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Rewards Points Travel

Nearly $22k of Free Travel in 12 months

February 11, 2017

Lacey and I just did the math and realized that we redeemed nearly $22k of free travel in 12 months.  To be exact, it was $21,833.42 from February ’16 – January ’17.  Holy shit!  We traveled to some amazing places (20 different cities) and stayed in some incredible hotels along the way.  The majority of our travel expenses were either highly discounted or completely free thanks to credit card rewards points.  I can’t stress enough how easily all of you can do the same thing!

Our 12 month travel recap includes the destinations listed below.  Click the links to get more details on what we experienced in the past 12 months and how we did it for next to nothing!

While there were a number of rewards programs we used to get all of this awesome stuff, there are a few programs that gave us the most in return.  Keep in mind that we don’t get paid to promote any of these programs.  These are our genuine opinions based strictly on our personal experiences.

  1. Southwest Airlines Companion Pass –  Lacey and I have redeemed over $5,000 worth of free flights from this reward so far. This reward lets you AND your companion fly for free for up to 2 years.  Lacey and I still have all of 2017 left to use this perk and we’re going to do our best to make sure we continue earning this reward for as long as possible.  Check out how to earn the SW Companion Pass here.
  2. The Hyatt “2 Free Nights” card – link here.  After meeting the spending requirements, you’ll earn 2 free nights at ANY Hyatt property.  Lacey and I both earned this reward and used our 4 free nights at the Grand Hyatt in Aruba for an $800 per night ocean view suite.  This card also gives you 1 anniversary night per year.  Lacey and I just used our anniversary nights to book a stay on Manhattan Beach – Los Angeles.
  3. The Wyndham card – What a nice surprise this card has been!  You don’t hear much about this card on the mainstream travel blogs.  You’ll earn 45k points after hitting the spending requirement.  You can book ANY of their hotels for a flat rate of 15k points.  So out of the gate, you get 3 free nights anywhere.  We used this to book an ocean front suite on South Beach in Miami.  It was one of the best hotel experiences we’ve had so far.  More details in this post.
  4. The Hilton Honors program.  I love Hilton! They have multiple cards you can sign up for making it easy to stack points quickly.  Their customer service reps treat you like royalty when you call to book your room(s).  I’ll never forget how cool it felt to have someone say “Alright Mr. Thompson, let’s see if I can get you into our most luxurious property during your stay.”  There aren’t many occasions in life when I feel like a big shot, but the Hilton reps make me feel like that every time I talk to them.

We are so lucky to have experienced everything we did during the last 12 months.  We are very grateful that there are ways for people on a budget to get to see the world.  When there’s a will, there’s a way!  We hope to continue this pace throughout 2017 as well.  So far we’re booked through June 2017 with vacations to Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach), Maui, New York City, and Sayulita Mexico.

Let us know if you have any questions once you start planning your next vacay!

Edits and pics from our travels last year:

San Diego:

Lahaina Beach House

Gas Lamp San Diego

Giant Margarita San Diego

Houston (Final Four):

Final Four 2016 NRG Stadium Houston, TX

Final Four Custom Lanyard

This pic was on our custom lanyards that we wore around our necks.

Lacey at Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

NRG Stadium Final Four 2016

New York City:

Brooklyn Bridge New York

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Freedom Tower New York City

Weekend in New York Yankee Redsox Game

Manhattan Skyline

Florence, Italy:

piazzale michelangelo florence

Scooter Tour 3 Days in Florence, Italy

Scooter Tour Florence, Italy

Tuscany Florence Italy

Bicycles Florence, Italy

Florence Italy downtown

Rome, Italy:

st. peter's basilica Rome, Italy

roman colosseum Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy

Italian Open Rome 2016

st. peter's basilica Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Malta:

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Free Summer Vacation

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Chicago:

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend In Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Huntington Beach, CA:

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach Vans U.S. Open

Huntington Beach Vans U.S. Open

Huntington Beach Sunset

Denver, CO:

