Millions of Miles Earned, Redeemed, and Flown: Six Years As a Digital Nomad, By the Numbers Millions of Miles Earned, Redeemed, and Flown: Six Years As a Digital Nomad, By the Numbers

Millions of Miles Earned, Redeemed, and Flown: Six Years As a Digital Nomad, By the Numbers

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Six years ago today, on July 2, 2017, my wife Katie and I took off on our first flight as digital nomads. In the months leading up to our departure, we'd sold or donated almost all of our belongings. Our original plan to save up and take a “gap year” had already transitioned. Thanks to combining points/miles and remote work, we planned to become “digital nomads” instead.

Six years later, we are still traveling the world full-time as digital nomads with no plans to stop. Thanks to points and miles, we've been able to travel full-time for a lot less than we ever imagined. Here's a recap of how much we've traveled in the past six years — and how we paid for it.

Six Years of Flights

1.2+ million miles across 629 flights

Over the past six years, I've flown 629 flights spanning 1,223,867 direct flight miles:

Screenshot of flight map showing 629 flights crossing much of the world with the United States unintelligible due to the number of flights.
My 629 flights over the past six years. Image generated using Great Circle Mapper.

That's an average of around 204,000 flight miles a year. For reference, that's an average of more than eight times around Earth's equator each year. And keep in mind that a couple of those years were limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. (I flew less than 30k miles from April 2020 to June 2021.)

Here's how my flights break down by class of service flown:

  • Economy: 407,927 miles across 329 flights
  • Premium economy: 212,331 miles across 42 flights
  • Business/domestic first class: 536,250 miles across 245 flights
  • First Class: 67,359 miles across 13 flights — including flights in ANA The Suite, British Airways 747, Cathay Pacific, Emirates A380, and Etihad Apartments.

79 airlines

Before the pandemic struck, I set a goal to fly at least 30 airlines each year. Thanks to this focus on flying diverse airlines, I've flown airlines ranging from Aer Lingus to Vueling and Aeroflot to VietJet over the past six years.

My top 10 list of airlines flown over the past six years:

  1. American Airlines: 232 flights
  2. United Airlines: 33 flights
  3. Southwest Airlines: 33 flights
  4. British Airways: 29 flights
  5. Malaysia Airlines: 28 flights
  6. Qatar Airlines: 21 flights
  7. Cathay Pacific: 18 flights
  8. Delta Air Lines: 17 flights
  9. Japan Airlines: 14 flights
  10. Qantas: 14 flights

As you can see, American Airlines is my most-flown airline — by far. My 232 flights and 404,835 miles flown on American Airlines account for more than one-third of my total flights and miles over the past six years. And that's taken me to every continent that American Airlines flies.

6-years-nomad-flights-AA-only-300x131
A map of my 232 American Airlines flights over the past six years. Image generated using Great Circle Mapper.

Why so much flying on American Airlines? Through various elite status earning strategies over the years, I've earned top-tier Executive Platinum elite status almost all of the past six years — just slipping to Platinum Pro in April 2023. This elite status helped me score first-class upgrades, extra-legroom seats, access to lounges (especially when paired with my Malaysia Enrich Gold elite status), free checked bag(s), bonus points earnings, and much more.

Just by using systemwide upgrades — one perk of AAdvantage elite status — I flew over 112,000 miles in Flagship Business class across 20 long-haul flights over the past six years. Add in complimentary domestic upgrades and mileage tickets and I've flown over 270,000 miles in American Airlines business or first class (vs. under 100k miles in economy).

188 airports across 60 countries

While Katie and I have our favorite places, we've been intentional about seeing different parts of the world over the past six years. While we've flown through hubs like Atlanta and Los Angeles plenty of times, we've also visited remote airports like Maupiti, French Polynesia (MAU), Hohhot, China (HET), Majuro, Marshall Islands (MAJ), and Kandy, Sri Lanka (KDZ).

