Chad Janis and wife Hannah were raking in the cash in their high-flying Wall Street jobs — but they had a plan all along to break free.
The self-described "minimalists" moved to New York last year with just six suitcases to their names, after graduating university and getting engaged. They spent the past 12 months getting cashed up in their jobs, earning a combined $225,000 while enduring gruelling hours.
Chad, 25, clocked in an average 80-100 hours a week at global investment bank Lazard, and said he "hates thinking about" how often he would walk through the office doors at 9am only to finally leave at midnight. Meanwhile, Hannah worked at the hedge fund Kingdon Capital.
Chad told news.com.au he quickly realised his passion wasn't in investment banking. Instead a love for travel hacking was brewing. Soon, he was spending an extra 20-40 hours a week finding out the best ways to save money while on the road. And it's certainly ended up paying off.
The duo grinned and beared the long hours, all the while counting down the days until they could pack it all in. That day came last Friday, when they quit their jobs in preparation for an epic adventure.
The excited duo will spend the next year flying to more than 40 countries around the world for free, using airline points earned via spending on a dizzying number of credit cards. First stop, Honolulu.
"After earning over two million airline points in the last year, we quit our finance jobs, sold our stuff, and are taking off," Chad and Hannah excitedly announced on their Instagram page last week.
"Our tickets are already booked entirely with points, and we are headed out for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to over 40 countries in business class for free."
A thrilled Hannah said she "threw out almost everything I owned" before beginning the big trip.
The duo will also visit Tokyo, Sydney, Bangkok, Shanghai, Phuket, Tel Aviv, Dubai and Cairo.
Chad said the key to their "hack" was mastering airline points, which led to them opening a whopping 42 credit cards. They claim by doing this, they have saved $84,000 in travel expenses. But be warned, read on before considering following in their footsteps.
"Over the last year, we have mastered several travel hacks," Chad told news.com.au. "All free travel stems from credit cards.
"The easiest way to earn airline points is through a credit card's sign-up bonus. Earning points through credit cards is simple: You open a new card and spend enough money on that card to hit the 'minimum spend' requirement, which then triggers the card's sign-up bonus, earning you 30,000 to 100,000 airline points.
"However, credit cards are not free money — their rewards are. As minimalists, we never spend money on things we don't need, so we made sure to hit the 'minimum spend' requirements organically by simply planning ahead of time what our expected expenses would be in the near-term future."
So what's the plan and how have they leveraged their points to fly around the world?
"We've already booked out the next eight months of free flights, the majority of which were through Singapore Airlines' business class round-the-world offering (240,000 points per person)," Chad said.
"From there, we used the points we earned with other airlines through our cards' sign-up bonuses to book ancillary, 'shorter' flight tickets such as our flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Vava'u, Tonga, and many others.
"We also have several hundred thousand points with hotel programs. We've redeemed them for free hotel stays at Marriott, SPG, Hyatt, and Hilton, including a free, all-inclusive week-long stay at Marriott's Fiji Momi Bay category 8 resort."
Chad said his love for travel budgeting all began when he scored his first free flight.
"I discovered the world of travel hacking when I found my first free tickets on a flight from Salt Lake City to John F. Kennedy airport for a job interview," he said.
The passion continued to grow as he spent time studying abroad in Israel during his first year of university.
"I loved the local foods and culture, and the extended time I spent in the Middle East helped me develop a love for the people … Since then I've travelled to 22 countries and saved $70,000 on flights and five-star hotels."
The keen travellers have now launched a website called WallStreetMinimalist.com to help others follow in their rather, well, extreme footsteps.
Here are their three top lesser-known travel hacks:
• Singapore Airlines round-the-world business class ticket — For only 240,000 points, you can book up to seven segments of flights in business class that only expire a year after you redeem your points for the first ticket. We booked our longest flights (6+ hours) using this travel hack because it offers such an incredible value.
• Marriott hotel + air package — Marriott offers a package on their website that allows you to exchange your points for a seven-night certificate. We exchanged 285,000 points for seven nights at a category eight (top) resort in Fiji. In addition to the certificate, Marriott also gifts you points to the airline of your choice. In this case, we got 55,000 United miles by redeeming for the certificate. Truly a great value.
• No minimum spend cards — Many people worry that they can't hit the minimum spend a card requires to trigger the sign-up bonus. But there are actually some cards out there that don't require a minimum spend. You just have to swipe the card once (for any amount, even $1) and pay the annual fee, and you'll receive the sign-up bonus.
We used this travel hack to get us to South Africa for free. We went to Pick-a-Bagel here in New York, and both used our cards to buy a bagel each. Those bagels alone were almost all we needed to get us our free flights to South Africa this past June.
SO, IS THIS A GOOD TACTIC?
Finder.com.au editor-in-chief Angus Kidman warned Australian travellers to be cautious before following such advice, especially when it comes to opening multiple cards.
"Credit card bonuses can supercharge your points total, but it's important to be aware of the fine print," Mr Kidman told news.com.au.
"Most Australian deals require you to spend a minimum amount each month over several months, so you won't be able to rack up millions in points unless you're also on a high income and spending regularly. (American sign-up deals often don't have such stringent requirements.)
"Many banks will also block you from getting bonus points if you've been on a similar deal with the same bank or bank group."
He also said that you would have to be super-organised in order to reap such rewards.
"Making use of those points also requires a lot of planning. To ensure you get access to business-class seats, you'll usually need to book a year in advance."