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

Aruba:

I heart Aruba Sign

Baby Bridge Aruba

“Baby Bridge”

Flamingo Island Aruba

Rainbow Aruba

first view upon opening our window shades at the Hyatt in Aruba. Not a bad start

Curacao:

Curacao Sign

Hilton Curacao

view from our Hilton Suite in Curacao

Curacao Hilton

Willemstad Curacao

Willemstad Curacao

South Beach – Miami, FL:

South Beach Miami

South Beach, Miami

South Beach Miami

South Beach Miami

view from our upgrade at the Shelborne in South Beach

South Beach Miami Henna Tattoo

 

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Lifestyle

Checking in on our 2016 Game Plan

April 13, 2016

We figured since it’s over a quarter of the way through the year, now would be a good time to check in on the 2016 game plan we set at the beginning of the year. How obvious is it that I’m left brained? I blame work for making me think of the year in terms of Q1 , Q2, Q3 and Q4. Anyway, since Q1 is now complete, we are practicing what we preach by holding ourselves accountable and evaluating where we are on our goals. This is good because it gives cause to celebrate and pat yourself on the back, as well as realign the next section of the year to focus more on the goals that haven’t gotten a lot of attention yet.

As a recap, our goals are listed below:

  1. Visit 10 different cities
  2. Continue downsizing
  3. Continue paying more on our mortgage
  4. Spend more time with family and friends
  5. Improve photography skills
  6. Bedroom remodel
  7. More collaborations
  8. Save $15,000 by using rewards points
  9. Learn a second language
  10. Add yoga to the workout routine

To be honest, I’m fairly shocked that we have even started this list. To say I’m proud of our progress is putting it lightly. I’m ready to celebrate how far we are on our game plan! Let’s see how we are doing:

  1. So far we have been to two cities (San Diego and Houston) this year, and in another month we will add five more to total seven. We have more destinations on our list for the remainder of the year, but nothing is officially booked yet. I have been to San Francisco, but since Mat wasn’t with me, I figured it wasn’t fair to count that.

    Gas Lamp San Diego

    San Diego was a blast.

  2. Well, we did it. We sold Mat’s car and are now down to one! Oh my gosh are we crazy or what?! Our plan with this goal was to find out the Kelly Blue Book value of his car and put it up for sale at that price; no budging at all. We planned to leave it up for a couple of weeks and then if nothing had happened we would re-evaluate. The car sold in less than three days! I wasn’t entirely sure I was even on board with the whole one car thing, so I panicked a little. I will admit it does take a little more pre-planning, but so far, totally worth it!
  3. We were paying double on our mortgage, but since we sold Mat’s car, we put that extra money toward our condo each month. We are trying to have a free place to live as soon as possible! Seeing the principle balance on our mortgage go down each month is motivating and slightly addicting. We understand that we might not always be at a place in our lives where we are able to pay extra, which is why we are trying to take advantage now!
  4. We are known to be homebodies, especially in the winter, so we have been making a conscious effort to spend more time with people we love. We have been meeting up with other couples for dinner, drinks, brunch, etc. We spent the last three weekends in a row with family. We also plan on meeting up with five friends on our next big trip! Anybody else want to join in on the fun?
  5. We just purchased a camera and plan on meeting up with a friend (who just so happens to have been our wedding photographer) to learn more about it this weekend! As I type this, Mat is messing around with the different settings. I may or may not have just made him do some karate/ninja moves to test out the action setting. We definitely have a ways to go on this goal, but at least we have started!
  6. We also have a ways to go on our bedroom remodel, but we have completed the most important task-getting a king sized bed! Oh it’s so wonderful. I always feel like I get in it too late and have to leave it too early in the morning. I want to lounge in it all day because it’s so big and inviting. New West Elm bedding doesn’t hurt either. 😉
  7. We sort of fell into a collaboration of sorts with Venture Magazine and are stoked about it! The individuals we have met through this magazine are amazing and we can’t wait to get even more involved in this community! We also did a rad photo shoot collaboration with the ever entertaining Damon of Dynamic Shutter Photography. I also was a part of a photo shoot/event for an amazing cause, Speak Your Silence. More on that when I can give some sneak peeks. I also have another collab coming up next week that I am SO excited about! All I can say at this moment is that it involves some insanely talented individuals, including personal stylist (and my friend!) Laura Tully, amazing photography duo Ben and Joella, and Will from Flowers at Will.

