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A couple who flew around the world almost for free share the mantra that helped them rack up $54,000 worth of rewards

Tanza Loudenback
RTW family

(The family of four redeemed credit card points to buy a 6-month trip around the world.Courtesy of Pedro Pla)
In January, Pedro Pla and Grace Cheng took off on their second trip around the world.

Over six months, the couple and their two sons, 4-year-old Ramses and 2-year-old Ranefer, are visiting 15 countries on five continents using four business class Round-The-World (RTW) tickets.

Pla and Cheng, who are the cofounders of credit-card comparison site Get.com, hit 1 million airline miles in September 2016 after a year of racking up credit card rewards points, which they redeemed to purchase their RTW tickets.

It was no easy feat. Pla said they had to "research and plan meticulously" to reach their points goal.

"As credit card geeks, we live by this maxim: When you use cash, you lose cash. Using cash means you are missing out on getting credit card rewards points, miles or cash back. We used our credit cards to pay for everything if possible, be it a hamburger or an air ticket," Pla told Business Insider.

RWT tickets — which are offered by each of the three big airline networks, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and OneWorld — allow you to craft an itinerary traveling up to a certain amount of miles or stops on any carrier in the network and typically costs less than buying individual flights, Pla said. The cost of a RTW ticket can vary depending on the flight class, country of origin, and total mileage of the trip.

In this case, one business class ticket cost 240,000 miles, so the family needed 960,000 miles, a value of about $54,000 (though they had to cover taxes and fees). They redeemed their points through Singapore Airlines' frequent flyer program, KrisFlyer, which is part of the Star Alliance network, to purchase the tickets.

"While booking our Round-The-World flights with SIA, its customer service representative told us we had 'hit the jackpot' as they had never encountered anyone redeeming for RTW award tickets on business class before, let alone for four people," Pla said.

Pedro Pla RTW trip

(Ramses enjoying his business class seat on Singapore Airlines.Courtesy of Pedro Pla)

"It's not like we won a lucky draw; we had a plan to travel hack our way to getting air tickets at a fraction of the original cost and we actually managed to do it at the end of a truly miles-obsessed year," he said.

But just swiping a credit card mindlessly won't do the trick.

"If you want to use your rewards points to redeem for an air ticket, you will need to make sure that the credit card you are using allows you to convert points to real airline miles on the airline of your choice and at a favorable rate," Pla said.

"Additionally, try to find out which cards give the most rewards points for certain types of spending, be it groceries, gas, air tickets, etc., and try to always use the highest earning card for each spending category," Pla said.

While they used several credit cards to reach 1 million miles, Pla said they tapped into the generous benefits available through the American Express Platinum card and the Citi Prestige card.

And most importantly, Pla and Cheng always paid off their cards in full every month. "Carrying a balance and paying interest defeats the whole purpose of getting more for your money without spending more," he said.

Follow the family's Round-The-World journey on their Instagram or Get.com.

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