Last weekend we decided to take advantage of our free flights with Southwest Airlines and take a quick weekend trip to Huntington Beach, California. We had no reason to go there, other than having heard from friends that it was a fun little beach town. Since we loved our weekend in San Diego so much we thought “Why not?”
We had no plans other than beach, eat and drink. Just a week or two before our trip we found out that we had accidentally booked it while the Vans US Open was happening, so the timing worked out perfectly! We stayed at a place we found on Airbnb that was about four blocks from the events on the beach, so we were able to walk to everything: restaurants, bars, coffee, shopping, and of course, all of the Vans US Open events.
Not realizing how big of a deal the US Open is, we were quite shocked to see how busy the little town of Huntington Beach was! The second day we were up on the pier looking down at the boardwalk that lead to event and Mat compared it to Times Square, except everyone was in bikinis! Crazy! It was strange seeing everyone wear their swimming suits everywhere, including restaurants! It was pretty fun to be in such a relaxed environment. I literally didn’t brush my hair for the entire three days we were there and I loved it.
One day we rented bikes and (foolishly) attempted to ride to Newport. Spoiler alert, that didn’t happen. We did ride by a country festival that was happening on the beach though, which was so cool! A new item has now been added to the bucket list….attend a music festival on a beach.
Between the margaritas, watching world class surfing, skateboarding, outdoor movies in the amphitheater and the amazing sunsets the west coast offers….the weekend was an absolute blast! Oh yeah, we both left with some new Vans gear. 🙂
Chicago is quickly climbing up the ranks on our most favorite cities in the world list. The last 2 times we have visited, it seemed like the city, people, and weather have been teaming up to sweep us off our feet. Our most recent visit was no different. Again, with beautiful weather and friendly people, here’s how Lacey and I spent an early summer weekend in Chicago.
First off, I’m a big believer in managing expectations. If you’re expecting too much out of city, event, vacation, or anything else, odds are you’ll end up disappointed if it doesn’t live up to the hype. On the flip side, if you go into something with an open mind you have a greater chance of being pleasantly surprised. This was exactly the case with us and Chicago. We had no expectations. We just wanted to hang out and eat some pizza.
We stopped in Chicago this May on our way home from our 15 day Euro-Trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful at 65 degrees and sunny. We visited a few touristy locations such as the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) as well as “The Bean” (Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park. Once again, we felt safe on public transportation and found everyone we were surrounded by on the streets and in restaurants to be welcoming and friendly.
We were lucky enough to stay at the historic Palmer House hotel during our weekend in Chicago. We had some Hilton Honors rewards to burn so we decided to use them in style. A funny thing I’ve noticed when we stay at fancy hotels for free is that the employees of the hotel react to us being there the same way Clark Griswold reacts when Cousin Eddy shows up for Christmas. All that aside, we enjoyed our stay and got back at the hotel a bit by “accidentally” sneaking into an executive lounge continental breakfast. Thanks for the free waffles Palmer House!
After breakfast, we walked over to Millennium Park to check out “the Bean“. While this has become a must see for travelers and instagrammers, we had actually never been there before. As with most pieces of art we’ve been lucky enough to visit recently, Cloud Gate (the bean) was much cooler in person than we expected it to be. We ended up hanging around it for about an hour. I snapped some funny pics of Lace rockin’ cheerleader moves in front of it that you can see below.
We left Millennium Park and hopped on a metro over to the Willis Tower where we had pre-purchased “Fast Pass” tickets to go up to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor. While pre-purchasing these tickets cost us about $20 more, it saved us at least 2 hrs of standing in lines. Totally worth it. The views of Chicago and Lake Michigan from the SkyDeck Lounge are crazy beautiful. While up there, we stepped out onto the “Skydeck Ledge” which is basically a glass cube that extends out from the building and over the city. It’s a pretty overwhelming experience. As an added bonus, the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is this year, so there is a roped off area where you can stand next to Sloane Peterson and Cameron Frye mannequins and put your head on the glass in the exact spot Matthew Broderick (Ferris) did. Getting to do this was super cool for me as I grew up with that movie.
