Safety Tips For Traveling With Airbnb

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to cut your lodging costs to see the world, you had two choices–hotels or hostels. Now, with the popularity of Airbnb for affordable and alternative experiences, we have more choices to curate our travel experiences to our budget and our expectations.

Much like online dating, staying in a stranger’s house has become far less taboo than it once was. Additionally, it also opens up the world to allow you to stay in some notable Airbnb accommodations- like boats, yurts, Airstream trailers and pool houses. Truly, your room with Airbnb can be just as much of the adventure as your destination!

If you want to save on travel, know that you don’t have to sacrifice feeling safe when you do so. Here are some pointers to ensure you know what to expect with your next Airbnb booking.

Read The Reviews Before You Book

Book a place that has at least a handful of reviews and read through them. Listings with detailed reviews beyond “it was a nice stay,” can help you book with confidence. Descriptions of the host, location, room, and added perks help you match up the true experience to what’s described in the booking.

How do you deal with negative reviews? Know there’s a difference between “I wish this was closer to the train” or “the decor could use updating” versus “the door on my room didn’t lock,” or “the host wasn’t very responsive during my stay.” Some reviews are petty or subjective, but others are telling.

Unfortunately, some people can leave unfair reviews for circumstances beyond the control of the host (like urban noise or if the AC went out but was fixed as quickly as possible) while others can leave valid concerns that the host needs to fix, and address publicly. Things inevitably will go wrong during a stay, but if a host responded to a public gripe fairly and stated the problem was fixed, that's a good sign that they care about their guests.

Ask Loads Of Questions, Expect Fast Response Times

Airbnb encourages potential guests to reach out to their host before booking if they have questions, or to get clarification on any points they might not understand. It’s truly a win-win when communication is clear and everyone feels like expectations for the experience are met.

Use the chat feature to get to know your host–and ask questions before booking, especially if they have a strict cancellation policy. Be clear on check-in and check-out times, how you can expect to check-in, what the parking situation will be like and how they recommend you travel to nearby activities.

Your host should be quick to respond. While it’s true some hosts have many properties to monitor, it’s a fair expectation that no matter how busy your host is, they answer you promptly. If your host is ghosting you, you absolutely can reach out to Airbnb to have them intervene or refund your money (even with a strict cancellation policy).

Be Proactive About Safety & Communication

You’ll want to book an Airbnb that suits your travel plans accordingly. For a long road trip across the U.S. where a room is simply a place to crash, book with easy parking and freeway access in mind.

If you’re palling around Paris as a tourist, you can ask your host their recommendations for how to best travel to your big “must see” destinations. Read through the reviews to see if solo travelers have stayed and if they commented on the location. If you’re worried about walking around at night, ask your hosts, or hop on to Facebook and find a group for travelers to ask for advice on locations.

Finally, while it’s totally not necessary to print out confirmations, take a screen shot. While I’ve never had a problem with Airbnb goofing up a reservation, I have had issues at traditional B&B’s that insisted I didn’t book a room or pay ahead of time–that confirmation email was a lifesaver!

How To Watch Out For Fake Listings

While this is far more common on Craigslist than Airbnb, finding listings that are duplicates from real listings can happen. If you see a location with no reviews, stock photos or a user with multiple listings and it seems fishy–it can be a sign of a fraudulent account. If you’re really unsure, and something about the photos feels phony, do a reverse Google Image search to check around.

If an Airbnb listing feels too cheap for a certain location or what’s offered, double check that the place really exists. Contact the host directly and ask follow up questions about the listing or reach out to Airbnb before you book.

One thing to note–Airbnb does NOT allow transactions or bookings to happen off of their platform. If a host is asking for cash when you arrive, or wants payment off of the Airbnb platform this a surefire bet it’s a scam, so report them right away!

Gut Feelings Versus Cultural Ignorance

The goal of Airbnb is to connect travelers to the places they visit with an authentic, local experience. While booking with Airbnb offers a convenient and affordable place to sleep, it also gives you a chance to experience the city in a new way.

While you are bound to do your research on cultural differences before you visit a new country, these differences can sometimes be amplified when you’re literally staying in someone’s home. Wearing your shoes into your room might be fine at a hotel in Tokyo, but doing the same at an Airbnb can be incredibly tone deaf.

