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Mission Accomplished! The Full Report from the 2015 Dining Dash

We did it! As mentioned, last week my travel hacking colleagues and I took on a mini-quest of going to 12 specific restaurants in Portland in a single day, all in pursuit of miles and points.

On Friday morning, we set out at the crack of dawn 8:30am with an ambitious goal: To visit 12 restaurants throughout the city. We wanted to achieve all 12 of our qualifying “dines” (any purchase at the participating restaurants, no minimum) to earn VIP status with Rewards Network in a single day.

IMG_0038_2 My friend Stephanie and I did this last year in a more limited (though still awesome) fashion. This time, we wanted to increase the challenge. We invited another friend, Tyler, to come along, and we also invited others to participate virtually.

At the end of the night we had a small celebration at the Triple Nickel, a hilarious—in the best of ways—pub in my Southeast Portland neighborhood. To recap, here are the rules of the challenge:

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How to Earn Money While Traveling: Fact and Fiction

15674617315_a7a3c8d7da_z Want to make money while on the road? It’s definitely possible, and more and more people are doing it all the time—but you may need to change your thinking to make it happen.

Our first Unconventional Guide of 2015 launches this Tuesday morning. It’s all about what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to heading out into the world as a long-term (or at least frequent) traveler.

The premise might surprise you: On its own, traveling has little to do with earning money. You earn money by making or sharing something that other people find valuable. That's it. If you’re going to get paid while abroad, you have to think about what you can do that’s relevant and interesting to others.

What can that be? Let's first consider the most common things people think of when they think of “getting paid to travel.” As we’ll see, they’re all problematic in some way.

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For Another Side of North Korea, Watch This Ultimate Time-Lapse Video

Apparently Pyongyang isn't just rationed electricity and a lack of lunch options: Check out this video

"North Korea was the last country seemingly immune to change—but no longer. Recent years have witnessed mobile phone penetration, a surge in tourists, and even a marathon. Numerous special economic zones have been launched in cooperation with China, Russia, and South Korea, with railways planned linking all countries in the region."

Maybe it's time I plan that extended vacation in Pyongyang...

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Updated Offer: 70,000 Points + Additional Free Stay from IHG Hotels

Link: 70,000 IHG Hotel Points

An updated travel hacking offer has just landed. All of a sudden, anyone who likes to stay in hotels free has an all-new option: the IHG® Rewards Club Select card.

IHG brands range from the upscale Intercontinental (very nice) to the mid-range Crowne Plaza (depends on the property) to the down-market Holiday Inn Express (well, in some markets there are far worse places).

The latest version of the card has a strong signup offer: 70,000 points after completing a low $1,000 minimum spend in three months. That's not enough for you? OK, you'll also get an additional free night valid at over 4,700 hotels throughout the network for every year you remain a cardmember.

In addition to the improved signup bonus, the card also offers the following benefits:

  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Automatic platinum elite status, as long as you remain a cardmember
  • $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49

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Join Us on Friday, February 6—Virtually or In Real Life—for the 2015 Dining Dash

This Friday I’ll be going on a mini-adventure to visit 12 restaurants in one day. You can follow along virtually, recreate the adventure in your own way, or even join me for the last stop of the evening in Portland, Oregon.

Last year my travel hacking colleague Stephanie Zito and I went on a “Dining Dash” (not to be confused with Dine and Dash) adventure to ten restaurants in a single day. We did this to requalify for VIP Member status with Rewards Network, a company that provides miles and points bonuses for anything you purchase at qualifying restaurants.

It was a lot of fun, and there was just one problem: 2014 ended! Each year, the count starts over, and we now need 12 more dines to requalify for VIP status throughout all of next year.

Obviously, you could just qualify as you go to places throughout the year—but where’s the fun in that? This time, we’re joining up with another friend and colleague, Tyler Tervooren, and the three of us will attempt to complete all 12 dines in a single day: this Friday, February 6.

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Top 5 Credit Card Signup Bonuses for Miles & Points: February

Every year I earn well over one million Frequent Flyer miles and points. About 250,000 of them come through actual travel, and the rest come through travel hacking: the art of seeing the world on a budget.

One of the easiest ways to earn a lot of miles all at once is through credit card signup bonuses. This post contains the best current card offers as of Wednesday, February 4. If getting every card from this post, you'd earn 215,000 points or miles. Happy travels!

In this edition:

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My Favorite Part of the Qatar Airways A380 Flight Was the First Class Lavatories

I joke about this with my friends: “Oh my God, travel is so hard. Sometimes the Business Class flights attendant brings still water instead of sparkling! Sometimes the hotel forgets the chocolates on the pillow during turn-down service!"

