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:
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.
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 Plus World Elite 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!
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:
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:
To book you flights, just follow these simple steps:
- Find your flight(s) on alaskaair.com and take note of the flight number and date/time.
- 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.
- Call the British Airways Executive Club and tell them you want to book award travel through Alaska Airlines
- Give them the destinations and dates/times for the award bookings.
- When the booking is finished, yell “LIKE A BOSS!” into the phone, because you are now a baller.
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:
- Go to Hyatt.com and create “Gold Passport” account.
- Log into your Ultimate Rewards Portal, and go to “Point Transfer” and find “Hyatt Gold Passport.”
- Transfer your points over, and you can then go book your hotel!
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!
It should be pretty easy to get a car for less 26,000 points, and heck, might even be able to get a convertible!
$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!
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:
- 24,0000 British Airways miles to get from Seattle > San Francisco > Los Angeles > Las Vegas > Seattle
- 45,000 Chase Sapphire Preferred UR points transferred to Hyatt for 3 nights in San Francisco hotel.
- Up to 47,500 Barclaycard World Arrival miles for 3 nights in Los Angeles hotel.
- Less than 26,000 Citi ThankYou points for car rental in Los Angeles.
- You’ve got Vegas covered, $25 is CRAZY CHEAP. Well done!
For those who want to enjoy free travel as well, you can read up more on it HERE.