Tag Archives: Travel Hacking

Travel Hacking: Round Four

Time goes by fast when you are having fun.  It seems to go by faster when you are having fun travel hacking.  This is my fourth post on travel hacking in 2018.

In Travel Hacking: Round Three, I wrote about the American Express Business Gold Card. This post is a little bit different.  In round four, I am going to cover two cards.  As you will see, there is a special reason for that.

The two cards that I recently hacked are two of the Chase Southwest Airlines cards.  The first card I opened was the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.  The second card was the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.

The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card has a generous sign-on bonus.  This card allows cardholders to earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.  Some other benefits include 6,000 points every year on the card member’s anniversary.  There is a $99 annual fee that will appear on the first billing statement.  Cardholders will earn 2 points for every $1 in spend on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.  Other purchases will allow cardholders to earn 1 point for every $1 in spending.  Please keep in mind that this card cannot be opened if the applicant has exceeded the Chase 5/24 Rule.

The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card also has a great sign on bonus.  The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit card has a sign on bonus of 40,000 points based on spending $1,000 in the first three months.  This card has a $69 annual fee that is applied to the first billing statement.  Additional points are accrued in the same way as the Premier Business Credit Card.  Cardholders who keep this card open for one year will receive 3,000 points on their one year anniversary.

The reason that I opened these two cards together was to earn the sought-after Southwest Airlines Companion Pass.  The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is obtained when a cardholder reaches 110,000 in Rapid Rewards points.  Since I earned 100,000 in sign on bonus points, the other 10,000 had to be earned by way of additional spending.

Many travel reward experts refer to the Southwest Companion Pass as the Holy Grail of Travel Hacking.  This top-level status is the highest tier that a Southwest Rapid Rewards loyalty program member can achieve.  The required spend to reach this status is a challenge for some cardholders.

What makes the Companion Pass so awesome?  The Companion Pass allows cardholders to book an additional ticket for free when they book a flight. The only additional costs that are due are taxes and fees.

There are no limits on the number of flights that a cardholder can use the Companion Pass for.  The Companion Pass is valid for the year that it is earned as well as the following year.  The cardholder can use accrued points to book their flight or pay for their flight.

For me, I travel with my wife.  The Companion Pass is an ideal program for both of us.  We will be using both our points and companion pass in 2019.

In 2019, I have ambitious goals for my travel hacking. My wife and I normally only take one or two vacations per year.  My plan is to get at least three flights out of my 110,000 points and Companion Pass.  That should not be an issue based on the total amount of points that I have.

Our last two big vacations were to Europe.  Next year, I want to stay in the USA and take a trip out to the West Coast.  We were talking about going to California but decided on taking a trip to Seattle, Washington.  We love California, but both of us have been there a few times.  We have never been to Seattle and my wife just binged Gray’s Anatomy, so Seattle it is.  While in Seattle, we are planning on taking a trip to Mount Rainier as well as visiting Victoria, British Columbia. 

The second tip that we are going to take in 2019 will be to South Bend, Indiana in the fall.  Why South Bend, Indiana?  The same reason why most people go to South Bend, Indiana in the fall, to watch a Notre Dame Football game.  I have not decided on what game, but it will most likely be one of their first home games.  Southwest Airlines does not fly into South Bend, Indiana.  We are planning on Flying out of Philadelphia and flying into Chicago, Illinois. South Bend from Chicago is less than a two-hour drive.  We will fly in on Friday and fly home on Sunday morning.

The third trip that I am planning on taking advantage of the Companion Pass is for is to visit Key West for some tarpon fishing.  The only difference is that my wife will not be attending.  A nice feature of the Companion Pass is that it is not limited to one person.  It can be changed up to three times per year.  My friend Tim is going to be accompanying me on this adventure.  We will be flying out of Newark to Miami and will drive to Key West.  Tim was the guy who set-up my blog, so bringing him with me is my thank you gift to him.

Next year is shaping up to be a fun year for traveling.  While traveling is fun, it is even more exciting when you are travel hacking and traveling for free.  If you have a high credit score and are responsible for paying off your balance every month, travel hacking is a great way to travel for free.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my fourth round of travel hacking.  If you want to learn more about travel hacking, keep an eye out for Travel Hacking: Round Five.  It will be published in the next few months.

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Travel Hacking: Round Three

This post is the third post in my new series on Travel Hacking.  In Travel Hacking: Round Two, I was expecting the third round to be about using the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Card.  Life happened and I had to amend those plans.

The change in plans was due to an unexpected expense that recently occurred.  When you own a house, unexpected bills occur.  When you own an older house, they tend to pop up more frequently because things get old, wear out, and break.

