If you read my first post, you’ll know we have quite the trip ahead. It took a lot of saving, planning, and research, but in the end it was worth the time and effort.
So how did we do it?
I wish I could say I have some sort of secret way of getting free flights and hotel rooms. Dressing up for your flight does nothing for getting an upgrade, no matter what anyone says. No, our way is pretty straightforward : transferable points and frequent flyer miles. That, combined with some savvy deal hunting and you too can enjoy a five figure trip on a four figure budget. If you’re a normal human being who takes a week or two for vacation instead of three months, then you may even pull it off on a three figure budget!
The natural next question most people have is “how do I save up enough frequent flyer miles for an entire trip if I’m not a frequent flyer?” Most people don’t fly very often and unless you’re a business traveler it’s difficult to rack up enough miles organically to cover an entire trip, especially for multiple people. Luckily, if you’re financially responsible there’s a way to rack up hundreds of thousands of miles each year with ease.
Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses.
This is where I start to lose people. Many people hate credit cards and refuse to use them. I think of them as the single most important tool in my travel hacking arsenal. I’ve been preaching about them for a while now, like this post from over a year ago.
People laugh when I say there are credit cards that literally pay for themselves every year, but it’s true.
Take for example the Chase IHG credit card. It has a bunch of benefits but I’m going to go straight to the point. It’s $49 a year and every year you get a free night at any IHG property worldwide. The Intercontinental in Boston that goes for $400 a night? Yours. Crowne Plaza in Times Square for NYE? Yours, as long as you book it early enough. Your options are endless. Think back to the last time you booked a hotel room. Chances are it was more than $49. Last year Breada and I used our free nights at the Intercontinental Da Nang on Son Tra Peninsula. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed, and one of the most expensive. Rates start at about $400 a night, but we stayed for two nights for free! Plus, since we were IHG Platinum members (free with the card) we got a welcome bottle of champagne, free drinks when we ate on property, and not one but two birthday cakes for me!
The above example didn’t even factor in the initial sign up bonus! We used them for 5 nights in Krakow, Poland last year. Prices were just north of $200 a night during that time, so we got roughly $1000 worth of value out of that bonus alone.
That’s just one card and it got me five nights in a beautiful city at a beautiful hotel, and for just $49 a year I can stay somewhere normally far out of my budget. Like I said before, pays for itself every year.
For the sake of keeping this post somewhat short, I’m not going to go into detail on the implications to your credit score. In short, if you’re paying off your balance every month ( a must with this hobby ), your score will not be negatively impacted. In fact, the more credit you have available the better your score will be due to your credit utilization percentage going down.
Every business class flight we’ve taken, every five star hotel we’ve stayed in, none of it was possible without card bonuses. It’s where travel hackers get the majority of their points, and it will open up your world to experiences you never thought possible. As we speak I’m sitting in my oversized business class seat on my way to Vietnam, a seat that cost more than my entire three month trip budget. How much did I pay? About $75 in taxes/fees, and even that was covered by one of my credit cards!
So in short, that’s my secret. At least, part of it. I can’t give everything away all at once! There are some more advanced tricks and opportunities for points, like the massive score we had a couple years ago, but unless you have a firm grip on the basics of credit card sign up bonuses and using cards to your advantage, there’s no point in talking about them just yet.
I love travel, and I’m always happy to help someone with their own travels. Whether it be about travel hacking, which credit card to get for your next trip, or just finding the best deal out of pocket, shoot me a message and I’ll try to help you out as much as possible. Contact The Shoestring Trekkers Facebook page and we’ll get back to ya!
The final part of this post will be a complete breakdown of the entire three months, complete with how many points each flight/hotel cost, their redemption values, and everything in between. If it gives even one person the inspiration to make their own dream happen, then it was worth it.