Dec 13 2016

Planning my next vacations and using credit card rewards


Smokey Mountains, TN


In the last few years, I’ve come to discover the thrill of traveling at a discount thanks to credit card rewards. It’s a similar sort of adventure as I once had when I was working the drugstore deals, but this pairs that excitement with being on vacation with my family. I like free toiletries as much as the next gal, but I can also score toiletries at a nice hotel, right?

In our family’s travels, we’ve learned that we enjoy staying at nice hotels — we appreciate a larger room or suite, delicious breakfast, a theme to the decor, and maybe some at-resort entertainment. Those types of places come with a higher price tag and it can be hard to justify at face value.

I have two work-arounds: traveling in the off-season or shoulder seasons for lower rates and smaller crowds, and working those credit card deals in my favor.Inn at Christmas Place Pigeon Forge, TN

As I’ve stated before, it’s not for everyone.

  • You must not carry credit card debt, ever, or the math of the operation is not favorable.
  • You do need an excellent credit score, or “good” at minimum for most of the good cards.
  • Don’t play this game right now if you’re about to refinance your house or take on a mortgage. Leave your credit alone for now.
  • Don’t do this if you don’t have a liquid emergency fund. Having one helps ensure your own financial stability, I think.
  • It’s also not really for people who don’t want to travel. You can do cash-back credit card rewards instead, and that is fine! Choose the benefit that fits your goals. Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge

Our rewards travel has been funded by those credit card sign-up bonuses, general earnings, and we’ve also had a boost thanks to my husband’s work travel in the past. If he had to fly somewhere, we tried to have him book it on Southwest and stay at a Marriott-owned hotel. The money was reimbursed, but he retained the points. Last, I’ve had I think two people sign up for a credit card using my referral link (thank you!) and that went toward plane tickets. (Note — if you can refer your spouse or family member for a card, be sure to use your own referral so you get the bounty and they get the sign-up bonus!)

To date, we’ve:

  • Saved $1,100 on airfare/trip expenses via two Barclaycards when we went to Disney World in 2014
  • Netted a $200 Disney gift card (for only spending $500 in 3 months, with no annual fee! Get your no-fee Chase Disney Visa here(aff.) this is a nice card to have at WDW for some in-park perks (certain meet & greets, certain discounts at restaurants.)
  • Flown my family of 5 on Southwest points to Orlando in December 2015, and to south Florida in May 2016 totally on points. We still have enough for I think two more round-trips somewhere. When we went to Fort Myers, we had enough Marriott points for 2 free nights (saving I think $300 total on that particular hotel). {Aff. link for you to get a 50,000 point Southwest bonus on a Chase Southwest Premier card. Note that it might be to your advantage to wait until January if the offer is still in play, to work toward the companion pass in 2017. Earn a companion pass in 2017, and that baby won’t expire until Dec. 2018! Earn it in Dec. 2016, and it expires in Dec. 2017.}
  • Earned hundreds back on my plain vanilla cash-back card, at 1.75% back on everything. It is my go-to card while I figure out my next move.Walt Disney World's Art of Animation Cars area

This is just small potatoes, though, compared to what some people are doing.

So…where are we going in 2017 and 2018? Here’s what I have in mind, subject to change:

  1. A road trip somewhere in late spring 2017. We aren’t sure yet where.
  2. Driving to Kentucky to view the total solar eclipse in August 2017! Lodging is already booked for this one. (BTW, if you want lodging for the eclipse, good luck. Many places are sold out/upcharged, but get on it right now in case you can find something workable).
  3. Perhaps Washington D.C. in September 2017 — I have at least 2 kids who can’t wait to see the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and more. Plan to fly Southwest with points, and pick travel dates with cheap fares and hotel. Maybe we will bump this to spring 2018.
  4. September 2018: a big trip. California! Disneyland for my baby’s 5th birthday, maybe Universal Studios, the Pacific ocean, and a national park or two. Flying Southwest on our points (and probably spending the remainder of points to get us there and back) and a stretch goal of getting enough points to stay at the Grand Californian. If we can’t make that work, it shouldn’t be any trouble to get enough points to stay at a good-neighbor hotel across the street from Disneyland. Probably doing a one-way flight into Los Angeles and a one-way flight out of somewhere else to maximize what we can see and do. dsc_0080

My personal preference is to travel more often and have discounted trips, rather than less frequently and have the whole thing paid in full.

If any of this sounds appealing to you, I’d encourage you to think about your upcoming travel goals. Where do you want to go? It doesn’t have to be Disney or a touristy place — you can go anywhere you like. Want to leave the country? OK! Some cards even will refund your TSA Pre-check or Global Entry fee if you go that route. You’ll certainly want a card with no foreign transaction fees, and likely a chip-and-PIN setup. When we went to Canada, we saved roughly 20% simply thanks to the exchange rate in our favor.

Do you like staying in a hotel suite, or will any lodging suit your purposes? Do you prefer to fly or drive? What will you do once at your destination?

Think through the basic logistics of your trip, check your credit score, and then look at credit card offers to see what will get you to your goal in the most efficient way possible.

Coming up, I’ll map out my plan and share it with you here.

Fort Myers, Florida


Photos all my own.

Posted under Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Planning my next vacations and using credit card rewards”

  1. Excited to see you writing again!

  2. Thank you!

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  2. Sense to Save » Blog Archive » My first card: AmEx Starwood for Washington, DC and how I’m doing it

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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