    Couples Workout

    Some fun collabs with Venture Meridian Magazine so far!

  8. So far (thanks my brilliant husband) we have saved roughly $10,000 in travel costs. This includes flights to San Diego, our hotel in Houston, as well as flights and hotels for our big trip coming up to New York, Italy, Malta and Chicago. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves, but will wait until things are finalized before sharing.
  9. To be honest, we have done nothing to further our learning of a second language. Now that we carpool to work, I talk the whole drive (not surprising, I know) so Mat isn’t able to listen to his Rosetta Stone. We need to carve out some time on the weekends for this, as it helps immensely when traveling. Mat picks languages up MUCH faster than I do. I actually think it’s not possible for me to learn another language. This is me. For real.
  10. Guess how many times we have been to a yoga class this year? The answer is zero. We need to work on that. Any suggestions on where to go? Please let us know, we need help in this area!

Now is a great time to check in on the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Remember, don’t focus on the negatives, but celebrate the positives! That will give you more energy and encouragement to get back on track with your goals. I’m always down to celebrate any accomplishment, no matter how small it might be. Speaking of that, I think it’s time to open some wine to celebrate our progress.

2016 Game Plan

photograph by Ali Smith Photography

2016 Game Plan

photograph by Ali Smith Photography

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Rewards Points Travel

Go to the Final Four for $200

April 7, 2016

For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamed of going to the men’s NCAA basketball Final Four.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that these games are always crazy exciting, or maybe it’s because my dad and I always had such a good time busting each others chops over whose bracket was better.  Whatever the case, this year I was able to finally check ‘attend a Final Four’ off of my bucket list.  I’m going to tell you how you can do the same next year for $200.

I always had the impression that only super rich and famous people could afford to go to events like this.  It wasn’t until this time last year when I discovered how we could fly to the Final Four, stay in a nice hotel, and go to all 3 games for only $200 per person.  You can take the same exact steps we took to get yourself to the 2017 Final Four in Phoenix, Arizona.

First things first…this year’s championship game…are you kidding me?!?!?!  Unbelievable!  I can’t tell you how lucky we feel to have experienced in-person one of the greatest championship games of all time.  The crowd absolutely exploded when Marcus Paige for North Carolina tied the game with 4 secs left.  Then the roof almost blew off when Kris Jenkins hit the game winning buzzer beater shot to win the National Championship for Villanova.  I caught both shots on video with my cell phone.  Check them out below this post.  Don’t mind all my screaming 🙂

Ok, back to how you and yours are going to go to the 2017 Final Four for $200 a person.

  1. Get your tickets
    • Go apply for the 2017 Final Four ticket lottery on the official NCAA site here.  You only have until May 31st to apply, so hurry up!  You will pay $200 per ticket in advance.  But wait Mat, that still sounds expensive.  Well, it breaks out to be $66 per game since you will get to see all 3 games of the Final Four.  Very good deal considering an average regular season game would cost $40ish per ticket.  Also, your odds of getting selected are better than you’d think.  It’s not guaranteed, but every person I know that has applied for the lottery has been selected.  If you don’t get picked, your $200 will be fully refunded, so you have nothing to lose.
  2. Get points for free flights to Phoenix
    • I’d recommend using Southwest Airlines to get to Phoenix.  They have nonstop flights to Phoenix from numerous cities.  You can use our referral link to apply for the 50k point offer on the Southwest Premium card.  The public offer is only 25k points right now.  Once you get the 50k points from this card, you should be able to book 2 round trip flights for free (depending on where you’re flying out of).  Let us know if you have any questions on how to get and use these points.
  3. Get free nights at a hotel
    • There is currently a 100k point bonus offer for the Hilton Surpass card.  This offer is being referred to as Hilton’s “best offer ever”.  With these points, you could book your free stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Phoenix which is right down the road from the location of the 2017 Final Four.  (we’re not getting compensated for promoting this card…it’s just a rad offer that we recommend).

