That’s right. We saved THOUSANDS on travel this year. Honestly, it kind of blew me away as I was doing the research for this blog post. It’s a topic I’ve thought about writing for months and decided to hold onto it until the end of the year, and I’m glad I did.
Traveling is my favorite hobby and sometimes planning the trip is half the fun for me. I love digging for good deals, doing my research, and getting the satisfaction of never paying “full price” for our travels. The point of this post is to give you an inside look at my tactics for planning, saving, and using deals to get the most for my money. It’s not to encourage you to go into credit card debt, but to simply get the most of every dollar you are spending on, of what can be, an expensive hobby.
Breakdown of Saving Thousands on Travel in One Year
Credit cards are my favorite way to save money on travel expenses.
Background: I opened my first credit card the day after I turned 18. My parents had always taught us that it’s important to establish credit but to never treat a credit card as a loan. My mom would say, “If you don’t have the cash in your bank account, you don’t buy it on your credit card.” This led me to a mindset of respecting the credit card as if it were a debit card. I’ve paid off my credit card in full, every month, for as long as I’ve had it. I started earning points that could be redeemed for travel purchases but always saved them for something big.
Fast forward 9 years later, I had saved every single point on that particular card, and those points paid for our ocean view room at the Andaz in Maui for our honeymoon. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to click “redeem a purchase”.
My First Capital One Card: Redeemed $783.67 in 2018.
I still have my first credit card with Capital One, but I do not use it quite as much as we use our other cards. I book some travel on it just so I can use the points that have built up! This year, I redeemed points that credited my card a total of $783.67 this year! Cha-ching!
Capital One Venture: Redeemed $1,428.13 in 2018.
My husband applied for the Capital One Venture around the time that Capital One first came out with it. I’m an authorized user, so I have my own card and we can both earn points towards the same account. Offering 2x the points on every purchase, it’s still one of the best travel credit cards out there.
On top of that, they’ve established an amazing partnership with Hotels.com. Now, through at least January 2020, you can book your accommodations by going to hotels.com/venture and you’ll get 10x the points on that purchase! We’ve used this multiple times this year. From my trip to New York City to my week in Scottsdale, it saved us so much money by getting 10x the points and then redeeming the points to pay off part of the hotel.
Chase Sapphire Preferred: We have earned $1,707.84 redeemable for travel.
We applied for our first Chase credit card when we decided we needed a new Sleep Number mattress in April. With a purchase that big, there’s no reason not to take advantage of new card benefits. After hearing from another friend about Chase’s great travel rewards, I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Immediately, we got:
- 50,000 bonus points because we spent over $4,000 on it in the first 3 months.
- I added my husband as an authorized user and we got another 5,000 bonus points.
- We get 2x the points on travel and dining.
- Chase also has partnerships with dozens of other companies. If you make a purchase online going through the Chase link to that store (like Kate Spade and Overstock.com), you can earn bonus points! Some go up to 10x points.
- At the point of writing this post, we have just over 143,000 points on our card that will be redeemable for 25% more when we book travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program.
We’ve been using this card, almost exclusively, for travel and dining because we get 2x the points on those purchases. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card does have an annual fee of $95, but that was waived for this first year. If that sounds awesome to you, apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred by using my link and you can also get 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. [I’ll receive additional points if you use my link!]
See the end of this post to read about the card we’ll be upgrading to next year to save even more!
Use Hotel Reward Points:
Sign. Up. For. Rewards. For most of the large hotel brands, you don’t have to have a credit card with them, but you can still be earning points every time you stay. While we love staying at smaller, boutique hotels, Hyatt and Marriott are two of our favorite larger brands. We saved $253.36 by redeeming Marriott points for a short stay in Orlando this year.
Book Last Minute Travel:
It’s a little hard to figure out just how much we saved booking our last minute trips, but I’m estimating it’s at least $1,100 total!
When I say last minute, I mean last minute. For more than one Disney trip this year, we booked the resort less than 72 hours in advance, with one being the same day. I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay at a Deluxe Resort at such a deep discount. We saved hundreds at Disney by doing this. We also booked our hotel for Islamorada just two days before going in July. Not only did we save $296.95 on that particular hotel, but we also got 10x the points with our Capital One Venture card on Hotels.com! Websites like HotelTonight.com can help find you last minute deals that you can’t pass up.
Book Far in Advance:
As great as last minute travel can be, booking your trip far in advance can be amazing, too! For example, our honeymoon resort was booked 10 months in advance at a great rate. I checked back a few months later to add an additional night and it had gone up in price 40%! The luxurious, 5-star hotel we booked in Lucerne, Switzerland was at the top of our budget when I booked it six months in advance. I checked back three months later and it had gone up over $110/night for the exact same room.
Another budget-friendly Disney World tip I recently discovered is renting Disney Vacation Club villas for a deep discount on DVC Rental! You send in your dates and preferences and they’ll help you find a Disney Vacation Club villa for up to 65% less than what you can find online. Be sure to reach out far in advance though. As you can imagine, these DVC villas are booked up quickly!
Bundle Your Trip:
I’m not always a huge fan of the websites that want you to book flight, hotel, and car all in one booking. I can often find amazing rates or request the best rate possible when I book directly through the company. However, every now and then the bundle sites come out on top. This year, I used Cheaptickets.com and Orbitz.com for two different vacations. Together, bundling saved me about $477 on my trip to NYC with the girls and our trip to Iceland.
RELATED: 4 Day Iceland Itinerary
Another awesome site for bundled bookings is CheapCaribbean.com. Marc-Andre and I have used it more than once for our all-inclusive trips. One was to Costa Rica and another was to Mexico. Both were incredible trips and we got the most bang for our buck through CheapCaribbean.
The Google extension, Honey, has saved us around $100 on our travels. Before booking on CheapTickets, it found additional promo codes that applied to our booking. Not only does it find promo codes for travel sites, but it also finds codes for all sites! You can check out of almost any online store with confidence that you’re getting the best price possible.
I also haven’t used it just yet, but the Chrome extension, Scout by Room Key will do the extra work for you, too. When you’re searching for a hotel room on popular websites like Booking.com or Expedia.com, they’ll give you a notification if they find the hotel at a better price!
I’m currently signed up for a 30 day free trial with Next Vacay. They send me emails with some of the best flight deals out of the closest airports to me. If I choose to stick with it for the year, it’s an annual fee of $25. I’ll keep you updated on this.
How We’ll Save More Next Year:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: I quickly decided that we could greatly benefit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. We’ll be upgrading to it on the one year anniversary of having the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Initially, the $450 annual fee scared me off, but I now know we would fully take advantage of the perks even more. Because we got the $95 fee waived for our first year with the Preferred card, we can’t upgrade to the Reserve until April.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers:
- 3x the points on travel and dining.
- $300 credit towards travel every year.
- You get 50% more when you redeem your points for travel. (This is probably the biggest reason to get the Reserve over the Preferred!)
- On top of that, you receive a statement credit of up to $100 every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to your card for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Oh, and did I mention you get complimentary airport lounge access in over 500 cities worldwide? For the avid traveler, this card is the way to go.
So there it is, ya’ll! We saved over $6,000 this year on our travels. I’m hoping to bump that number up even higher in 2019! There are a ton of ways to get the best deals and earn points, but this is what works for us. If you have a tip for saving more, let me know in the comments!