These unexpected repairs always seem to occur at inopportune times.  Our most recent major repair came when we returned from vacation.  We came home and noticed that we did not have hot water.

The lack of hot water was due to our oil furnace not working.  It was installed in 1992 and I knew it was on its last leg.  Over the years, I replaced valves that wore out, but I was aware that the boiler was getting old and that I was going to have to buy a new furnace soon.

The benefit of having an emergency fund is to cover unexpected expenses.  Some people debate that, but I am not one to split hairs about when an emergency fund should be used.  In my opinion, if your house does not have heat or hot water, that is an emergency. 

The cost to replace my furnace was $6,300.  Talk about tossing six grand out the window.  The benefit of my new furnace is that it is more efficient.  I swapped out a 150 BTU furnace for a smaller 118 BTU furnace.  I live in a rural area, so switching to a lower cost heating option like natural gas is not available. 

The cash for the repair was sitting in the bank.  There was not any panic about this repair.  I just did not want to spend that much money without being rewarded. 

The next set of credit cards that I was planning on using were the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.  Those two cards are set-up for all of my household bills.  It is forecasted that I will have enough points to earn the sought-after companion pass soon.

Since I had this large unexpected bill, I wanted to pay for it on a premium credit card.  This single purchase was large enough to cover more than the required three month’s worth of spending to qualify for bonus points on a top card.  Most of these premium cards reward bonus points are earned when a new cardholder spends $5,000 in three months.  I was more than covered.

Another aspect that I had to consider was that I am following a plan similar to the Chase Gauntlet that was made popular by the guys over at the ChooseFI Podcast.  As part of the Chase Gauntlet, the Chase 5/24 rule is a major aspect.  The Chase 5/24 rule restricts people from opening fewer than 5 credit cards in the past 24 months.

The way that I was able to open another card that did not apply to the Chase 5/24 rule was to open a business card.  I was able to open a business card because of this blog.  It was created as a business.

The business card that I decided to open was the American Express Business Gold Card.  This card had a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year and then $175 per year after that.  The welcome offer was 50,000 points with $5,000 of qualifying spend in 3-months (I had more than that with one purchase).

The American Express Business Gold Card had impressive featured benefits.  Cardholders have many options to earn 3X points.  3X points can be earned when flights are purchased directly from airlines, on advertising with select media, at U.S. gas stations, U.S. purchases for shipping, and other business expenses including U.S. computer-based purchases from specific providers. 1X points are earned on every other purchase.

Premium Roadside Assistance is a great benefit for cardholders.  I will not have to renew my AAA membership this year ($100 in my pocket).  The American Express Business Gold Card offers roadside assistance in case of a breakdown or flat time.  They will pay for emergency services up to four times per year.  They will even come to your home if it is for a jumpstart or flat time.

This card includes some nice travel benefits.  It includes car rental and damage insurance.  You can receive baggage insurance.  Travel insurance is a benefit.  There is also a Global Assist Hotline that provides medical, legal, financial, and other emergency assistance services when a cardholder travels more than 100 miles from home.

The American Express Business Gold Card offers shopping benefits.  Cardholders can shop with confidence when they use this credit card.  Some benefits shoppers receive are extended warranties on eligible purchases, purchase protection, return protection, and entertainment access for presale tickets.

While all of those benefits are nice, the main reason that I signed up for the card was to earn points.  How much are those 50,000 points worth?  According to the Points Guy, they are worth about $950 in travel rewards.  Those points will come in handy when it is time to book next year’s vacation. 

As a personal finance blogger, I enjoy saving money and building wealth more than spending money.  When I do spend money, I like to do so on things that I enjoy.  While I do enjoy hot showers and a warm house in winter, buying a furnace is not an enjoyable purchase.  Being able to score over $900 in points reduced the pain of having to replace my furnace.

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Visiting the Emerald Isle

In July, my wife and I went to Ireland on vacation.  It was our first time in Ireland.  Last summer, we went to London on vacation.  We tried to combine England and Ireland into one trip but decided against it.  We wanted more time to explore both countries on separate trips. We had a wonderful time on our Ireland vacation.

Naturally, I was excited about going to visit Ireland.  What made the trip a little more exciting was that it was my first attempt at travel hacking.  We were able to fly to Dublin from Newark, New Jersey for free.

Hotel

While in Dublin, we stayed at the Albany House located on Harcourt Street.  This hotel came recommended by a friend of mine who stayed there while traveling in the past.  The hotel itself was fine.  The rooms were clean and spacious.  The staff was friendly.  Every morning, the hotel provided a traditional European continental breakfast including toast, cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee or tea.

