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HNRE blog series | Travel Hacking

HNRE blog series | Travel Hacking

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For our last entry into HNRE’s family financial tenets, we’re going to cover Travel Hacking. We’re still fairly new to this world but we’ve already accumulated many credit cards and bonuses that have saved us a TON of money.

As we’ve explained on our About Us page, we have two daughters and we love to travel with them as a family. The memories we’ve created, and will continue to create, will truly last us a lifetime. It’s important to us that we keep taking family trips together. However, traveling is an expensive hobby and it doesn’t fit easily into the FIRE mindset.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone with legitimate FIRE plans can travel as a family without hacking the hell out of credit card bonuses. I guess there is one caveat to that, the family who has at least one person that travels a lot for business. Alas, that is not us.

Therefore, to make vacations more affordable, we’ve turned to travel hacking. You might have seen our most recent credit card hack for the Marriott Rewards Premier card from Chase. This card is helping us pay for a 3 night stay in NYC this summer.

This isn’t our biggest credit card hack to date though, that honor belongs to our Southwest Companion Passes. Thanks to BOGO airfare from Southwest, we received over $6700 in value in from mid 2015 through the end of 2016. Find out more about How We Get Free Airfare in our May blog post.

Our Southwest Chase Premier and Plus cards have earned us free Companion Pass airfare to each of the following cities:

  • Orlando
  • New York City
  • San Diego
  • Cancun
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Denver
  • New Orleans
  • San Francisco

Yes, we’ve kind of overdone it a bit. We totally blew our budget as described in September’s blog entry, “Free Flights are Killing Our Budget.” And guess what? We still hit up San Francisco the week before New Years just to get that last set of free tickets.

So our Chase Southwest cards and the resulting Companion Passes have been the biggest hack by far. However, it is by no means our only hack that has brought substantial savings. Check out our list of hacks below that have come in just the last 18 months.

NOTE: As always, we don’t consider interest rates as we pay off all of our credit cards every month. Please do so as well!

Capital One Venture

What’s the hack?
2 points for every $1 spent. Points can be applied to any travel expense.

What was the bonus?
40,000 points after $3000 spend in the first 3 months – $400 value

How did we use our bonus?
We’re still using these points. I really like this card because I don’t always want to be married to a specific hotel brand or airline. This cards allows us the flexibility to travel how we want and still use the points to “erase” the charges. Most recently we erased all of our Uber charges from the last 6 months!

Chase Southwest Plus and Premier cards

What’s the hack?
The 50,000 point bonus is the only hack here. Unless you’re buying airfare on or using the Rapid Rewards shopping portal, you only get 1 point per dollar spent.

What was the bonus?
50,000 points after $2000 spend in the first 3 months

How did we use our bonus?
Mrs. HackNow and I both applied for and received 2 Chase Southwest credit cards, each with a 50,000 point bonus. Over the course of a few months we were able to meet the spending requirements and ended up with 106,000 points each. Once we hit that we only had 4,000 more miles to go to earn our Companion Passes.

With my calculation based on a point value of 70 points per dollar, we’ve saved over $6700 across 14 roundtrip flights. Can you believe it? What a wonderful opportunity to travel on the cheap. And just think, if we really had the wherewithal we could’ve spent many more thousands by traveling every weekend.

Hilton Hhonors Surpass Amex

What’s the hack?
The 60,000 point bonus (now 75,000 points!) is the hack here as well as complimentary Hhonors Gold status which is a great bonus – free breakfast, free wifi, and 25% more points for all stays.

What was the bonus?
75,000 points after $3000 spend in the first 3 months – $375 value

How did we use our bonus?
We’ve been Hilton Hhonors members for years so this bonus really just added to our growing stockpile. My dream is to use all of these miles to travel with the Mrs. to the Conrad Bora Bora but it might get spent on a family trip to Hawaii in 2018 instead. We’ll see how things go. As of today, we have 320,000 Hhonors points!

Photo credit

Citi Hilton Hhonors Visa Signature

What’s the hack?
The 75,000 point bonus is the hack here. Also earn 6 Hhonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within Hilton Portfolio, 3 Hhonors Bonus Points per $1 spent at supermarkets, drugstores & gas stations, and 2 Hhonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on other purchases.

What was the bonus?
75,000 (now 40,000) points after $2000 (now $1000) spend in the first 4 months – $375 value

How did we use our bonus?
Same as above, we’re stockpiling these points for a future, grand vacation.

Amex Gold Delta Skymiles

What’s the hack?
Get 2 miles for every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta, 1 mile for all other purchases. Priority boarding. First checked bag free.

What was the bonus?
60,000 (now 50,000) points after $1000 (now $2000) spend in the first 3 months – $720 value

How did we use our bonus?
I went ahead and signed up for 2 of these cards (one for me and one for Mrs. HackNow) knowing that our Southwest Companion Passes would be ending in 2016. Basically, we now have plenty of Delta points to fly this year or maybe save them for that Hawaii or Bora Bora trip. Either way, we have the flexibility without busting our budget.

NOTE: We plan to cancel this card or Mrs. HackNow’s card below prior to the annual renewal date to avoid the annual fee. We’ll keep one open so we can continue to take advantage of priority boarding and the first checked bag free.

Marriott Rewards Premier

What’s the hack?
80,000 Marriott Rewards points and a free night stay annually. Earn 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott. 2 points per dollar spent on airfare, car rentals, and restaurants. 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Plus guaranteed Elite status.

What was the bonus?
80,000 points after $3000 spend in the first 3 months – $720 value

How did we use our bonus?
We’re still earning this one but as described in New Credit Card Hack: Marriott Rewards Premier, the points are already earmarked for our next trip to NYC (the place to be – I always say that in my head after saying/typing “NYC”). Even though these are Marriott points, we’re able to take advantage of the Marriott bonus to book a Starwood (Sheraton) hotel thanks to the 3-to-1 conversion rate.

As mentioned above, travel hacking is a great way to save money but you must be responsible with your credit cards. Not only do you need good to great credit in order to qualify for many of these cards, but you also need to be disciplined about paying off your balances each month. If not, you’ll get hit with interest fees which will cut into the travel savings that you’re working to build.

With that said, you can truly save thousands of dollars a year by travel hacking. I recommend it highly as it’s brought opportunities to our family that we never would have had without it.

Please comment below with any questions on how we use our hacked cards and points. Happy traveling!

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2 thoughts on “HNRE blog series | Travel Hacking

  1. Hey there. I followed you here from the Rockstar Forum. Nice to check out your site. Thanks for the cc travel tips. We are looking more into this now. I always like to see ‘real’ examples and I appreciate you including details about the point conversions. It’s so confusing. Cheers!

    1. Mrs.Need2Save,
      Thanks so much for popping by! And yes, I agree, it does get confusing. Like I mentioned in the post, we’ve only been doing it for about 18 months and have made our share of mistakes along the way. But we’ve saved thousands of dollars as well. I’m almost to the point that I won’t travel unless I’m getting some semblance of free airefare or hotel nights!

      Thanks for the comments. Talk to you soon.

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