After our nervous stomachs calmed down from being in the Skydeck, we decided it was pizza time. Eating at Gino’s East has become a “must-do” each time we visit this city. Their super deep dish, sauce on top of the cheese, traditional Chicago style pizza is amazing. Gino’s has been around for 50 years and has multiple locations but we always go back to the original restaurant on Superior Ave. This graffiti tagged, celebrity memorabilia filled pizza joint makes for a fun and authentic experience while waiting the standard 1 hour of required baking time for the deep dish crust. If you haven’t been, you need to stop by on your next visit to Chicago. If you’re with a group of 2-3 people, believe us, a medium pizza will be plenty.
Our weekend in Chicago was once again awesome. The only thing missing was a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Unfortunately they were out of town 🙁 Next time Cubbies!
We’re becoming so fond of this city that we’ve already booked our next trip!
Ever heard of Malta? Neither had we until a few months ago. Our Barcelona buddies suggested we meet there this May. Being that we had some reward points to burn, we booked it no questions asked. After booking, we finally did some Google searching to discover that this tiny Mediterranean island looked amazing! From beaches to cliff diving to ancient temples and cities; we’re going to show, and tell you a shit load of reasons for why you need to visit Malta.
If you are like we were, then you have no idea where Malta is or how to get there. Picture the map of Italy. You know how it looks like boot? Picture the island that “the boot” is kicking. That’s not Malta, it’s Sicily. Right below Sicily, you’ll find Malta. You can fly to Malta from many of the major European airports on Air Malta or AlItalia. From many locations, a ticket on these airlines will be less than $100. Lacey and I traveled to Malta from Rome for $70 a ticket.
What’s so cool about Malta? Literally everything, and I don’t use the word “literally” as loosely as some. Malta and it’s neighboring islands Comino and Gozo, are responsible for some of the most amazing geographical features in the world. Places like the Blue Lagoon, Azure Window, and St. Peter’s Pool are just a couple featured spots off the top of my head. As if the beauty of the island weren’t enough, the history of Malta is even more incredible. Ancient cities, megalithic temples (older than the Pyramids), and the roots of Christianity can all be found and explored here. For all of you Game of Thrones nerds out there, Malta is also responsible for numerous breathtaking backdrops in the earlier seasons of this show.
We felt pretty overwhelmed at first while planning this trip. There was so much to explore and there were only 4 days to do it. We couldn’t afford to lose time relying on public transportation to trek us around. We decided to reserve a rental car. Renting a car was trickier in Malta because I needed an international driver’s permit and oh yeah, they drive on the other side of the street. Yikes!
Our first day was spent cruzing around St. Julian’s Bay which was a block from our hotel, the Hilton Malta. We would definitely recommend staying in this area as it is very close to a ton of restaurants and night life while also being a central take off point to all of the sites you’ll want to visit.
Day 2 got off to a quick start as we were touring the capital city of Valletta before noon. We popped into St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church, took some pics of Ft. St. Elmo, and grabbed some lunch before taking off toward the city of Marsaxlokk. Yeah, try to pronounce that…Marsaxlokk. Just outside of this city, Lacey found St. Peter’s Pool, which ended up being a major highlight of the trip. After a few hours of cliff jumping and swimming, we made our way back to St. Julian’s for a lot of pizza and wine. This day was so much fun!
The next day was, to this point, the best vacation day of my life. We caught an early morning ferry to the Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino. Words can’t describe the beauty of this place. It’s probably easier to just check out our pics below. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
After the Blue Lagoon, we loaded up our rental car on a giant ferry and headed for the island of Gozo where the Azure Window is located. This landmark is so grand and spectacular. Unfortunately it’s rapidly eroding away so you better get over there and see it soon! After a couple hours of hiking around and eating a late lunch, we headed out. On the way back to the ferry we realized that there were some megalithic temples along the way, so we stopped to check ’em out. I would recommend anyone interested in Aliens and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to read up on these temples. There were a bunch of elongated skulls found there as well as other locations in Malta.
