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Travel Hacking Graduate Earns 2.5 Million Miles: On the Road with Hao Tran

This is a travel hacking case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

When I put out the call for travel hacking stories, I received a flood of responses. One of the first to cross my desk was from 21-year-old Hao Tran, a recent graduate.

Introduce yourself. 

I didn’t travel internationally growing up. During the summer of my first international trip to Dubai in 2011, I was working for a tech startup in NYC that built a loyalty program network linked with credit card spending. The CEO was a miles collector and introduced me to the community. I’d always assumed travel was impossibly expensive, but when I learned about miles and points, I was hooked. Soon enough I was booking trips to countries that I had always wanted to visit. After reading AONC and immersing myself in the travel hacking community, I’ve been to six continents and 30 countries.

And I’m a new grad from Brown University, with a degree in Sociology.

What was one of your recent, memorable trips?

In January 2012, I noticed on Twitter that TheMrPickles was going on his beginning of the year holiday/mileage run to Cape Town to re-qualify for United MileagePlus 1K elite status. I tweeted at him, and he agreed to meet and provide me with a guest pass into the Cape Town Hilton’s Executive Lounge for a chat. The Hilton Executive Lounge had unlimited hors d’oeuvre and drinks, and was a relaxing location to hold our discussion. Our meeting was a great learning experience, and that single networking opportunity drastically brought up my learning curve in the points game.

What inspired you to make travel part of your life?

My first trip. Being on a double-decker plane for 12 hours was incredible. Flying on Emirates, an airline with a huge international cabin crew was thrilling. I hadn’t been exposed to so many people of different backgrounds in my life.

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How do you save the money you need for your trips?

Earning frequent flyer miles and learning how to spend them takes a lot of time, studying, and knowledge of personal finance. After learning about miles during my first summer internship, I started earning miles through credit cards, flying for work, and manufactured spending.

How many miles and points do you have banked right now?

I’ve collected approximately 2.5 million miles for myself and another million each for my brother, mom and dad since June 2011. They have no clue how frequent flyer miles work. I’ve spent around 1 million on myself over the last 36 months.

The great debate: aisle or window?

Window, especially if you’re sitting in international business or first class. I love seeing the airplane’s wing in the clouds.

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Tell us something that has surprised you while traveling.

The crazier your itinerary, the more likely you’ll meet another miles-and-points enthusiast on your journey.

Best travel tips. Go:

Travel during the full moon.

It makes for spectacular evenings and lights up the streets.

Always say hi to your in-flight neighbor.

On a recent flight to Rio, I ended up getting a free taxi ride from GIG to Copacabana in exchange for helping a Brazilian woman with her bags.

Hao in Egypt

Tell us something interesting about you that hasn’t been covered already.

My parents haven’t spent a dime on my travels since I left for college in August 2010. They also haven’t spent a dime on their own travels.

Where are you headed next?

I’m writing this from Lima, Peru. My next international trip will probably be Costa Rica, Argentina, and/or Chile.

Read more about Hao’s travel hacks on his Quora page, or follow him on Twitter @haontran

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