.
Finally we bought other gift cards (only gift cards bought during normal grocery or drug stores) like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc.
Finally, we also benefited from the kindness and generosity of our relatives by making the most purchases for them when possibleWe have a great deal on Amazon because as students we are entitled to Amazon Prime with a discount and we invite our families to store through us (and we also take advantage of the Aeroplan Netboutique during these times, especially during the promotional periods)!
In short, with a little creativity and current expenses it is entirely possible and realistic to rack up that many miles on PhD salaries.
We thought about all kinds of possibilities for the return trip from Australia to South America and the only possibility was to fly via Johannesburg (JNB) to Sao Paulo (GRU).
Although it is also possible in other circumstances to do Sydney (SYD) – Auckland (AKL) – Buenos Aires (EZE), this route was not possible for us, because our destination was Perth (PER) and not Sydney (SYD), but also because it implied too great a distance in nautical miles and then exceeded the MPM.
However, the agent on the phone was inclined to accept an Open Jaw in Australia, as we had problems finding an available flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Sao Paulo (GRU).
We are talking about a total of 13,437 miles for the outbound trip and 17,827 miles for the return trip.
The MPM for Montreal (YUL) – Perth (PER) is 18,633 miles. So we are at the limit of what is allowed!
To confirm my decision to invest time and money in the accumulation of Aeroplan Miles, I looked at the cost of airfare for the different destinations and came up with the following result:
– Montreal (YUL) – Paris (CDG) round trip from Oct to April: between $600 and $1000 per person ($1200-2000 for two)
– Montreal (YUL) – Sao Paulo (GRU) round trip from May to July: between $800 and $1300 per person ($1600-2600 for two)
Knowing that there are good prices for these destinations, but that these require:
- to stay on the lookout
- to be flexible in the dates
… needless to say, this far exceeds the total fee of $1,678.
Add to that the flexibility of Aeroplan’ s ability to pay $100 to make an itinerary change. This option was useful to us on the first day of our trip, because due to a delay in the issuance of our visa we had to postpone our departure… by one day, and this with 3 hours notice!
Last consideration… Australia is a bonus for us on this trip and treated as such, we are currently working on accumulating Marriott points to stay there for free.
Finally, a big thank you to the Milesopedia community, without whom I would never have been able to put together such a great trip!
I will soon publish photo reports and reviews of some of the cities, hotels and airport lounges that crossed my path!