Hello! And welcome to the next phase of my attempt to become a travel hacker.
For anyone who’s not familiar with that term, “travel hacking” his when you get to travel for free or at a seriously reduced price by strategically signing up for various credit card offers and optimizing the value of your points.
In my last post on this topic, I wrote about what a steal I got by scoring free flights for the entire family next year to Orlando!
All it took was signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card where I was awarded nearly 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points as part of the sign-up bonus, adding another user, and meeting the purchase requirement. By combining this with the bank of Chase points I already had, this enabled me to scoop up the tickets for absolutely no money out of pocket!
My goal with this whole travel hacking scheme is to get as much of our family vacation next year for free. Yes, that’s right, I said free!
To put things in perspective, this past summer when we took our trip to the Dominican Republic, it cost us well over $4,000 to go. While I value family vacations, there’s absolutely no reason I can’t be clever and find a way to cut back on this expense (just like any other household expense) without sacrificing the quality of the trip!
By investing this time into figuring out how we can get the whole vacation for free or minimal cost, that’s potentially $4,000 (or more) we could save ourselves this year! That’s a bonus I’m willing to work for.
So now that the flights are taken care of, in this post, I’m going to discuss some of the ideas and options I’ve research for what should potentially ne our next biggest expense: The hotel.
How Do You Measure a “Good Deal”?
With all the different credit card offers that are out there and unique hotel points system with all of their rules, how can anyone keep all of this straight to know which credit card is the best one to “hack” and which ones are not worth the trouble?
Truthfully, I think it’s pretty straightforward to figure out. The way I will evaluate a “good deal” is like this:
- First I’ll look at the “real” prices for various hotels in the area we plan to stay at.
- Next, I’ll see how many points it will take to stay at these hotels for free.
This way, I’ll be able to see exactly how much value each point is truly worth without all the fuss!
By default, we already know that it is exceptionally easy to get a cash back credit card that pays you somewhere between 1% and 2%. So as long as these points are worth more than this base-line comparison, then we’ll know that this is a potentially good deal!
Onward with the research …
At first glance, the Marriott Rewords Premier card looks extremely attractive! It offers 80,000 points plus an extra 7,500 for each user that you had. That’s not too shabby! So for just signing up and meeting the minimum purchase requirement, you’re already pretty darn close to having almost 100,000 points right from the start!
Great! But what do all of these Marriott points actually buy me?
Using this cool link from Travel Miles 101 called Award Mapper, I was able to very quickly see which hotels were available near my destination and how many points they might potentially cost me.
One of the first ones I looked up with the Residence Inn Orlando Lake Nona by Marriott. The official price for the week that I wanted to stay was $973. But if you used all Marriott points to pay for your stay, it would only cost 120,000 points.
Unfortunately when you do the math, that’s only 0.6 cents per point! That’s a terrible conversion rate! You’d be better off taking 1% cash back from a standard credit card. Definitely not worth the trouble.
Of course, this is why we need to compare these various programs in this way. Even though this one was dud, as you’ll see, some diamonds in the rough will soon appear!
The next hotel I decided to take a closer look at was the Starwood line of hotels.
In particular, I decide to check into the Westin Lake Mary, Orlando North. This hotel had a price tag of $1,127. With points, I could purchase the entire hotel stay for 42,000 Starwood points. That’s a rate of 2.7 cents per point. Not too bad!
But as an alternative, I found out that Starwood (along with a few other hotel chains) will allow you to purchase your stay with a combination of both cash and points. If I went this route, it would cost 24,500 points plus $385 out-of-pocket. Contrary to what I initially thought would happen, this option actually increases the value to 3.0 cents per point.
All the Points I Need!
So what kind of sign-up bonus offers are there for Starwood hotels? The best one I could find was the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express. They offered 25,000 points for sign up, and it was rumored that sometimes the offer increases to 30,000 throughout the year. The credit card had no annual fee for the first year and then cost $95 annually thereafter.
Unfortunately, Starwood is not a compatible program with the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. So this means I cannot transfer any of my UR points over to the Starwood program. Therefore, if I really wanted to go this route, I could easily signup for the American Express card and have enough points to make the cash plus points purchase.
