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. 🙂
Idaho is going through one of the coldest/snowiest winters in the past 30 years. Snow, ice, freezing rain, slush, inversions, misery. We had to escape it if only for a short while. Luckily, we already had a getaway booked for January not knowing just how badly we would end up needing it. This is kind of a funny story how it all came about actually. Back in September, we booked this trip out of spite for the sole purpose of getting back at the Hyatt hotel brand. Somewhat of a blessing in disguise, here is how we ended up visiting Aruba, Curacao, and South Beach Miami for free.
Last summer, Lacey and I visited Huntington Beach, CA. You may remember our post about it here. We ended up staying at a little Air BnB during that trip by default as Hyatt would not let us use the 4 free nights we earned from this card. The Hyatt reps were so awful and unhelpful while I was trying to book nights at one of their $200 per night properties down there. I felt like they were doing everything in their power to prevent me from redeeming the awards we earned. Long story short, Hyatt pissed me off super bad and I wanted to get back at ’em for how they treated us.
Angrily, I googled “most expensive Hyatt hotel”. At the top of the results was their resort in Aruba. What a coincidence, Southwest Airlines flies to Aruba meaning Lacey and I could get there for free because we earned the Companion Pass. This was our chance to stick it to Hyatt as these rooms were $600 per night. Suck it Hyatt. Side note, these rooms in Aruba were a challenge to book as well. Their website would tell me there was no availability when I search for 2 or 4 consecutive nights at this resort. Oddly, when I searched 1 night at a time it was available. So, I ended up having to make 4 separate reservations in order to get 4 nights in a row. Keep this in mind when you’re looking for availability on Hyatt’s website. I’m not kidding, they do their best to prevent you from using your rewards.
While booking our flights to Aruba, I found that we could break up the trip by making stops on the island of Curacao and in South Beach Miami. We had never been to either place and both looked amazing. We booked a suite for a night at the amazing Hilton resort in Curacao with honors points and booked 2 nights at the Shelborne Boutique Hotel on South Beach in Miami with Wyndham reward points. I have to mention how awesome the staff at the Shelborne resort were to us. I emailed them prior to the trip to confirm our reservation and briefly mentioned that it was an anniversary trip. When we checked in, they said “it looks like you are celebrating a special event with us so you have been upgraded to an ocean view penthouse suite.” I had totally forgot that I emailed ’em about it and was a little caught off guard at first. Then I turned to Lacey and said “happy anniversary, ha”. If that weren’t enough, they sent us a bottle of champagne later that night. That was pretty amazing of them and we are so grateful.
Our week-long trip was just what we needed to break up this awful winter here in Idaho. Each place we visited was amazing for their individual reasons. Aruba’s beautiful white sand beaches, flamingos, and iguanas made us feel like we were in a different reality. Curacao’s tropical surroundings and heavily Dutch influenced architecture had us wishing we had more time to spend there. The hustle and bustle of South Beach blended with the beauty and calm atmosphere at the beach had us asking each other if we were ready to move there.
One last thing to point out. We ended up paying $25 a night to upgrade our room at the Hyatt in Aruba to an ocean front suite. So for $100 + taxes we stayed in a room that was priced at $789 per night. We ended up getting a value of about $3100 from our 4 reward nights. Maybe Hyatt will rethink their customer service approach when someone is trying to book a $200 per night room next time 🙂
Total Amount of Free Flights/Hotels for this trip alone = $6,799 prior to taxes
Southwest Flights – $2900 (we used Southwest points and the Companion Pass to book these flights)
Hyatt in Aruba – $3100 (Lacey and I both signed up for this card to earn 2 free nights each)
Hilton in Curacao – $309 (used a combination of these cards over time to earn Hilton Honors points)
Shelborne Boutique Hotel on South Beach – $490 (we used Wyndham reward points from this card to book this)
Last weekend Mat and I were able to go on a quick getaway to Carmel, California, also known as Carmel-By-The-Sea. It had been several weeks since we had been anywhere (last place was Palm Springs), so I was itching for another vacation. Mat, who hates the extreme heat that Boise gets in the summer, was ready for a break from having to sit directly in front of a fan 24/7 to not sweat, so he was happy to book flights to Oakland.
We both love San Francisco (it’s where we met 10+ years ago!), so it made sense to start our weekend there on Friday night. Plus, Southwest has a great flight option that allows us to work a full day on Friday and get into town early enough for dinner! So we packed our bags in Betty Lou (the name of our car) on Friday morning so we could head straight to the airport after work. We had a few minor delays getting into town, but we were still able to make our dinner reservations at The Saratoga.
Saturday we walked to a nearby bakery and picked up some breakfast and coffee, then made our way up to Twin Peaks. We were extremely lucky to get a clear day; typically it’s quite foggy in San Francisco. It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny morning and it was so cool to see SF from this view. Our plan was to stop in Santa Cruz on the way from San Francisco to Carmel for either brunch or lunch, but we ran into the ever-dreaded California traffic. We have actually been extremely fortunate that each time we have been to California, we haven’t ever had to experience this notorious headache. We were not so lucky this time. We realize now why Californians are so drawn to Boise!