That’s why I was so excited about the A380 on Qatar Airways. As soon as I boarded the flight, I was impressed right away. The cabin is gorgeous, the seat is fantastic, and from the way I was greeted I could tell that the service would be flawless.

Qatar-A380-first-class-bathroom And it was. Still, though, I've had many experiences like that. These days I’m earning and spending more than one million miles a year (more than 2 million last year, actually), so if I’m flying more than three hours, I’m almost never in the back of the plane anymore.

Much of the time, I go through life jaded. But not on this flight—and you know my favorite part? The washrooms.

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Watch This Pan Am 747 Take to the Skies (Or At Least the Ground) in the Ultimate 1970s Recreation

static.squarespace.com Air travel has changed a bit over the past few decades—and mostly for the better. Back in the day, an average transcontinental airfare would run you at least $1,500 in today's dollars, compared to $400 or so now. Yikes.

There were no budget airlines, and—shocking—there were no Frequent Flyer programs where average people could earn large amounts of miles and effectively travel for free. Still, a little nostalgia never hurt anyone (or does it?).

In another example of people who devote an incredible attention to detail, I loved seeing how a collector and a photographer recreated an entire Pan Am flight experience, down to the tiniest experiences like the precise menu, baggage tags, and even the dress code of passengers who were recruited to join in for the unconventional journey.

Take a look for yourself:

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Traveler 1, Jet Lag 0 (For Once)

You, traveler, know very well what jet lag is like. For a period of several years, you were essentially jet-lagged two weeks every month. “Jet lag is my favorite drug,” you said, repeating the great line by Jacques Cousteau.

But you knew then, just as all travelers come to know, that real jet lag is a bitch. Contrary to the suggestions of well-meaning people who took a trip once and thus claim to know all about the world, jet lag is unpredictable. When it arrives, there’s no magic bullet to stop it from claiming your days and nights for as long as it wants.

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Why I Keep Returning to My Least Favorite Hotel in London

Many years back, I checked into the Sheraton Heathrow after winning a bid on Priceline. It was incredibly cheap—something like $30-40 for the night, as I recall.

At the time I was still new to the world of branded hotels. A few times a year, I might stay in a Starwood or Hilton property. I spent the rest of the nights in hostels, guesthouses, or on the couches of kind hosts. Arriving at the Sheraton Heathrow for the first time, I remember thinking, huh, this hotel is a little weird—but hey, it’s a hotel!

Everything about it was dismal, from the carpeting in the public guest floor areas to the tiny, unclean rooms, right on down to the attitude of the staff, who didn’t seem particularly pleased to be working there.

As I traveled more and more, I returned to the Sheraton Heathrow a couple times a year. Each time I had more experience in staying at other hotels, and finally I came to the realization: it's not me—this place is just really bad.

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Achievement Unlocked: 2 Million American Airlines Miles

For 17 hours on my recent Round-the-World trip, I flew on the longest currently operating American Airlines flight, from Dallas to Hong Kong. It’s 8,000 or so flight miles, and I ended the flight a millionaire.

Well, sort of—this flight helped me achieve a longstanding goal of earning 2 million AA flight miles.

Until a couple of years ago, you could obtain “Million Miler” status with American through any kind of miles added to your account, including miles from credit card signups, bank deposits, dining bonuses, online shopping bonuses, and pretty much anywhere under the sun.

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Memories of Johannesburg Airport, 2006 to 2015

Yesterday I walked off the jetway into the transit area of Johannesburg’s international airport and had a flashback. I’d been here so many times... yet I always remember coming here years ago, way back in 2006 for the first time.

Back then I was beginning a new way of life. I had ended my four-year stint on a hospital ship in West Africa. I was going to a new home in Seattle—eventually. But first I had a side trip: I had to pick up a new country!

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Limited Time: Use Southwest Airlines Points to Fly a Companion Free (For a Whole Year)

Link: 50,000 Rapid Rewards Points (Limited Time)

Confession: I almost never fly Southwest. When flying in the U.S., I much prefer American Airlines (and sometimes Delta). However, Southwest has millions of loyal fans who love their point-to-point service, unassigned seating, and general friendliness.

For those fans—or anyone who appreciates free travel—you may want to take a look at the improved signup offer for the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card. Instead of just 25,000 points (the usual offer), for a limited time you can earn 50,000 points after completing a $2,000 minimum spend in the first three months.

In addition to the improved signup bonus, the card also offers the following benefits:

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