So there you have it, by signing up for the ticket lottery and the 2 credit cards mentioned above, you should be well on your way to the 2017 NCAA Final Four.  Lacey and I would definitely recommend attending! Not only are the games themselves awesome, but all of the free festivities outside of the games are tons of fun as well!  Check out the pics and vids below from our trip last weekend to the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Let us know if you have any questions!

Rental Car Houston, TX

NRG Stadium Parking lot Final Four 2016

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest BareNaked Ladies

The Barenaked Ladies performed outside the stadium during Fan Fest.

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Lacey at Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest Ferris Wheel

Ferris wheels are always more fun than we think they’re going to be.

Downtown Houston, TX

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

Ticket Line Final Four 2016

NRG Stadium Final Four 2016

Lacey watching Final Four 2016 game

Final Four Custom Lanyard

This pic was on our custom lanyards that we wore around our necks.

 

 

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Rewards Points Travel

San Diego for Rihanna. Rewards Flight in 12 Days

January 31, 2016

A few weeks ago, Lacey told me that she really wanted to go to San Diego to see an upcoming Rihanna concert.  Being that we just used all of our flight and hotel rewards points to book our Final Four and Malta trips, I didn’t think this would be possible on such short notice.  My initial response to Lacey was “I’m sorry, we just can’t afford it right now.”  A day or two later I realized what an asshole response that was since I hadn’t even investigated our potential rewards options yet.

Rather than spending time on my acceptance speech for the shittiest husband of the year award, I decided to hop on the computer and see if there was any way to make this trip happen.  After all, Lacey was amazing enough to let us use some of our rewards points and cash on our upcoming trip to Houston for the Final Four, so I needed to do my absolute best to return the favor.  I began searching for any rewards programs that might help us get to San Diego for free or at a discount.  Not kidding, it took me less than 10 minutes to find an option that would get us round trip flights from Boise to San Diego for $87 ($75 sign up fee and $12 taxes and fees while booking the flights).  More importantly, this option was doable on short notice.

Below is the process I used to help us save over $400 on flights which ultimately made this trip possible for us…

…oh and spoiler alert, at the end of this post is a video of Lacey dancing to Rihanna on Halloween last year.

As usual, I started with Google.  I typed in “Boise to San Diego Flights”.  The returning results let me know which airlines we could use (Alaska, American Airlines, United, and Delta).  I noticed that Alaska Airlines offers a non-stop flight, so I immediately Googled “Alaska Airlines Rewards Program”.  I was looking for the current Alaska Airlines credit card offer and for the booking section on Alaska’s site that would show me if there were available flights on the dates we needed, and if so, how many rewards miles we’d need to book ’em.

I found that the current rewards offer for this card is 25k miles “upon approval”.  That’s amazing! More often than not, rewards cards like this have spending requirements that can takes 2-3 months to achieve.  This card gives you the points “in 2-3 weeks” following your application approval.  Perfect for a short notice trip!

Alaska Airlines Rewards Card

While snooping in the booking section on Alaska’s site, I found that there were round trip flights Boise-San Diego on the dates we needed that cost exactly 25k bonus miles.  Heyo!  I immediately submitted our applications for this rewards card.

Alaska Airlines Boise to San Diego Rewards Options

We received the bonus points in 12 days and were able to book our highly discounted flights for $12.  Again, the sign up fee for this card is $75, so our total cost is $87 for these flights.  Still a lot better than the $500-ish we would have paid for full price tickets.  We used the extra money saved on these flights to get some pretty decent seats for the Rihanna concert.

