5 Unknown Travel Hacks for the Modern Traveler

After spending almost a year and a half in rental cars, hotel rooms, and flights, with impulse trips to Stockholm, Mexico City, Japan, Macau, and more, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite travel hacks for the modern traveler. Whether you’re a consultant, working remote, or just love traveling, these hacks will be sure to get you room upgrades, first class tickets, and that hot pink convertible you’ve always dreamed of.

  1. Airline Elite Status Challenge
  2. Hotel Elite Status Challenge
  3. Car Elite Status Matches
  4. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  5. TSA Precheck/Global Entry

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1. Airline Elite Status Challenge

I had gone far too long before I realized the wonders of Airline Elite Status Challenges. What is an Airline Elite Status Challenge? Great question!

Have you every wondered how certain travelers always get the best seats, always board first, and almost always get upgraded to first class? Let me tell you, it’s not always because they’re paying for it, it’s because they have status with the airline and you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to get access. To get the most basic status on most airlines you would need to fly a minimum of 25,000 miles within one year. Those miles may be physical distance flown, or some combination of physical distance and the amount you paid for the ticket. Even this can be hard to achieve if you only fly every few months.

In comes the elite status challenges. Soon after I started consulting, I learned that you could secretly apply for these airline status challenges that will let you earn status quickly if you can prove you fly often. More often than not, this means you would need to fly just 12,500 miles within 90 days to get the next level of status.

Here is a great article from The Points Guy about how to hack the American Executive Platinum Challenge. It’s important to note you may have to pay for some of these challenges or need to qualify first, but definitely worth the challenge.

For American, you can accept a challenge to receive AAdvantage Gold status by earning 7,000 elite qualifying miles (EQMS) within 90 days and paying a $120 fee. Or, you can obtain a challenge to receive AAdvantage Platinum status by earning 12,500 EQMs in 90 days and paying a $200 fee.

To sign up for one of these offers, you can contact American Airlines at 888-697-5636.

For United, it’s a little trickier. They don’t have an outright challenge, but they will match the status on any of their competitors, including American and Delta. Check out their MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge page for more details and to match your status.

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2. Hotel Elite Status Challenge

Marriott/SPG, Hilton, IHG, all have similar challenges where you can earn status quickly if you can prove you’re a consistent traveler. Usually you have to wait until you qualify for these challenges, but what many don’t know, is that you can simply call up the rewards line at the hotel and ask to do their Elite Status Challenge.

It’s what I was able to do with both Marriott and Hyatt. Just be prepared to complete the challenge once you start it. If you fail to complete the challenge within the allotted time, you won’t receive status, and you won’t be able to do the challenge again for another 5 years.

Be aware of any potential partnerships between airlines and hotels as well. United and Marriott have an exclusive partnership, allowing status holders on the airline or hotel to match that status to the other. So if you have gold status with United, you may be able to earn automatic gold status with Marriott and vice versa.

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3. Car Elite Status Matches

Same goes for earning status with Hertz, Avis, and many other car rental companies. I will admit, it’s harder to get a status match with Hertz, but it is possible. With Hertz gold, for example, you can get automatically confirmed vehicle reservations, expedited rental service, upgrades, and point’s bonuses. Check with your hotel or airline to see if they offer a match for car rental companies.

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4. Chase Sapphire Reserve

I wrote extensively about the Chase Sapphire Reserve in another article, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty here. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get 100,000 points after you spend $4000 in the first 3 months (worth $2100 with Chase Ultimate Rewards®), $300 annual travel credit automatically applied to your account after each travel expense, $100 reimbursement for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application, access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide, and 3X points on Hotels, Flights, Taxis (UbersLyfts), Restaurants, and any other travel related expenses.

This card along with my status at Marriott has helped me book a $1700 hotel room at the Ritz Carlton in Macau, the Premier suite at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, and a $23,000 First-Class Seat on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Definitely a must have for any traveler.

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5. TSA Pre-check/Global Entry

While there are numerous other options for expedited airport security (CLEAR for example), TSA Pre-check or Global Entry is still the quickest and most affordable way to get through security. I almost missed my flight back to San Francisco from Chicago when I was visiting family for Thanksgiving. If it wasn’t for TSA Pre-check, I would have definitely missed my flight. The best part is that with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get free credit for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry, and once approved, you’ll have it for 5 years.

