What is Travel Hacking Using Credit Card Points?

If you asked me this question not that long ago, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.  Travel Hacking?  What's to hack?  You get on Kayak or CheapOair, search for flights, filter results until you get a low enough price that still gets you flights that you...

Travel Hacking Credit Cards Saved Us $12,203

We knew 2020 would be an epic year for our family vacations because we wanted to kick off international travel. Add to that a desire to hit up Aulani in Hawaii and the potential cost became unmanageable. Luckily, through travel hacking credit cards, we were able to...
Travel Hacking Credit Cards Saved Us $12,203

Travel Hacking Credit Cards Saved Us $12,203

We knew 2020 would be an epic year for our family vacations because we wanted to kick off international travel. Add to that a desire to hit up Aulani in Hawaii and the potential cost became unmanageable. Luckily, through travel hacking credit cards, we were able to book both vacations and save $12,203.76 while doing it! This is a guide to how we did it, what credit cards we used, and the trips to Hawaii and Europe we are going on this year. Full disclosure: We only recommend the cards we personally use. If you choose to use any of the credit card links below to sign up, we will get a miles bonus as well.

Travel Hacking Credit Cards

If you are unfamiliar with what travel hacking is, check out our post, What is Travel Hacking, or our podcast on Travel Hacking 101. Essentially, it is signing up for credit card offers that will give you large sign up bonuses in exchange for hitting a minimum spend requirement (minimum dollar amount charged within a specified time frame). Sure, there are ways to save money on vacations without signing up for cards. However, travel hacking credit cards are by far the best way that we have found to do it.

I need to explain a couple of things before we get started, though. First, our redemptions below are not the best value that we could have gotten. However, we have kiddos in school and need to travel during breaks. Since these times are popular times to travel, you don’t get the best deals on miles and points (I will use these two words interchangeably) redemptions. Second, you do get miles from buying things on these credit cards, but you get the most points from sign up bonuses. Since you only get these bonuses once, we opened a lot of different cards to get as many bonuses as possible. This means we had to spread our travel around to different airlines to use as many miles as possible.

Okay, let’s do this…

Our 2020 Travel Plans

We are taking two epic trips this year that we needed to save as much money on as possible (because they ain’t cheap, people!!). These are the two vacations we are using points for:

  • Disneyland and Aulani – Spring Break (March) 2020
    • We are spending a day and a half at Disneyland to start this trip. The boys have never been, so we thought it would be fun to show them the two parks.
    • We will then fly to Honolulu and spend six nights at Aulani in a one-bedroom villa
  • Disney Mediterranean Cruise and Europe – June 2020
    • We fly to Barcelona and spend one night exploring
    • Boarding the Disney Magic, we sail around the Mediterranean Sea for seven nights
    • After disembarking in Rome, we spend one night before flying to London
    • Ending this amazing trip, we will spend two nights in London and four nights in Paris

There are four of us, which makes getting expensive flights that much more expensive, whether you’re using miles or cash. Luckily, we really don’t have that problem with accommodations. Here is the breakdown:

Hawaii – Saving Money With Credit Card Points

Flights

  • I booked four one-way flights from Tulsa to Los Angeles for 103,776 Citi Thank You Points, valued at $1,297.20.
    • We did this by Leslie and I both signing up for Citi Premier Master Cards
    • This credit card currently has a $95 annual fee and a sign up bonus of 60k points with $4k spend/3 months
  • I then booked four multi-city tickets from Los Angeles to Honolulu and from Honolulu back to Tulsa six days later. For this I used 242,440 American Express Points plus $1,602.93 in cash, valued at $4,641.20.
    • We did this with three AMEX credit cards
    • I signed up for the American Express Platinum Card
      • This credit card currently has a $550 annual fee and a sign up bonus of 60k points with $5k spend/3 months, but you might be offered 75k points if you use this link. There are additional perks to this card like access for you and two guests to the AMAZING Centurion Lounges. I value this at $300 for this trip, since we will eat our meals in two different airports here.
    • Leslie and I both signed up for an American Express Gold Card
      • This credit card currently has a $250 annual fee and a sign up bonus of 35k points with $4k spend/3 months, but you might be offered 50k points if you use this link.

Accommodations

  • We are staying in Anaheim across from Disneyland the first night at the Hilton using a free weekend night that came from one of our Hilton Honors Aspire Cards, valued at $193.17.
    • We both signed up for this one – this is my favorite card right now
    • This credit card currently has a $450 annual fee and a sign up bonus of 150k points with $4k spend/3 months (there are additional perks like the free weekend night)
  • We are using DVC points for the rest of our nights, but that is a topic for a different post.

Europe – Saving Money With Credit Card Points

Flights

  • Having never booked internationaI flights using points before, I wanted to take care of that first. This was early on in the beginning stages of signing up for credit cards (before booking Hawaii) and I was anxious to use points and secure those flights as quickly as possible.
  • So, in order to pool as many points as I could, I transferred 96,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points and 84,300 Capital One Venture Rewards Points to KLM (Air France). I got a transfer bonus for doing this and booked four open jaw tickets. These were from New York City to Barcelona and then from Paris back to NYC two weeks later, valued at $3,612.40. Note – I did have to pay $949.40 in fees, so it probably wasn’t the best redemption.
  • I then booked four round trip tickets from Tulsa to New York City at both ends of the trip. This used 175,000 American Airlines Miles plus $171.77 in cash, valued at $2,019.96.
    • We did this with three American Airlines partner credit cards.
    • I signed up for the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which currently gets has a $99 annual fee and a sign up bonus of 60k miles when you pay it and make one purchase in 3 months!
    • Leslie and I both signed up for a Citi AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard.
      • This credit card currently has a $99 annual fee (waived for the first year) and a sign up bonus of 50k points with $2.5k spend/3 months

Accommodations

  • We used a ton of the American Express Aspire points and benefits for this trip, including:
    • 80k points to stay at a Doubletree in Times Square, valued at $359.23
    • 281k points to stay in a two-bedroom suite at a Doubletree in London, England, valued at $983.10
    • A free weekend night at the Hampton Inn at LaGuardia Airport for our return trip home, valued at $294.21
  • I also signed up for a Barclaycard Arrival Plus. This is the other one of my favorite cards, but unfortunately is no longer available. This card reimburses travel expenses you put on the card. So, we reimbursed the following:
    • One night in Rome, valued at $260.25
    • Four nights at an Airbnb in Paris, valued at $670.00

Conclusion

Now, you’ll notice that I didn’t include any annual fees in my savings of over $12k on the two trips. I did this intentionally. While we have paid $2,627.00 in annual fees for all of these points, this is offset by benefits not included above. I did not include over $3,000 in unused miles, airline credits, companion passes, global entry credits, etc. In the interest of brevity, I’m calling this a wash.

So, there it is, how travel hacking credit cards saved us $12,203. We are looking forward to these trips so much! Please let us know if you have any questions. As always, you can follow along on our journeys with our Podcast or on our YouTube channel.

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