A Lavish European Honeymoon for ONLY $1,300!

by Living Proof on July 23, 2014

in Travel Hacking

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Introduction

A few months ago, I was eating lunch with a coworker, and he was telling me about his upcoming European honeymoon. I asked him how much he thought the trip would cost, and he replied:

I think with just flight and hotels, it will cost me $10,000 for two people.

My jaw dropped…..

I asked him: “If it was possible to do it for less than $1,000, would you be interested?”

His eyes widened.

And so it began, and the next few lunches were spent talking about the tricks and secrets to Travel Hacking.

Needless to say, he was hooked!

I. Set a Goal

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First, in order to begin travel hacking, you must have a GOAL in mind. This will keep your mind focused during all the future Walmart visits. 😉

For my coworker, he wanted to visit London, Paris, Monte Carlo, Rome, and Madrid for his honeymoon.

II. Make a Plan

We decided the best plan was to fly into London, take the train to Paris-Monte Carlo-Rome, fly into Madrid, and depart from Madrid.

Next, the fastest and most lucrative way to rack up lots of miles/points is to apply for Credit Cards. If you have good credit (+720), then it’s time to leverage your good credit score! Anything above 720 won’t help you to get better interest rates, anyway.

All banks will offer large sign-up bonuses to attract new customers. Their hope is that you will carry a monthly balance and be hit with +20% interest every month. However, we’re smarter than this, and we will NEVER carry a balance. We just want the big sign-up bonus!

But how would my coworker meet the minimum spend requirement? Easy, he would simply buy gift cards.

III. Get to Work

Finally, we put the plan into motion by doing multiple App-Parties! We applied for multiple credit cards in one day – therefore only getting hit with one hard credit pull. We spread out the App-Parties every 2 months so the banks don’t see a lot of inquires within a short amount of time. Remember, banks get nervous if they see too many credit inquiries on your credit report.

The App-Parties:

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App-Party #1 & #2:

Our first priority was to secure airfare tickets. As luck would have it, my coworker already had a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card opened. Therefore, we simply transferred 60,000 Ultimate Reward points to United to book the flight from San Francisco to London.

Next, we needed a way to get back to San Francisco from Madrid, so we opened two Citi Platinum Select AAvantage credit cards (one personal and one business). This gave him 100,000 miles, enough for two Business class seats on Iberia! Which are larger seats which turn into complete lie flat beds!

Iberia-Business-Plus-lie-flat-seat

Once the flights were booked, we then focused the reaming App-Parties for hotel stays.

App-Party #3:

We decided to use the Club Carlson credit cards for the hotel stay in London. The sign-up bonus was for 85,000 points, and it only costs 70,000 points for two nights. My coworker was able to get both the personal and business version of the credit card, which gave him more than enough points to book 4 nights (140,000 points) at the May Fair London.

MayFair_1

App-Party #4:

In Paris, one of the most luxurious hotels is the Park Hyatt Vendome. This is actually one of the most expensive Hyatt properties in the world (~$850 per night), and I saw Tony Parker and Eva Longoria here once! Therefore, it makes perfect sense to use the 2 free night certificates from the Chase Hyatt credit card on this particular Hyatt property. In addition, the Tour de France will be taking place during my coworkers stay so he wanted to spend 2 more nights! We did this by transferring 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points (from the Chase Ink Bold) to Hyatt. Hopefully, he will get to meet some celebrities during his stay =)

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In Monte Carlo, Fairmont has an awesome resort, so this was an easy decision! Just by simply applying for the Chase Fairmont credit card, my coworker ended up with 2 free night certificates! Monte Carlo Done!

Hotel-Fairmont-7

In Rome, the Hilton Cavaliieri is a wonderful property which sits atop the highest hill in Rome with amazing views of the city. Like the Fairmont redemption, the hotel in Rome was really easy to redeem. My coworker simply applied for the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve credit card, and he got 2 free weekend nights!

romecav_aerial_at_night-lowres

App-Party #5 & #6:

For the last two App-Parties, we focused on the AMEX SPG personal and business card. With more than enough Starpoints, my coworker was able to book 5 nights at the Westin Palace Madrid for 48,000 Starpoints!

