Long before we found out about the idea of financial independence, we discovered the wonderful world of travel hacking. Okay, so it wasn’t actually that long beforehand, but the fact of the matter is, we utilized airline miles to keep costs low, even if we did blow money, while traveling, in other ways, like hotels, food, gelato, and expeditions.
I think travel is one of the number one things that people miss out on because there is a misconstrued idea that traveling is expensive. Sure, that may be the case for some people, but traveling can actually be very cheap, and in some cases, a lengthy vacation can be cheaper than your expenses at home for the same length of time.
This is where travel hacking comes in. Essentially, you take advantage of credit card companies and their sign up bonuses with their travel partners. The credit card companies make money off the interest of people that don’t pay their cards off every month, which pays for the points that they’ve bought from the airlines, hotels, etc. and makes the whole promotion worth their while. The most important part of travel hacking is this: Do. Not. Keep. A. Balance. On. These. Cards. If you are one of the people paying interest, then you’ve lost the game, and the credit card companies have won.
Our First Hack
So our travel hacking began when James and I were planning to take an extravagant trip for our honeymoon, but we also didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on our trip mostly because we were both broke. After a little bit of research, okay…a lot of research on James’s end, he convinced me to sign up for my first travel rewards credit card. We utilized the opportunity of getting our travel credit cards early by putting the hotel rooms on our cards, and the fact that we were planning a wedding helped us easily reach the spend limit.
My first foray into rewards cards started with the US Airways Barclaycard, because we were sure that card wasn’t going to be available much longer with US Airways getting merged with American Airlines. With the Barclaycard, I could earn 50,000 points after my first purchase and paying the $89 annual fee. The Barclaycard has amazingly survived and has been rebranded into the American Airlines Barclay card with the same rewards bonus of 50,000 points after the first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee (the fee has gone up $10 this year).
The second card I got was the American Airlines Citi AAdvantage card. We decided with the US Airways miles getting transferred over to American Airlines, it just made more sense at the time to earn as many of those points as we could. The Citi AAdvantage card had a bonus of 50,000 points with $3,000 spent in 3 months (as of this writing, that bonus is still applicable today). With the 100,000 points I earned from these two cards, it covered a round trip ticket to Europe for one of us, and got the other one of us there. That left us 20,000 points short of a ticket home so, we paid to transfer some points my dad was letting expire over to us.
Ironically, James was the one who discovered travel hacking, and did all the research on the cards, pointing me to the ones to get, but he got denied for both of them. At the time, he had no credit, and got denied for both cards, which only made his credit worse. He ended up utilizing a secured credit card from Capital One to build his credit, and now his credit score is within 10 points of mine, he has had multiple travel rewards cards, and somehow the asshole has a higher credit limit than me on all his cards. Both our credit scores have gone up since we started travel hacking, so don’t let that concern hold you back.
We took our free flights from Nashville, TN to NYC and that’s when it started sinking in that we hadn’t paid for them. The next flights from NYC to Dusseldorf and then onto Venice felt surreal. Spending 3 nights in an exotic, historic location, at the beautiful Hotel Arlecchino, all because we signed up for a couple of credit cards seemed like cheating. Our hotel was right on the canal and within a short walking distance to the bus station. Hotel Arlecchino wasn’t the cheapest by any means, but it was spacious for Venice, had an amazing breakfast spread, and provided free water taxis to Murano and Burano (small islands off the coast of Venice where they have the famous glass blowing shops and other cool things).
Next up was the only flight we actually paid for, from Venice to Dubrovnik, Croatia. We didn’t take advantage of the fact that we were newlyweds while we were in Venice but, my sweet talking new husband sent out a few emails to restaurants, trying to get reservations and upgrades wherever possible, and even the hotel we were staying at in Dubrovnik, Hotel Excelsior. Pro tip: ride out the newlywed, anniversary, and birthday train for as long as possible. Email, conveniently mention, or even outright ask restaurants, hotels, or excursions for any deals for life events, the only way you’ll know is if you ask.
We originally booked a classic double room at Hotel Excelsior in Dubrovnik, because let’s be honest, even though we were treating ourselves on our honeymoon, we still didn’t have that much money. After a couple of emails to the hotel telling them it was our honeymoon, the most we expected was a free dinner or bottle champagne. However, when we arrived, we were surprised with a room upgrade to a suite with a balcony over the water, and in our suite was a bottle of champagne on ice with a hand written note.
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This is a little throwback to my wife and I in Croatia. We occasionally go to exotic places, but nothing beats coming home to her every night no matter where we call home….and of course we travel hacked this trip so we had a two week honeymoon in Europe for minimal out of pocket money spent. #rethinktheratrace
We also emailed three other restaurants asking for reservations with a good view. While we got reservations at all three restaurants, one could say that we got jipped at the third restaurant because the seating was outside and very limited and it just so happened to be raining that day, so we ended up getting holed away in some attic by ourselves. Nevertheless, we had an amazing meal with wonderful memories, plus free limonchello shots and a plate full of dessert.
We begrudgingly came back from paradise on our honeymoon to be met with the 9-5 grind back home. But, the free flights back made the trip that much sweeter. We’ve never looked at travel the same since finding the world of travel hacking with travel rewards. Sometimes, things can sound too good to be true, but sometimes it turns out to be true after all and you’d never know until you tried it.
Our honeymoon could have been outrageously expensive, but while we “held back” on spending, we still had an amazing time and came home with even more memories that are infinitely more valuable than anything we could have bought. We traveled smart, at least as smart as we knew how at the time, and were never afraid to ask for upgrades. That is also the way life goes, you’re never going to experience or grow as much if you’re afraid to ask questions or travel around the world.