Using your money with purpose

My 5-week adventure to Africa (and how I snagged a $135 round trip ticket)

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If you’re reading this post right now, it means I’m heading to (or already in) Africa :)

For the next 5 weeks, I’ll be travelling in South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, with a final week-long trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s going to be packed full of adventure, new places to explore, new friends to meet, beautiful mountains to climb and lovely beaches to relax on. Needless to say, it’s going to be am incredible and wild trip.

And one of the best parts? It only cost me $135 for my round trip ticket.

What I’m doing for 5 weeks in Africa (and how I pulled it off)

This trip has been almost two years in the making. One of my dearest friends is ending her Peace Corp service in Mozambique in July, and we decided when she left that I would make the journey to the other side of the world to visit. The nice part of having two-years to plan a trip? I’ve been saving up $100 a month in an Africa Fund just for the occasion, so I’ve got enough to pay for my travels. While I did expect some costs, I didn’t expect I would be able to turn it into a five-week adventure.

At the time I decided on this trip, I was still working in my 9-5 job. I was planning on maybe a two-week trip to see her at some point. But things have changed :) Since quitting my job in October and starting my own business, I’ve been able to create my own schedule and take my work wherever I need to. So my trip to Africa became a great opportunity to take advantage of my new lifestyle and extend my travels. And even though I could work remotely, I’ve decided to take the entire five weeks off. That means a lot of work to prepare for my trip, but I’ll get a complete break from client projects (and even the blog!) while I’m abroad. That’s priceless in itself.

Just how can I afford to take so much time off? I’ve talked a lot about my Freedom Fund: a monster pile of savings that I’ve been adding to steadily over the last five years. My Freedom Fund was the safety net I needed to quit my job and take a big leap to start my own business. Now I can use it to help me take a break from work when I need it so I can focus on exploring and enjoying my trip.

How I got a $135 Round Trip Ticket to Africa

Even though I did save up for my adventure, I was still not looking forward to paying thousands of dollars to get there. After using a few tips and tricks from friends, my $2,400 ticket ended up costing me just $135 round trip.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Opened up a rewards travel card. I knew that if I wanted a cheap ticket for my trip I was going to have to accrue a lot of frequent flyer miles or travel points, so I needed to find a good rewards credit card. I ended up signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, because it gave me the most bang-for-my-buck and offered me redemption options across multiple airlines. Through my regular spending, I ended up accruing  nearly 90,000 points with Chase over two years.
  2. Used my miles strategically. Even though I’d amassed so many points with Chase, I still wasn’t quite sure how to use them. If I booked my round trip ticket through Chase’s awards portal, it would’ve cost me nearly $1,200. Not too terrible for a round trip flight, but definitely not cheap. So I reached out to Mike Choi of I Fly With Miles – a frequent flyer miles consultant who makes his living helping people use their points in the best possible way. After a few hours of research, Mike told me what flights I should take and exactly where I should transfer my points. I ended up transferring most of my points directly to United because it gave me the best conversion rate.
  3. Allowed for flexibility. A little flexibility can go a long way when you’re trying to book an award flight. I had originally hoped to leave on a Thursday, but by bumping my flight to Tuesday, I was able to use just points to make it happen (otherwise I would’ve had to pay $600+ more).  I also ended up with one extra connection than I had hoped for but it was worth the savings.
  4. Booked over the phone with the airline. If you have a complicated multi-segmented trip, it’s worth calling the airline directly. I spoke with a representative and booked it over the phone. It cost me an extra $25 to do it, but there was no way I could book online on my own. Plus, it was worth hearing another person verify my itinerary and triple check to make sure I was getting to where I needed to go.

It definitely took some extra effort, but what would have been a $2,400 round trip ticket turned into $135 international flight. Not too shabby!

One note about rewards credit cards: it can be very tempting to want to overspend with these things. If you don’t trust yourself with a credit card, don’t open one just for the points. But if you do feel like you’re a responsible spending, this is a great way to leverage your dollar for more money.

If you are looking for some more cheap travel advice, check out Money Crasher’s travel section on their blog. And if you’re looking for a way to maximize your frequent flyer miles (and potentially save thousands of dollars), check out Mike Choi’s service I Fly With MilesI obviously highly recommend him since he saved me over $1,000 on my trip :) Thanks again, Mike!

One final thought: remember, you always have a choice with your money. You can choose to use that money on things to fill your life or living your life. It’s a choice you can make everyday, so use your money with purpose :)

Using your money with purpose

See you on the other side!

P.S. Be sure to check out The Empowered Dollar on Facebook and Twitter for the occasional picture and update from my travels.

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13 thoughts on “My 5-week adventure to Africa (and how I snagged a $135 round trip ticket)

  1. Takao Yamada

    Have a fun trip Steph! I also got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card 2 years ago and accrued 110,000 points and my trip to Tokyo on a 10-hour direct flight was only $200 after booking it through the Chase rewards travel website!

    Take pictures!

  2. Money Beagle

    Good for you. We closed our travel rewards card and switched to cash back only cards a few years ago when our plans looked such that air travel wouldn’t be a big thing. It’s good that you recognized the shift in your needs and planned accordingly. Have a great and safe trip.

  3. Joe

    Stephanie! Wonderful tips. Please bring back info for me to ship something to our friend over there? Thanks and have a great trip!


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