We ended up making it to Santa Cruz, but just for a brief pit stop, since we had now missed brunch and didn’t have enough time for lunch. We attempted to drive to the boardwalk, but there were sooooo many cars we would have never made it driving. We parked and walked the last mile, all while noticing that cars were backed up, bumper to bumper and not moving, in every single direction. It was nuts! We were in Huntington Beach last year for the Vans US Open and don’t remember this much car traffic. I was convinced that Santa Cruz was where Beyonce’s first outing with her twins was, because why else would everyone be there?!
We decided to keep moving to Carmel. This town looks like something you would see out of a storybook; cottages, bungalows, gardens and huge, mature trees everywhere! It’s gorgeous! It’s also quite chilly. I’m always cold, but I had to layer up with scarves and sweaters to be comfortable. Mat was absolutely loving the temperatures. This town is so cozy and romantic. We overheard a waiter say to another table that it is in the top five most romantic cities in the world. I just wanted to walk around in my cozy sweater, cuddle and drink wine all day, which is pretty much what we did. The highlight of the trip for me was buying a bottle of wine at the market, taking a blanket down to the beach and watching the sunset before our dinner reservations.
Before heading out Sunday morning, we made sure to check out Clint Eastwood’s ranch/estate, The Mission Ranch. Wow, this property is gorgeous. From what I read, the ground was set to sell to build commercialized condominiums, but the town wasn’t happy about that. Clint Eastwood (who served as Mayor of Carmel in the past) came along to save the day and bought the property. It has since been renovated to include a restaurant and lodging options, but still kept as a ranch; sheep and all!
Before flying home on Sunday, we made a stop in Monterrey for breakfast and, of course, more coffee. This town is adorable! We were intrigued with Monterrey originally because we have been watching Big Little Lies, which is filmed and based in Monterrey. We walked down Fisherman’s Wharf and watched the most adorable sea lion/otter swim just a few feet below us.
It’s amazing how many things you can see and experience in 48 hours when you aren’t stuck in a cubical. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Houston (Final Four):
This pic was on our custom lanyards that we wore around our necks.
New York City:
Huntington Beach, CA:
first view upon opening our window shades at the Hyatt in Aruba. Not a bad start
view from our Hilton Suite in Curacao
South Beach – Miami, FL:
view from our upgrade at the Shelborne in South Beach
Many of our recent “how to get free travel” posts have been focused on earning free flights. The reason being is that we’re currently in love with our newly acquired Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. We booked over $4k in free flights in 3 months! Anyways, that’s a previous story. While free flights are a huge piece to the free travel puzzle, let’s make it complete by adding some free hotel stays. I am going to give you really quick tip that will result in you booking 3 free hotel nights while choosing from over 7,200 locations and properties.
Before I tell you the sweet, sweet magic that will get you around $1,000 in free hotel stays I want to remind you that we do not get any sort of compensation for what I’m about to recommend. The coolest part about our travel tips are that you can trust they’re genuine. We aren’t trying to push a sale on you or anything like what some of the other point guy(s) 😉 often do. All of our free travel posts are simply a reflection of what my lovely wife and I are doing to try and see the world.
That being said, Lacey and I recently booked a trip to Orlando, Aruba, Curacao, and Miami for January 2017. Our flights were taken care of by our Southwest Companion Pass, but we still needed some free hotel stays to make this trip doable. We already had 4 free nights with Hyatt Hotels to use in Aruba, which is awesome, but we still didn’t want to pay out of pocket for all of the remaining nights of our trip. After a few hours of researching I discovered…drum roll…the Wyndham rewards Visa card.
Before stumbling on Wyndham’s site via Google, I had literally never heard of their rewards program. I usually only see updates on the same 4 hotel rewards programs over and over; Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG. At first glance, Wyndham’s bonus offer of 45k points didn’t seem very impressive. In my experience, 45k points with any of the previously mentioned hotel chains would likely get you 1-2 nights at a shit hotel in a sketchy part of town. This is not the case with Wyndham. Every single one of Wyndham’s properties is a flat rate of 15k points per night. Yes, this includes their most expensive properties. No matter where you’re wanting to go, you’ll be able to book 3 nights with your 45k points. Depending on where you book, you could save over $1,000 in free rooms with this reward.
This is how it works:
Sign up for the card (here) – there is a $69 annual fee that will post on your 1st statement
Use the card once and earn 30k points (posted to your account after 1 billing cycle)
Spend $1,000 with this card in 90 days and earn another 15k points
When your points post to your account, go shop for your hotel room at Wyndham.com
Easy enough right? Thanks Wyndham! 😉
Do yourself a favor and look at this list of the top Wyndham properties before booking your stay. That’s where Lacey and I found this $330 per night resort we’ll be staying at on South Beach in Miami for free. Spoiler alert, we’re going to put the extra money saved towards margaritas on the beach. Sounds like a good investment to me!
Let us know if you have any questions! Now go book a beautiful and expensive stay at a Wyndham property for free!