Our final day was relatively mellow as we spent the day at the ancient city of M’dina and then at the Golden Sands Beach. I think we were all still a bit tired from the action packed day before. It was nice to finish up the trip with a relaxing beach day with friends.
Malta is incredible! I would recommend it to anyone.
To break up the long flight from Boise to Italy, Mat and I decided to enjoy a weekend in New York City. Mat had only been to New York once, and I had only ever experienced Manhattan on previous visits, so we thought it would be a good time to explore other neighborhoods. Plus, one of our friends was going to be there that same weekend and wanted to go to a Yankees game. Done and done!
I was in charge of planning our first evening’s activities, so I made dinner reservations at The Print restaurant only for the mere fact that it let us get into the rooftop bar The Press without waiting in line. If you follow us, you know that we are lovers of rooftop anything….bars, restaurants, gardens, pools, etc. I’m not sure if we were just starving or what, but our meals at The Print were absolutely amazing; I even ate the veggies on my plate! After dinner we took the elevator up to The Press and the views from this rooftop bar were stunning! I really wanted to feel like Carrie Bradshaw and order a cosmopolitan while in Manhattan, but my outfit wasn’t cute enough so I just settled for the view instead. Next time New York, next time!
After dinner and the views at The Press (and quite possibly the worst Uber ride of our lives) we went to Serendipity for dessert. Surprisingly, this was Mat’s idea, not mine. Luckily our last stop of the night was close to our hotel so we could walk off a few of the billion calories we had just consumed. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue which was so grand it reminded me of what the Titanic must have looked like. We could never afford to actually stay there, but luckily it was free because my husband is brilliant with travel points. Everybody there knew we couldn’t afford to stay there, and thus treated us so. Mat totally experienced a Pretty Woman situation (we call it getting “pretty woman’d”) when he approached the concierge to inquire about the brunch that was being offered one morning. The response was basically “We know you can’t afford it so go away.”; capital R rude!
Our second day in the city we spent in Brooklyn, which we absolutely loved! Manhattan is amazing and all, but Brooklyn seemed to be much more our pace and style. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and hung out down by the pier. We also had pizza at what is considered the second best pizza joint in the city, Juliana’s. This started our official pizza tour for the trip and it did not disappoint! We had wine and shared a margarita pizza, then had ice cream by the water while gazing at the beautiful view of Manhattan.
That evening we took the subway up to The Bronx where Yankee Stadium is located. It was so fun to be traveling the same direction with all of the rowdy Yankee fans! I especially loved the area right where you get off the subway; there were cute little restaurants with outdoor patios that had music blaring, street vendors selling Yankee gear and so much hustle and bustle! I bought a Yankees beanie (because I was so cold) and then we went in to find our seats. Yankee Stadium is so pretty! I also love that the subway runs directly by the field, so you can see it blurring by between the giant billboards above the stands.
Our last day in New York we started off with breakfast at a legitimate New York diner right off Wall Street, Pearl Diner. After the most delicious chocolate chip pancakes and coffee, we set off to experience Wall Street on a bustling Monday morning. I was slightly disappointed because I only saw a few men in suits-everybody else were just tourists like us. Then we went to check out the Freedom Tower real quick before we had to head to the airport for our flight to Florence.
Our few days in NY were jam packed but so fun! A few places I didn’t mention that we also visited were Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Radio City Music Hall.
Let us know if you have any questions on how we booked our hotel and flights for this wonderful weekend in New York City…for free!
