During the last two weeks, LiveALifeInMotion has reported on the perilous situation that the Nepali people now face if tourists do not return this autumn, and we have also suggested “10 Reasons to Put Nepal at the Top of Your Travel Destination List this Autumn.” However, we realize that some of our readers, especially those in the United States, may be saying to themselves (or others), “I want to visit Nepal, but I can’t afford it!” The good news is… yes, you can — Especially if you are an American! Below, I will show you exactly how you can travel to Nepal for as little as $150. Have I gotten your attention? Good! Read on!
For the purposes of this article, let’s look at the following travel dates: September 19 – October 10, 2015. Depending on what you’d like to experience, three weeks in Nepal is usually an ideal first building block. If you plan to only stay in Kathmandu, Pokhara or Chitwan during your visit, however, you can reduce your stay to 10-14 days. Much less than time than that is, generally speaking, not recommended.
Okay, now that we have our dates selected, how much does a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal cost?
Let’s check out the best major airline travel software that I know… ITA Software by Google.
Roundtrip to Kathmandu (KTM) (September 19 – October 10, 2015; price as of July 18, 2015)
Chicago (ORD) = $978 (USD)
Denver (DEN) = $1,244
New York (including Newark) = $966
Los Angeles (LAX) = $1,099
Seattle (SEA) = $1,174
Toronto, Canada (TOR)= $1,295 Canadian Dollars
All things considered, these prices are cheap… considering that one is flying anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 miles! …But I understand… $1,000 – $1,300 USD is a lot of money, especially since there is a good chance that this will be your single largest expense with regards to a trip to Nepal. So let’s find an alternative and much cheaper solution!
***Please note that both of these travel dates occur on a Saturday. If you are able to travel during the week, prices can be, in some cases, significantly cheaper. Also, I have only included North American fare quotes, as the solutions I will suggest below are, by and large, North American solutions and/or is the market that I, specifically, know best. I would love to hear from you if you have solutions of your own that you implement elsewhere in the world!
Enter the world of airline miles!
How many airline miles does it take to get me to Kathmandu from North America?
Answer: 85,000 miles (on United and its Star Alliance partners; round-trip economy class; September 19 – October 10th from Chicago)
“Whoa, that’s a lot of miles!!!”
“Actually, it’s not… and here’s why!”
*** Please note that for simplicity’s sake, I will use Star Alliance for this article. I live in Chicago and it is the airline group that I use whenever I fly to Kathmandu. Thus, it is the group that I know best. I have provided resources below so that you can delve deeper into the travel hacking world.
Enter the world of travel hacking!
“What’s travel hacking?!”
“I’m glad you asked! My unofficial definition of ‘travel hacking’ is: getting to where you want to go (and staying where you want to stay) without all of the cost!”
First stop: Credit Cards!
<Insert Tina Turner, circa 1984>
“What’s credit cards got to do, got to do with miles?”
“But, I don’t want to hurt my credit score.”
“The last time I checked my credit score just a couple of months ago, my credit score was close to 800 out of a possible 850… and I have credit cards for every major U.S. airline, two hotel groups and a bank card.”
“Okay. Good. But there are lots of credit cards! Where do we begin?”
Travel Hacking Credit Card Rule: Be sure to pay your balance in full every month, otherwise, the interest charges do not make up for the rewards.
Since our example utilizes the Star Alliance, and we are North American-based, the best place to start, in my opinion, is here:
United MileagePlus Explorer Card = 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 within first three months + 5,000 miles by adding authorized user to account after 1st purchase. The United MileagePlus Explorer credit card has an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 annually. Benefits include your (and your companion’s) first bag checked free, 2x miles on United ticket purchases and no foreign transaction fees. See United MileagePlus Explorer for details.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card = 40,000 miles after spending $4,000 within first three months + 5,000 miles by adding authorized user to account after 1st purchase. Chase Sapphire Preferred is considered one of the best bank travel credit cards on the market because it has 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs. Also, Chase Sapphire Preferred accrues 2x mileage on travel and at restaurants and incurs no foreign transaction fees. It has an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 annually. See Chase Sapphire Preferred for details.
= 75,000 miles (after you spend $5,000 on both cards) or 85,000 miles (if you add an authorized user and he/she makes one purchase).
= Congratulations! You just earned a round trip ticket to Nepal… and we’re just getting started!!!
“But I don’t have $5,000!”
If you don’t think you can meet the spending requirements in the specific time frame, these tips may help you:
Tip 1: Buy Visa or American Express Prepaid cards through each credit card company’s website or at Staples (especially if you have the Chase Ink Plus credit card, see below) for the difference needed to meet the required spending amount. Apply any and all expenses to your pre-paid gift card.
Tip 2: Housing costs tends to be most peoples’ largest expense. If you rent, pay your landlord via RadPad. You pay 2.99% to use their service, but if your rent is your largest expense and you don’t want to dip into your savings, this is a reasonable route to take to meet the bonus threshold.
Tip 3: Paypal allows you to send money to someone using your credit card for a fee of 2.90% + $0.30 USD. Use it the next time you owe someone money.
Note: American Express Starwood Preferred Guest is also an excellent card but it is not advantageous when used in conjunction with the MileagePlus program, as its transfer rate is 2:1, where many other airlines transfer at 1:1. Transfers include a 25% bonus when you transfer 20,000 miles. The credit card holder earns 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in three months. See American Express Starwood Preferred Guest for details. It is an excellent card if your preferred airline group is not Star Alliance and/or you want to use it for a place to stay, especially abroad. At present, there are no Starwood hotels in Kathmandu, however, the Sheraton will open February 1, 2018 and Aloft will open July 1, 2017.