6-years-of-airports-300x116

Over the past six years, my top airports (by the number of times visited or transited) are:

  1. Atlanta (ATL): 86 visits
  2. Los Angeles (LAX): 62 visits
  3. New York Kennedy (JFK): 53 visits
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): 40 visits
  5. Hong Kong (HKG): 32 visits
  6. London Heathrow (LHR): 25 visits
  7. Charlotte (CLT): 24 visits
  8. Tampa (TPA): 23 visits
  9. New York LaGuardia (LGA): 22 visits
  10. Miami (MIA): 20 visits
  11. Kuala Lumpur (KUL): 19 visits
  12. Doha (DOH): 18 visits

3+ million miles redeemed (in the past three years)

Sadly, we didn't start recording how many points and miles we redeemed from the start of our travels. However, what started as a spreadsheet for tracking outstanding bookings when the pandemic hit turned into a tool that we've used to track each flight we've booked since.

The result? We've redeemed a total of 3,097,905 airline miles for flights flown in the past three years. The top mileage programs used for flights:

  1. American Airlines AAdvantage: 1,827,750 miles
  2. Alaska Mileage Plan: 220,000 miles
  3. Avianca LifeMiles: 128,500 miles
  4. United MileagePlus: 120,000 miles
  5. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 120,000 miles
  6. Delta SkyMiles: 117,500 miles
  7. Southwest Rapid Rewards: 102,532 points
  8. Singapore KrisFlyer: 98,000 miles
  9. Air Canada Aeroplan: 81,000 miles

Here again, there's a clear winner: American Airlines AAdvantage. As rumors of devaluations swirled the past few years, we focused on redeeming our stash of AAdvantage miles, burning through almost two million AAdvantage miles on flights in the past three years.

$29k spent on flights (in the past three years)

Sometimes redeeming miles isn't the best option — whether we're looking to earn elite status or the redemption rate simply doesn't make sense. Plus, some award flights can tack on hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees.

Over the past three years of flights, Katie and I paid a total of $29,107 out-of-pocket. That's a lot, but it breaks down to under $5k per person per year out-of-pocket.

For reference, here are the most-expensive flights we booked during this time:

RouteRound-Trip Cost
(Per Person)
Cabin Booked
New York (JFK) to Phuket (HKT)$1049Premium Economy
Los Angeles (LAX) to Bangalore (BLR)$949Premium Economy
New York (JFK) to Singapore (SIN)$922Premium Economy
Phoenix (PHX) to Munich (MUC) to New York (JFK)$898Economy (but upgraded to business class using systemwide upgrades)
Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (HND), Osaka (ITM) to Los Angeles (LAX)$880Economy (but upgraded to business class using systemwide upgrades)
Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (HND)$768Economy (but upgraded to business class using systemwide upgrades)
Istanbul (IST) to Atlanta (ATL) to Athens (ATH)$601Economy (but upgraded to business class using systemwide upgrades)

Six Years of Lodging

For more than six years, we haven't had a home or apartment of our own. For a vast majority of this time, we've lived out of hotels, with some time spent in Airbnbs, guesthouses, trains, planes, etc.

The closest that we've had to a home is the recreational vehicle (RV) that we bought during the pandemic. After crashing with family for a few months, we finally decided to get a place of our own. But even the RV requires a place to park it, so those campground rental costs are included in the cost breakdown below.

Here's a recap of where I've stayed over the past six years.

54 countries

Besides the U.S., I've visited 53 countries in the past six years — ranging from Argentina to Vietnam. Excluding the U.S., my top 10 countries by number of nights stayed are:

  1. Germany: 77 nights
  2. Japan: 70 nights
  3. Australia: 62 nights
  4. South Africa: 54 nights
  5. Dominican Republic: 33 nights — mostly from a 28-night stay in an all-inclusive resort
  6. Thailand: 27 nights
  7. Maldives: 27 nights
  8. Hong Kong: 26 nights
  9. Spain: 24 nights
  10. Colombia / New Zealand / Malaysia / Vietnam: 21 nights each

34 states

In addition to exploring the world, Katie and I have tried to be intentional about exploring the U.S. Across the past six years, I've visited 34 different states. As much as we've visited, it's the gaps in this map that bother me the most…

JT-states-visited-2017-2023-300x177

4,907,550 points redeemed

Katie and I have redeemed almost five million hotel points for lodging over the past six years. Here's how that breaks down by major hotel loyalty program:

  • IHG One Rewards: 2,936,900 points — less 281,773 in points rebates thanks to the no-longer-available IHG® Rewards Select Credit Card.
  • Choice Privileges: 720,000 points
  • Marriott Bonvoy: 662,700 points
  • Hilton Honors: 370,000 points
  • World of Hyatt: 118,200 points
  • Wyndham Rewards: 99,750 points

Again, one loyalty program stands out: IHG One Rewards. From PointsBreaks (RIP) to IHG fourth night free, Katie and I have gotten incredible value out of our IHG points over the past six years.