Lacey and I recently returned from what will be our longest trip of 2016. We visited 9 locations in 3 different countries over 15 action packed days. While we fully intend on sharing all of the location specific details with you from our trip, we wanted to start you off with a video edit that summarizes a large portion of what we did during this travel adventure. Plug in your headphones, turn the volume up, and enjoy our very first GoPro Vacation Video Edit!
Keep in mind while watching this that Lacey and I booked this trip for next to nothing. We saved over $10,000 by utilizing credit card rewards points to book this 2+ week adventure. There is no way we could have afforded flights to these places, stayed in the luxurious hotels that we stayed in, and participated in all of the adventures you see in the video if we hadn’t gotten the majority of it for free. If you love to travel, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be doing the very same thing. Check out this post for the details on how we booked this specific trip with points and let us know if you have any questions.
Stay tuned in the coming days for more details and beautiful pics from this trip!
I’ll admit it. At this point, I feel super entitled to free stuff. I’ve put in a lot of time learning how to capitalize on credit card rewards points and now I can’t wrap my head around why I would ever pay for something, ANYTHING, and not get something in return for free. Lacey and I pay with credit cards for literally every bill and expense we have. Yes, this will now include mortgage payments. I’m going to tell you exactly how we do it because you should be getting free stuff for paying your bills too!
Before jumping right in and signing up for random credit cards to start paying your bills with; think about what your end goals are. What do you want to get in return? Look back on a previous post or two of ours that should help you decide on what card to sign up for to get a certain reward in return.
Once you select and receive the credit card that is going to get you the awesome reward you’re going for, you’ll want to create an online account with the bank that sponsors your new credit card. For example, if you signed up for the Chase Sapphire card, you’ll create an online account at chase.com . While logged in to your account, find where you can set up auto-pay. It’s usually under a tab titled something like “manage payments”. I would highly recommend you set auto-pay to pay off your entire balance each month. This is an important step to make sure you don’t miss a payment and completely jack up your credit score (35% of your credit score is your payment history).
Now, take your new card and link it to every reoccurring monthly bill you have. Login to all of your online bill pay accounts for things like cable, internet, electricity, gas, water/sewer/trash, Netflix, iTunes, and anything else you can think of. If you’ve never setup AutoPay for things like these don’t worry, it’s really easy. Similar to how you setup your online account with the bank that provided your credit card, you’ll create an online account and set up auto-pay for each service you subscribe to. Set your credit card as the payment source for every monthly bill you have. By doing this along with putting all of your day to day expenses on your card (groceries, gas, meals,etc), you’ll be shocked at how easily you’ll hit your spending requirements.
At this point, you may have figured out that your mortgage company and the bank you make your car payments to won’t allow you to pay with a credit card. This totally sucks because these are likely your 2 biggest monthly bills and now you’re missing out on tons of reward points! While most banks won’t accept credit card payments, they will accept checks. There is an awesome service called Plastiq that will let you set up your credit card as a payment source while they will, in turn, send a check to whoever you need to pay. Boom goes the dynamite cuz you’re back in business! While the Plastiq service does charge a 1-2.5% fee per transaction, if you sign up through our referral link you’ll get $200 of fee free payments. Pretty cool of them to do that.
Is it worth the % fee that Plastiq charges for making your payments? Well, that’s up to you. To put it in to perspective, let’s say your monthly mortgage payment is $2,000. You’ll get charged about $40 to make the payment through Plastiq. Let’s say in this example that you’re using the Southwest Premier card to make your payment. For the $40 you spent to put $2000 on this card, you’ll reach the spending requirement and will get an estimated $650 worth of free flights within a matter of weeks after receiving the card. You’ll be headed to Cabo, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Aruba, or any of the other awesome new locations Southwest now flies to. So if you’re in a rush to hit the spending requirements on a credit card to get the bonus, it may be worth a few bucks to do it through Plastiq.
I hope this gets you started on a path that earns you awesome free stuff for every dollar you spend. The next time you get an unexpected $1,000 bill…turn that around and get a free vacation out of it! Good luck! Let us know if you have any questions.