Hotel-Westin-Palace-Madrid-Architecture

Next, with the hotels out of the way, we also needed to book a short flight from Madrid to Rome. Originally, my coworker was going to buy these tickets with cash, but after he discovered it would cost ~$500 per person, we decided to apply for the Citi Executive AAvantage card. The short flight in Business class cost 40,000 miles for two people.

Lastly, I wanted my coworker to get a chip+pin card to use in Europe. Thus, the ideal card would be the Barclay Arrival Plus! In addition to having chip+pin, the card also has no foreign transaction fees, and the 40,000 sign-up bonus is worth ~$440 which could be redeemed for travel expenses – such as the train tickets my coworker would need to buy anyways!

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As an extra bonus, I made my coworker apply for the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. This account is super powerful because there are no ATM fees when withdrawing money overseas! Thanks to this ATM card, you no longer have to bring large amounts of US dollars everywhere you travel –  simply withdraw what you need, when you need it. Thanks Chuck!

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IV. Stick to It

After multiple trips to Walmart, my coworker began to question if this was truly worth his time……But once he started redeeming the miles/points, he became a true believer in Travel Hacking! His mind was completely blown away!

Airfare:

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  1. United: 60,000 United miles to fly Economy from San Francisco to London
  2. American Airlines: 40,000 AA miles to fly Business from Rome to Madrid
  3. American Airlines: 100,000 AA miles to fly Business from Madrid to San Francisco
  • The total out of pocket cost was $369 for two people!
  • The retail price alone for the Business class seat is $7,393 for one person, or $14,786 for two people!

Hotel:

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  1. Club Carlson: 140,000 Club Carlson points for 4 nights in London
  2. Hyatt: 60,000 Hyatt points for 2 nights, and 2 free night certificates, for a total of 4 nights in Paris
  3. Fairmont: 2 free night certificates for 2 nights in Monte Carlo
  4. Hilton: 2 free weekend night certificates for 2 nights in Rome
  5. Starwood: 48,000 Starpoints for 5 nights in Madrid
  • The total out of pocket cost was $0 for two people!
  • The retail cost would have been $9,706.95 for 17 nights! Yikes!

Total out of pocket cost:

  • $929 from buying the gift cards and paying the annual fees
  • $369 from paying the airline taxes for the airfare awards
  • $0 for 17 nights in 5 star hotels
  • $1,298 for his European Honeymoon!

V. Reach Goal

Reaching-your-goals-1

My coworker is set to take off for his dream honeymoon this Saturday! Summer is usually peak season to go to Europe and we were able to do it for $1300 (17 nights). These types of dream vacations would never have been possible without the help of miles/points. Who would ever spend $14,000 for a pair of business class seats? Who would really spend $10,000 in hotel rooms??? I know I wouldn’t!

Originally, my coworker was planning to spend $10,000 on his honeymoon trip. But now that he has saved ~$9,000, he now has the freedom to use this money on food, entrance tickets, souvenirs, and more fun activities! It’s truly amazing how Miles/Points can cut down on travel expenses – while making traveling more fun and enjoyable!

In the beginning, I was confident we could do the trip for less than $1,000. However, in doing so, it would have required his wife to also apply for multiple credit cards. Although possible, my coworker decided not to do it. Why? Because he wanted to surprise her and to keep all the traveling details a secret! I can’t wait to see her face when she comes back LOL.

Conclusion

Many people expect to spend thousands of dollars to travel, but this is far from the case! Most people aren’t aware of the strange currency of airlines miles and hotel points. And fewer people really understand how easy it is to amass large amounts of miles/points. Certainly my coworker was one of these people, but now that he is taking part in the travel hacking game, it’s become an obsession for him. He’s already planning his next vacation to Tahiti!

Once again, I hope this article has opened your eyes on how easily and affordable traveling can be. As long as we are responsible with our good credit score, pay our bills on time, pay off the balance every month, then we will come out ahead in this game! The banks want to attract more customers, and we want to do the bare minimum to score the huge sign-up bonuses!

 

What do you think? Would you pay $1,300 for airfare and 17 nights in 5 Star hotels in Europe for two?

About the Author: Living Proof (14 Posts)

Living Proof is an avid real estate investor with a strong case of Wanderlust. He enjoys talking about his crazy lifestyle of collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points. Within the next year, he hopes to declare early FI and to travel the world!


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alanaNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 7:20 am

This is great. Quick question though, does that mean that he bought $43,500 worth of gift cards in roughly 12 months?
Also do you know of any great Canadian resources for travel hacking?

