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Rewards Points Travel

How to Book a Free Vacation on Short Notice

January 21, 2016

Most of our “traveling for free with credit card rewards points” posts so far have focused on getting BIG trips for free.  Trips that take months of planning and spending with various cards to achieve.  Well what if you can’t wait that long? What if you want to get a free vacation on short notice? Spoiler alert…you can.

I’ve spent the last few weeks researching this topic as Lacey and I are trying to squeeze in another quick vacay before our upcoming trip in April to see the Final Four.  The weather in Boise can be pretty gnarley in February, so it would be perfect timing to go somewhere warmer for a couple days.  That being said, we don’t have a lot of extra cash laying around right now.  The only way we’ll be able to book a trip for February is if it is either free or at least highly discounted.

Here are some options I came up with during my snooping around that I wanted to share with you guys.  Hopefully this helps you guys get an idea of how you could book a trip of your own in just a few weeks!

Get a super cheap flight in about 2 weeks:

Apply for the Alaska Airlines credit card (25k miles for signing up and paying the $75 sign up fee)

  • You can book your rewards flight about 2 weeks after you get approved for the card.
  • Alaska partners with a bunch of different airlines which results in a ton of travel options within the U.S
  • In just a couple weeks, you could be flying to sunny Florida (for example) for about $100 (sign up fee and taxes).  …which would cost us about $450 normally from Boise

Alaska Airlines Free Vacation

Get a couple nights free at a hotel in 4-5 weeks:

Apply for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card and you’ll be ready to redeem your 2 free rewards nights in about 4-5 weeks (if you hit the $1000) spending requirement.

  • The Hyatt has a ton of beautiful properties around the world where you can redeem this reward.
  • The super lower spending requirement makes it easy to get the reward bonus quickly
  • $0 sign up fee for the first year.  It’s $75 per year after that but they give you a free night every year on your sign-up anniversary.
Hyatt Park City

The beautifulPark City Hyatt. Image from expedia.com

Cover Additional Vacation Expenses with Points

Apply for the Capital One Venture Card and take it with you on your trip.  You will be able to use the reward points you earn from this card to pay for many of your additional expenses on your trip.  You can wipe out up to $400 dollars of expenses with the 40k bonus points you’ll receive after hitting the spending requirement.

Capital One Venture Card Info

Details on how you can redeem you Capital One Venture rewards

 

While I know there are numerous other ways to book a free/discounted trip on short notice, hopefully the info I shared above will at least get your wheels turning.  You CAN book a trip with points on relatively short notice.  The next time you get that “I gotta get outta here for a few days” feeling, remember that you can do it…soon…with points!

Lacey and I will keep  you posted on where we end up going in February.  It’ll likely be somewhere sunny!

Please share any additional questions or tips you may have!

Lacey Grand Solmar Cabo

Rewards Points Travel

Points Planning for Maui

January 9, 2016

One thing we’ve learned since getting into the reward points traveling game is that it takes a lot of planning ahead.  So even though we just finished booking our big trip for May, it’s already time to start planning our next adventure.  While we’d love to book another 2 week multi-city trip, it’s not very realistic with our work schedules to take this much time off in the same year.  That being said, we are going to be working toward a free trip to a single location for this fall…Maui.

Being that Lacey and I have just begun planning for this trip, it would be perfect timing for any of you that are interested in taking a similar vacay, to start planning with us.

After receiving some excellent tips from our friends in regards to rewards traveling to Hawaii, Lacey and I have settled on our initial plan.  Here goes…

Step 1: Getting free Hotels

We just signed up for the Chase Hyatt Card.  The reward bonus for this card is 2 free nights at a Hyatt property.  We’re looking forward to using these rewards to stay at the beautiful Andaz Maui.  With Lacey and I both signing up for this card, we’ll obviously receive 4 free nights total.   We’re only looking to spend 5-6 nights in Maui total, so this Hyatt card is going to take care of most of our hotel costs for this trip.  This card has $0 in sign up fees and only has a spending requirement of $1,000 over 3 months to receive the 2 free nights.  Pretty awesome!  We’re still going to work on getting 1-2 more free nights for the trip but haven’t yet decided on where we want to stay.  I have my eye on the Grand Wailea Resort from Hilton 😉

Andaz Maui from Hyatt

Andaz Maui from Hyatt

Step 2: Get Free Flights

Once we get the reward nights from the Chase Hyatt card for the hotel stays (likely 2 months-ish from now), we’ll start working on our free flights.  The tentative plan right now is to use the British Airways card for our travel.  British Airways partners with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, as well as some others that should help give us some solid options for traveling from Boise to Maui.  The rewards we’ll receive from the sign up bonus should be enough to get us to Maui, but if not, there are a few different cards we could get from partners of BA to help supplement our airline points.  As we’re still a couple months out from signing up for the BA card,  this plan could very well change depending on any new rewards offers that other airlines may come out with this spring.  We’ll keep you posted if we find any better options.