Honestly, this would not be a bad option at all! The only negative I could find in this arrangement was that unlike a lot of the other hotels, breakfast was not included at the Starwood hotels. This would mean a little extra money out of our pockets every day. And as you can guess, for a family of 4, that would really start to add up.
I decided I would keep looking just a little more.
Hyatt’s are some of my favorite hotels to stay at what I’m traveling for business. They can be very swanky at times and really give you that sense of luxury that is often missing from other chains.
I looked up two different hotels in the Hyatt chain:
- The Hyatt Place, Orlando Universal
- The Hyatt Place, Orlando Convention Center
The Hyatt Place, Orlando Universal retails at $1,277 out-of-pocket. If you used points, it would cost 56,000 total. This made the points worth 2.3 cents each. However, if you used the cash plus points option, it would only cost 28,000 points plus $385. This would increase your value to 3.2 cents per point.
The Hyatt Place, Orlando Convention Center on the other hand would cost $1,646 out-of-pocket. With points, you could again spend 56,000 points for a value of 2.9 cents per point. Or if you did the cash plus points option, you could spend the same 28,000 points plus $385, and your value per point would skyrocket to a remarkable 4.5 cents per point!
Plus, unlike the Starwood, breakfast IS complementary. The deal just keeps on getting sweeter!
But how to get 28,000 to 56,000 points?
No-Go On the Hyatt Visa Signature
The first option was to look at a credit that offered deals for Hyatt’s exclusively. I did find the Hyatt Visa Signature credit card which offers two free nights, but these were vouchers and not points specifically. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any credit card offers that would give you straight points.
This is where you have to get a little creative!
Going Back to the Well With Chase!
I noticed that my Chase Ultimate Rewards points could be transferred directly to the Hyatt hotel program at a rate of 1:1. That means that over the next few months I could simply build up my Chase UR point balance and then transfer the points over to the Hyatt program without having to sup up for any new credit cards at all.
But then I thought to myself why stop there?
I noticed one of Chase’s other BIG rewards cards what’s the Chase Ink Plus Business credit card which offers 60,000 bonus points right at the sign-up. Even though they charge a $95 annual fee up-front, this option would easily give me all the points I needed (and then some) to score the hotel for pretty close to free!
It seems I had found the best strategy… Or did I?
The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
Not that long ago, I had heard that Chase was offering a brand-new credit card called the Sapphire Reserve that gives you a RIDICULOUS 100,000 point sign-up bonus! That’s worth virtually $1,000 in cash back or $1,500 in travel if you use Chase’s travel portal. Basically, this was Chase’s version of the legendary American Express Black Card; read-up on that one someday in your spare time.
The only unfortunate thing was that this new Chase card also included a $450 annual fee. Ouch! I remember saying to myself “Who in the world is going to sign up for something like that, even with such an incredible sign-up bonus?”
Then just this week, I noticed an article by the Points Guy that’s got me looking at this card in a whole new way …
Double-Down on a $300 Travel Credit
The Points Guy article was discussing a reader question about one of the potentially incredible benefits to this card that I may have previously overlooked. In addition to the 100,000 UR points, this credit card also offers you $300 in travel credit for each calendar year. Basically, every time you book a flight, pay for a hotel, or buy anything else related to travel, Chase automatically credits your account up to $300.
But that’s not even the beautiful part. The Points Guy article was highlighting a loop-hole where you can get $300 in travel credit now up to December 31st, and then ANOTHER $300 after Jan 1st. Potentially, that’s $600 in additional benefits ON TOP of that 100,000 UR point intro bonus.
With this $600 alone, that would cover the $450 annual fee and still net me $150!
My mind is blown…
So here’s what I’m thinking:
- First, sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and meet the minimum spending requirements to get the 100,000 UR points.
- Next, book the Hyatt using the cash and points option. Remember, this one had the best value per point. Though it would cost me $385 out of pocket, I’d be promptly credited $300, leaving me to hold the bill for only $85.
- After January 1st, I could then use my new $300 travel credit to cover things like booking the rental car, baggage fees, airport parking, and all those other little extras.