Reply

2 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Hey Alana,

Yes, that’s correct, $43,500 in gift cards! If you were to do the $5,000 limit on Bluebird each month, then you would be doing $60,000 in one year easily 😉

The only Canadian mileage program I know is Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles. But I don’t have much experience using it since I rack up mostly AA/United miles.

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3 MichelleNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 8:22 am

I love how you spelled all of this out! I travel hack, but I still haven’t done anything on a large scale like this. Will have to do this one day 🙂

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4 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

This was my coworkers first time travel hacking, and it turned out Amazing for him! By nature, he is really risk averse, but I assured him there weren’t any major risks involved. Once you become comfortable that the world won’t come crashing down on you, then there really isn’t any limit on how far you can scale this game 😉

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5 JeffNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 8:37 am

Hey FI –
I hope this doesnt get caught in spam, but I was wondering what GCs you bought at wal-mart?
Im assuming you buy the GC’s and load them onto bluebird, but last I tried this only a few GC’s worked and I stopped being able to find those.

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6 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Hey Jeff,

Funny….. your comment got sent straight to Spam! I don’t actually buy GC’s at Walmart. I buy them from a Simon Mall location.
http://www.fifighter.com/travel/travel-hacking/2014/05/how-to-load-debit-gift-cards-at-walmart-visa-simon-mall-etc/

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7 DavidNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 10:48 am

Very cool. Was all this manuf spending done prior to Walmart closing down the gift card/Bluebird reload process? Isn’t it now much more difficult to pull off the manuf spending required to earn such rewards?

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8 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 11:10 am

It depends on where you live. For those of us in the Bay Area, we can still play the Walmart/Bluebird/Gift Card game. If you have two Bluebird cards, then you can rack up the rewards even quicker. That’s $10,000 a month in manufacture spend.

Other than Walmart, there are other ways to do this. IE: Amazon Payment, Kiva loans, and Evolve Money. I’ll write a post on how I meet minimum spend soon.

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9 MikeNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

Living Proof = best coworker ever!

I might go large scale later on, but can’t seem to find a working WMT kiosk anywhere 🙁

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10 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 11:18 am

Thanks Mike!

He better make me a trophy when he returns, LoL!
But I’m pretty sure my coworker is going to win the Greatest.Husband.Ever award from his wife!

If you can’t find a Kiosk, then you can always load at the Cashier. Don’t do it at the Money Center, as they can be really picky…… But the Cashiers always works for me!

BTW, the new limit per day is now $1,999.99. If you do my 9pm PST trick, you can load $3,999.98 on one trip =)

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11 ChrisNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Wow this is great. This has motivated me to take on a bigger scale travel hack like this for a similar European vacation that we would like to take next year. Thanks for the post!

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12 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Hey Chris,

Since you have a whole year, this should be really easy for you to do!
I’ve listed out all the credit cards used for the airfare and hotels, so just copy what I did for my coworker =)

In addition, if you really want to scale things, have your wife join the App-Parties! Travel Hacking becomes so much more lucrative when there are two people contributing to the same goal!

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13 No Nonsense LandlordNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Nice job! I just started a bit of hacking…

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14 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Don’t keep me in suspense! What travel hacking are you doing????

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15 No Nonsense LandlordNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I just got some free tickets for Spirit Airlines, nothing fancy. I can get $500 Visa gift cards through my work, for $2 extra. I needed just $3K miles to get 2 RT tickets to FL, so I did the 3 x $500 gift cards to seal the deal.

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16 TonNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm

It is amazing how you lay out this. I have started travel hack about almost 2 years. This is pretty impressive. One quick question, I saw Mayfair London listed as 70k pts/ night. How would you book 4 nights for 140k points?

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17 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Yes, normally it will cost 70k points for one night.

But, with the power of the US Bank Club Carlson Credit Card, you get the second night FREE. It’s like a buy one get one free offer.
And since my coworker got both cards (personal and business) with different Club Carlson account numbers, he was then able to redeem 70k points from each account, for a total of four nights (140k).

Not many people know this trick!

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18 Dave @ The New York BudgetNo Gravatar July 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm

This is an awesome glimpse into a real life example of travel hacking. In fact – I may refer to this in the future as a template for trips that I take!