To keep the rest of the trip budget friendly, we’ll be staying at the Hampton Inn near the Gaslamp district.  Why this hotel? I know it doesn’t sound super luxurious, but it has an airport shuttle, free hot breakfast, and is super close to the public transport station that we’ll be taking to the concert.  This hotel is also within walking distance of all the restaurants and bars we’re hoping to check out. All of these perks combined will likely save us another $200-$300 on our trip.

So it looks like we’ll “shine bright like a diamond” with Rihanna in a few weeks down in San Diego.  Hopefully the weather is beautiful and we won’t need to take an umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay.  …I’m such a dork sometimes I make myself want to hide under a table.

Hopefully you found this useful and can use the process outlined above to book your own vacay on short notice.  For more tips and options, check our previous post relating to this subject here.

We’ll see you soon San Diego!

As promised, an awesome video of Lacey Killing it to Rihanna on Halloween last year.  …dressed as a Day of the Dead.

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Lifestyle

Game Plan for 2016

January 16, 2016

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, we decided to make an entire game plan for 2016.  A lot of our goals will require weeks or months to plan so we’re starting now to make sure we get as much of this stuff done as possible.  From travel, to home remodeling, to learning new languages…our list is kinda all over the place.  Check out our process and decide if making your own list might help you achieve more this year.

Right away we noticed some immediate benefits from making this list.  First of all, making our list forced us to think about and talk about 1. WHY it was a goal? and 2. HOW could/would we be able to accomplish it? Adding notes to our goals helped us get an idea of how much time and planning each goal will require.  Sharing our list with you guys is already resulting in us feeling a greater level of accountability for achieving these goals.  We realized that now that we have this list, we can check back in on it every month to track our progress.

We set our sites on a few lofty goals because we want to do our best to keep up with the eventful pace we set for ourselves in 2015.  You can read more about that here.  I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top last year (cuz we got married!), but below is how we’re going to try…

Visit at least 10 different cities

  • With 7 cities already being booked (with rewards points), we should be able to hit this mark.  So far, we’ll be visiting San Diego (for Rihanna), Houston (for the Final Four), New York City, Florence, Rome, Malta, and Chicago.  If all goes well in the coming months, we should be adding Maui to this list
  • To make sure we get to the last few cities to complete our goal of 10, we’re going to keep learning about the points planning/travel hacking process through our friends at 10xtravel.com
Florence-Duomo | DitchingNormal

very excited for Florence in May

Continue Downsizing junk and bills

  • Right now, we have 2 cars.  While it’s pretty awesome to have 2 cars, we don’t need both and could eliminate about $4,000 in bills by getting rid of one of ’em. That being said, anyone wanna buy a suburu outback sport?
  • We’re about to do some major spring cleaning and plan on getting rid of any unnecessary items we find.
Donation Bags | Ditching Normal

Haven’t worn it in a few months? Take it to GoodWill!!!

Continue Paying off Mortgage ASAP

  • We’ve been able to keep up with paying double on our mortgage for the past 6 months or so, but we’re hoping to paying a bit more once we ditch a car.
  • How are we going to do this? By utilizing credit cards rewards points to discount our travel costs.  You can read more about this process here.
Downtown Boise Condo | Ditching Normal

Hopefully we can pay off this little guy soon!

Spend More Time with Family and Friends

  • Travel, live events, and life in general is more fun when you’re spending it with loved ones.  Get ready to spend more time with the Thompsons this year!
  • We’re going to reach out to friends and family to travel with us more along with other things.
excited to meet this crew in Malta this summer

excited to meet back up with this crew in Malta this summer

Improve our non-existent Photography Skills

  • This includes getting a decent camera and finally learning how to use one.
  • We’ll be bugging our friend Vlad from Radion Photography a whole lot for help!
Muir National Park | DitchingNormal

A favorite pic from 2015

Bedroom Remodel

  • Our downtown condo was pretty beat up when we purchased it as a short-sale a few years ago.  We’ve successfully remodeled every room except for the bedroom so far.  A bedroom remodel, including some new carpet/flooring, larger bed, and a better closet space, are LONG overdue.
  • How are we going to do it? Well, with some help from YouTube DIY videos, we’re hoping to cut costs by doing the work ourselves.  We’ll likely use the money from (hopefully) selling a car, to help us get a king sized bed.

