I’ve spent half of the last decade traveling the world as a digital nomad. In the process, I found that points, miles and elite status made up my experience a lot More enjoyable, especially given how much time I spend on the road each year.
For some background: My husband and I sold or donated most of our belongings and moved out of our Austin apartment in June 2017. We saved points and miles for what we assumed would be a year-long trip. But we quickly discovered that we could make a living writing about points, miles and credit cards while traveling.
We’re still living and working as digital nomads almost six years later. Here’s how living as a digital nomad allows us to maximize rewards and achieve elite status — including some things that can apply to short-term travel as well.
Use of one-way award flights
Most of our family — and RV We traveled for about a year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic — living in the southeastern US we return to the region multiple times each year, but we don’t usually book round-trip flights. Instead, we often book one-way award flights and positioning flights to keep our schedule flexible and avoid unnecessary backtracking.
You can sometimes find one-way paid flights that cost about half the price of a round trip. But some carriers – especially for international flights – charge more for two one-way flights than for a round trip. And paid tickets are often less flexible than award flights.
Fortunately, you can often book two one-way award flights for the same cost as a round-trip award. Only a few airline loyalty programs require round-trip awards or discounts when you book a round-trip award.
Being able to break down points and miles for a relatively flexible one-way flight gives great value for about half of what we need for a round-trip. This allows us to travel to different destinations before returning to the US, experience different airlines, and change or cancel our next flights with relative ease if our plans change.
Related: How to Book Your 1st Award Flight Using Airline Miles
Maximize complimentary hotel nights
Since we spend most nights in hotels and try to stay at least four or five nights in most places, we greatly benefit from having one Fourth or fifth night free when redeeming points through select hotel loyalty programs.
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We’ve earned 36 fourth-night awards with IHG since July 2017 by buying IHG points when we can for 0.5 cents per point during buy-point sales. By choosing when to book a paid rate instead of getting the fourth or fifth night free and redeeming points, we can hold redemption rates well above TPG’s valuation.
We also earn hotel free night certificates with credit cards and stays. And we were able to really maximize most of these certificates since we visited different destinations. For example, we have redeemed up to 40,000 point certificates for stays at the Kimpton de Wit Amsterdam in the Netherlands on multiple occasions.
We initially visited several destinations to redeem free night certificates. For example, last year we redeemed Hyatt’s category 1-4 certificates for stays at Alila Fort Bishnagarh in India. And in 2021, we redeemed three Hilton Free Night Certificates for a stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in the Maldives.
RELATED: 8 Types of Underrated Hotel Redemptions I’ve Made or Plan to Make Soon
Less expensive to achieve elite status
We still use some of the techniques we used before we became digital nomads to get less expensive flights and overnight stays and to achieve elite status for less. For example, we still like visiting Cities where you can book luxury hotels at budget prices. And we enjoy staying at World of Hyatt Category 1 properties for as much as 3,500 points per night.
But now we often travel in the offseason and stay in less visited cities or outside the tourist hub of popular destinations. For example, we usually stay outside central London to secure lower rates. And if we want to stay in a certain area but don’t have a specific destination in mind, we’ll do a broad search for the least expensive hotels. For example, check out the cheapest Marriott award nights in all of France for a random five-night stay this summer:
And we can fly to cheaper destinations, like Dubai, Bangkok and (on weekdays) Las Vegas. These destinations can be great places to work and earn elite night credits with our favorite hotel loyalty programs without breaking the bank or digging deep into our awards stash.
In terms of airline elite status, we both maintain Oneworld Emerald status through American Airlines, AAAdvantage elite status, and Star Alliance Gold status through Asiana Airlines.
We usually earn these statuses without spending as much money as jumping on flight deals — typically using the partner-earning charts of both American Airlines and Asiana’s partner programs — and being very flexible about flight dates and destinations. Plus, there are now many non-flight ways to earn American Airlines loyalty points.
