How To Travel For Free: 4 Cities in 8 Days

How To Travel For Free: 4 Cities in 8 Days

Welcome to another episode of “How To Travel For Free” (or at least, that’s what I’m calling it now). This is where I help people travel without having to pay out of pocket for any of the hotel or airline expenses. My goal is always for them to be on a budget 1st, then take advantage of their awesome budgeting discipline and apply it to credit card churning for travel rewards. Let’s see what we have in the mailbag today.

Hi!  I’ve been a big fan of the blog since I started reading earlier this year, and I love how you take reader’s scenarios and give advice.  I have a question for you about credit card rewards.  I’m just starting to get into the credit card churning game (after paying off all my consumer debt, yay!) and I am planning a trip for summer 2014 that I would like to pay for completely with rewards.  I’ve been going over and over this in my head and I know I can make it work, but being so new at this, I am wondering what you would do.  Here’s my current set-up and plans:

Plans

3 nights in San Francisco
3 nights in Los Angeles
2 nights in Las Vegas – I already have hotel arrangements that will likely only cost me about $25 a night, so I only need to budget $50 for this.

Flying out of Seattle – My initial thoughts are that it would be cheaper, easier, and less time intensive to fly to each of these locations rather than rent a car and drive.  I’d be flying back to Seattle from Las Vegas.

I may also need to rent a car in Los Angeles while I’m there. 

Rewards Cards

I currently have the following rewards cards, but have not cashed in on the points:

Citi Thank You Preferred – 26,680 points
Chase Sapphire – 44,368 points
Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard (<-affiliate link) – I anticipate having around 47,500 points by the time I reach the spending minimum to get the bonus. 

I’m open to getting new cards in a few months once I’ve met the minimum to get the Barclay bonus, but I realistically only put about $500 on my credit cards each month and I don’t have any large purchases coming up, so I have to keep that in mind.  I may be able to meet the $2000 in 90 day spend minimums, it just depends. 

So, how do I make this work?  What points should I use for flights or for hotels?  Where do I stay?!  So many variables! 

Thanks for your input!
Ashley

This Is Going To Be Awesome

Ashley, thanks for reaching out. I love coming up with creative and FREE solutions to getting you where you want to go, and I think I have a plan that is going to ROCK this vacation with VERY little out of pocket.

First, I want to recap your flight plan:

Flight Plan 1

It sounds like you’re going to explore the best of the West Coast, and I don’t blame you. Some beautiful cities to check out, and you get a few days to have fun in each. First, let’s start with how you’re going to get there (and back) on miles.

Free Flights: Chase British Airways Visa Signature

The British Airways card is my #3 card of my favorite rewards credit cards. They offer a VERY generous sign up bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of opening the account. Not that I care for British Airways at all, but what I DO care about is their distance based awards travel. You can use your British Airways miles on partners American or Alaska Airlines for VERY LOW miles when traveling shorter distances.

Using this handy dandy calculator, you can get from Seattle to San Francisco for only 7,500 miles out of the 52,500 you will have (1.25 miles per dollar spent + 50,000 bonus). Not bad at all!

The other flights are much shorter, and will cost even less to get between cities. Here’s a quick chart of how it will look:

Flight Plan 2

To book you flights, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Find your flight(s) on alaskaair.com and take note of the flight number and date/time.
  2. Make sure they are the 12.5k mile (or less) flights, as those are the only ones you can book with British Airways. Also, make sure they are all ONE-WAY flights.
  3. Call the British Airways Executive Club and tell them you want to book award travel through Alaska Airlines
  4. Give them the destinations and dates/times for the award bookings.
  5. When the booking is finished, yell “LIKE A BOSS!” into the phone, because you are now a baller.

Book Alaska 1 Book Alaska 2

So your flights are covered, and you still have almost 30,000 British Airways miles leftover for more short-distance travel fun. Now let’s find you a fun place to stay!

San Francisco Hotel

I did some research, and found you a nice hotel in the heart of the city. It’s called the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Hyatt’s are pretty ridiculously nice, and this particular one is only 15,000 points a night.

You might say “but I don’t have any Hyatt points! What are you smoking?!” I’m glad you asked. You have just under 45,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points through your Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Make sure you round it out to 45,000 points, because you will need exactly that many.

You can transfer your Chase UR points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, giving you enough points for 3 nights at an awesome hotel.  Here’s how:

  1. Go to Hyatt.com and create “Gold Passport” account.
  2. Log into your Ultimate Rewards Portal, and go to “Point Transfer” and find “Hyatt Gold Passport.”
  3. Transfer your points over, and you can then go book your hotel!

Hyatt Transfer Hyatt Transfer 2

Los Angeles Hotel

This one I’m going to leave the adventure up to you. Because you’ll be using your Barclaycard World Arrival miles, you can get up to $475 worth of hotel credits on your card. Plus, you’ll get a 10% miles refund, so you can get up to 4,750 miles back on your card, which is pretty baller.