More Collaborations

  • We’re looking forward to working with as many creative minds as possible this year.  Photogs, bloggers, travel addicts, and anyone else that has a passion for making life exciting.  If you fall in this category…hit us up!!!
  • How are we going to do this? By stepping out of our comfort zones and initiating communication with the talented folks we’ve grown to admire.  Emails and social media messages will likely lead the way!
Vintage Style Bride

recent collaboration with Radion Photography, Ira and Lucy, and Next Adventure Studio

Save $15,000 or more by Traveling with Rewards Points

  • Wouldn’t that be awesome to say at the end of the year?  We’re over half way there so far.  It’s going to take some serious planning to finish out this goal though.  We’re all ears to any tips you may have.
  • How are we going to do this? By continuing to plan a head with reward points traveling.  The planning we did last year has resulted in us saving nearly $9k already this year.
Our recent trip we booked on points was featured on 10xtravel.com

Our recent trip we booked on points was featured on 10xtravel.com

Continue Gradually Learning a 2nd Language

  • Lacey’s going to be working on Spanish while Mat keeps puttering through Italian.  The plan is to try and make traveling a bit more comfortable while visiting these countries.  Comprende?
  • How are we going to do this?  We have the Rosetta Stones for these languages and are going to start scheduling at least 2 days a week to sit down for an hour or two of studying.  Once we get the basics, we’ll look for some in-person classes we can sign up for.

Start Mixing in Some Yoga

  • We’ve had a few more aches and pains over the past year that are likely due to our lack of flexibility.  While lifting weights is fun, we need to start taking care of our joints as well.  We’re thinking of trying out Sage Yoga in Boise.
  • How are we going to do this? This ones fairly straight forward.  We’ll get signed up for classes at Sage! Stay tuned for possible review of Sage Yoga.

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Rewards Points Travel

Big Trip Booked with Points!

December 23, 2015

You might remember from a previous post that Lacey and I have been stacking credit card rewards points for about 8 months with the original end goal being a free trip to Moorea, Tahiti. Well…we changed our minds. I know, I know, changing your mind this late in the points planning process isn’t usually a good idea, but when you hear about the trip we just booked, you may understand.

Before I get into the details of the trip, I want to tell you what caused us to switch the game plan and put Tahiti on hold. After 8 months of strategic reward points earning, we had a total of 160,000 American Airlines points and 250k Hilton Honors points along with 4 weekend night certificates. Pretty solid pile we accumulated right?  We would’ve needed to double that amount before we’d be able to get the trip we wanted to Tahiti.  Kind of a defeating thought at first.

Lacey and I started thinking more about whether or not the Tahiti trip was actually worth all of the points and additional fees it would take to stay at an over-the-water bungalo at the Hilton Moorea.  Yes, this would likely be one of the most beautiful beach vacations you could take, but that’s ALL the trip would be…a beach vacation.  You would check in to your hotel and spend a week lounging/swimming/relaxing.  Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE vacations like that, but we just had a vacation like that in Cabo over Thanksgiving.  We’re kinda jonesing for a more action packed vacation now.

I often break vacations down into 2 categories:

  • Do nothing vacation – lay on your ass all day, eat tons of food, sleep way too much…usually involves a beach.
  • Do stuff vacation – action packed days full of museums, landmarks, concerts, sporting events, and general site seeing.

