Far, Far Away On A Shoestring

Far, Far Away On A Shoestring


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Trip Information

PointsAway reader Darrell gave us an interesting challenge. Sending us the lyrics to 1970s band Slade’s song “Far, Far Away”, Darrell wanted to see if we could cook up a plan to travel to all of the locations mentioned in the song.

According to the lyrics found here, we need a plan taking Darrell from Jacksonville, Fla to locations including:

  • Somewhere on the Mississippi River
  • The Mountains of Alaska
  • Rome, Italy
  • Memphis, Tenn. (Home of Graceland and Elvis)
  • Paris, France
  • No Man’s Land
  • Grand Bahama Island

Current Program Status

Darrell has 12,000 American Airlines miles, 20,000 US Airways miles and 48,000 Delta miles. He does not currently hold any travel credit cards.

Our Take

Questionable music aside, this is a fun challenge! One way or another, we should be able to hit each and every location listed in the song in one far-fetched itinerary. Jump on in to learn more.

Grouping Destinations

First things first, we need to group these locations into a path that makes more sense than the one in the song. Leaving from Jacksonville, it makes sense to group the domestic and foreign locations.

Thankfully, the transoceanic locations are limited to Paris, France and Rome, Italy.

We luck out on two of the destinations, as Memphis, Tenn. is actually on the Mississippi River, allowing us to kill two birds with one stone.

Alaska isn’t making things easy on us, although Grand Bahama Island isn’t a tremendous reach from Jacksonville.

Finally, how do we categorize No Man’s Land? While the song may be speaking conceptually here, there’s actually a location we can put into the itinerary: the No Man’s Land Museum in Goodwell, Oklahoma!

Plotting a Route

Now that we’ve grouped together our destinations, it’s time to figure out how best to make this trip happen while utilizing Darrell’s miles as effectively as possible.

Phase One: Delta

Our trip begins with two Delta trips essentially stitched together. Although Delta awards are booked as roundtrip fares, it’s possible to stitch together a multi-city itinerary and still find fair value. For example, flying from Jacksonville to Memphis, and then from Memphis to Anchorage is 50,000 miles.

The exact same number of miles, however, can actually take us from Jacksonville to Memphis, from Memphis to Anchorage, from Anchorage to Denver and from Denver to Jacksonville! It seems like Delta’s award chart turns these four flights into two roundtrips from an award perspective, even though we’re making a big loop. This means we effectively get two flights for free when compared with the first scenario.

We’re giving Darrell a couple days on the ground at each destination to see the sights, so the itinerary we built on Delta looks like this:

In one fell swoop, we take care of Memphis, the Mississippi and Alaska. Not too shabby! But why the detour to Denver, and why the extra days?

Traveling to No Man’s Land

You may have guessed that traveling to Goodwell, Oklahoma was going to throw a wrench into our itinerary. But, it’s the closest to No Man’s Land that exists and so we simply must make it happen!

The closest airport to Goodwell is located just across the state line in Liberal, Kansas. Roughly 52 miles away from the No Man’s Land Museum, the Liberal, KS airport is party to the United States Government’s Essential Air Service program, providing subsidized travel from remote locations in areas that would otherwise not merit any commercial service at all.

Liberal’s airport is serviced only by Great Lakes Airlines, which provides service to and from Clovis, Denver and Dodge City. Here, we arrive at the answer behind the stop in Denver: stopping in Denver lets us travel to Liberal. With few choices on how to continue the journey from there, we return to Denver in order to head home and complete phase one of the trip.

While in theory it’s possible to book travel on Great Lakes using United miles, this is only true for certain code-sharing flights connecting through to a United flight for continuing passage. Simply going to Liberal and back doesn’t count.

We have no choice but to cough up some cash on this one. Because flights are so heavily subsidized, though, the roundtrip comes in at only $189.

You’ll notice that the flight times were cherry-picked to ensure enough time to make connections in and out of Denver. Details are important on this kind of trip!

Darrell said he has roughly 48,000 Delta SkyMiles at the moment. If he earns just 2,000 more, perhaps by purchasing something via SkyMiles Shopping, purchasing a few miles from Delta, trading them in using US Air miles via Points.com or through another flight or two, all of these flights except the detour to and from Liberal come in at just $10. Add in the Liberal stop and you’re looking at $199 in total costs for the first half of the trip. Bake in a few bucks for a rental car in Liberal, as well, and we’re still looking pretty good!

