Jason Lang has been to 47 countries—and hasn’t paid retail for a flight or hotel in over a decade.
Lang strategically uses credit card rewards, bank bonuses, hotel loyalty programs and airline miles to fund both stateside and international travel, often in business or first class. He’s armed with more credit cards than 99 percent of Americans and his accounts often have more than a million points, as he dreams up his next bucket-list trip.
“When I was young, my parents took a lot exchange students at our house,” said Lang, a CPA who lives in Buffalo with his wife and two kids. “That got me really interested in seeing how other people live, and once I started traveling, I became really connected to how small the world is and how similar we all are.”
In 2005, he began collecting points after starting a new job and traveling periodically for work, aiming to save enough for a vacation to Hawaii. After a couple years of research, trial and error, he succeeded—and immediately set a goal for trip No. 2.
“I remember standing on the beach, looking over Waikiki and feeling like, ‘I did it,’” he said. “I was already excited about what else I could do.”
Since then, Lang’s favorite trips have taken him and his family to Iceland, Eastern Europe, the Great Barrier Reef, the Olympics in London and Pyeongchang, and the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Each time, he tries to mix must-see sites and relaxing beaches with cultural experiences to meet people and get an authentic look at a place. He’s dined at locals’ homes in Romania and Japan, and caught a baseball game with some South Korean businessmen he met randomly.
“Those are the most memorable experiences I’ve had traveling—breaking away from another museum and finding a way to connect with people on a personal level,” said Lang, whose next trip will be a family vacation to Greece. “It’s all about connecting with people, learning, sharing, laughing and eating.”
And travel is, of course, best when it’s shared. Lang has taken extended family members on trips—and helps them manage their “points portfolios”—and works with clients to attain their dream vacation through his consultancy, Nickel City Miles and Points.
“[At first,] people would kind of laugh about it because I’d be reading about credit cards or reward programs,” Lang said. “Everybody has their weird obsession—at least mine is paying me back.”
Rack up the points like Lang
Manage credit appropriately. Credit cards are the fastest way to earn rewards, Lang said. But before opening anything, make sure you’re organized and can manage credit. “Pay off your bills in full every month, and never carry a balance,” he said. “The trip to Las Vegas isn’t worth crippling debt and a low credit score.”
Set a goal. Dreaming of Disney or Thailand? In six months or two years? “Whichever trip you have in mind, there’s an optimal [strategy] to get there,” Lang said.
Do research. If you Google “reward trips,” many top results are owned or paid by financial institutions. Instead, Lang recommends these unbiased sources written by travel lovers: FlyerTalk, Doctor of Credit and the Reddit community “churning.”
Maximize your points. Based on your goal, figure out which programs maximize your return. One airline may charge 100,000 miles to go to Florida; on another, you’ll be in Asia. Meanwhile, some programs reward in dollars—a fixed value—while others reward in points, which could be advantageous if you “spend” them wisely.
Cash out. “I have millions of frequent flyer miles,” said Lang, “but until they’re redeemed, they’re worth absolutely nothing.” Some programs deliberately make redemption confusing, so know what you’ll need to do before diving in.
Go slow. Get your feet wet with one goal trip, Lang recommends. “The worst you can do starting out is to open five credit cards,” he said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Story topics: BufFYI