Our Vacation For Free On Credit Card Points

Our Vacation For Free On Credit Card Points

IMG_8935Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live the high life? Like, walk into a place and have everyone at your beck and call, falling hand over foot to serve you? I’ve always been fascinated by those that spend tens of thousands on extravagant vacations, and throw away money faster than a Justin Bieber album just to have people pretend to like them for a few days and give them whatever they want. I could not IMAGINE blowing that kind of money (wait, yes I could. AND I DID!) in less than a week. But I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be THAT GUY. You know, roll up in my Porsche, tip the chauffer a Benji, and walk inside with my shades on, because I’m just cool like that.

Well, I finally made it happen (minus the Porsche), but I DIDN’T PAY A DIME!

Enter: Credit Card Churning

To my regular readers, this is nothing new. You’ve already read through the biggest post ever on this blog, my credit card churning plan for 2013. Well, we finally took our first trip using some of our easy-earned credit card points. Since I blew through most of my vacation earlier in the year on a sweet cruise, we decided to take a fun weekend trip down to Portland to enjoy some fine dining and Willamette Valley’s selection of Pinot.

Being moderate “winos”, we are very familiar with the area, Michelle went to school just outside of Portland for 4 years. We enjoyed bouncing around to the free wine tastings back when we were living on only $14 an hour, but now that our palates have matured (lol, makes me sound rich when I talk like this), we wanted to taste the finest that Oregon had to offer. Michelle reached out to a winemaker friend from the area and got some suggestions for the best wineries around. We mapped out 5 wineries, some with tasting fees up to $15 per person, and bottles starting at $40, and even had to make reservations at a few of them. FANCY PANTS!

Now it was time to book the hotel.

Fancy Hotel Booking

Before even thinking about this trip, we had picked up the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest card to take advantage of the amazing redemption values and higher end hotels around the country. We had just reached 30,000 points (25,000 bonus + 5,000 spend on the card in 6 months), so we were eager to enjoy vacation on the credit card companies for once! One day, my wife was talking to me about her favorite hotel in Oregon, The Nines, in Portland. As usual, I was chatting to her about points and our plans to take over the world a sweet vacation, and she asked if her fav. hotel was a Starwood property. Good question! I open up my Google machine, searched out the hotel, and low and behold, the friendly little Starwood icon in the lower left corner of the screen. W00t W00t!! Winner winner chicken dinner! (with asparagus, pilaf and an ’07 Pinot Noir).

I quickly logged on to my SPG account, looked up the hotel and was shocked that I could book a room for only 10,000 points a night! Normally hotels in this price range (about $450 a night after taxes/fees) go for 16,000, so this was a SWEET FRICKIN DEAL! I called the SPG concierge (yes, we’re getting REAL FANCY now) and the kind lady helped find me a city-facing room for 2 nights for Michelle’s birthday weekend. I was really hoping for an upgrade to a corner room, but nothing was available. Sensing that I was a little bummed, the kind lady on the phone searched a bit more and offered me an upgrade to the “Club Level” for a measly 1,500 points per night. What benefits come with club level? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED! Free breakfast in the lounge, free WiFi, free beer and wine all day, free cocktails in the evening, snacks all day, hors d’oeuvres in the evening and dessert until closing after that. HOLY SNAPPLESAUSE YES PLEASE!

We booked that faster than Taylor Swift’s boyfriends get dumped, and were getting pretty excited for our FREE vacation! But, being the KING OF FREEBIES, I decided to go one step further. I found a traveler’s forum, and found a thread for The Nines hotel. I reached out to others on their successes/failures in getting a room upgrade to a corner room. Soon after, the Assistant GM of the hotel contacted me directly, and wanted me to give him a call. WIN! I gave him a jingle, and expressed to him my desire for a corner room in the hotel. He was unable book the corner room for me, but assured me that we would get the BIGGEST ROOM AVAILABLE on the floor. Done and done. Even better, when we arrived, they had a nice little platter of chocolates signed “Happy Birthday” in chocolate syrup for Michelle. Check out the pics!

Baller room on the 12th floor!

Baller room on the 12th floor!