While this list is not exhaustive, these are some of the best travel hacks I’ve found during my year and a half of constant travelling. If you know of any other hacks I may have forgotten, comment below!

ritz carlton macau


During my Hong Kong trip this past winter, after a short soiree through Japan, my friend and I decided to take a quick trip to the Sin City of the East, Macau. As in my usual attitude towards “nothing but the best”, we decided to stay in one of the best hotels we could muster in the Las Vegas of Asia, the Ritz Carlton. We booked the Carlton Suite with a 1 King bedroom, 1.5 marble bathrooms, complimentary wine, and a fully automated bidet, which I’ll get to in just a minute.

Ritz carlton macau

No joke, this hotel room was 13,500 HKG for one night, which converts to about $1700 USD a night. Using my Chase Sapphire Reserve points, we were able to reserve this room for only about 40,000 points.

Getting to the hotel was a challenge in itself, as we navigated the maze that was the Galaxy Macau complex with 6 different hotels, 3 Michelin star restaurants, and a massive casino.

We took the elevator up to the 51st floor to check into the hotel. In front of us were two large desks, occupied by two receptionists, and surrounded by rather large vases. Towards the back were sweeping views of downtown Macau. You could see the Macau Tower, MGM Macau, and Wynn Macau, amongst a few. I sat down at the desk as a woman checked me in, asked for the usual information (although a bit skeptical at what a 23-year-old such as myself was doing at a resort like the Ritz Carlton), and proceeded to give me details about the room.

We took the elevator down to the 35th floor, walked down a long, calmly lit hallway lined with even more large vases, and stepped into the Carlton Suite.

rtiz carlton suite macau bedroom

The king bedroom had it’s own chandelier, love seat, tv, automated curtains and blinds, and was connected to the luxurious, top to bottom, marble bathroom.

ritz carlton suite macau bathroom

The bathroom was covered in marble, had its own chandelier, hot tub, his and her’s vanities, a rain shower, a powder room, and a fully automated bidet with a remote control. This was the most advanced toilet I’ve ever seen, even compared to Japan, with buttons to lift up the seat, light-up the bowl, and even air it out.

ritz carlton suite macau living room

The living room had more vases, a little study area, a half bathroom, a wine cabinet, and another bed.

ritz carlton welcome package

Before arriving, the staff had laid out a welcome package for us, complete with a complimentary bottle of red wine, and assorted fruits, chocolates, and macaroons.

ritz carlton

They even wrote me a hand written letter to welcome us to the Ritz Carlton. Now that’s some VIP service!

view from ritz carlton macau

Overall, we had a great time in Macau. The Ritz-Carlton was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at in my life. It’s unfair to compare Macau to Sin City. It’s another animal entirely, and definitely a city worth visiting again!



I travel quite a bit, but usually it’s either for work or I’m trying to find the cheapest, budget flight I can, but for my recent trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco I wanted to do something impulsive, so I booked First Class with Cathay Pacific. The retail cost of this flight is over $23,000 one-way. Naturally, I couldn’t afford a $23,000 ticket (far more than my student loans) so I redeemed 110,000 miles on my Chase Sapphire Card.


The $23,000 First Class ticket on Cathay Pacific

I arrived at the MTR check-in counter in Hong Kong about 5 hours before my departure time. I’d heard about the new First Class lounge at HKG and didn’t want to miss a minute exploring it. After hoping on a quick train to the airport, checking-in, and passing through security, I headed towards Cathay Pacific’s new, The Pier First Lounge.

The lobby of the The Pier, First Lounge

The lobby of the The Pier, First Lounge

Open Bar at The Pier, First Lounge

Open Bar at The Pier, First Lounge

All the drinks and snacks you can think of

All the drinks and snacks you can think of

After arriving at the lounge, I headed to the restaurant for a 3-course dinner. I ordered the Pasta Salad, Walnut Pesto Linguini, and Creme Brulee.