Culture is a big part of the Airbnb experience, but that never means you should feel unsafe. In a large city, you might find a host treats their guests more like that of a concierge- happy to provide guidance on request, but in general, they might be a bit more “hands off.”

In other locations, a host might invite you to morning coffee and ask to hear about your travel plans and give you an umbrella before you head out the door. Some hosts do this as a hobby, others to cut their living costs, and some see themselves as cultural ambassadors. It can vary!

This being said, while cultures vary from place to place, you should always feel safe and trust your gut. If you book and your host is unresponsive, or if upon arrival, the place is in disarray or not matching up to the listing, call Airbnb. Your cultural boundaries may be challenged a bit with customs different from yours, but you should never feel unsafe!

Want to read more from Shannyn? Check out the rest of her articles here.

Safety Tips For Traveling With Airbnb

How To Eat Frugally While Traveling

Honestly, part of the best thing about travel is the ability to try new, delicious foods. But, if you’re traveling somewhere that’s not known for its culinary scene, or you’re spending a lot of time (and money) to even get to your dream destination, you're likely spending a good wad of cash on pretty sub par airport or gas station food just to get where you’re going!

If that’s you, and you’re hoping to cut costs while you travel so you can spend money on the meals that matter, read on.

First, pack a reusable water bottle

For whatever reason, after September 11th, many of us got so used to not being able to bring water bottles through security, we also somehow turned our backs on empty water bottles too. One of my favorite resusable water bottles is actually flask-like and the size of a small paperback novel, and I’ve even had a bag like, collapsible bottle in the past. It’s small, completely deflates when not in use, and easily saves me $3-6 per day of travel.

Plus, one of the easiest ways to get sick from airport germs is to be dehydrated. So, fill ‘er up!

Next, think through your lackluster meals

What meals are you most uninspired about? These are the meals that you can save the most cash on. Places like the bus stop, the airport terminal, or, if you’re driving, the hours in between cities with nothing but McDonald’s to keep you company–none of this food is good, and it adds up if you don’t plan.

There are some cases where you might not be able to keep persishables on you for long, but if travel allows, you can bring a packed lunch. For something that needs more shelf life before it gets soggy consider bringing dehydrated food like Top Ramen or a powder for a protein shake.

For breakfast, oatmeal can be made in a hotel room with a coffee maker, or on-the-go with the help of a barista and a free cup of hot water. There’s also Top Ramen, sans hot water, which already comes in its own receptacle which holds up pretty well in a suitcase. If you want something a bit more upscale, consider making your own custom soup kits in a ziploc ahead of time.

Of Course, Snacks Are Important

You may not have a fridge in your car or in your hotel room, so you’ll need some snacks that get you going in between meals and can take a beating from travel in your bag. Things that keep really well without refrigeration are crackers, dried meats, dried or dehydrated fruits, nuts and veggies like carrots or snap peas.  Charcuterie boards are totally trendy right now, and luckily yours will be ¼ the price of what you find at the convenience store, and probably better for you. Of course, there’s always good ol’ PB&J.

Most people seem to forget that they can pack just about any snack they enjoy at home, in their suitcase. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit leathers and meal replacement or protein shakes can be thrown in a bag easily. A bonus of packing your own snacks is that your luggage will have more room for souvenirs should you be inclined, later in the trip–and you save money for said souvenirs.

Related: When You Eat Matters

How To Save On Drinks

The barista at the airport will be your new bestie if you show up with not only a Top Ramen, but your own tea bags or instant coffee! If you’re staying at a hotel room, bring some tea bags with you for an afternoon pick-me-up. Long story short, just add hot water.

Other fun things to pack are water additives like Nuun or Mio, they are also easy on-the-go. Nuun tabs are often used by athletes, and since they don’t contain water, they’re carry-on friendly and can dress up the water in your reusable water bottle!

What about expensive booze?

You probably won’t want to bring along a two liter of diet coke, but you might find value in packing even a small bottle of booze (if you are so inclined!) to make a Jack and Coke in your room to pre-game with friends, versus going down to the hotel lobby to kick off the fun. If you’re traveling for a romantic getaway, packing a bottle of champagne will save you time and money depending on where you stay.