Related: Elite status vs miles: How to get the most from Oneworld partner tickets
Points, miles and cash expand even further
Many travelers are tied to a specific destination or date when redeeming their points and miles. This flexibility in dates and destinations can make it difficult to get extra value from your points and miles – especially if you need it Travel during school holidays.
But as digital nomads, we can choose when to redeem points and miles and when to book or stay on paid flights. After all, we don’t have enough points and miles to cover all our nights and flights, so we must decide when to pay cash and when to redeem. We tend to get significantly higher redemption rates than TPG evaluates because we book paid rates when we get low or moderate redemption rates. Plus, we can earn well on paid flights and stay with our elite status and travel rewards cards.
Additionally, we have relatively few places that we need to stay on certain dates. Of course, we usually spend Thanksgiving and winter vacations with family in the southeastern United States, and we have several gatherings, conferences, or weddings that we want to attend most years. But we can arrange them in advance, so we can often snag reasonably priced flights and hotels.
Otherwise, we usually let flight deals and award availability dictate our schedule for places we want to visit (or products we want to try). And we usually spend more time in places where we can stay and live cheaply, such as many destinations in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Stays at these destinations allow us to collect elite nights for relatively cheap and stretch our points, miles and cash even further.
RELATED: 9 Budgeting Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your Points and Miles
Greater use of elite status benefits
Since most of us stay out of hotels and each fly more than 200,000 miles each year, we get a lot of value from our elite status because we use the amenities so often.
On the hotel side, as remote workers, we appreciate elite perks like breakfast, lounge access, upgrades and late checkout. In particular, we often book with Marriott Bonvoy or World of Hyatt stays at a property where we will be eligible for a 4 pm late checkout guarantee due to our elite status.
And when we fly, we use the baggage benefits and lounge access we get as Star Alliance Gold and OneWorld Emerald members. We found significant value in oneworld’s first-class lounges, including the Qantas International First Lounge in Los Angeles and the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
We generally consider our hotel elite benefits to be respected and useful, especially outside of the U.S. For example, while some executive lounges are still closed at U.S. properties, we rarely experience closures at properties outside the U.S. Although room upgrades are inconsistent, hotels outside the U.S. actively Be more generous in providing significant upgrades.
But we often look for accommodations so that we try certain amenities. For example, we’ve already stayed at several InterContinental hotels this year with a Club Lounge to use my husband’s Annual Club Access membership that he chose as an IHG Milestone Reward in January. And in 2022, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, because it’s one of the least expensive Ritz-Carlton hotels where you can use a club-level upgrade certificate.
RELATED: 8 Tips and Tricks for Finding a Great Travel Deal
Enjoying the special experience
We watched the sunset a few weeks ago The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa, Malaysia We recount the amazing experiences we had while traveling as digital nomads. And while taking a break from a self-drive safari at a rest camp in South Africa’s Kruger National Park last year, we considered how many of our fellow travelers were on bucket-list trips.
We’re incredibly grateful that our digital nomad lifestyle — and in some cases, points and miles stash — has unlocked so many incredible experiences. Of course, part of the trade-off is that we get to focus our work in some great places.
It’s impossible to narrow down our experience to just a few “bests”. But, some of the best memories definitely include the multiple Qatar Qsuite flights we booked with American Airlines miles, two incredible nights in Al Maha, UAE, and our amazing stay at Six Senses Lamu in the Maldives, which was even better. Our Intercontinental Ambassador membership and IHG elite status.
Related: Is hotel elite status worth more?
It is certainly possible to live and work as a digital nomad without earning points, miles and elite status. But points and miles allow us to travel well for less. and unlock useful perks like elite status upgrades and late checkout, as well as money-saving perks like lounge access and Delicious breakfast.
Most of the ways to travel and reward elite status with my digital nomad life can also apply to short-term travel. For example, if you spend less time on the road, you should choose a hotel elite status and focus more on non-flight procedures while earning American Airlines loyalty points.