Ben Schlappig has no fixed address and no keys to his own abode. He is essentially homeless, but with a great big twist. For the past few years, this intrepid professional traveler has flown around the world using a mixture of frequent flyer miles and credit card reward points. And when he’s flying internationally, he never flies economy! It’s first class all the way for this 27-year-old ‘hobbyist.’
He started collecting air miles at the tender age of 14, and now the travel consultant and blogger runs the website One Mile at a Time.boardingarea.com. Also known as Lucky or ‘Coins,’ Schlappig says he’s “obsessed with aviation, travel, and more specifically, using airline miles and credit card points to elevate the travel experience.”
He says one of his favorite things to do is people-watch at airports, where he daydreams about what these people’s lives are like and where they’re going. It’s just as well that Schlappig likes airports because he spends an awful lot of time in them. These days, he flies an average of about 400,000 miles a year, which equates to 16 times around the globe. And most of it is international first- and business-class travel.
How it all began
Schlappig started traveling when he was very young, as his family is from Germany. They traveled between the U.S. and Germany frequently, and Schlappig enjoyed the journeys — especially the airports. When he was 14, he noticed a promotion from United that had arrived in the mail. The company was offering 5,000 extra miles for every segment flown to a maximum of 50,000 bonus miles.
He started researching and found out just how good a deal it was. Amazingly, he managed to convince his parents to allow him to fly back and forth across the States all summer so that their next trip to Germany would be via Lufthansa in first class. He ended up with top-tier airline elite status and spent his whole summer either in airports or in the air. That’s when he says he was hooked.
What this ‘homeless’ man does
Schlappig spends most of his time traveling and writing about his travels on his website, blogging up to six times a day. His followers are enthusiastic fans of his exploits. He has flown over 5 million miles since his first summer adventure, visited over 50 countries on six continents and spent thousands of nights in hotels.
He’s one of the best-traveled people in the world, so his product reviews and articles are taken seriously by travel fans the world over. On average, he spends around four hours a day on a plane and takes a minimum of one international flight a week. When on land, he stays at opulent hotels but doesn’t like to spend more than three days in one place.
How he travels mostly for free
He says that although travel isn’t really ‘free,’ there are ways to leverage your resources to enjoy incredible experiences at a far lower cost than you might imagine. He says the key is research and reading the fine print.
The tricky part about airline miles, he says, is redeeming them. The airlines make it difficult, but if you’re prepared to go the extra mile, getting cheap travel is possible. And you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to take advantage of points or mileage programs. Schlappig says more than half the miles issued in the U.S. are via non-flying means, such as credit card spending, online shopping, car rentals and so on.
He advises accruing transferrable points for maximum flexibility, citing American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Starwood Preferred Guest. He tends to redeem his miles for award tickets in international business and first class, which would be extremely expensive if he were to pay cash.
How much does he actually spend on travel each year?
Schlappig estimates that his travel tickets would retail at about 1 million dollars per year, as international first-class tickets will run you $25,000 or more for a roundtrip. He says that he spends just a tiny fraction of that sum.
So what does Schlappig think now?
So far, Schlappig has traveled about 5 million miles, but he says he is still just as mesmerized by the experience as he was when he was a little kid. In fact, he hasn’t lost his child-like passion for travel, flying and airports, and it doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.
But even though he travels in first or business class every time, Schlappig admits that traveling can be exhausting. Will he ever rent an apartment again? We’re not sure, but he admits that Hong Kong is the only place where he could live.