Related: How Stopping Drinking Will Make Me $500,000 Richer

How To Save On Dining Out

Chances are you’re going to want to do more than just eat PB&J’s in your room, so a quick tip is to time your meals. Expensive restaurants can be cheaper (and less crowded) if you dine with them for lunch instead of dinner. If you are needing to grab dinner out, see if you can snag a happy hour special or cut costs by having your drinks first at a cheaper location. Finding a favorite local bar adds to the experience and can save big.  Final tip–if you can snag a Groupon (depending on where you go!) or can book a tour that includes food using travel rewards, you’ll save a ton! We got several free meals while in Paris by booking champagne/lunch tours and hotels on points that included meals. Everything was still yummy and it was cheap!

Want to read more from Shannyn? Check out the rest of her articles here.

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Eat Frugally

Extreme Stacking And Optimizing Hotels.com

Extreme Stacking And Optimizing Hotels.com

If you don’t have enough hotel points with one chain for your whole stay or want to stay at non-chain hotels, one of the best ways to save money is to book your stay on Hotels.com. Let’s look at how you can stack discounted Hotels.com gift cards, cashback from shopping portals, and which credit cards you should be using.

Buying Discounted Hotels.com Gift Cards Online

There are several ways to obtain discounted gift cards. A major eBay gift card seller, PPDG (PayPal Digital Gifts), sells discounted gift cards and often has Hotels.com gift cards on sale. You can sign up for PPDG email alerts or watch out for deal alerts on Doctor of Credit website.

A few times a year Amazon has Hotels.com gift cards on sale. These so called lightning deals, run for a very short time so you have to act fast. Look for a discount of 15% to 20% off on a $50 or $100 gift card. Amazon limits discounted gift cards to one per customer but if you have a travel partner they can order one as well. When Amazon runs their gift card sales my husband and I order one card each from our respective accounts.

Newegg also often runs gift card sales. If you have a business Visa credit card, such as Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Ink Business Cash Credit Card you can get 3% off through Visa SavingsEdge program. Enroll your business Visa in SavingsEdge program here and receive a 3% automatic statement credit when shopping on Newegg. You can stack cashback portals with Visa SavingsEdge discount to shave off a few more dollars off the price of the gift card purchased on Newegg. Newegg also limits the number of discounted gift cards you can purchase in one transaction. However, if the cards are still on sale and are available 48 hours after your first purchase, you can buy them again.

Click here to compare business cards and find the one that's best for you.

Stacking Discounts with Cash Back Portals

If you aren’t using cash back portals when shopping online, including booking travel, you are leaving money on the table. I always start my online shopping by going to Cashback Monitor and searching for the best portal payout. Cashback Monitor will show you which portal has the best cash back deal. Don’t sign up for too many portals, as most have payout minimums; it will be hard to reach your minimum payout if you have too many accounts. Note that gift cards are often excluded and you might not earn any cash back through the portal; it is definitely a YMMV (your mileage may vary) situation. For me, Top Cashback has consistently tracked Newegg purchases.

Buying Discounted Hotels.com Gift Cards in Stores

If you have Ink Business Cash Credit Card, Chase Ink Plus (not available to new cardholders) or Amex SimplyCash Business it makes sense to buy Hotels.com gift cards at office supply stores. These cards earn 5% back in the form of cash or points. Staples and Office Depot regularly run sales on merchant gift cards in store and online. Use the sale to stack discounts, shopping portals’ cash back and credit card points.

Hotels.com gift cards are also sold at big national grocery store chains such as Kroger. Grocery stores also have gift cards sales on a regular basis, especially around the holidays. If you purchase Hotels.com on sale, use a credit card that earns bonus points at grocery stores, and stack it with fuel discount (if available), it can add up to significant savings.

Related: Award Yourself A Hawaiian Vacation–The Best Award Stays In Hawaii 

Using Cashback Portals to Book Your Stay

When you are ready to book your stay don’t forget to go through a shopping portal. Because shopping portals’ payout rates change all the time, remember to always start with Cashback Monitor. Don’t forget to google Hotels.com discount codes before making your reservation. Shopping portals usually list additional discounts as well.

