How I Flew Around the World—and Paid Practically Nothing

My wife and I got married in 2016 and decided that 2017 would be our year of travel and adventure—so much so that my wife briefly went into negative vacation time at work! We traveled to Nashville, Maui, Vail, Munich, The French Riviera, and Key West. The travel was almost entirely covered between both of our points and vouchers for being flexible travelers.  Here was our strategy for implementing this cost-effective approach:

1.) Sign up for credit cards that offer large signup bonuses. They usually have a minimum spend, so we made sure to put as many purchases as possible on them. You can pay electric bills, doctor bills, phone bills, and sometimes even your mortgage on a credit card. Once we hit the minimum spend, we moved to the next one.

Note of caution: If you are not paying the cards off each month or spending a lot more than you normally would, you won’t be any further ahead and shouldn’t use this strategy. There are annual fees on most of the cards, but many give you perks like travel credits, hotel status, Global Entry, and car/phone insurance. Many times the fees justify keeping them open.

You will need a great credit score and shouldn’t try this until you are free of credit card debt. Be careful if you are in the process of a large purchase like a home or car. A hard credit pull will impact your credit, but it should revert back. I use Credit Karma to monitor my credit. I’m sharing my experience and this is not intended to be financial advice.

Our Ritz Carlton credit cards gave us 3 free nights each. Ritz Kapalua in Maui was wonderful, and they had the best burgers and milkshakes on the beach! And Alaskan Airlines business and personal cards gave us enough miles for free flights to Hawaii from Detroit as well as extra miles to boot.

Chase Sapphire Reserve allowed us each to go to Germany and France with one 100,000 miles awarded at sign up. We were able to transfer the points to Air France and fly for only 50,000 miles each. We then used the additional 100,000 miles (worth $1500 towards travel) to stay at some amazing hotels.

The Platinum Delta cards were 70,000 points each, which was enough for us each to go to Colorado, Florida, and Nashville.

We signed up for the Chase Ink business and got 80,000 points that can be transferred to many travel partners or for use on their travel portal (worth about $1000 for each bonus).

The Chase Hyatt gave us each 2 free nights, which we used for Beaver Creek and Paris ($1000+/night hotels).

We stayed at some amazing hotels including The Hyatt Place Vendome in Paris, where we were even upgraded to a suite. We also spent time at Chateau de Messidiere in Saint Tropez (my personal favorite), The Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, The Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, and the JW Marriott in Cannes in a huge suite overlooking the water.

2.) We took advantage of layovers. We were able to each score a $2500 voucher from Delta for waiting an extra 2 hours to go to France. The bags didn’t make it on time but it was still worth it!

3.) We signed up for a timeshare offer in Maui. Because we have the Hyatt credit cards, we also have status and that comes with exclusive offers. We were able to stay at the Hyatt Residence Club in Maui in a 10th floor, 1300 square foot, 2 bedroom/2 bath condo for 5 nights that overlooked the Pacific for only $1700. We had friends come with us as well, so we split the cost, equaling only $850 for 5 nights! We did have to attend a 1-hour timeshare presentation but it was painless and actually quite pleasant.

4.) We used our Chase Ink cards to book rental cars. Not only were we able to use the points, it also comes with complimentary international rental car coverage. The cost to have insurance abroad can be ridiculous, so the Chase card covering it was very nice. We also enjoyed a Mustang convertible in Hawaii!

5.) We used our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards at restaurants. This allowed us to earn 3 points per dollar spent. We also paid no foreign transaction fees and didn’t have to worry about fraud, especially in foreign countries.

Have you used any of these strategies?  Or do you have any great tips of your own?  I’d love to hear about it!

By Harrison Kennard, CFP®