Wine & Fine Dining For Free

We drove down to Oregon and arrived around 4pm on Friday, just in time to check in. After checking in, we headed over to the lounge for a free glass of wine and some hors d’oeuvres before meeting some friends for a fancy dinner. Michelle had booked an exclusive dinner at a place where only people who listen to bands that you’ve never heard of go to (The Gilt Club). We felt young again (wait…we’re in our mid-twenties), ordered up some fun drinks, and enjoyed catching up with friends. The menu was unique and fun. We ordered asparagus with elderflower vinegar, Nettle gnudi and grilled hangar steak with friend oysters, and topped it off with an amazing butterscotch brule’ with honeycomb and vanilla ice cream! We ate until we were near food-coma levels and slapped down over $100 for the AMAZING meal and experience. Totally worth it.

Awesome eats!

Awesome eats! Photo Credit: Mikaela Ovenell

The next day, we scooped up our free breakfast, met up with our friends, and headed out on our winery tour. As the DD, I just shared my tastings with Michelle, and we hit up one of the wineries we had visited before, Rex Hill. Mostly, because their reserve wine is taken from “Jacob’s Vineyard”, and well, that’s just cool. After that, it was lunch time, so we stopped by a coffee shop near Michelle’s old school. They make AMAZING sandwiches, so we sat down for a fun meal with friends, ate our fill, and were out. Only $30 for the pleasure, and the nostalgia was priceless! Then it was off to more wineries.

Drinking "Jacob's" finest with friends!

Drinking “Jacob’s” finest with friends!

We dropped by Hip Chicks Do Wine in Newberg, because it was within walking distance of the coffee shop. We grabbed a bottle of white, and headed out to the fanciest place of the day, Bergstrom Winery. The tasting fee was $15 per person, the place was a bit snooty, and us hoodlum kids had no place in a fine establishment such as this. PALEASE!!! We drank our wine and headed out to Arbor Brook Winery. This place was awesome, and had some cheese and fruit samples out. We dug in, and planted ourselves outside as the sunshine finally came out to greet us. We tasted through their flight, was impressed with their service and delicious and affordable wines, and walked out with 3 bottles (I finally got my bottle of Pinot Noir!) and a $70 bill. The last place we hit was a small winery called Aramenta Cellars. The place was owned by a fun old man whom everyone wished was their grandpa. After tasting through the flight, we picked up a bottle of Pinot Gris, and were on our way back to get ready for dinner. Only out about $150 for a day of wine tasting and 5 bottles of wine. Not bad at all!

Awesome view front smug-pants winery.

Awesome view from smug-pants winery.

5 bottles of wine (and a bottle of non-alcoholic, carbonated Pinot)

5 bottles of wine (and a bottle of non-alcoholic, carbonated Pinot)

We got back to the hotel, and got ready for the fanciest dinner of all, on the rooftop restaurant in our hotel. The place was called “Departure”, and featured fine Asian cuisine. It was a la carte’ style, and our group just kept ordering and ordering because the food was so amazing! We started with steak and pork belly sushi, which really set the meal off right. We all ordered some AMAZING drinks, and they brought on a round of…well, I honestly can’t even remember, but I DO remember that ALL the food was marvelous. We were able to really enjoy the meal here, tipped generously, and spent more here than any of the previous locations.

Our absolutely gorgeous guests! Especially the one on the right ;-)

Our absolutely gorgeous guests! Especially the one on the right 😉

The next morning, we grabbed our usual breakfast, and walked the town a bit before heading back north. We actually sat down at one point in a restaurant, but being in downtown Portland during lunch hour, all I could think about was the food trucks. We left the restaurant and walked across the street to pick up some yummy! I got the Yakisoba, while Michelle opted for the Gyro. We were a bit cold, so we ended up eating our meal in the car before shipping off back home. Only another $25, but the memories made were worth every penny!

I love Portland food SO MUCH!

I love Portland food SO MUCH!

But Wait, I Thought You Said Free?

I did say that, didn’t I? Well, in comes the magic of the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. The other card we brought along with us was this fancy little blue card, and we had previous put $3k on this card in the past 3 months to get our 40,000 bonus points. By the time we reached Portland, we had about 45,000 points, which equaled a $450 statement credit. Which is funny, because that’s about EXACTLY what we paid for our food and wine for the duration of our stay. So, yes, we partied it up FOR FREE, feeling like a celebrity fresh outta rehab (wait, no…that’s a really bad metaphor…ummm…you know what I mean…right?). We were able to enjoy a great weekend with friends, good food, good wine, and great accommodations for the price of exactly $0*.