Last week we definitely booked a “do stuff vacation” …at a HUGE discount with our points.
We’re doing 5 cities in 2 weeks. New York, Florence, Rome, Malta, and Chicago.  There’s definitely enough to keep us busy each and every day of this trip.

So here are the details:
We are flying to New York City for 2 days. We’re staying at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria on Park Ave for free with our Hilton weekend night certificates. The plan is to try and catch either a Broadway show or a Yankee’s game (the Red Sox will be in town!), or hopefully both.  In addition, we have some general walking around/site seeing to do…not to mention some excellent pizza to eat!

From New York, we’ll head to Florence, Italy for 3 days. We’re planning on visiting the Duomo, seeing the David, and likely doing a wine tour in Tuscany. We’re still working on booking a small apartment in downtown Florence (out of pocket) for this trip. Florence is a beautiful, romantic, and mellow city when compared to some of the other major Italian cities. We can’t wait! …not to mention, they’ll be some excellent pizza to eat.

Florence-Duomo | DitchingNormal

After Florence, we’ll hop on a train to Rome where we’re going to spend 2 days.  Most of our time will likely be spent around Vatican City since we didn’t get to see St. Peter’s on our last trip. The Italian Open will be going on and we’re going to do our best to catch a session. Maybe we’ll see the Williams sisters throw down.  We tried to book a free stay at the glamorous Rome Cavellari with 2 more of our weekend certificates, but unfortunately the hotel is fully booked.  We’re going to pay out of pocket for a cool little B&B we’ve stayed at previously.  Rome is by far the most historic place we’ve been lucky enough to visit.  We’re really excited to head back…not to mention, there should be some good pizza to eat.

Trevi Fountain. Rome, Italy | DitchingNormal

Then we’re off to Malta for 5 days. Malta is a beautiful, small, island below Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you have likely seen some imagery of Malta as numerous scenes were shot there. One of the more recognizable landmarks is the Azure Window. We booked (with points) 5 nights at the Hilton in Malta. We’re super excited to explore this island…not to mention, find out what kind of pizza they have there.

Game-of-Thrones-Malta

the famous Azure Window (arch) shown in the background

Finally, we’ll make our way back to Chicago for a couple of days where we’ll be using 2 more weekend night certificates to stay at the historic Palmer House on Monroe St. Chicago is one of my most favorite cities of all time.  I am really excited for Lacey to finally experience this city.  This is going to be a great place to wrap up our vacation with museums and site seeing…not to mention, there will be some great pizza to eat. We’re coming for you Gino’s East!

Gino's East Chicago Style Pizza | DitchingNormal

So now, the main event.

How much would this trip have cost if we paid for everything on our own? $10,284

How much are we paying for this trip? $1390 total ($695 each)

Since we used points to book the majority of the trip, all that was left to pay for was:
1 one-way flight home from Chicago.
2 round trip flights Rome to Malta
5 nights of hotels (Rome/Florence)
Taxes on our free flights

We are getting an 86% discount on this trip by using our rewards points. We saved about $8,900.  You might be in disbelief, and so was I, but I looked up the exact cost of the same flights and same hotels for the dates we were traveling…and that was the exact cost of the trip.  Yikes!

Our 8 months of the points planning and strategizing seems to be paying off!

All this being said, we still had 100k Hilton points left over after booking this trip. We could have used these points to stay for free in Florence, but the Hilton properties there don’t look all that cool.  We opted to pay out of pocket for what should be a better experience at local B&B’s.

*side note, we ended up using those remaining 100k points to book 3 nights at a suite in Houston for our upcoming trip to see the Final Four. This saved us about $950.

To wrap it up, we’re stoked for our upcoming trip! We still hope to make it to Tahiti one day, but are more than fine with putting it on pause for now…especially for a trip like this!

Below are the cards that gave us the bonus rewards to help make this trip happen:
American Airlines – AAdvantage card
Citi – ThankYou Premier Card
Hilton – Reserve Card
Hilton – Signature Card

Let me know if you have any questions!

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