The hotel was located a block away from St Stephen’s Green.  St Stephen’s Green is a lovely park.  It is located in the heart of the financial district.  Every afternoon, the park was filled with employees from KPMG and Indeed.  They are truly fortunate to be able to take their lunch break in such a nice park.

The complaint that I have about the hotel is not the fault of the Albany House.  Across the street from the hotel is a nightclub.  Every night, from 11 pm until 5 am there was loud screaming, fighting, and broken glass?  As the result of that racket, we did not have one decent night of sound sleep.

Touring

This trip was not booked as a group tour.  We do not enjoy traveling with large groups of people.  My wife and I like to be free to plan our days and not be rushed when we travel.

However, the benefit of touring is that you have a guide to show you all of the major attractions.  For this trip, we planned 3 separate day trips with a tour company. We also had 4 days to explore the city independently.

The company that we used for our three days of touring was Paddy Wagon Tours.  They are the biggest touring company in Ireland.  The cost of the tours was reasonable.  The Tour Guides were knowledgeable and truly entertaining.  We had a great time learning about the history of Ireland and laughing at their jokes.  They were all wonderful.

The Cliffs of Moher

The first trip that we took was to The Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs of Moher is located on the west coast of Ireland.  When we arrived at the Cliffs, it was cloudy, but we were able to see them and get a few nice photos.  After we were there for about 20 minutes, the fog rolled in.  Because of the fog, the cliffs were no longer visible.  We are grateful that we were able to enjoy the scenery before the weather changed.

Northern Ireland  

Our second tour was to Northern Ireland.  Like most people who grew up in the 1980’s, when I think of Northern Ireland, I think about The Troubles.  There has been a period of peace in Northern Ireland since 1998.  Since the Brexit decision, tensions have been elevated in Northern Ireland.  The night before our tour there was a small political scuffle that included throwing Molotov Cocktails.

While it was scary, Belfast seemed like a nice city.  We actually toured the neighborhoods where much of the past troubles took place.  The tour guide took us to see the Bobby Sands Memorial.  Just two blocks from the Bobby Sands Memorial sands the Peace Lines that separate the Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighborhoods.

The second stop in Northern Ireland was at The Dark Hedges.  For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, The Dark Hedges was featured in the second season.  I am a Game of Thrones fan and honestly, do not remember The Dark Hedges.  I am going to have to re-watch the series and keep my eye out for them.

Following lunch, we went to see Giant’s Causeway and the North Atlantic Coast.  Both were truly breathtaking.  The views were panoramic and unlike any coastline that I have ever been to in the past.  It will be unfortunate if these tours are no longer available in the future because of the hard border that will most likely be put in place after Brexit officially goes into effect.

Blarney Castle & Cork

Our third and final tour was to Blarney Castle and Cork.  Prior to taking this trip, my friends and colleagues kept asking me if I was going to kiss the Blarney Stone.  I said no because I do not like high places and because I heard that the locals pee on it.

My wife, on the other hand, was all about kissing the Blarney Stone.  Prior to us climbing to the top of the castle, the tour guide reiterated that the locals do not pee on the Blarney Stone and that it is cleaned throughout the day.  Even though I did watch the workers clean it, I still was not going to kiss it based on the height.

Our last stop on our final tour was to visit Cork.  We only had two hours to take in the city.  Next time, we visit Ireland, we might consider staying in Cork for a few days. It seems like another wonderful city, but we just did not have enough time to take much of it in.  Plus, at this point we were tired.

Dublin

We spent the rest of our vacation in Dublin.  The remaining days were spent leisurely walking around the city and taking in all of the major attractions.  Dublin is a nice city for walking because it is mostly flat.  It was a good thing that we brought comfortable trainers because we walked about 10 miles per day.  Some of the major attractions that we took in were Trinity University and the Book of Kells.  We went to St Patrick’s Cathedral.  We also simply enjoyed seeing some of the historic monuments including Molly Malone, Spire of Dublin, and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

Conclusion

My wife and I had a great time visiting Ireland.  I was in need of a vacation.  I have been busy at work and this blog takes up the rest of my mental energy.

We were only in Ireland for seven days and were able to cover a good portion of the country.  We would have liked to visit Galway but ran out of time.  Next time we visit we might spend half the trip in Cork and the remainder of our time in Galway.

I highly recommend taking a trip to Ireland.  It is a lush county that is full of rich history.  It might not be for a few years because we are planning on visiting other locations, but we will defiantly be back to see the rest of the Emerald Isle.