Yes, it would stink to have to pay the $450 annual fee to get this card. But then I’d have a WHOPPING 100,000 UR points stashed away in my bank with the option to use them for $1,500 in travel. In reality, if I really wanted to stick to my guns and make this entire trip “free”, I could always redeem the points for cash and use it to reimburse myself for the $450 annual fee, $85 hotel charge, and so on.
Or I could really be smart and maximize my value potential by waiting to use them in 2018! (Yes, I’m always thinking ahead!)
Right now, I’m away on business in Germany. But when I return to the U.S., I’m pretty sure that this is the route I’d like to go. I’ll sign up for this card and take full advantage of the generous points offer as well as the $300 rebate for this year and next.
UPDATE: So, did we end up getting that expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card? Click here to read the next post in this series and find out!
(Disclaimer: I am NOT affiliated in any way with any of these credit cards or hotels. I’m just a Dad who’s simply trying not to spend an arm and a leg to travel with his family around the world. If you’re willing to be a little creative, as we’ve shown, there are some pretty good offers out there that can save you a ton of money. I’m sharing all of this with you because I want you to be able to do the same.)
What do you think? Out of all the options I’ve presented, which one would you feel good about going with? Does anyone have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or any of these credit cards? Are there any other good deals that I’ve missed?
Featured image courtesy of Flickr | Josh Hallett
Yay! Congrats! Travel hacking is what I have been dreaming to pull out of my credit card points. The points I have now are not yet enough to pull one of these perks. Thanks for giving an idea. The Marriott Rewards are very encouraging for me.
Thanks Kelly. Although you can get there by building up your points, the accelerator in this whole process really seems to be taking advantage of multiple introductory sign-up offers. For example, those 60,000+ points I got with Chase that I applied towards our flight would have taken me close to 2-3 years to build up at an average rate. If you can sign up for 1-2 offers per year strategically targeting the points you want for the flights / hotels you prefer to use, then you’ll easily be able to have enough for free travel.
Marriott rewards has a cash plus points system also.
Thanks Marcy, and welcome to the site. That’s a very good point and one that I skimmed over because I moved on from the Marriott Rewards card so quickly. Yes, I saw that Marriott had a cash + points system and I checked into it. But unfortunately, the breakdown of the value per point was pretty much the same as the points alone value; roughly 0.7 cents per point. Although I do like Marriott hotels, I decided to look elsewhere for a better bargain.
Josh @MoneyBuffalo says
Chase definitely has the best offerings for travel cards if you ask me and the one I recommend for people that want a general travel card. Plus doubling it with the Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited can help double-dip for extra Ultimate Reward Points.
We recently opened up the Chase IHG Rewards card since I earned so many points with Holiday Inn Express at my former job. The one free night nullifies the annual fee, plus we waited for a sign-up bonus that gave us an additional 75k points instead of free nights.
I am finding only good things about the Chase cards. I’ve had the Chase Freedom for years, and I always take full advantage of their 5 percent categories. Nice work holding out for a better deal with the IHG card. I’m reading more and more that if you sit back and wait, a better deal often comes along.
Dividends Down Under says
I really like this idea of challenging yourself for a 100% free holiday through travel hacking – thanks for walking us through your process! It’s refreshing to see someone explain it in real-time as they figure it out themselves. You hear stories on the news of people who have done it for years but it’s a lot different to actually try it from scratch.
I’m very jealous of the American rewards card system. You’ll have to do a massive post on how the free holiday goes when you get there!
Thanks! I’m having fun figuring this out, so hopefully as I bring you, the readers, along for the ride, you don’t mind! I feel the path to getting this whole thing for free is becoming more and more clear to me. I’d definitely do a summary post once its all said and done.
David @ Thinking Thrifty says
This is awesome! We have nothing like this in the UK to my knowledge. I had no idea stuff like this was possible. Just another reason to add to my list of “why I should move to the states”.
Thank you! I’ve heard multiple times now that these kinds of offers don’t exist outside the US. That’s unfortunate. But then again, if people keep taking advantage of them (as I am here), I’m not sure how much longer they will be in the US either!