So, for 3 nights, find a hotel for $150 a night or less and you should come out unscathed and not spending a DIME! Just make sure to search around on places like Expedia.com, Kayak.com and Priceline.com to find great deals and low prices. Good luck!

Los Angeles Car Rental

Now we can just over to your Citi Thank You points for this. I personally have not used these reward points, but the redemption process looks pretty straight forward. Go to ThankYou.com and under the “Book Travel” menu, click on “Cars.” And find your car!

Citi ThankYou

It should be pretty easy to get a car for less 26,000 points, and heck, might even be able to get a convertible!

Las Vegas

$25 a night?! That’s a crazy awesome deal, and I don’t think it’s worth using points to try to beat that. Plus, you’d have to get another card, and I don’t think you’d hit the minimum spend in time. You’ve got this covered. HAVE FUN!

Summary

I wanted to be detailed enough so you could follow the process and enjoy some AWESOME free travel for your epic upcoming adventure. I know was a lot of information, so here’s a quick summary:

  1. 24,0000 British Airways miles to get from Seattle > San Francisco > Los Angeles > Las Vegas > Seattle
  2. 45,000 Chase Sapphire Preferred UR points transferred to Hyatt for 3 nights in San Francisco hotel.
  3. Up to 47,500 Barclaycard World Arrival (<- affiliate link) miles for 3 nights in Los Angeles hotel.
  4. Less than 26,000 Citi ThankYou points for car rental in Los Angeles.
  5. You’ve got Vegas covered, $25 is CRAZY CHEAP. Well done!

Any questions?    :-)

For those who want to enjoy free travel as well, you can read up more on it HERE.

Disclosure: Thereare affiliate links to the awesome credit cards that I detailed in this post. If you signup using those, I do receive a commission. I appreciate any and all support for this site, and want you to enjoy the free travel that we have over this past year as well. And send me your success stories!

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Comments

  1. That’s amazing. I’m just starting to try and get into travel hacking with credit card churning and while obtaining the miles is easy it’s figuring out the best and most cost effective way to use them that still gets me. I’m hoping to take a pretty awesome trip with my wife next summer preferably with flight/hotel covered through points.
    JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit recently posted..Recent Option TransactionMy Profile

  2. Vegas will probably be more than $25 a night since most of the hotels love to throw on the stupid “resort fee” but this can often be taken care of with the $20 trick and you can probably score an upgrade with this too!

    She also mentions the Sapphire card and not the preferred one, so if she doesn’t have the preferred then your plan doesn’t work since you have to have a premium card to transfer points to partners. If she doesn’t have the CSP card, she could skip the BA card and get that one, then transfer the regular sapphire points over and then transfer the points from the CSP card to both Hyatt and BA to save a credit pull (of the Ink Bold/Plus if you want a business card).

    Of course my last paragraph is null and void if she just mistyped and does hasve the CSP card.

    • Brian, I’m glad you showed up here to keep me in check! :)

      I assumed it was the CSP because she had just over 44,000 points, which leads me to believe it was the 40,000 sign up bonus that got here there, since her minimum spend is very low month to month. But you’re right, and I’ll check that out with her. And yes, UR’s can transfer to BA, so 40,000 more UR’s would take care for the Hyatt and all the flights for one credit pull. BOOYAH!

      As for Vegas, it sounded like she had lined something up with some peeps, so i left it alone. But good call on the “resort fees”. Yes, the ol’ $20 trick could definitely get her into the lap of luxury and avoid unnecessary fees as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Jacob Wade recently posted..How To Travel For Free: 4 Cities in 8 DaysMy Profile

  3. Wow dude, you are thorough. And a magician. I feel like there’s a service here you could sell.
    Matt Becker recently posted..When Procrastination Costs You MoneyMy Profile

  4. Jake, you are getting so good at this game! I’m really impressed. I hope I’ll have my own travel-on-points conundrum to come to you with one day!
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Stretch Goal: FinCon 2014!My Profile

  5. You are so awesome! I’m the original question asker (it’s Ashley, not Jenny, but no worries!). :)

    I do have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I just forgot there are multiple versions of that card so didn’t include that in my email.

    Regarding Vegas, it’s a bachelorette party with a bunch of other girls, so we are splitting the cost, plus I have a friend that can get me a crazy discount at the hotel he works at, so it will likely only cost me $25 a night for a fancy suite (including taxes and fees!). Yay for friends with awesome jobs!

    Thanks for the advice! I’m excited to put this into play!

    • Hah! I changed the name for anonymity, but I’ll change it back to Ashley since you’re cool with it :)

      Sounds like Vegas will be a blast, AND you’ll be in a ballin’ hotel suite. Nice work.

      Definitely follow up, I want to hear how all this works out!