Maui Flight

Step 3: Get Free Stuff in Maui

Thanks to some awesome advice from our new friend Bryce at 10xtravel.com, we now know that if we take the Capital One Venture card on our vacation with us…and use it for all additional expenses at the hotel (food, spa service, excursions, etc.),  the reward bonus of 40,000 points we’ll receive from this card will help us wipe out up to $400 of expenses during this trip.  Pretty awesome tip!  There are obviously exclusions and exceptions that you’ll want to read about before assuming the types of travel expenses this card will take care of, but if used correctly, this card will be a huge help.

To wrap it up for now, Lacey and I are super excited at the opportunity to travel more this fall.  We’ll keep you updated on our progress towards Maui.  Let us know if you have any questions, tips, or anything else you’d like to share.

 

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!

Rewards Points Travel

Step by Step to a Free Vacation

November 7, 2015

I thought it might be a fun idea, and hopefully useful for you guys to watch me start the process of getting a free vacation using credit card rewards points.  The steps provided below can apply to any vacation; not just the example trip I’m about to use.

First things first, to set expectations.  While it will take me maybe 20 mins to get my plan together for earning a free vacation, it will likely take me a couple months of regular spending with these cards to get the bonus rewards they offer.  In other words, I’m planning today for a vacation that I will take no sooner than 3-4 months from now.

Secondly, I feel obligated to put in a quick disclaimer for all of those that are shitty at paying bills:

  • Go to this site and learn as much as you possibly can about what activities can positively and negatively affect your credit score.  Do you have a hard time paying bills on time?  Is your rent sometimes a day or two late?  Do you ever simply forget to pay your cable bill on time even though you had more than enough in your account to cover it?  If this is you….DON’T get a credit card and definitely DO NOT get multiple.  The credit cards that have the best bonus rewards ALWAYS have the highest interest rates.  Usually around 25% or higher. If you miss one sizeable payment…you and your credit score will be screwed.

Alrighty, for those of you that are left…here we go!  I’m literally just going to make up a vacation I want to take after I finish writing this sentence.

Where do I want to go? : New York City

What time of year? : Fall

Where do I want to stay? : In a nice hotel in Time Square

Actually sounds pretty nice right? O.k., here we go!

Step 1: Google “Boise to New York flights”

  • The first result shows me a list of flights and airline carriers that will take me to New York City from my home town of Boise, ID.

Google Flight Search

Step 2: Google search to see if the airlines that can take me to New York City, have a rewards program.  Search Airline Name + Rewards.

  •  I started with a “Delta Airlines Rewards” google search since it was the first airline listed on my initial search’s results
  • The first search result was for the Delta Sky Miles program…which I clicked on.

Delta Sky Miles

Step 3: Find out what the current bonus rewards program is offering.

  • Looks like I’d get 50k bonus miles after spending $2k in 3 months.  I like it so far.

Sky Miles Offer

Step 4:  Find out how many miles I need to get a free round trip flight to New York.

  • I went to the “book rewards travel” link and typed in my origin (Boise) and destination (NYC) and kept my flying dates as “flexible”.
  • I actually found a pretty decent round trip flight from Boise to NYC, next September, for 50k miles which is exactly how much that credit card bonus off is for.  Who knew?!

Rewards Flights

So now I know that if I apply for this Delta Credit card and spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, I will get enough bonus points to fly round trip Boise to NYC FO FREE! (not counting the $25 or so in taxes I’d have to pay).
The same flight would have cost me over $500.  No thanks!

Boom! Free flight to NYC…done.  K, now I need to get a hotel.

Step 4:  Google search “Hotels in Time Square”

  • I found a few hotels I liked and then did a couple follow up Google searches with the “hotel name + rewards program”
  • After about 10 mins of snooping around hotel rewards program sites, I saw that the Hilton Hotel rewards program currently has a credit card bonus offer that would give me 2 Weekend Night Certificates if I spent $2500 on their card over 4 months.  Perfect for my trip to New York!

I now know that if I sign up for this Hilton Reserve Card, I will get 2 free weekend nights in a nice Time Square hotel in New York City!

Hilton Reserve Card

Well shit, that was easier than I thought.  I may actually do this. Ha.  Who doesn’t want to go to NYC for free in fall?  I could land, grab dinner and a Broadway show.  Maybe wake up early and go see the Statue of Liberty and Central Park before hitting up a Yankees game. …I digress.