For a weekend that could have cost us upwards of $1,300, it was definitely much more enjoyable for free. No worries about penny pinching or overspending. We had a set budget (you knew I’d bring it back to this, right?) for our variable expenditures and were able to book a sweet hotel on credit card points. This isn’t something only a super smart genius can figure out, it’s actually pretty simple. You plan a trip, get some rewards credit cards, get the bonuses, book your stuff, and enjoy yourself knowing that it’s all comp’d by the “evil credit card companies.”

We’ve got big plans for a trip in the next year, and I’ll be filling you all in on the details soon. For now, start stacking those points and go hit a beach on behalf of the “generous” credit card companies and their bonuses 🙂

*We did spend money on gas and a gift for our son, but the food, wine and hotel were completely free. Also, as a disclaimer, enjoying a vacation isn’t all about spending thousands of dollars. We have had just as much fun spending VERY little money on a road trip to Newberg to stay with friends, or camping for $25 a night. I just wanted to try something different using our points, and this was the perfect opportunity for it. As always, NEVER spend money you don’t have to buy crap you don’t need. And don’t blow money on pointless stuff, let the credit card companies do it for you. If you have ANY credit card debt, do not use this strategy, and if you can’t pay your card of every month, you should not being worrying about rewards.

Comments: Anyone use their credit card rewards for some fancy traveling? Doesn’t it feel great to have someone else pay for your vacation? If anyone wants some advice on a trip or needs some help putting together a list of cards and rewards for their traveling goals, feel free to contact me 🙂


  1. Wow, that sounds wonderful! I love travel rewards cards. I have one, and I’m just about to book a flight with it to see my family with my mom. We get a free companion flight. Your churning efforts are really paying off!
    Daisy @ Young Finances recently posted..How Much Do I Need to Retire?My Profile

  2. This looks like such an awesome time! We want to start churning credit cards as well but we have to wait until after we buy the next house :/
    Michelle recently posted..Why You Should Start a Blog – So Many Positives!My Profile

    • Definitely wait, as you don’t want to compromise your credit score until you lock in the LOW LOW rate. Then it’s time to Churn away! 🙂

  3. Super cool! Even if you’d had to pay for food, the getting the hotel free would have been worth it, although you might have gone to Applebees instead. We pretty much have our summer 10 day trip to the lovely Pacific NW all paid for with points and cash back, and I’m hooked. I don’t think I can ever pay full price for a vacation again. We just started working on a trip to Hawaii for Summer 2014. I’m not sure if we can get it all for free, but I think we can at least get air and hotel. Great post.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Your Group Life Insurance Policy Might be Limiting YouMy Profile

    • No Applebees for this trip, lol! Also, you’ll love it up here. I’m in the Seattle area, and our summers are GORGEOUS! Nice work on the points, you’re using UR through Chase, correct? Best rewards system IMO. We’ve got Hawaii lined up as well, details to come soon 🙂

  4. This is awesome! I hear people doing this, but I’m kind of afraid to do it. Not sure why. But I need to look into it more and plan well before jumping into it. Thanks for sharing. Looks like you guys had a great time for FREE~!!!
    Michelle’s Finance Journal recently posted..Prom SeasonMy Profile

    • Michelle, it’s definitely something to consider, especially if you have good credit (700+) and can pay your card off every month. i just suggest holding off if you need to buy a home or ReFi in the near future (less than a year).

  5. Great pictures! Looks like you had a lot of fun!

    I went on a whole trip to Hawaii with points – airfare, hotel, and car rental. Just had to pay for the food and activities.

    I’m a huge fan of credit card points, and I think you can game it a little to get big rewards!
    The College Investor recently posted..Top Investing PodcastsMy Profile

    • We’ve got Hawaii locked an loaded for next year, airfare, car rental, cash cards. We’re not booking a hotel, though, because we’ve got 6 people and only 3 cardholders able to churn. So we’re doing VBRO. $10k+ vacation for a few hundred per person 🙂

  6. Definitely a pretty sweet (and swanky) vacation! Makes me feel like I need to start traveling for work again because I could rack up a bunch of points on the company and then fly and have a hotel for free for vacation. Very well done with the cards. The only thing I don’t like about the rewards cards is they can sometimes be restrictive and I feel like I can get better deals with cash back and then find my own hotel and flight sales.
    Greg@Thriftgenuity recently posted..The Dow at 15000 – Now What?My Profile