Turn your next unexpected bill into an unexpected vacation!
February is typically one of the tougher months to get through when living in Boise, ID. It’s usually super cold, dark, and the valley can get blanketed with inversions for days at a time. With some help from the Alaska Airlines credit card rewards program, we were able to say “eff that noise” and blow this Popsicle stand for a couple days. For the cost of a tank of gas, we whisked ourselves away to sunny California where we spent 2 days in San Diego.
With risking you not reading the rest of this post, you can jump over to our previous post to see our step by step instructions on how to get a free flight on Alaska Airlines…which is how we were able to afford this trip. Their latest offer includes a $100 statement credit which will wipe out the $75 annual fee the card has and leave you with $25 extra in credit to use. We don’t get paid to promote this offer FYI. I just genuinely think it’s a cool option to save on a quick trip.
Back to San Diego…
Lacey and I initially planned on going to a Rihanna concert while we were in San Diego, but found out at the last minute that the show was rescheduled for May. Anyone wanna buy our tickets? 🙂 Once we wiped the concert off of our itinerary we realized that it was the ONLY thing on our itinerary. This realization was followed up by a conversation that went something like this…
“So what should we do in San Diego now?” -Mat
“I’m down for whatever. I’m not even sure what’s there.” – Lacey
“Wanna hang out in downtown on Friday and then the beach on Saturday?” – Mat
“Sounds good.” – Lacey
After this intense and lengthy conversation, our trip was planned. I’m not kidding, that’s all that was said before we left.
We landed in San Diego on a Friday morning at 10am, got an early check in at our hotel (Hampton Inn), and were drinking Coronas while eating nachos at the Waterfront Bar and Grill by 11:15am.
Lacey and I immediately fell in love with San Diego. Not only was the weather absolutely perfect (73 degrees with a very light breeze), but I personally just felt like I fit in right away. The city is super casual. All of the guys wear t-shirts, longer shorts, flat billed baseball hats, and have tattoos. Sound familiar? I love it when I can visit a new city and not worry about standing out like a dorky tourist.
The food options in San Diego are right up our alley as well. There is a ton of delicious Italian food (check out Sorrento in Little Italy), as well as some of the best Mexican/American food you can get. Lacey and I are both suckers for anything that comes in a tortilla. We also drank some of the biggest/best margaritas of our lives at a place down by Mission Beach. I wish we could remember the name of the place, but that again speaks to the fact that they were awesome margaritas.
Friday, we spent time cruzing around Little Italy and the Gas Lamp Quarter. After a quick shower we hopped on an 8 minuted train to get to the Top of the Hyatt for dinner. We’d definitely recommend you check this place out as the food and views from the 40th floor are great!
Saturday, we jumped on a train that took us to a large bus station that ultimately took us to Mission Beach (we spent $10 total on getting around San Diego during this trip). Mission Beach is beautiful! There is a 3 mile oceanfront boardwalk that Lacey and I strolled around on for the first hour when we got there. After working up a thirst, we stopped in the Lahaina Beach House for a couple drinks. The place has a really cool view of the boardwalk allowing us to continue with some great people watching. We walked around a bit more, had some margaritas, got some delicious ice cream, and then headed back to our hotel. After another quick shower, we finished up our San Diego trip with a delicious dinner in Little Italy.
While our visit was super brief, we both fell in love with the food, weather, and overall vibe of San Diego. I’m not sure why everyone in the world isn’t trying to move there in all honesty.
Let us know if you’ve ever been to SD and have additional spots we should check out the next time we visit!
Anytime someone tells me they have a vacation coming up and I ask “got everything dialed in for your trip?” and they answer “meh, we’ll figure it out when we get there”, I wanna blow my brains out. Not because they don’t have a bunch of events/excursions/tours booked, but because they haven’t put thought about ANY of the details that could literally make or break their trip. Packing, food, transportation, hotels, dining, site seeing, etc. are all things you can have figured out before you head to your destination.
