Travel Hacking Example: A Ten Night Italian Vacation for Less Than $300? Yes, please.
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This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.  Holly is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly and Frugal Travel Guy. Check out more of her super awesome skills at clubthrifty.com If you’re interested in writing for Vosa contact us here.

A little while back, I wrote a post for VOSA about churning credit cards and travel hacking.

In it, I outlined the fundamentals of pursuing rewards, some pitfalls to avoid, and some general tips to make your pursuit of rewards more successful.

However, I didn’t really offer any specific advice on how you (or anyone) could also travel the world on a shoestring budget. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to create a detailed plan for anyone who wants to travel abroad for peanuts.

In this case, I’ve devised a plan to visit Italy this upcoming fall, leveraging the off-peak season to use as few points and miles as possible.

For starters, this particular plan was created for a household with two point earners, and would work best for a husband and wife but can also work for two travel companions. Let’s begin, shall we?

Spouse / Traveler #1

Sign up for the Citi HHonors Reserve Card which has a minimum spending requirement of $2,500 within the first four months of card membership. The reward: two free weekend nights at select hotels within Hilton’s worldwide portfolio. Annual fee: $95

Sign up for Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card which requires that you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days. The reward: 50,000 bonus points after your first purchase and an additional 35,000 points after you meet your minimum spending requirement. Annual fee: $75

Sign up for the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage MasterCard to earn 50,000 American Airline miles after spending $3,000 within the first 90 days. Annual fee: $95 waived for the first year

Spouse / Traveler #2

Sign up for Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card which requires that you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days. The reward: 50,000 bonus points after your first purchase and an additional 35,000 points after you meet your minimum spending requirement. Annual fee: $75

Sign up for the Barclay Arrival World MasterCard and earn 40,000 miles after spending at least $3,000 on the card within the first 90 days. The reward: $460 in travel credit (40,000 bonus miles plus 2 point per $1 for the minimum spending requirement) that can be applied to flights, train tickets, hotel stays, or travel incidentals. Annual fee: $89 waived for the first year

Sign up for the Citi Platinum Select Aadvantage MasterCard to earn 50,000 American Airline miles after spending $3,000 within the first 90 days. Annual fee: $95 waived for the first year

How This Works

First of all, the total minimum spending requirement for all six of these cards is $16,500.

Obviously you may need to stagger the cards and work on earning each sign-up bonus one at a time. However, keep in mind that the total cost of your trip is primarily the cost of the annual fees for three of the six cards. Your best bet is to earn your miles and points as quickly as possible so that aren’t stuck paying an annual fee on the Barclay Arrival and Citi Aadvantage cards, which waive the annual fee for the first year.

Once you do sign up for and complete the minimum spending requirement on each card, your point balances will be as follows:

  • Almost 200,000 Club Carlson points (85,000 in sign-up bonuses X2 plus 5 points per dollar spent to earn them)
  • 106,000 American Airlines Miles
  • 2 Free Weekend Nights at Select Hilton Hotels
  • $460 in travel credit from Barclay Arrival

Booking Your Flights

So you’ve got 100,000 Aavantage miles to burn, right?

The good news is that round-trip flights to Europe can be booked for as little as 20,000 per leg per guest in the fall, making it easy to find a flight for just a few hundred bucks in taxes and fees. The key is to avoid picking a reward flight to Europe with any leg flown by an airline known for crushing fuel surcharges (like British Airways).

In this case, I chose flights out of my hometown of Indianapolis (you could fly from anywhere though), for early November.

American Airlines

3264

Operated by American Eagle Airlines

Indianapolis (IND)
November 5, 2014 12:25 PMTravel Time : 2 h 15 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
New York (JFK)
November 5, 2014 02:40 PMBooking Code : T
Plane Type : ER4
American Airlines

198

New York (JFK)
November 5, 2014 06:00 PMTravel Time : 8 h 0 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
Milan (MXP)
November 6, 2014 08:00 AMBooking Code : T
Plane Type : 763

 

Flight Depart Arrive
airberlin

AB 8863

Venice (VCE)
November 17, 2014 12:40 PMTravel Time : 1 h 50 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
Dusseldorf (DUS)
November 17, 2014 02:30 PMBooking Code : X
Plane Type : DH4
airberlin

AB 7450

Dusseldorf (DUS)
November 18, 2014 01:05 PMTravel Time : 8 h 30 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
New York (JFK)
November 18, 2014 03:35 PMBooking Code : X
Plane Type : 332
American Airlines

3202

Operated by American Eagle Airlines

New York (JFK)
November 19, 2014 02:30 PMTravel Time : 2 h 20 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
Indianapolis (IND)
November 19, 2014 04:50 PMBooking Code : T
Plane Type : ER4

This particular flight would cost 80,000 American Airlines miles and $135 for two adults as shown below. Pretty sweet, huh?

Examples of Travel Hacking

A roundtrip flight to Italy from Indiana for $135 and 80,000 points

Booking Your Hotels

Club Carlson and Hilton hotels offer accommodations all over the world. For this trip, I’ve chosen the Radisson Blu Hotel in Milan, the Radisson Blu Hotel in Rome, and the Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice. Since your first round of flights has you landing in Milan, we’ll start there.

Since it is considered to be a Category 5 hotel by Club Carlson, a booking at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Milan costs only 44,000 points. However, Club Carlson generously allows the last night “free” for any booking that is at least two nights long. In order to take advantage of this, each spouse needs to book a two-night stay at the Radisson Blu in Milan. Doing so will only use 88,000 points since every other night is free. The worst case scenario is that you might have to switch rooms after the first two nights. Since you’re landing in Milan on the 6th of November, this will give you until the 10th to explore the city and see all that it has to offer.

Just an 8 hour train ride away, you’ll find the Radisson Blu Hotel in Rome. There you’ll stay another four nights (the 10thth-14th of November) seeing all of the ancient awesomeness that is the city of Rome, Italy. You’ll use the same strategy as before, alternating two nights stays using yours and your spouse’s points. And since the Radisson Blu in Rome is also a category 5 hotel, you’ll only use another 88,000 points for your four-night stay.

A train ride from Rome to Venice can be anywhere from 3-6 hours long, and there you’ll find the last hotel on your journey, the Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel. And you’re just in time to use your two free weekend nights on November 14th and 15th.

Paying for Incidentals

This is where the Barclay Arrival travel credit comes in. Because the travel credit can be redeemed for almost any travel-related expense, I would personally use it to buy my train passes and pay the $135 in taxes and fees for my flights. Train passes on ItaliaRail can run as little as $28 each way and provide a great value for those who want to travel within Italy. You could easily pay for those expenses on your Barclay Arrival card and apply for reimbursement after the charges post.

Obviously you’ll spend a lot more than $300 since you’ll need to eat and see the sights while you’re there. However, travel hacking allows you to squeeze the most out of your vacation budget by making your hotel stays and flights as close to free as they can come. Ask anyone you know if they want to see three cities in Italy for less than $300 for their flights and hotel stays. Chances are, they’ll say “yes, please.”

Afterword by Brent

Click here to enter to win 10,000 US Airways Dividend MilesTravel hacking works, plain and simple.

It can it be a great way to travel WAY more than normal without breaking the bank.

If you haven’t started building up your points balances yet I strongly encourage that you do.

While you’re at it, why not enter to win 10,000 AirMiles that I’m giving away for free!

Click here to enter to win 10,000 AirMiles

Kick start your travel hacking away 10,000 miles!

Good luck!

See The List of 15 Things I’ve Sold To Make Money. #12 Had A 600% Return on Investment.
None of these were "big ideas" but I made money from ALL of them and so can you.