  6. I use miles and points too for trips, but I get more value overseas. I used my hotel points locally for a mini vacation because I needed it. The points were a bonus for getting the card. A long weekend at the beach was sweet!
    krantcents recently posted..Why No One Cares What You Think about Investment Plan (and How to Stop Being so Freaking Boring)My Profile

    • Overseas is a GREAT way to use your miles. I haven’t done any international churning, but it is on my list. Maybe I’ll help a reader get to Europe on the cheap soon :)

  7. Wow, this sounds like a lot of work. Did you actually do this already?
    Peter recently posted..Seven Tips to Help You Qualify for your first homeMy Profile

    • Hah! But I just did all the work for you!

      I haven’t done this specific churn, but am booking 7 flights to Hawaii using the British Airways card in a few weeks. It’s pretty easy, and worth it to save $5,000+ that we WOULD have had to pay. Couple hours of work for a $5,000 payout seems like a good hourly rate to me :)

  8. Andy Bland says:

    4 cities in 8 days on a tight budget. Wow, you rock!
    Andy Bland recently posted..Auto ResponderMy Profile

  9. This is the best breakdown I’ve ever seen about how to actually do this. I hope you do this more often – it’s awesome!
    The College Investor recently posted..Is It Time to Subscribe to Netflix?My Profile

  10. I agree with the others. You are a wizard! Amazing detailed breakdown. You may have stumbled on your special niche! I just came back from Vegas and got hit with resort fees. What is the $20 trick? Many times the wireless internet is wrapped into it so I got some value back. I had two free nights because they had a special promotion. Sign up for hotel memberships. You never know when a special can reduce your bottom line!
    Buck Inspire recently posted..200+ Ways To Make Money OnlineMy Profile

    • $20 trick is to slip the front desk person $20 and ask if they have anything available on a higher floor or with a little more space. Almost surefire way to get a VERY nice upgrade that would have cost MUCH more than $20.

      And yeah, I love breaking this stuff down, might just create a new section of the blog for free travel :)

  11. I am impressed Jacob, but I pay cash for everything so I won’t be doing any credit card churning anytime soon. Way to go on making this happen though!
    Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet recently posted..Should You Take Financial Advice From Hulk Hogan?My Profile

    • Totally hear you man. It’s a fun hobby for me, but if it’s not worth it, no need to try to make this happen. I just like helping people get the most for their dollars and points.

  12. I like your ideas, Jacob! The Southwest card also has the 50,000 sign up points bonus right now. I just signed up for it!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..The High Cost of CommutingMy Profile

    • You were able to churn that card? I thought you had already gotten 2 of them?

      The Southwest is a great card as well, and surely in a future churn for me once they go back to the 50k bonus again. I have a few other banks to hit first so I don’t overload on Chase cards.

  13. I just got into travel hacking recently and it sure is addicting when you can get such great bonuses and rewards for credit card sign ups. I signed up for the Sapphire and the Premier last year. If I wasn’t looking into buying a place, I’d be signing up for more. Plus, we just had a baby so probably won’t be traveling too much in the near future. I’m mad I didn’t get into this earlier!
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted..Why Aren’t You Saving for Retirement?My Profile

    • I know, all the good bonuses aren’t quite there anymore. Much more elusive. I’ve been at it for a year, no other way to travel in my opinion. I hear you on the home purchase, no need to mess with CC’s until that’s all sorted out.

  14. Jefferson and I just went to Vegas (flight plus hotel plus $100 resort credit) entirely on rewards! My kind of getaway!
    Michelle recently posted..When Did Halloween Become Horror-Ween?My Profile

  15. We just booked out airfare for the three of to Kauai with 4 nights in a suite at the Grand Hyatt and 3 nights at the Westin Kauai. Used points from Chase Sapphire, Ink Bold (for Cortez Vision), Ink Plus (for Eyes on the Dollar), SPG Amex, and Hawaiian airlines Visas. I kept watching Hawaiian until they cut the miles required for flights, and they finally did. So counting the annual fees and booking fees, we got all this for just over $400. Retail would have been $2500 for airfare and about $3400 for the rooms. I think it was a good use of my time!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Top Five Ways To Make Sure You Never Retire EarlyMy Profile

  16. I seriously need to get into this rewards churning game!
    Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans recently posted..Links Lisa Likes – 10/28/13My Profile

  17. Wow, what an eye-opening post. I had NO CLUE about this travel savings strategy. Thank you so much – I’m already dreaming about our 2014 vacation!
    Eliza @ Happy Simple Living recently posted..Just in Time for Thanksgiving, Win Crispy, Yummy John Wm. Macy SnacksMy Profile

  18. I’m pretty intimidated by the whole process but I’m convincing Jon as we speak to try this out once we’re debt free next year. We’re traveling enough as is the next few months (to family in cars – really no cost) so we don’t need to jump into it too soon. We’ll definitely be back here for reference though!
    Krista recently posted..GRAND Update- Learning PatienceMy Profile

  19. I definitely want to be a travel hacker some day.

    So looking forward to it at some point in the near future and taking advantage of some of the awesome rewards cards there are out there.

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