    • Corporate travel to rack up rewards is an AWESOME perk! Wish I could make that happen! As for cash back, you definitely need to research before booking a hotel/flight on points, but a lot of the time, you will get 2 – 3 CPM (cents per mile), and cash back for those tickets is 2% max. For our hotel, we were at 3.9 CPM, which is an AMAZING deal.
      Jacob recently posted..Our Vacation For Free On Credit Card PointsMy Profile

  7. Heather says:

    We used a flight rewards card to pay for everything for our wedding (after saving up for everything in advance) and used the reward miles for our honeymoon 🙂

    • Wow, that’s impressive! Nice work! 🙂 I wish I would have done that back then. Could have racked up a TON of miles 🙂

  8. That is really awesome! I need to figure out how to hustle like that!
    Nick @ ayoungpro.com recently posted..The Biggest Financial Mistakes I’ve Made in My Career (So Far)My Profile

    • Check out my original churning post and do a little planning. If I can do this, anyone can, trust me 🙂 Shoot me a mail if you have any specific questions!

  9. I have been playing this game or a while. The credit card game isn’t as good as it used to be, but there are still some solid offers out there. Example would be the Barclays Arrival Card $400 Credit After $1000 Spend in 90 days located here: http://www.barclaycardarrival.com/premium-travel/?campaignId=1729&od=bcarrival&cellNumber=24

    If you don’t mind taking a small credit hit for a bit, churning credit cards can save you a bundle on travel!. 🙂
    Bryan@Fatwallet recently posted..3 Ways to Enjoy a Vacation for Less MoneyMy Profile

    • The Barclaycard seemed great, but I’m more of a GIVE ME THE POINTS guy. $400 in travel is nothing to sneeze at for sure, but I was really hoping I could get $400 cash back from the card, but it’s only worth $200. And I agree, churning cards is the only way to go for us right now, otherwise we’d just be camping in the backyard all the time 🙂

  10. Great job! I’m terrible at credit card churning. We usually put less than $500/month on the credit card and that’s below most threshold to get the extra rewards. Maybe the next time I have a big bill, I’ll sign up for a new credit card.
    We live in downtown Portland BTW. Glad you guys had a good time.
    retirebyforty recently posted..Can you beat an early retiree’s credit score?My Profile

    • Portland rocks! Amazing food and fun times all around 🙂

      I bet you can put more than $500 a month on the cards. You can automate MOST of your bills to be paid through them, that’s how I get most of my points 🙂

  11. Badass! I love hearing stories like this! My wife and I are the same in that we tend to have just as much fun going camping as we do living the high life. But getting to act like a big spender while not actually spending is awesome. I’ve heard great things about the Starwood card but just never got around to signing up for one. We might be trying to get a house next year so I don’t really want to go churning cards for too long, maybe for a little while. You really can walk into some great deals if you have great credit. I was able to get the 100k BA bonus and as soon as we try and take a trip to Europe, possibly next year as well, we’ll be flying at least business class the whole way.
    JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit recently posted..2 Buys and 2 Option TransactionsMy Profile

    • The 100k BA bonus was a SWEET deal, too bad nothing like that is around these days. 🙁

      And I’d say the Starwood or the Chase Sapphire Preferred are the best deals out there right now, because both cards can be used for hotels/flights and other rewards, plus the points are worth MUCH more than say a Hilton or Marriott card.

      I plan on a European vacation as well, HUGE churn that’ll probably take 2 years. First class and 3 weeks in Europe for free, though, so TOTALLY worth it!

      Also, when you redeem your BA points, don’t fly British, because the Fuel Surcharges on international flights are RIDICULOUS. Transfer your points to American or an international partner to save thousands.

  12. Look like an awesome getaway! Way to go rockstar! I love wine tasting and being from Seattle used to go up there and of course here in Napa. I funded three of my domestic plane tickets using Southwest points, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable using them more now that I can pay them off each month. It really is a great way to get points on things if you do it wisely!
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..ConfessionsMy Profile

    • Treating credit cards like REAL money is the key. Once you have that down, then you can really take advantage of the rewards 🙂 Southwest is in the near future for me as well, so nice work on your free flights 🙂

  13. Wow, what a lovely weekend. Your hotel was gorgeous. Bf and I keep saying we’d like to plan a trip like this. bf loves wine (I like wine, but bf can really appreciate good wine in a way that my pauper’s palate cannot ;-))

    • Make it happen! Especially with the Starwood card, there are some GREAT hotels you can use to stay in (Westin, Sheraton, etc…)

  14. You killed it! It looks like your wife had a lovely birthday weekend too. Great use of the points 🙂
    Catherine recently posted..Getting Back Into The GrooveMy Profile

  15. Jacob, I’m an American Express gal the whole way so all the points I accrue from business expenditures add up to some nice vacations and dining experiences. I believe YOLO – why not have a great experiences? Especially they are done the way you went about it. Pretty smart!

