December marks our one-year anniversary on our adventure earning tons of credit card travel rewards. It started out with a simple goal; “One free family vacation every year.” I had read about people traveling around the world on rewards points and such, but it sounded too complicated and elaborate for normal folk such as ourselves to ever get any benefit out of it. We decided to make the leap in December 2012 and have taken 3 trips since then, all paid for with credit card rewards.
So for booking our last trip of the year, I decided to step it up a notch and try to get our family to Hawaii for free (specifically, Maui). We have pulled everything together now, and I am booking 7 plane tickets today. We’re also getting two rentals cars for free, and now working on having most of the food covered for 10 days.
That’s $5,000 of this trip paid for through credit card rewards.
Check out how we did it.
Airline Credit Card Rewards For Our Free Trip To Hawaii
When I started researching flights to Hawaii, I was disappointed, as they cost anywhere from 40k – 60k miles for a single person, round trip. UGH. Since most credit cards max out their bonuses at 50k or so, I didn’t think we were going to be able to get free flights all around. We had 6 adults, and toddler (over 2 years old), and a baby (under 2). Luckily, 2 and under can be a “lap infant”, so no ticket required, but we still needed enough rewards to cover 7 tickets.
The other problem was only 3 of the 7 people could get credit cards to earn the rewards. So it was looking like we needed 300,000 miles just for the tickets on 3 credit cards. But then I found a sweet loophole.
British Airways rewards are wonderful, in that they can transfer to Alaska or American Airlines. They also do something called “distance based awards travel”, which means using their miles for shorter flights costs less point. And since we’re on the west coast, that means we’re closer to Hawaii than most others! And using this handy dandy tool, I found that using British Airways miles through Alaska Airlines means we can get a round trip flight to Hawaii for only 25,000 miles!
The British Airways VISA credit card comes with a bonus of 50,000 miles after $2,000 spent in 90 days, so we signed all 3 of us up for the card. That means we just earned 6 round trip tickets to Hawaii on only 3 credit cards! BOOYAH!
And since we need 7 tickets, I was able to transfer the extra miles needed from my Chase Ink Bold credit card. We needed about 10,000 miles extra to book the 7th tickets, so I just hopped over to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and made a quick transfer to British Airways. Done and done.
So then all I had to do was look for Alaska Airline “Super Saver” tickets to Hawaii, or the ones that cost 20k miles each way. They sell out quickly, so we are booking our vacation about 11 months out. Here’s what it looks like on the Alaska Air website.
After I find the flights, I just need to give British Airways a phone call, give them the flight details, and have them book the flight! The do charge a $30 “processing fee” to book over the phone, but for this deal, there’s no way to book it online. We’ll happily fork over the $210 in fees to book $3,500 worth of flights for free.
Free Car Rental On Credit Card Rewards
Now that the flights are taken care of, we want to rent two cars for the families to venture our way around the island. We’ll have two kids, and 6 adults, so we’re going to rent two sedans to cram us all into. I have rented a few cars this year for several short trips, and have found the best deals on Hotwire.com. They seem to consistently have the lowest price by a decent margin, and brought our rentals down to about $20 a day or less. Another place I also suggest checking out is Autoslash.com. If you book early, they constantly search for better deals, and if they find one, they automatically rebook your car rental and save you money. This can happen several times and save you a bundle.
Since we’re going to be booking on one of those sites, we needed a card that didn’t use rewards to book, but that gave us cash back or an equivalent.
Enter: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (<-affiliate link)
With the Barclaycard, you only need to spend $3,000 within the first 90 days to earn the 40,000 bonus points. And 40,000 points = $400 in travel rewards. And since it’s 2x pts. on every purchase, we’ll have 46,000 pts. = $460 in free travel rewards. The way it works is to simply book whatever travel you are doing (flights, hotels, rentals cars, etc.), and then you apply your rewards towards those purchases as a statement credit.
We’ll be in Hawaii for 10 days, which means if we can average $20 a day for each car, that will total $400 in car rental fees. So one of these cards will erase that expense completely. DONE!
Pay For Food With Credit Card Rewards
For this, we’ll need a good cash back rewards card. I chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It gives you 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 spent in 3 months, plus 5,000 bonus points when you add another authorized user. The points are more versatile, and can be converted to cash, or transferred to a partner hotel or airline.
In this instance, we’ll choose the cash back option, and should have $450-500 for food available from one cardholder. If we get another person to sign up, that’s close to $1,000 for food. Since we’ll be in a beach-front condo, we can shop and get most of our food to eat in. $1,000 should cover 10 days, and any eating out we’ll just cover it on our own.
But, Where Are You Staying?
In the past, we’ve used our Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX card to book Westin or Sheraton hotels wherever we go. But in Hawaii with 7 people, it’s much more economical to go to VBRO.com and find a good condo to rent out. Our family is pooling together our Christmas and birthday money for 2 years and booking a beach-front condo for 10 nights. We have found deals for $2,000 – $2,500 for the ten night stay. We may offset this with some more cash back cards, but it’s still an incredible deal.
Can Real People Do This?
Here’s the deal. I have tried to convince many people to join us in our venture of getting credit card companies to pay for their next vacation. Most just laugh and find an excuse why it wouldn’t work for them. But after this vacation, I know people are going to start asking questions. And the first question is “how can regular people do this?”
Honestly, it’s very simple.
- Read iheartbudgets.net and check out my Travel Hacking page.
- Have a decent credit score (730+).
- Sign up for cards and earn rewards.
- Use the rewards to book flights, hotels, rentals, etc.
- Have a fruity drink on a warm, sunny beach.
Check out the Hawaii Trip Update Post HERE
If you think your travel plans may be too complicated, feel free to send me an email for my next Travel Hacking Case Study, and I’ll see if I can get you your next free vacation.
Comments: Have you used rewards points to travel for free? What are your favorite ways to earn miles/points? Anyone here used the tricks above to get to Hawaii?