So at this point you may be saying to yourself “that’s great and all, but how the hell am I going to spend $4500 in 4 months to get the rewards on those 2 cards to get this free trip?”

Once you put ALL of your monthly expenses on these cards (rent, car payment, utilities, gas, cell phone, groceries, EVERYTHING) it really isn’t as difficult as it seems.  According to recent statistics, the average person in the United States spends $1010 per month.

If you don’t have that many bills (which is awesome) then do 1 card at a time.  Start with the airline rewards card….earn the bonus.  Then get the hotel card and earn the bonus.  This will obviously take longer, but what’s the rush?  Start planning early.  My example trip above isn’t until September of 2016.  I would have PLENTY of time to hit those bonus rewards.

Another trick that Lacey and I use is the “buy one, get one” approach.  We pay for 1 vacation with the credit card(s) that will help us get our next vacation for free.

Well hopefully this is useful for anyone who wants/needs a free vacation.  Let me know if you have any questions as you start snooping around.  Good luck!

 

Some pics of our last trip to NYC since this post brought some memories back.

Empire State Building

Lacey in Time Square

Empire-State-Building

Lacey New York City Skyline

 

 

Rewards Points Travel

Tahiti for Free. Planning Process

October 21, 2015
Hilton Moorea, Tahiti | DitchingNormal

copyright image of the Hilton Moorea

In previous posts, Lacey and I have mentioned that we are working toward our goal of traveling to, and staying in an over-the-water bungalow in Moorea, Tahiti….for free.  Yep, we have been stacking credit card points for flights and hotels for about 5 months so far to try and make this happen.  Why are we going through so much trouble to get this trip for free?  It’s simple.  We literally would never, ever, EVER be able to afford a trip like this if we paid for it out of our own pocket.  These over the water bungalows in Tahiti can cost up to $1300 per night.  Tack on another 2k per person for flights and you’re looking at spending $10,000 for a 5 night stay in Moorea…and this isn’t even taking in account the cost of food (which I’ve heard is insanely expensive there) and/or the cost of excursions/entertainment.  So more than likely, for 2 people, this trip could cost over $15k.

If Lacey and I are ever going to Tahiti…it HAS to be for free… or at least HIGHLY discounted.

Hilton Moorea Bungalows | DitchingNormal

copyright image of the Hilton Moorea

Here’s where the credit card rewards points come in to play.  After spending a few months learning from credit cards reward blog sites such as The Points Guy, I put together a plan to try and get Lacey and I to Tahiti for free.

  • First, I researched the best reviews for over-the-water bungalows in Tahiti and the hotel chains that owned these bungalows.  While there are a few that have amazing reviews and pics (InterContinental Thalasso, Hilton Bora Bora Nui, The Four Seasons), we decided to go with the Hilton Moorea.  We chose this one for a few different reasons.
    • 1 – there are a number of Hilton Credit Cards available with solid spending bonus reward offers (aka, a lot of bonus points available to earn for Hilton)
    • 2 – the Hilton Honors program partners with other non-Hilton credit cards allowing for quick/easy points transferring into your Hilton Honors account.  The Virgin Atlantic, Hawaiian Airlines, and Citi ThankYou cards are a few off the top of my head.
    • 3 – While Bora Bora reviews as the fanciest of the Tahitian Islands, it is also a little trickier to get to than the island of Moorea which is where we’re trying to go.  We would lose at least a full day’s worth of travel time getting to Bora Bora.  As you all know, paid vacation days at work are valuable and no one should waste one sitting in an airport or sleeping in a shitty airport hotel for a night while you wait for your connecting flight.
    • 4 – Again, while Bora Bora is fancier, we also learned it is more secluded.  Meaning that there aren’t as many other exploring options in your direct surroundings.  As torturous as it sounds (sarcasm), you would be stuck in your bungalow and/or resort for pretty much every activity you wanted to do.  Lacey and I want to see some local life and have the option of getting groceries from local markets, etc.  Maybe do some hiking and what not.
  • Second, I investigated the approximate amount of points we’d need for a free night at the Hilton Moorea.  You can do this by going to the Hilton Honors site and typing in your desired resort location and clicking the box that says “Use Honors Points” box before hitting search.  I looked through the entire year’s worth of results to see if there were high seasons and low seasons as far as costs go.  There were and there usually are at most hotels.  Keep that in mind while planning but also keep in mind that the low season is the low season for a reason.  Sick rhyme bro.  In other words, the low season probably has shitty weather or something.
  • Third, I went back to the Hilton Credit Cards site and mapped out which cards would get Lacey and I to our points goal the quickest.  I also investigated Hilton Honors credit card partners and found out that the Citi ThankYou Premier card transfers points into the Hilton program at a 1:2 ratio from now until the end of January, 2016.  So 50k Citi ThanYou Premier points will get you 100k Hilton points.  Killer timing for this particular trip.

