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
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.
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!
Once the flights were booked, we then focused the reaming App-Parties for hotel stays.
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.
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 =)
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
- United: 60,000 United miles to fly Economy from San Francisco to London
- American Airlines: 40,000 AA miles to fly Business from Rome to Madrid
- 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!
- Club Carlson: 140,000 Club Carlson points for 4 nights in London
- Hyatt: 60,000 Hyatt points for 2 nights, and 2 free night certificates, for a total of 4 nights in Paris
- Fairmont: 2 free night certificates for 2 nights in Monte Carlo
- Hilton: 2 free weekend night certificates for 2 nights in Rome
- 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
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.
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?