Phase Two: American

Now that we’re back in Jacksonville, we’ll take a few days to do some laundry and check the mail before heading off on the second half of this trip.

This time, it’s American’s mileage program that makes the most sense. Flying from Jacksonville to Freeport – the major airport on Grand Bahama Island – takes just 12,500 American miles.

Better yet, flights from Freeport to Europe are no more expensive in miles than flights from Jacksonville or even American’s hub in Miami! Combined with the fact that all American flights are booked as one-way travel, we can create a winding itinerary that hits our other destinations.

Without further adieu, here’s the American itinerary that takes us from Jacksonville to the Bahamas, then on to Paris via Miami and London and from Rome back to Jacksonville through a variety of connecting flights:

All of these flights require 52,500 miles + $313.40. Two questions will undoubtedly arise from eagle-eyed readers: Why so many stops on the way back, and how are we getting from Paris to Rome?

The return flight is engineered to avoid flying British Airways for the transatlantic segment, due to the carrier’s punishing fuel surcharges. Using a British Airways flight would add hundreds of dollars to the cost of the trip, something avoided by instead using American partners NIKI and Airberlin for most of the journey home.

As for the journey from Paris to Rome, the number of additional miles to travel to Rome simply isn’t worth it compared to the budget cash fares that are available. In this case, we found a steal of a deal on Euro budget carrier Vueling, coming in at just $60.02 for the flight from Paris to Rome.

Finding the Miles

As it stands, Darrell is awfully close to the needed amount of miles for the Delta portion of the trip. We have faith he can scrape together a couple thousand more quickly using one of the options we mentioned above.

American, however, is a steeper hill to climb. Given that Darrell currently has about 12,000 American miles, we need about 40,500 more miles in order to book this itinerary.

Lo and behold, we have an excellent option available to earn the needed miles in a hurry. Our sign-up links page has the details on an offer from Citi granting 40,000 American miles after $3,000 in spending in the first 3 months. You also earn a minimum of one mile per dollar spent in completing the minimum spend requirement, so Darrell would have at least 43,000 more miles to work with, more than enough when combined with the miles he has on hand.

At this point, we’re left with a $10 booking fee on Delta, $189 roundtrip from Denver to No Man’s Land and back, $313.40 in taxes and fees on American and $60.02 for the flight from Paris to Rome on Vueling. That’s $572.42 in total. Darrell might be pleased to pay these costs out of pocket, but we don’t rest at PointsAway until we close in on $0!

The Barclaycard Arrival we discussed earlier this week is the perfect complement to this award booking. The card earns miles that can be redeemed toward any qualified travel expenses greater than $25 and earns a 10% rebate on redeemed miles, making its $400 sign-up bonus worth $466 after factoring in the miles earned meeting its $1,000 minimum spend.

The Arrival card can be used to pay for the Great Lakes flight from Denver to Liberal and back, for the Vueling flight from Paris to Rome and even for the taxes and fees on the American booking! The only ineligible expense is Delta’s $10 fee, which falls under the $25 minimum for redemption.

Arrival redemptions can be used to cover a portion of a travel expense if you don’t have enough miles stored away to cancel out the entire charge, which is what we’d do here. Assuming spend only up to the minimum requirement, the $466 in free travel would cover the Vueling and Great Lakes flights in their entirety and a portion of the American taxes and fees.

In the end, we’d be left with just $106.42 in expenses. If Darrell were to spend more on the Arrival card and earn enough miles to cover all of the American taxes and fees, the only expense not covered would be the Delta booking charge of just $10. Not too shabby for an itinerary that covers 19,136 miles and looks like this:

Trip Component Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
Delta: JAX -> MEM -> ANC -> DEN -> JAX, 1 Adult: 10/15-10/23 $992 on United 50,000 Delta SkyMiles + $10 flight fees $982.00
Great Lakes: DEN -> LBL -> DEN, 1 Adult: 10/15-10/23 $189 on Great Lakes. $189 Statement Credit from Arrival Card $189.00
American: JAX -> FPO, FPO -> CDG, FCO -> JAX 1 Adult: 10/15-10/23 $1,735 on American 52,500 AAdvantage Miles + $313.40 Fees – $216.98 Statement Credit from Arrival Card $1,638.58
Vueling: CDG -> FCO 1 Adult: 11/02 $60.02 on Vueling $60.02 Statement Credit from Arrival Card $60.02
Total: $2,976.02 50,000 SkyMiles + 52,500 AAdvantage Miles + $466 of Arrival Credits + $106.42 $2,869.60

Happy travels!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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