Business Credit Cards
United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card = 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 within first three months. (2x mileage accrual at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores; introductory annual fee for first year = $0, then $95 annually. See United Mileage Plus Explorer Business Card for details.)
Chase Ink Plus Business Card = 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 within first three months. (Chase Ink Plus accrues 5x miles at office supply stores, cellular and land-line phone services, Internet and cable services; 2x miles at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly through the hotel group. Both special accrual rates are on the first $50,000 spent each year. See Chase Ink Plus for details.)
Note: Credit card bonuses are as of time of publishing. Sometimes, credit card companies offer higher bonus deals. You just need to pay attention and/or do your research.
Next stop: Buying habits!
From this point forward, buy everything you can online… Here’s a very good reason why!
Airline Shopping Portals
Airlines have shopping portals that allow you to accrue miles simply by going through their website. Sometimes, airlines will even offer you bonus miles if you reach a certain spending threshold in a given amount of time… for instance, back to school bonuses are very common. Check out the amount of miles that United is giving away, just by going through the MileagePlus Shopping Mall!
Note: This is just a small sampling of the best current deals. Also, you can use any credit card to pay for your purchase. The only requirement is that you need to have a mileage/rewards account with the portal you are using, i.e United MileagePlus, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc.
FTD.com = 20 miles/$1
Angie’s List = 15 miles/$1
Proactiv = 12 miles/$1
New Balance = 6 miles/$1
Nordstrom = 6 miles/$1 (The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is currently ongoing with great deals!)
Saks.com = 12 miles/$1
Wen Hair Care = 12 miles/$1
… If United isn’t giving away enough miles for you, and you have a Chase credit card (Sapphire Preferred, for instance), check out the Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall!
Proactiv = 25 miles/$1
Brooks Brothers = 6 miles/$1
Backcountry = 6 miles/$1 (My favorite online outdoor equipment store)
Cooking.com = 6 miles/$1
Levis = 6 miles/$1
If the airlines aren’t giving away enough miles just by shopping through their portal, it gets better! Every time you dine out, you have the opportunity to add more airline miles! In our case, this would be through MileagePlus Dining!
Through July 31, 2015 MileagePlus Dining has a generous 1,500 mile signing bonus!
Here’s all you need to do:
- Join MileagePlus Dining by July 30, 2015.
- Within 30 days of joining, dine at any participating location and spend $30 or more with your registered credit/ debit card ‐ including tax and tip.
- Complete your post-dine review within 30 days of dining at the restaurant, bar, or club.
- Earn 1,500 bonus miles.
Tip: The next time you go out for dinner with your friends, pick up the tab with your MileagePlus Dining registered Chase Sapphire Preferred card (= 2 miles/$1 spent) and have your friends pay you for their share with cash. If the restaurant is within the MileagePlus Dining network and accrues miles on that day at, say, 3 miles/$1, and the bill is $100 (not including tax and tip, for simplicity’s sake), you stand to earn at least 500 miles just by putting the bill on your Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. ($100 x 2 = 200 miles + $100 x 3 = 300 miles = 500 miles!) This may not sound like a lot of miles… but, trust me, it adds up!
I unknowingly once earned more than 5,000 miles (from a $300 bill) this way as there was an amazing special promotion going on for the restaurant we visited… and I had no idea the restaurant was even a part of the network! I just thought that it was an easier way to get cash on hand, rather than visiting an ATM. Needless to say, that experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of earning miles!
Live a Life in Motion!
Since we are all about solutions here within the Live a Life in Motion community, even when the means do not seem apparent, I’ve provided for you a way to get to Nepal for as little as $150 above.
To recap: 75,000/85,000 miles (via MileagePlus Explorer and Chase Sapphire Preferred credit cards) + 1,500 miles (via MileagePlus Dining = 76,500 miles. You need 85,000 miles to fly roundtrip to Nepal from North America. Either you achieved it by adding someone to your account, even just temporarily… or that’s a very conservative 8,500 miles more, assuming you didn’t use the MileagePlus and/or Ultimate Rewards Shopping Malls or MileagePlus Dining for any purchases. It also doesn’t include the possibility that you may have signed up for any other of the credit cards above.
If you were able to meet the above credit card minimum purchase requirements organically, congratulations! The price of your round-trip ticket to Nepal will only be the cost of the government travel fees — ~$150!
And if you needed to use any of the tips under the credit card section above to meet the credit card minimum purchase requirements, don’t fear! You saved a bunch of money as well and are, in all likelihood, paying between $150-$350 for a $1,000-1,300 ticket! Job well done!
The bottom line: Getting to Nepal is extremely achievable… provided that you have the motivation. Do you?
The intent of this article was to open the reader to the world of travel hacking through airline miles. While we hope that we succeeded in achieving just that, there are many creative nuances to the travel hacking world. Therefore, we have provided additional resources below so that the reader can delve deeper into the exciting world of travel hacking! Enjoy!!!
Additionally, please explore the following options below to help us rebuild rural Nepal!
– Buy a Happy Heart Universe t-shirt made in Nepal. 100% of the profits on all t-shirts sold before August 1, 2015 will go to support rebuilding projects in Nepal.
– Participate in one of the non-touristic treks we are organizing. We donate 1,000 Norwegian Kroner per person to a project. (At the moment, these treks are targeted exclusively for Norwegians.) Send an e-mail to Ingvill@Liveafeinmotion.com for more information.
– Donate money to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.
Chris Guillebeau Travel Hacking Resources
*** Disclosure: At the time of publishing, Live a Life in Motion does not have an affiliation with any of the above resources, credit card companies or airlines.