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19 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 24, 2014 at 10:21 am

Thanks Dave!
I’m going to post more Real-Life-Examples so that everyone can realize how deep this rabbit hole can go!

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20 KyleNo Gravatar July 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Great story and thanks for the info!

So when you’ve had the card for 11 plus months and the annual fee is about to kick in, how does the cancellation go? I imagine the customer service rep can give you a pretty hard time.

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21 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 24, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I thought it would be difficult as well, but it’s really easy. After I meet the minimum spend, I stop using the card. It just sits in my drawer until ~11 month mark, so get organized! Make a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

So when I’m on the phone, I’m pretty sure the Rep can see my empty activity history. Then, they usually ask me “why are you deciding to cancel the card” and I just reply “I’m not really using the card as much as I thought I would be”.

That usually does it. I’m not seen as a valuable customer, so they don’t try hard to keep me.

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22 FFdividendNo Gravatar July 26, 2014 at 6:05 pm

sorry I don’t understand.
So you buy a gift card for example Chase Sapphire Preferred for $18. It says that there is a minimum spend of $3,000 for 3 months.

Does that mean that I would have to spend $3,000 on that card to get the 40,000 points? Or once I spend $18 I get 40,000 points right off the bat; therefore, I don’t have to actually use the card?

Thanks for the post. trying to learn this hacking stuff.

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23 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 27, 2014 at 12:22 am

For the Chase Sapphire, we would need to spend $3,000 in 3 months to receive the 40,000 points.

We then buy gift cards in order to meet the $3,000 spend requirement.
The maximum amount you can put onto Simon Mall gift card is $500, and it cost $3 to buy one. Therefore, we need to buy 6 gift cards to reach $3,000.
But it will cost us $18 (6 gift cards x $3) out of pocket.

Next, we take these gift cards to Walmart, and load the $3,000 into our Bluebird. Finally, we use Bluebirds Bill Pay feature to pay off the credit card.

http://www.fifighter.com/travel/travel-hacking/2014/05/how-to-load-debit-gift-cards-at-walmart-visa-simon-mall-etc/

How much is 40,000 points worth? Well, if we were to transfer 30,000 points to Hyatt, then we could book one night at the Park Hyatt Vendome, which retails for ~$850. Not bad considering we only spent $18 =)

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24 Steven HallNo Gravatar July 28, 2014 at 12:50 am

I must say an awesome post by Living. I am not a frequent traveler but I like the concept of travel hacking as travel hackers are constantly chasing miles, rewards points, and elite status. They are looking for every possible way to game the system for as much free travel as they can. Most travel hacking is about using miles and rewards to get free flights or hotels. Last year I have made a trip to Europe and covered 3 places Madrid, Venice & Barcelona. I got a good discount on my business class ticket from http://www.asaptickets.com/business-class/flights from where I have booked my flight. Thanks to them for saving some of my dollars on the trip….:)

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25 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

Travel Hacking is definitely a different kind of lifestyle! Some people get it, and others think it’s not worth the time and energy. It frustrates me when my friends complain that traveling is so expense and that they can’t afford to visit their dream destinations…..They can literally spend hours upon hours trying to find cheap deals on Expedia, Orbitz, or Kayak. But are they really saving that much???

I just simply buy gift cards, and then take a visit to Walmart. I spend much less than what they would, and get to experience flying in business/1st class, and staying in 5-star hotels. In the end, I spend less and get more value! Isn’t that a much better use of my time???

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26 MaryNo Gravatar July 28, 2014 at 1:55 pm

This is awesome and I so want to try it!! Just got to get the husband on board with opening a ton of credit cards. We can hit the minimum limits easily without buying gift cards.

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27 Living ProofNo Gravatar July 28, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Just remember to start small Mary! Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to scale this game big time! My coworker did it, and he is very risk averse.

Read this post about opening lots of cards:
http://www.fifighter.com/travel/travel-hacking/2014/07/will-opening-multiple-credit-cards-hurt-your-credit-score/

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28 T.K.No Gravatar March 8, 2015 at 6:24 am

Great post. I have been reading your blog for some time now and will get more serious about my travel hacking. One of the questions I have is opening a business credit card like the SPG Business Amex. Don’t you have to be incorporated? How did your coworker do this?

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29 Living ProofNo Gravatar March 23, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Hi T.K.,

You can apply as a Sole Proprietorship, and not have to provide a business tax id.

A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business.

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