Walnut Pesto Linguini

Walnut Pesto Linguini

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

After dinner and a quick nap, I boarded the flight and got settled into seat 1A. My first impression of the seat was just how insanely big it was. Cathay Pacific only has three seats per row, making them one of the widest airline seats in the air today. The first class suite also doesn’t have sliding doors, with Cathay preferring to have an open layout, unlike Emirates.

Seat 1A on Cathay Pacific

Seat 1A on Cathay Pacific

However, it is more than made up by the fact there are only six seats in the entire cabin, making it one of the smallest and most exclusive first cabins in the sky. Overall, there were only two flight attendants serving three paying passengers and a Cathay Pacific pilot. This was going to fun!

Seat 1A on Cathay Pacific

Seat 1A on Cathay Pacific

After I sat down, my two first class flight attendants and the pilot introduced themselves. Surprisingly, the entire crew was San Francisco-based, instead of Hong Kong-based and have been doing 2 flights a week for several years. I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there. I was surrounded by people more than double my age.


A young gentleman then asked me what I would like to drink. I asked for a glass of champagne and he quickly brought over a glass of Krug. Soon after, the doors were closed and I was off to San Francisco. After a quick champagne refill, I was ready to order supper.

Menu on Cathay Pacific Flight

Menu on Cathay Pacific Flight

The server came over and set the table with a table cloth, silverware, and glassware. I ordered the Mushroom cream soup as an appetizer,

Mushroom Cream Soup

Mushroom Cream Soup

and the Grilled Eggplant Stack along with a glass of Pinot Noir.

Grilled Eggplant Stack

Grilled Eggplant Stack

After dinner and a few movies, I was ready for bed. I put on my complimentary Cathay Pacific pajamas,

Cathay Pacific Pajamas

Cathay Pacific Pajamas

while the flight attendant came over and made my bed.

Flight attendant preparing my bed

Flight attendant preparing my bed

Emirates may have the enclosed suite, but the extra width and open design made my seat feel like a real bed that I could stretch out in. The bed lining was perfect and I had probably the biggest pillow I’ve slept on so far on a plane. I had the most comfortable sleep on a flight I’d ever had.

I woke up as we were somewhere over the pacific, 3 hours from San Francisco. The flight attendant came over and gave me the breakfast menu. I started with a plate of fruit, croissants, and orange juice.

Fruit Plate

Fruit Plate

and ordered the Breakfast Egg Scramble.

Breakfast Egg Scramble

Breakfast Egg Scramble

We then began our descent into San Francisco and landed shortly. I spent the next couple minutes talking with The flight crew, thanked them for their amazing service, and deboarded.

Overall, Cathay Pacific’s first class lives up to the hype. Although their seats are not the most groundbreaking, what stands out is the level of sophistication and elegance at every turn. The service was top notch and you can easily tell they paid attention to the minor details.

*If you’re interested in earning flight miles or credit card points, check out my other article 3 No-Brainer Credit Cards Everyone Must Have in Their Wallet.

3 No-Brainer Credit Cards Everyone Must Have in Their Wallet

I’ve been asked by numerous people time and time again what credit card they should get next, so I’ve decided to compile a list of the 3 credit cards I have in my wallet and why it’s a no brainer to get these cards! As a disclaimer, I may receive compensation when you click on links to these products. Everything in this post is of my sole opinion.

As a background, I’ve spent the past 2 years analyzing, double checking, and cross-referencing the top credit cards out there. As a consultant, I’ve analyzed loyalty cards for airlines (American, United, Southwest, Delta), hotels (Marriott, SPG, Hilton), and bank credit cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Citi Double Cash Back), and more. After reviewing each credit card, I’ve narrowed it down to the following 3 credit cards that I carry in my wallet today:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Freedom
  3. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Check back next week for a thorough review of the new Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Now let’s get started!


Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best overall credit card out there. It’s marketed as a travel credit card, but if you’re eating out and ubering around the city, this card more than pays for itself. If you’re a recent grad or a college student, the majority of your expenses will be on transportation or dining. Even bars that sell food are considered dining and many are eligible for the 2x points. I’ve had this card for almost 2 years and redeemed over $2000 worth of points through just this card. I’ve booked a round-trip flight to New York, redeemed $1000 for a 4-night stay at the JW Marriot in San Francisco, and even redeemed for special events in any city, including the Hunger Games Exhibition in San Francisco.