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Travel Hacking: Round Two

Travel hacking is a great way to travel for free.  Travel Hacking is the practice of opening premium rewards credit cards to capture the generous initial bonus points that these credit cards offer to new cardholders.  The hack is based on getting the bonus points, closing the card before the annual fee is due, and never paying interest or carrying a monthly balance.

I first learned about travel hacking from reading The Millionaire Educator.  It sounded interesting.  It was not until I attended a Rockstar Finance Meet-Up in New York City that I really got turned on to this practice of traveling for free.

In my post Travel Hacking: Round One, I wrote about my first experience with Travel Hacking.  The first card that my wife and I opened was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  We used the bonus points from this card to buy two round-trip tickets from Newark, NJ to Dublin, Ireland.

As the result of my first experience, I have decided that travel hacking will be a major part of my financial plan.  My wife and I take at least two vacations per year.  Even though I am frugal, we still have the monthly household spending to earn enough points to pay for two trips per year.

The second card that I opened was the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  Unlike the Chase Sapphire, the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card is a business card.  In order to qualify, having a small business like a blog or an Etsy store would qualify.  For sole proprietors who do not have a tax id, they could use their Social Security number when signing up for business credit cards.

Another benefit that the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card offers is that it does not count against the  Chase 5/24 rule that Chase has for opening new cards.  Chase only allows individuals to open 5 cards in a 24 month period from any issuing bank, you will not be approved for new Chase credit card.  That also applies for anyone who is an authorized user.  Since it is a business card, it is not counted as being part of the 5/24 rule.

The Chase Preferred Ink Business card offers a very rich benefits program.  After the cardholder spends $5,000 in 3 months, they receive 80,000 bonus points.  When you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 80,000 points are equal to about $1,000 towards travel.

When you open the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card, there is a $95 annual fee.  Unlike the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, that fee is not waved for the first year.  Based on the value of those 80,000 travel points, it is easy to justify the $95 for one year.

On additional spend, cardholders earn 3 points for every $1 in spending.  The 3 points for every $1 in money spent is good for up to the first $150,000 charged.  After that, cardholders earn 1 point for every $1 in spending.

My wife and I used this card for all of our monthly expenses.  We try to put all of our monthly reoccurring bills on the card.  We also use it when we go out to eat at a restaurant or fill up our car at the gas station.  It took us two months to reach the $5,000 in spend to equal the 80,000 points.

So, how did we use these points?  My wife’s birthday is in December.  She does not know it, but I booked a Western Caribbean Cruise.  While going on a cruise is exciting by itself, this cruise departs on December 23rd.  What makes that exciting is that winter is in full swing in Pennsylvania at that point, so we will even appreciate the cruise more.

I wish that I was able to report that I was able to book the cruise for free.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Hopefully, I will be able to share a post about taking a free cruise with you in the future.  I have not reached that level of travel hacking success yet.

What I did apply the points towards was our flight.  I have never booked a flight from Pennsylvania to Florida in December.  When I went to book this trip, I was shocked to find out how inflated the prices are this time of year.  After giving it a little bit of thought, it makes sense due to the holiday traffic and snowbirds who are flying south for winter.

The normal cost for a ticket from the Scranton International Airport to Tampa is around $300.  This flight cost $625 per person.  Our flight to Ireland was less expensive.

The total amount of points that were required to cover our two tickets were 112,000 in Chase Points.  At this point, I had 88,000 in chase points from the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  My wife and I also had 30,000 in points from our spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  By combining the points from the two cards we were able to cover the airfare.

With the remainder of our points, we booked our hotel.  The cruise departs on Sunday, December 23.  We are flying down the day before.  I was surprised, but we were able to pay for one night at a 3-star hotel for only 6,000 points.  That was the only value that I have found so far on this trip.

Even though the flight was expensive, it ended up being free for us since we took advantage of our points from the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  Otherwise, we would have had to shell out over $1,200 for a 3-hour flight from Pennsylvania to Tampa, Florida.  It might seem expensive, but I am sure that I will be happy to be cruising the Western Caribbean instead of dealing with at best a wintery mix at home in Pennsylvania.

I am excited about the money that I will be saving on travel as the result of travel hacking.  Even though it sounds fun, be warned that travel hacking is not for everyone.  Travel hacking is only for those who are ridged and hyper-focused when it comes to managing their personal finances.

If you struggle with paying off your credit card bills every month, travel hacking is not for you.  If you do not have enough in normal monthly spend, travel hacking is not for you.  If you have to try to generate artificial spend to try to earn points, travel hacking is not for you.