Choice Privileges may also be a surprise, but we've also gotten excellent value from Choice points for redemptions in Japan, Germany, the U.S., and even an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic.

88 “free” nights at hotels

Across the past six years, I spent 88 “free” nights at hotels. No, this wasn't some price match scheme or other kind of hack. Instead, this is about half through free night certificates (45) and another half through fourth/fifth-night free perks (43).

I put the term “free” in quotes as there's almost always a cost to earning these free nights. The free night awards earned through credit cards generally required paying an annual fee. And the fourth/fifth-night free stays still required redeeming a lot of points for the stay.

469 nights with friends and family

This total came as quite a surprise — especially since our parents seem to want us to visit more — but I've spent a whopping 469 nights with friends and family over the past six years. Most of this includes visits to our parents but also includes visits to my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, college friends, and newer friends. Despite all of these nights, we haven't worn out our welcome anywhere — at least as far as we know.

111 nights on redeye flights and airports

With an average of around 204,000 flight miles per year, I spend a lot of time on planes. And with travels overseas to 53 countries (some several times), it might not be a surprise that I've racked up 111 nights either on redeye flights or crashing in an airport lounge during an overnight layover. Crazily, this breaks down to more than one in 20 nights spent on a plane or airport on average for the past six years!

$59k paid out-of-pocket

After subtracting other random nights — from nights paid by former employers to boondocking in our RV and even overnight trains — and we're left with 943 nights paid for over the past six years. For those nights, we paid $58,848 out-of-pocket. Divide that by 72 months and that's a pretty reasonable “rent” payment of just $817 per month.

Six Years of Earning

One of the questions that we inevitably get about how we travel like this is where all of the points and miles come from. And the answer is… There isn't just one source. We combine earnings from credit cards with stacking promotions on paid travel and maximizing the spending on our credit cards.

Credit card sign-up bonuses

Katie and I have carefully navigated credit card application rules and restrictions to apply for a combined 42 credit cards in the past six years. We earned 3,285,000 points and miles just from the sign-up bonuses on those cards. That's a lot of cards! However, over six years, it breaks down to an average of 3.5 new cards per year per person. That's going to sound pretty modest to many in the points and miles world.

Remember all of those AAdvantage miles we redeemed? I added up a whopping 1,831,338 AAdvantage miles in earnings from paid flights over the past six years. Most of this came from flying inexpensive partner premium economy and business class fares — where the mileage earnings are based on miles flown instead of dollars paid.

For example, take that $949 round-trip British Airways premium economy flight that's listed as one of our expensive paid flights. This itinerary from Los Angeles to Bangalore via London spanned 20,918 miles round-trip. After factoring in the base earning rate (100%) and the elite status bonus (120%), this flight earned a whopping 46,022 AAdvantage miles (and Loyalty Points). If you value AAdvantage miles at a base of just 1.5 cents each, that's like getting $690 back in value — mostly offsetting an already incredibly-reasonable flight to India.

LAX-BLR-AA-BA-PE-earnings-300x248

While we've focused much of our mileage earnings on AAdvantage, we also have earned hundreds of thousands of miles through Asiana Club — which is another program where we focus on earning elite status — and other miscellaneous mileage earnings.

