6 ways award travel and elite status fit well with my digital nomad life

I’ve spent the better half of the last decade traveling the world full-time as a digital nomad. In the process, I’ve found that points, miles, and elite status have made my experience a lot more fun, especially considering how much time I spend on the road each year.

For some background: My husband and I sold or donated most of our belongings and moved out of our Austin apartment in June 2017. We had been saving up points and miles for what we thought would be a year-long trip. But we quickly discovered that we could make a living writing about points, miles and credit cards while traveling.

We still live and work as digital nomads almost six years later. Here’s how living as a digital nomad allows us to maximize our rates and achieve elite status—including some topics that can apply to shorter trips as well.

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Uses one-way award flights

Delta One business class. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

Most of our family—and the RV we traveled in for about a year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic—live in the southeastern United States. We return to the region several times each year, but we don’t usually book return flights. Instead, we often book one-way fare flights and positioning flights to keep our schedule flexible and avoid unnecessary backtracking.

Sometimes you can find one-way paid flights that cost about half of a round trip. But some airlines – especially for international flights – charge more for two one-way flights than for a round trip. And paid tickets are often less flexible than award tickets.

Fortunately, you can often book two one-way fares for the same price as a return fare. Only a few airline loyalty programs require round-trip fares or offer discounts when you book a round-trip award.

Being able to redeem points and miles for relatively flexible one-way flights at about half of what we need for a round trip offers great value. This allows us to travel to different destinations before returning to the US, experience a variety of airlines, and change or cancel our onward flights relatively easily if our plans change.

Related: How to book your first award flight with airline miles

Maximize free hotel nights

InterContinental Phuket Resort in Thailand. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

Since we spend most nights in hotels and try to stay at least four or five nights in most places, we take great advantage of getting a fourth or fifth night free when we redeem points with select hotel loyalty programs.

We have received 36 fourth night rewards with IHG since July 2017 by purchasing IHG points when we can do so for 0.5 cents per point during point sales. Getting a fourth or fifth night free and selectively choosing when to book a paid rate instead of redeeming points allows us to capture redemption rates well above TPG’s valuations.

We also earn hotel free night certificates through credit cards and stays. And we are able to really maximize most of these certificates since we visit a variety of destinations. For example, we have redeemed up to 40,000 point certificates to stay at Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam in the Netherlands on several occasions.

We have also visited several destinations primarily to redeem free night certificates. For example, we redeemed Hyatt’s category 1-4 certificates to stay at Alila Fort Bishangarh in India last year. And in 2021, we redeemed three Hilton free night certificates to stay at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in the Maldives.

Related: 8 Types of Underrated Hotel Redemptions I’ve Made or Plan to Make Soon

Cheaper to achieve elite status

Park Hyatt Chennai in India. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

We still use some of the strategies we exploited before we became digital nomads to snag cheaper flights and nights and earn elite status for less. For example, we still love to visit cities where you can book luxury hotels at affordable prices. And we like to stay at World of Hyatt Category 1 properties for as little as 3,500 points per night.

But now we also often travel in the low season and live in less visited cities or outside the tourist center of popular destinations. For example, we usually stay outside central London to get lower prices. And if we want to be in a certain region but don’t have a specific destination in mind, we will do a broad search for the least expensive hotels. For example, here’s a look at the cheapest Marriott award nights across France for a casual five-night stay this summer:


And we can visit affordable destinations, such as Dubai, Bangkok and (on weekdays) Las Vegas. These destinations can be great places to work and earn elite night credits with our favorite hotel loyalty programs without breaking the bank or digging too deep into our award inventory.

On the airline elite status side, we both maintain Oneworld Emerald status through American Airlines AAdvantage elite status and Star Alliance Gold status through Asiana Airlines elite status.

We earn these statuses without spending as much money as would normally be required by hopping flights – usually on American Airlines and Asiana partners to use both programs’ partner earning charts – and being very flexible with flight dates and destinations. In addition, there are now many ways to earn American Airlines loyalty points without flying.