Being that Lacey and I are super OCD when it comes to this topic, we’re going to share our thoughts in a multi-post, Travel Prep, series.
First up – Public Transportation
Alright, so let’s say you’ve just arrived at your destination (by using our best practices for booking a free flight of course 😉 ). When you walk off the plane and out those airport doors to a city you’ve never been to, do you have a plan? If not, you’re already wasting precious vacation time and you’re likely feeling super awkward and uncomfortable…not to mention standing out like a sore thumb as being a dumb shit tourist. Not only does it totally suck to be in this position, it also lets any scam artist know that you’re a easy target.
We’ve all been there, I know I have. It is an overwhelming and embarrassing feeling. Well here’s the good news, you never have to go through this again if you spend a little time before-hand doing some public transportation Travel Prep.
Start by doing a Google search on your destination city. Get an idea of all forms of public transportation available. Do they have a metro? Do they only have buses? Do they have both? I know most cities have taxi/uber services, but why spend $50 getting to your hotel when the metro costs $2? Spend that extra cash on a celebratory “we’re here!” bottle of booze at dinner that night.
Buses in Paris will drop you off right outside the Louvre.
Did you pick your preferred form of public transportation? Now find out if you can pre purchase a travel pass online and have it mailed to you. Overkill? Maybe, but this will help you avoid a confused walk around the metro or bus station looking for a way to purchase your ticket. You’ll already have your pass in-hand, ready to use, like the rest of the locals. Even though it’s pretty easy to find a ticket machine at a metro or bus station, I’ve run into many cases where the ticket machines are out of order OR for some reason they only accept certain types of payment. Just a couple of the reasons to buy your pass before your trip if it’s an option.
Taking this a step further, most transportation services now have YouTube vids on how to use/swipe their cards at the station. Watch these vids a few times to get super comfortable with the process so by the time you get to the station you’re a pro. No more holding up lines while you get stuck at the subway turn style.
Below is an example vid for Chicago’s Ventra Card. Kind of a silly video, but at least you’ll feel dumb in the comfort of your own home instead of in a crowded train station.
Ok, great, so you made it to the train station and through the turn style gates. Now what? None of the giant signs have the name of your exact stop on ’em…shit! Are you in the right place? Where do you go? What train are you supposed to get on? Again, the feeling of being an awkward dumb ass rushes over you. But wait, you can avoid this hiccup too!
Here’s where the internet comes in handy again. Once you’ve decided which form of public transportation you want to use (before your trip), look up their daily routes and departure/arrival times. You’re looking for a map similar to the one I found below for our upcoming trip to Rome. I know that we’ll be starting at the TERMINI station and that we’ll need to get to the S. Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) stop. The Ottoviano/S.Pietro stop will NOT be on the main signs in the TERMINI station. Instead the signs will have the final destination of that route on the sign. So for the example below, I will be looking for the red line to Battistini. I know that our Ottoviano/S.Pietro stop will be the 6th stop along the way.
Making this even easier, nowadays there are TONS of public transportation apps you can download that will help with your trip. These apps will give you all of the routes and arrival times. Here is a really cool public transit app that we’ve been using lately. You can also do a simple AppStore/Google Play search for “Your City + Public Transportation”.
Simple enough right? For a lot of you, this might be common sense. For the rest of us that drive cars everyday instead of using public transportation, this can be intimidating. It definitely was for me. By spending just a few minutes researching this stuff before your trip, you can take the stress off of a big portion of your trip. Being in a new city is overwhelming enough with all of the new sites and sounds, the last thing you want to worry about is getting lost. Spend less time being lost and confused and spend more time enjoying your trip!
Train Station in Riomaggiore, Italy the day after getting engaged!
I hope this helps! Let us know if you have any questions.
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!
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.
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.
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!