You get 50,000 points after you spend $4000 in the first 3 months (worth $625 with Chase Ultimate Rewards®) and 2X points on Hotels, Flights, Taxis (Ubers, Lyfts), Restaurants, and any other travel related expenses. You also get access to Chase Ultimate Rewards, allowing you to redeem 25% value in points. At just $95 a year, this card is a no-brainer. As always, there are no foreign transaction fees, no blackout dates, no travel restrictions. I’ve booked numerous hotels and flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards and have never had a problem.

Whether you’re a traveler or not, the Chase Sapphire Preferred signup bonus alone more than pays for the card and is a no-brainer card to have in your wallet! To all of you post-grads and college students out there, this is the card for you!

You can check out a great review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card at

*I have also started checking out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Check out my post next week for a thorough review.

freedomChase Freedom

The Chase Freedom credit card has been my oldest card. With no annual fee and the easiest credit card to attain with good credit, it was a no-brainer. You earn $150 after spending $300 in the first 3 months and earn up to 5% on combined purchases (up to $1500) in specific bonus categories that you activate each quarter. These categories include restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and wholesale clubs. Who doesn’t love getting an extra 5% at the gas station or on your next meal?

What makes this card a no-brainer is that it costs no annual fee and you use it only on bonus category expenses. Want more… transfer these points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account to redeem points at a 50% bonus and transfer points 1:1 to Chase partners, included United and American, and even Southwest.

Pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and you’ll have a perfect House of Cards.

Find out more about the Chase Freedom card at


Chase Freedom Unlimited

When the Chase Freedom Unlimited card was announced a few months ago, I didn’t think much of it. At just 1.5 points per $1 spent on every purchase, it’s not the most valuable card out there with no annual fee. But after analyzing my expenses on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I realized that I’d only been earning 1 point on over half of my monthly expenses. Grocery stores, gas stations, and drug stores are just a few places where the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card shines!

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is currently offering $150 after you spend $500 in the first 3 months and has no annual fee. For every dollar you spend on the card, you get 1.5 points, simple enough, but here is where the card becomes truly powerful. You can transfer points from your Freedom Unlimited to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account. This allows you to redeem points at a 50% bonus, and transfer points to partners including United and American 1 for 1.

I’ve had numerous times where I found flights on United for far fewer points than Chase. With just 2 clicks, I can transfer my points to my United MileagePlus account, and BAM!!! Flights booked!

Combine this card with your Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom, and you’re golden!

Find out more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited card at

There are numerous great credit cards out there. These are just a few that I’ve chosen to carry with me. Depending on your traveling lifestyle and spending habits, certain cards may be better than others, for example, getting the Marriott Rewards Credit Card if you’re a loyal Marriott Member, or getting the United MileagePlus card if you solely fly United. Have I missed any credit cards? Do you have a different opinion? Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Avenue of the Dead / 2:00 PM CST

Gazing below at the Avenue of the Dead, once the cultural center of the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan established over 2 millennia ago, you could only imagine how the 125,000 inhabitants of the city went about their daily lives. We had reached the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun, built over the tombs of early Teotihuacan rulers. We were standing at the center of the once, vibrant Aztec civilization.

In just over 72 hours, I had embarked on one of my most impulsive trips yet, a weekend trip to Teotihuacan and Mexico City. It was the Thursday morning before the trip, I was planning to head back to San Francisco and I felt a sudden urge to explore Central America. It would be a great experience to add to my Experience Bank and I’d never been to Mexico. The only other time I’d been to Central or Latin America was my winter trip to Quito, Ecuador. 5 hours later, I had canceled my tickets to San Francisco, booked a round trip flight, and had landed in Mexico City.

Mexico City

I’d arrived at the hostel without knowing anyone in the city and with no plan. This was my first, truly solo, world trip. The following morning I’d met a Canadian traveler, Taylor, who had just arrived after a 2-week trek through Cuba. We left the hostel with the intention of exploring Chapultepec, one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. It’s home to the Castillo de Chapultepec, built during the colonial period and has housed Mexican heads of state until 1940.

