Last year when we returned from our Europe trip we thought that one might have been our last trip for awhile. We are not getting any younger so we figured that if I got pregnant we probably wouldn’t be taking Eurotrip 2017. So we did our last trip big, we stayed in some nicer hotels and didn’t let much hold us back. Fast forward to this past January. In the winter I get really antsy. My old job took me away about 5-6 times a year which was perfect for me. Since I don’t travel for work anymore my overall frequency of travel has scaled back. In January we had just returned from Aruba and I had nothing planned.
I started thinking about it, I still wasn’t pregnant. Even if I did get pregnant then, come May I would only at most be four months along. You usually aren’t told to stay put until the third tri-mester anyway. So I figured why wouldn’t we go? Do we hold off traveling IN CASE I got pregnant? I feel like people plan a lot around what ifs. Well what if I DIDN’T get pregnant? Then I put my life on hold, didn’t gain new experiences all because of the what if? I thought screw it, let’s plan Eurotrip 2017.
However, we had just went to Aruba so I could attend yoga teacher training and that trip wasn’t cheap. I didn’t want to drop a ton of money on our trip so I started scheming. I am in finance so managing budgets and maximizing returns is what I do for a living. So my wheels started turning and I started figuring out how we could travel, save money but keep our same level of comfort we were used to. I didn’t want to trade in a hotel for a hostel and backpack across Europe like I was in college.
The movie Up in the Air has a scene where George Clooney and the girl are comparing credit card points, status etc. This is not just a movie scene, it is a lot of people’s reality. People have a credit card for airlines, one for preferred hotel, a card for groceries and every day spend and so on. It becomes a game. I am guilty of this as well. But this method takes some serious discipline. I use credit cards for ALL my purchases but I also never carry a balance. I pay my cards off in full each month to avoid interest. It’s very easy to swipe your card and not monitor spend and all of a sudden have a HUGE bill so I am constantly managing my spend and budget. The approach to planing this trip is for someone who is financially disciplined.
I also have the perk of having a spouse. So this helps when it comes to the card situation. It also helps that he travels a little for work too and can rack up our hotel points. However, even if you don’t travel much you can still benefit from this approach. We are loyal Marriott and Delta travelers but several other air lines offer rewards programs.
Here is how we saved money:
Use miles to upgrade to business class – after traveling to Europe a few times in coach and walking by those amazing pods that lay flat I got jealous. Even though I am short and can curl up in my seat easier than my 6’2 husband, sleeping on a seven hour plane ride is NEVER fun. But Delta let’s you upgrade to business class to Europe for 60,000 miles. However, you can’t buy just a regular seat.
The seat you purchase has to be a certain class fare (Y, B, M, S, H, Q, or K). Most of the time the cheapest flight they show you is not one of these. For example when we were booking our tickets the economy seats were $1,000, Business Class was $3,200. In order to upgrade to Business Class though we needed one of the fares mentioned above. So our tickets were about $1,300 each, a little more then the economy ticket but then it was upgradeable.
I have found that it’s easier to call Delta directly to help book these tickets. Also they only allow a certain amount of seats to be upgraded per flight. Last year we wanted to fly out on a Wednesday but there was only one seat left that was upgradeable so we had to fly out on Thursday instead.
If you don’t have the Delta card they always offer great intro deals. Usually spend $3,000 in your first three months (very easy to do if you use it for all your every day spending) and get anywhere from 30,000 – 50,000 bonus miles so your Business Class seat is right at your fingertips. (check out their cards here). The Delta Platinum card is great too, you get a companion pass once a year and your friend can fly for free (they have to pay the taxes on the ticket). So a $600 flight to Vegas can be $300 for each of you!
Use hotel points-perks for free nights – My husband and I both have a Marriott credit card. This card is great because while there is an annual fee each year, you get a free night every year to cash in. So the free room outweighs the cost of the annual fee. Also the points you rack up on the card are good to cash in for free nights. It depends on how nice the hotel is. Rooms can be anywhere from 7,500-60,000/night depending on where you stay.
In Paris we found a nice hotel that was 40,000 points/night. I also had my free room that was available to use. So we cashed in 160,000 points and the annual free room to get 5 nights in a hotel free. Marriott also always has some kind of intro sign up deal. The most points I have seen (and luckily was when I signed up) was 80,000. That can be three nights free in a hotel depending on where you are staying! Check out their offers here.
Use other cards to exchange points for cash back– In addition to hotel and airlines cards there are some great cards out there for people wanting to save money on traveling. Chase has the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserved card with intro bonuses similar to the cards I mentioned above.
I signed up for the Preferred and my husband singed up for the Reserved. At the time my card offered 50,000 bonus points (which is the equivalent to $500 cash back) and his 100,000 points (ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS cash back!!). His card had a hefty intro free at $450 a year, however they give you a statement credit of $300 back on travel related expenses and if you want to apply for TSA pre-check or Global Entry they reimburse you saving $100 right there making your out of pocket really $50. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
Not only that, if you use your points to book travel through Chase’s travel site your points go further. If you were to buy a room for $100 on your own it would be the equivalent to 10,000 points. But if you book on their site your points are worth 1.5x. So that same $100 room only costs you 6,666 points. I booked one of our nights on their website to get more for my points. I also cashed in several of our points for statement credits (which you will see in my math below).
So if you know you want to take a larger trip and want to start planning give yourself some time to accrue points. For us last year we remodeled our bathrooms so we put all our big expenses on our cards which helped us hit the “spend x in your first three months” quickly. To qualify for the cards good credit is a necessity and the cards have a HIGH interest rate. I DON’T recommend any of the above if you are not planning to pay the cards off monthly or lack discipline to do so. I also do not advise to put yourself in credit card debt to travel. We do not buy anything we couldn’t pay cash for. But if you are disciplined and like to get a “good deal” then enjoy!
If you ever have any questions on travel tips, cards, etc. please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My friend Mindy and I keep kidding around how we really should do this stuff for a living! Happy travels!