Katie and I didn't just get lodging for our $59k in paid hotel stays. We also earned a ton of hotel points. From what I've been able to add up, we've earned nearly two million hotel points for stays in the past six years — 1,977,643 points, to be exact. Here's how these earnings break down by program:

  • IHG One Rewards: 1,196,157 points
  • Marriott Bonvoy: 457,541 points
  • Choice Privileges: 129,159 points
  • Hilton Honors: 90,168 points
  • World of Hyatt: 68,860 points
  • Wyndham Rewards: 35,758 points

Credit card spending

In addition to earning points and miles through credit card sign-up bonuses, we also earned plenty from travel and everyday spending by maximizing which credit cards we use for purchases.

I only have the earning details for our airline and hotel accounts. But even with just those, I added up 595,039 in hotel points and airline miles earnings from credit card purchases. And this number is far short of our actual earnings. That's because we put most of our spending on credit cards that earn flexible rewards — such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards.

Bottom Line

I threw a lot of numbers at you in this post. But my major takeaway is this: You can make travel much more affordable by using loyalty programs to reduce the cost. From maximizing your spending to taking advantage of credit card perks like free nights, you can also travel better for cheaper.

Not everyone is going to have the time to dedicate to learning all of the tricks and tips that Katie and I use in our travels. And that's ok. I encourage you to just take the next step in your points and miles journey — whether that's using a $0 annual fee Citi® Double Cash Card instead of using a debit card or applying for your next lucrative sign-up bonus.

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  • Amazing! And my dream as well (but maybe to still have a home base to come back to because I love my city).

    Question: Did you do a points and miles comparison of earning vs. spending in those 6 years? You spent 3M miles to fly and 5M miles in lodging, but earned quite a bit during the same period – so it seems to me that after these 6 years, you may have replenished your accounts pretty well, is that the case?

    • JT Genter says:

      Unfortunately we don’t have the details of all flight redemptions since we started. And I can’t easily figure out a way to add up the earnings from credit card spending (other than welcome bonuses which I track carefully). But we still have plenty of points and miles in our war chest! Our AwardWallet balance shows a total of more than 5 million points and miles.

  • What a great article, JT!

    You and Katie are definitely the travel gurus. I am going to use this as a sort of blueprint for me; I’m retiring in 5 months, 28 day, 23 hours and 46 min (but who’s keeping count) and am planning to spend at least a year (maybe more) traveling the world in a different country for a month at a time. Selling most everything and no permanent home. I started building points/cc bonus’ about two years ago (moving to 3/24 this month) to prepare and have built up some nice point nest eggs to help with the travel. Have already done quite a bit of intl. travel through the years for work but now it’s going to be strictly fun travel.

    Thanks for the great article!
    Rob

    • JT Genter says:

      Rob: That warms my heart so much that Katie and I have helped to inspire you! Good work getting started early! Glad that you have a nice war chest of points and miles to use. Those one-way international flights can be such a barrier to nomadism. But award travel makes it possible without breaking the bank! Where do you plan on heading first?

      • Not sure yet. Thinking maybe S. America (Uruguay, Argentina, Chile) since I haven’t been to that part of the world yet…

  • JT,

    My goodness that is lot of travel on miles and points. I think you beat probably all the Youtubers who claim they travel a lot on miles/points. But I seriously doubt any of them come close to volume of trips/stays that you and your wife achieve!

    Question for you: how do you keep track of the trips/miles and the stays/points? I have a great memory, but I am getting older, and it isn’t as sharp as it used to be.

    I have read some of your wife’s reviews on TPG. I wish you both wrote more about your travels.

    Keep on flying!

    • JT Genter says:

      Thank you for reading Katie and my work! We both wish that we wrote more about our travels. Unfortunately we are just so busy with the work that we need to do that it doesn’t leave room for much coverage of specific travel experiences :/

      We track all of our trips through AwardWallet. However, we also have a spreadsheet of where we have stayed every night since October 14, 2016 — and up to a year in the future! We use it as our de facto travel calendar. When we hear about an event we may want to attend or book a flight, we list the tentative destination — even if we aren’t booking hotels yet.

      The spreadsheet has columns for: Date / City / Country / Who [JT/Katie/both] / Where [e.g. hotel name] / Our Cost / Points Cost / Points Type / Comparable cash rate at booking / Booked Through / Confirmation Number / Cancelation Policy / Notes / Hotel Program [for tracking elite nights] / Calculated Redemption Rate