    • Thanks Suzanne. The Starwood points are particularly valuable, since you can transfer them to airlines or other experiences, not to mention the GREAT hotels.

  16. Mike Carlson says:

    That was surely a vacation blast. And who would have thought it was all for free! I guess I’d start loving credit cards now.
    Mike Carlson recently posted..Business to Business Marketing StrategiesMy Profile

    • Credit cards are great for those who can handle them. I’m gaming the system, so the risks are definitely worth the reward, and I’m coming out on top every time 🙂

  17. Wow – What a great example of making the most of those credit card points! Now that I’m credit card debt free I got a Barclays CC for travel miles. I’m hoping to visit my sister in England for a LOT less thanks to these points! I can’t wait to read more about how you churn credit cards – thanks for sharing!
    Katie recently posted..Creating & Managing a Budget While Starting a BusinessMy Profile

    • Nice work on getting out of debt! That’s a journey in itself, so well done! The Barclays card seems like a sweet deal, I might be checking it out for my next churn, we’ll see. I’ve got a DOOSY churn in the works, more details to come 🙂

  18. We haven’t churned credit card offers yet, but we do use $400 or so in Discover cash back every year for lots of fun things for ourselves and gifts for others. Congrats on an amazing weekend!
    Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter recently posted..How to Simplify Your Life to Make it BetterMy Profile

    • Thanks! Churning is a blast if you can play it right. Planning a Florida weekend just this afternoon! Staying at a swank Disney hotel to boot! 🙂

  19. This is gangster, I gotta do something like this.
    Peter recently posted..4 Reasons Why God gives us MoneyMy Profile

  20. Wow, that sounds amazing Jacob. Envious right now man. Great photos and it looked like you guys really had so much fun. Good for you.

    • Thanks KC. It was fun, and we’re even planning another weekend trip in a few weeks on points. Love me some freebies! 🙂


  1. Personal Finance Round Up #55 — Money Life and More says:

    […] iHeartBudgets talks about his free vacation on his credit card points. […]

  2. […] Jacob from iHeartBudgets retells how he and his wife went on a fancy pants vacation for free using credit card rewards. […]

  3. […] Scared of credit cards?  I used to be, but now I know that you can use them to your advantage.  Jacob from iHeartBudgets tells you his story about a free vacation paid with credit card points. […]

  4. […] Our Vacation For Free on Credit Card Points at I Heart Budgets. Free stuff is just way more fun that paid stuff. […]

  5. […] have and honestly the idea of spending excessively just to spend is unappealing. I was inspired by I Heart Budgets to finally make a credit card work for me for once by taking advantage of credit card […]

  6. […] My Alternate Life – Vacations While in Debt – I love this post, because technically, I have been taking vacations while in debt for a while now. But, I have the credit card companies pay for them […]

  7. […] about this a few months ago. Oh wait, we did. Back in April, Michelle and I went to Portland and stayed in a fancy pants hotel for free, along with using our Chase Sapphire Preferred rewards card cash back bonus to pay for the meals, […]

  8. […] that credit card churning is a popular topic. That is not surprising when you see people like Jacob fund a vacation on his credit card rewards, or Greg and Holly possibly enjoy a nice European vacation off of their […]

  9. […] at it for about 8 months, but have rocked a few short vacations already (you can read about them here and […]

  10. […] my cards. Ever. I have 10 credit cards open right now. I pilfer them for the awesome rewards, and travel for free on vacations and trips. We have gone on a few free vacations this year already, with some bigger […]

  11. […] airline and travel rewards. I’ve had a blast doing research, finding deals, and taking some sweet vacations all on the credit card company’s dime. So I figured I should probably start putting together […]

  12. […] attention to rewards options to get us out there for free.  I came across Jacob’s article on I Heart Budgets about their recent trip to Portland and I was blown away by the fact that The Nines, which Frommer’s gives their top […]

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