Hotels.com Rewards Program

Hotels.com has its own rewards program–stay 10 nights (single or multiple stays) and get one night free. You can use your free night on your next stay, but note that you will have to pay taxes and fees.

Per Hotels.com terms, you can only use one gift card per booking, however, you can combine multiple gift cards into one card by going to their gift card balance transfer page and clicking on balance transfer tab.

I’ve seen reports online that not all hotels bookable on Hotels.com accept gift cards. So before buying a lot of discounted gift cards, check if you can use them to book your preferred property.

Keep in mind, that if you are going after elite status with any hotel program or want to use your elite status perks, bookings made through third parties usually aren’t eligible for upgrades and other elite status perks. There are, however, many wonderful independent or small chain hotels, especially abroad, where you can save 10% or more by using Hotels.com discounted gift cards and the strategies outlined above.

As you can see, it’s very possible to save big when booking your stay on Hotels.com. Be strategic about stacking discounted gift cards, shopping portals, and remember to use the credit card that earns you the most points.

If you have used Hotels.com in the past, tell us about your experience. If you have any other optimization strategies share them in comments or tag me in the group.

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The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card–A Travel Rewards Card Like No Other

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Rewards Card--A Travel Rewards Card Like No Other

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could go on vacation for free? Of course it would! Well, that’s the whole point of travel rewards. If you’re looking to get the best travel rewards card out there, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Not only do they have one of best rewards programs out there, but there’s a host of other bonuses as well!

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has to offer:

  • Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after reaching the minimum spending requirement of $4,000 in the first three months the account is open
  • Earn 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants
  • $95 annual fee on this card waived the first year
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • Additional benefits such as Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance and an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, we’re just getting started. Let’s take a closer look at Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Click here to compare this card and find the travel rewards card that's best for you.

Redeeming your Ultimate Rewards

Earning 50,000 points sounds well and good, but you want to get the most out of your points. We’ll take a look at the four options Chase gives you, and focus on the last one–which is by far the best!

Redemption option #1–Trade in your points for cash back

You can always redeem your Ultimate Rewards points at a cash value of 1 cent per point, so your 50,000 points equals $500 in cash back. But this is a travel rewards card, not a cash back card, so let’s talk about some more exciting options!

Redemption option #2–Travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal

You can book travel directly through Chase’s booking portal–making your life a whole lot easier. The value is 1.25 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, so your 50,000 points equals $625 of travel. That’s the equivalent of a couple plane tickets (depending on where you’re traveling to, of course).

Redemption option #3–Trade in your points for experiences

The Ultimate Rewards program lets you trade in your points to attend exclusive events curated specifically towards you, based on the card you have. These include sporting events, concerts and culinary experiences.

Redemption option #4–Transfer your points to one of Chase’s 13 airline & hotel partners

These transfer partners include:

  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Rewards
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Flying Blue
  • Aer Lingus
  • Iberia

The potential value of these points when transferred is significant. In some cases, it even exceeds $1,500-$2,000 depending on your exact redemption–which is why this last option is our favorite!

Click here to compare this card and find the travel rewards card that's best for you.

You can also earn Ultimate Rewards with other Chase cards

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program carries over to many of their other credit cards. Here are current Chase credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards® points:

The first three are often considered “premium” cards because the Ultimate Rewards points you earn from them come with the ability to transfer to airline/hotel partners. The other cards do not have that ability by themselves, but you can combine your Ultimate Rewards points into one of your premium card accounts to make the all the more valuable transferable points.

Other benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card

I’ve outlined the major benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but there’s a few more things to cover. Here's some more benefits that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers:

  • Rewards never expire as long as your card account is active–but remember, once you transfer the points to one of the 13 transfer partners, you can’t get them back to your Chase account, so make sure to keep them in your account until you’re really sure you know what you want to spend them on and you're ready to book an award flight/night.
  • You can combine your Ultimate Rewards points with your spouse into one account.
  • You can also transfer points between authorized users.

Click here to compare this card and find the travel rewards card that's best for you.

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4 Ways To Help Hit Minimum Spend On Travel Rewards Cards

If you have ever opened a travel rewards card, then I bet you have worried at some point about hitting minimum spend requirements. After all, you get a huge amount of value from these cards from these initial signup bonuses and reaching those bonus requirements are essential!