Related: Elite status vs. miles: How to get the most out of Oneworld partner tickets

Points, miles and cash go further

Hyatt Regency Kuantan in Malaysia. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

Many travelers are tied to specific destinations or dates when redeeming points and miles. This lack of flexibility in dates and destinations can make it difficult to get outsized value from your points and miles – especially if you need to travel during school holidays.

But as digital nomads, we can choose when to redeem points and miles and when to book a paid flight or stay. After all, we don’t have enough points and miles to cover all our nights and flights, so we have to decide when to pay cash and when to redeem. We tend to get redemption rates significantly higher than TPG’s valuations since we order paid rates when we get low or moderate redemption rates. In addition, we can earn well on paid flights and stays with our elite statuses and travel reward cards.

In addition, we have relatively few places we have to be on specific dates. Sure, we usually spend Thanksgiving and the winter holidays with family in the southeastern United States. And we have several gatherings, conferences or weddings we want to attend most years. But we can arrange all this in good time, so that we can often get affordable flights and hotels.

Otherwise, we usually let flight deals and allocation of availability to places we want to visit (or on products we want to try) dictate our schedule. And we usually spend more time in places where we can stay and live cheaply, such as many destinations in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Stays at these destinations can allow us to accumulate elite nights relatively cheaply and stretch our points, miles and cash even further.

Related: 9 budget strategies to get the most out of your points and miles

More use of elite status benefits

Alila Fort Bishangarh in India. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

Since we mostly stay out of hotels and each fly more than 200,000 miles most years, we get a lot of value from our elite statuses because we use the benefits often.

On the hotel side, as remote workers, we appreciate elite benefits such as breakfast, lounge access, upgrades and late check-out. In particular, we often book with Marriott Bonvoy or World of Hyatt to stay at a property where we will be eligible for guaranteed late check-out at 16.00 due to our elite status.

And when we fly, we use the baggage benefits and lounge access we get as Star Alliance Gold and Oneworld Emerald members. We have found significant value in Oneworld’s premium lounges, including the Qantas International First Lounge in Los Angeles and the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

We generally find our hotel elite benefits to be well respected and useful, especially outside of the US. For example, while some executive lounges remain closed at U.S. properties, we have rarely encountered closures at properties outside the U.S. While room upgrades are inconsistent, hotels outside the U.S. tend to be more generous in proactively offering significant upgrades.

But we also often look for stays that allow us to try certain benefits. For example, we have already stayed at several InterContinental hotels this year with a Club Lounge to use my husband’s Annual Club Access membership that he chose in January as an IHG Milestone Reward. And in 2022, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, primarily because it’s one of the cheapest Ritz-Carlton hotels where you can use Club Level Upgrade Certificates.

Related: 8 tips and tricks for finding a good travel deal

Enjoys special experiences

The restaurant at Mopani Rest Camp in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. KATIE GENTER/THE POINT GUY

When we watched the sunset a few weeks back at the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa in Malaysia, we shared how many amazing experiences we have while traveling as digital nomads. And while taking a break from a self-drive safari at a rest camp in South Africa’s Kruger National Park last year, we considered how many of our fellow travelers were likely on bucket-list trips.

We’re incredibly grateful that our digital nomad lifestyle—and in some cases, points and miles—has unlocked so many incredible experiences. Of course, part of the trade-off is that we have to focus our work in some amazing places.

Limiting our experiences to just a few “best” is impossible. But some fond memories certainly include the many Qatar Qsuite flights we booked with American Airlines miles, spending two incredible nights at Al Maha in the United Arab Emirates and our amazing stay at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives, which was even better because to our InterContinental Ambassador membership and IHG elite status.

Related: Is hotel elite status worth it anymore?

The bottom line

It is certainly possible to live and work as a digital nomad without taking advantage of points, miles and elite status. But points and miles allow us to travel better for less cost. And elite status unlocks useful perks like upgrades and late check-out, as well as money-saving perks like lounge access and free breakfast.

Most of the ways that grant travel and elite status fit well with my digital nomad life can also apply to shorter trips. For example, if you spend less time on the road, you may need to choose one hotel elite status and focus more on non-flying methods when earning American Airlines loyalty points.

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