Please keep your eye out for my next post in this series on travel hacking.  The next post will be about the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card.  I look forward to sharing about how I am getting free flights and to share with you about where we are planning on visiting next.

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Travel Hacking: Round One

Until recently, I have never tried travel hacking.  As a member of the financial independence community, I have not looked favorably at credit cards.  I saw them as a way for undisciplined people to spend more than they earn.  In my opinion, I saw them as tools that banks use to hack high fees and interest payments out of people who have fallen victim to materialism.

My view on credit was to only borrow when it was a must and to pay it back as quickly as possible.  Since I started working full-time, I only used credit when I needed it.  However, I knew that having a high credit score was important.

My wife and I both have high credit scores but have not borrowed much.  I once had a car loan that I paid off in my early 20’s.  When I went to college, I paid cash for my first two years and took out student loans for my Junior and Senior years.  My wife and I also took out a home equity loan to remodel our house.  That is currently our only debt.

For years, my wife and I only had one credit card.  We used it for travel, shopping on Amazon, and for other purchases when a credit card was more convenient than cash.  We have always just used a basic bank card that paid 1% cash back.

I did not know if 1% was good or not.  I was more interested in using the card when it was required and just paid off the balance every month.  At the end of the year, I would get $500 back and just use the rewards money for holiday bills.

The focus of my personal finance management and writing has been saving and investing.  My approach has been to focus on career growth, saving as much as possible, and capture average market returns by investing in index funds.  Hacking has not been on my radar.

Over the past year, I have started reading more and more blogs about people who are taking two or more vacations per year for free.  Since some of the most trusted bloggers promote it, I decided to read more about it.  It was not until I attended a meet-up in New York City where a group of bloggers from Rockstar Finance got together.  At this event, I got turned on to travel hacking and decided to give it a shot.

The idea of taking a vacation or two per year for free excited me.  We travel anyway, so why not enjoy our trips for free.  I started to do some research.  I also took the Travel Miles 101 online course.  Travel Miles 101 is a comprehensive course that explains all that a person needs to start travel hacking.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about travel hacking.

After taking the travel miles 101 class and reading many other blogs, the consensus card to start with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year.  The annual fee after that is $95 per year, but as part of the hack, you set it up to never pay that fee.

So, what do you get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card?  If you spend $4,000 in 3 months, you earn 50,000 bonus points.  Those 50,000 bonus points add up to some nice rewards. The redemption value is worth $625 in airfare, $625 towards hotels, or $300 in cash.

There are other nice benefits With the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  A cardholder will receive 2X points on travel purchases.  When you dine out, a cardholder receives 2X points on restaurant purchases worldwide.  Every other purchase equals 1 point per $1 spent.

Based on all of the suggestions, I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.   In order to hit the target of $4,000 to earn the points, I set up all of our monthly household bills to be charged to this card. Since it was November, it did not take long to hit the $4,000 with all of the extra holiday spending.

After I reached the $4,000, my wife opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  We followed the same plan and used the card for all of our bills and spending.  It took us less than two months for us to hit $4,000 on her card.

Now for the fun stuff.  It was time to redeem our points.  We decided that we wanted to visit Dublin, Ireland this summer.  To redeem the points, there is a portal to access the travel section on the Chase Dashboard.  It is as easy as booking a flight on any other travel website.

We decided to fly out of Philadelphia (PHL) and wanted a non-stop flight.  Based on the value of our points, these tickets were going to only cost us about $150 in out of pocket expenses.  Before we booked our flight, I decided to check if there was a cheaper flight out of the Newark Airport (EWR).  I typed in our travel dates and a round-trip ticket from Newark to Dublin on Air Lingus was only $605 per ticket.  We booked our flights and had points to spare.  It was that easy.

I do not know if travel hacking is for everyone.  If you are not good at paying your bills every month, travel hacking might not be for you.  If you end up with a balance and have to pay the high interest, the credit card company is actually hacking you.  You also need to have the required spend to earn the points.  If you do not spend enough to qualify, you should not just spend money you otherwise would not spend to just earn points.

Does travel hacking hurt your credit score?  I have only opened two cards, so I do not have any personal evidence to share with you.  Based on many other blogs, there is minimal change and most credit scores increase over time.  The most important thing is paying your balance every month.

If you are responsible for paying your monthly bills and enjoy traveling, you should look into travel hacking.  Travel hacking also requires a person to be structured and to know when to close a card before the annual fees will be charged.  There are many great travel websites and points tracking tools like awards wallet to make the process easier.

I hope you found this post useful.  Moving forward, I will share our experience with every new card we open and hack.  Please keep your eye out for round two in the next few months.

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