Toward the beginning of the planning process, I ran in to some more unexpected good news.  I learned that if you book 4 consecutive nights at a Hilton resort using rewards points, you receive a 5th night for free.  This was super good news considering it would take us a couple of months to earn enough points for 1 night.  This just shaved off a bunch of planning time.

Happy dance

Happy dance

More good news was when I found out that the Hilton Reserve card does not reward you with points when you hit your spending bonus….they give you 2 weekend night certificates instead.  This is HUGE for the trip we are trying to make.  To better explain this one I’ll tell you that most reward bonuses are around 50-75k points and they can take anywhere from 2-3 months for Lacey and I to reach with our spending habits.  The bungalows we are trying to stay in will require upwards of 90k bonus points PER night.  So the Hilton Reserve weekend certificates (for where we are going to use them) will be worth 180-200k points.  So if you’re trying to stay at a really expensive Hilton Hotel, this is the card you need to get.

So where are Lacey and I at in the planning process?  Well, our goal continues to be to earn enough points for 7 free nights in Moorea, Tahiti.  As of today, we have 4 weekend night certificates and about 200k points.  We need at least 200k more points before I even think about making the call and try to book anything.  We already have the next 100k points in our sights with the awesome Citi ThankYou transfer promotion (mentioned above) headed our way.  For the next 100k + points we’ll need after that? Who knows right now?  I’m crossing my fingers there will be another promotion linked with Hilton that can get us there.

Wish us luck and best luck to you all if you’re trying to plan a similar trip!

Final note…if you’re new to this…please research best practices for signing up for and using credit cards.  Educate yourself on what all effects credit scores in order to maintain a healthy one.

 

Peace out!

Rewards Points Travel

Travel with Rewards Points

August 22, 2015

We’ve greatly expanded our travel options by utilizing credit card reward points to cut our costs.

Mat and Lacey on the beach

Radion Photography

Lacey and I love to travel.  It seems the more we do it, the more the addiction grows.  The only problem with this is that Lacey and I are on a fairly tight budget each month.  So how are we going to be able to pay our bills, put money into retirement, and travel all over the world?  It’s simple, by getting as much free travel as possible through credit card bonus points.

Disclaimer: If you have a tough time paying your monthly bills on time already, this is NOT a road you want to head down.

Now, assuming that those of you who are still reading are super responsible and organized, I’ll give you a glimpse into how all of this works.  Credit card companies reward those who sign up for their cards and spend a certain amount of money over a certain amount of time with tens of thousands of bonus points.  These bonus points can be used for flights, hotels, rental cars, event tickets, and many other perks depending on the card you sign up for.  That being said, 1 credit card sign up bonus most likely won’t get you an entire vacation (flights/hotels) for free, you will need to sign up for a few different cards that partner with each other and stack those bonus points together to put towards your end vacation goal.

Sound overwhelming already? It’s not as confusing as it may seem.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that once you educate yourself on how easy this can be, you’ll be kicking yourself for not getting involved in this sooner.  It does take a while to understand the strategy behind this process, and Lacey and I are by no means experts, but luckily there are plenty of helpful resources out there to help you get started.   Our favorite points blog is ThePointsGuy.com

When we tell people of our involvement in the credit card points game, the first question we get is “but doesn’t that wreck your credit?”  I’ll be honest, if you don’t pay your monthly statement balance every month, on time, this will destroy your credit.  On the flip side, if you pay your bills on time and educate yourself on the other factors that effect your credit score, your credit score should and will improve.

So as you get more involved with our blog and see the places Lacey and I are visiting, you’ll know that we likely spent 6 or more months planning and stacking credit card points in order to make the trip possible.  We are not millionaires and could by no means afford to travel as often as we do if it weren’t for getting a lot of it for free through points redemption.

Even if you only get a free flight to your vacation destination, that is likely $500 or more that you saved and can now use to enjoy an extra excursion or two.  Maybe you’ll finally be able to order that expensive bottle of wine at dinner like you always wanted to.  Little differences like this will make or break your overall travel experience.

Lacey eating Gelato in Rome

Our extra budget usually goes towards dessert

Lacey and I are currently stacking Hilton Honors points in hopes of earning a highly discounted (if not completely free) stay in their over the water bungalows in Moorea, Tahiti next year.  We have a long ways to go, but are hopeful that one day we’ll get there!  Stay tuned for posts with updates on this planning process.

Hilton Moorea Bungalows