Museo de Anthropologia skull bellas artes basilica

Over the course of the weekend, we had visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, among much more. The Museo Nacional de Antropología is the largest museum in Mexico and contains significant archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage, such as the Stone of the Sun and the Aztec Xochipilli statue. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of the most prominent cultural centers in Mexico City, housing murals by Diego RivieraSiqueiros, among others. On our last day, we visited the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic church and national shrine of Mexico. Thousands of people visit the historic religious site every day. I would highly recommend visiting these sites if you ever take a trip to Mexico City.


It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Mexico without mentioning the food. Besides a few bad experiences with a Chinese buffet and an American restaurant, Taylor and I had made a plan to solely eat street food, namely the hundreds of taquerias scattered around the city. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a few exceptions, we had eaten tacos, gorditas, and sopes, but mostly tacos. At about 9 pesos a taco, we had some of the best food in the city. Every taqueria had their own blend of spices and sauces that made their tacos unique. We would often go “taqueria hopping”, stopping by several taquerias trying out different tacos at each one. These street vendors aren’t for the faint of heart, or stomach, but we didn’t have any issues and it was some of the best food we had on the trip. Highly recommended!

teotihucan pyramid of the sun

pyramid of the sun pyramid of the moon plaza avenue of the dead

On our last day, we booked a tour to check out the pyramids just outside of Mexico City. Within an hour, we were at the site of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, a name I still can’t pronounce. We started at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon, the second largest pyramid in the city, and serves as a direct contrast to the Pyramid of the Sun. Once at the top, you can gaze down the Avenue of the Dead. On either side, you can see several complex, multi-family compounds. At the far end of the plaza, you can see the Pyramid of the Sun, towering over the rest of the city. I’d always been a big history fanatic, but it felt unreal being at the site of a once flowering, ancient civilization, and imagining what the avenue may have looked like during one of the city’s many festivals. I would highly recommend checking out Teotihuacan if you’re planning a trip out there.

I was only in Mexico City for about 3 days, and I feel as though I still have not experienced a majority of what the city has to offer, with its numerous museums, parks, and historic sites. It was a very impulsive trip, but one I am glad to have added to my Experience Bank. I’d met many great people, made some new friends, and spoke more Spanish than I ever have in my entire life. Mexico City is definitely an experience I won’t forget.

Check out the short video I made while I was there:

Quito, Ecuador

It’s that time again. In less than 10 hours from now, I’ll be headed abroad once again. Destination: Quito, Ecuador. It might be the new year talking, but thinking back, I never really envisioned myself travelling abroad as much as I am. It may even be the best experiences of my undergraduate career. Coming into college, as a freshman I knew nothing about what I wanted to do with my life or even what I wanted to do in college. Studying abroad has served as that answer.

These next 2 weeks will be another adventure, but different than my experiences experiences. Madrid was my first experience abroad and alone. It allowed me to learn more about myself, the people around me, and taught me a lot about the Spanish culture. Toulouse was different in the sense that it compounded on the knowledge and experiences I’ve collected in my Experience Bank from Madrid, and allowed me to open my mind to engineering in Europe and engineering standards abroad. I learned a lot about the culture, but I also met with companies, collaborated with engineers, and got up close and personal with an A380.

For the next 2 weeks, we will be exploring Ecuador while interning with companies for social good in Ecuador, finding problems, performing case studies, and developing solutions. Quito will combine my past study abroad experiences with the Silicon Valley Workshop that I was a part of last year. It will allow me to speak with entrepreneurs who have started social start ups in Quito for the betterment of the Ecuadorian people. We will be visiting startups like ROMP, the Range of Motion project in Ecuador working to provide prosthetic and orthotic care to those in need. We will also be visiting Inga Alpaca, a family owned business working to increase jobs through producing goods made of Alpaca yarn. I’m looking forward to another adventure in Ecuador. If my past experiences have anything to show for it, it’ll be another journey to add to my Experience Bank. For news and updates on my journey, be sure to check out this site often.