When my wife and I first started down the road of building our travel rewards portfolio six months ago, hitting these minimum spend requirements didn't seem like a big deal. To be honest, I was more terrified about what would happen to my awesome credit score.

My credit score is fine in case you are wondering. It dropped a little in the last six months since opening my first card, but not enough to worry about it.

Anyways, over the past six months, my wife and I have been able to earn over $4,000 in future free travel from four different travel rewards cards. Just last week, we even signed up for cards number five and six.

Click here to compare travel rewards cards and find one that's best for you.

Without carefully planning how to meet the minimum spend requirements on each of our cards, we would probably only be on our third card right now. Fortunately, we were able to learn early on that paying for big ticket items or large expenses can really help.

From what we have learned so far, optimizing your spending and planning your expenses out can go a long way in building your travel rewards portfolio.

Four Ways to Meet Minimum Spend Requirements on Travel Rewards Cards

In the last six months, we have been able to leverage several big expenses into opening up more cards and earning more points.

I want to mention, we are only interested in using our cards for expenses we would normally buy. We are NOT buying a bunch of stuff we don't need or doing anything odd to reach these spending requirements.

Finally, we always pay off our credit card at the end of every month. Earning travel rewards is pointless if you carry a balance on your cards.

Now on to the list!

1. Pay for Dental & Medical Expenses

Honestly, this is one of my all-time favorite life hacks and it happened just recently. Our dental insurance is setup that when we visit the dentist, we pay all the expenses out of pocket. Then the dentist submits the claim to our insurance provider and we get a check back in the mail within a couple of weeks.

Back in the fall, my three kids had their annual cleaning appointment. We were initially billed for $636 between the three appointments, which we paid on one of our travel rewards cards. A few weeks later we got reimbursed $586 from our insurance provider.

Instead of paying the $50 ($636 – $586) out of pocket expense at the time of the appointment, we were able to put over $600 worth of spending on our card. Then a short time later use the reimbursement to pay for most of the cost.

Prior to travel rewards, it would drive me crazy having to pay these expenses out of pocket. Sure we got reimbursed eventually, but it really bothered me.

Now that we are building up our travel rewards, I absolutely love these opportunities.

Tip #1: Brainstorm any big expenses that you know you will get reimbursed for part of the cost. Try and plan out opening a card right before that big expense.

2. Property Taxes and Homeowners Insurance

If you own a home, then you pay taxes and insurance. I don't know about you, but paying my property taxes is the biggest expense I pay for each year (well except for braces this year–see #3).

Nobody wants to pay taxes, but there may be some good news for anyone earning travel rewards. Paying your property taxes “could” be a great opportunity to knock the minimum spend requirements out on a single card. We did just that earlier this year by charging almost $4,000 to pay for our taxes on a rewards card.

That card had a minimum spend requirement of $5,000 in the first three months. Paying for our taxes took care of 80% of the spending.

The one downside however, is that we were charged a processing fee (around $100) for paying by credit card. After carefully looking at the cards we wanted to open and already had open, my wife and I decided to pay the service fee.

Normally I would never pay a fee like this. However, the bonus points on that card and others we had opened at the time were worth the fee.

We actually have our annual homeowners insurance bill due in a couple weeks. This time, there will be no service fee and we can simply call up our insurance agent and pay with our card. That will be another $1,000 of spending!

Tip #2: Look at optimizing your credit card spending by paying for larger insurance and tax bills. You may want to even consider paying for items with a service fee, if the bonus is too good to pass up.

3. Braces

I added paying for braces using a travel rewards card because we did just that earlier this year. We were told that our middle son would need braces about a year ago after a consultation visit. This wasn't a big surprise as our oldest son needed them too.

Instead of freaking out about the price tag to get braces, my wife and I sat down to figure how to best optimize this expense. We had been eyeing another travel rewards card during that time, but the minimum spending requirement was $5,000 in the first three months. Opening that card would have been difficult at the time to hit the spending limit with the other cards we were working on.

The orthodontist office offered several different payment options. One option was to pay the balance in full (over $6,000) and receive a 5% discount.

In the past, I would have never consider this as a viable option. However, we also have an emergency fund right now that would cover almost 12 months of our expenses and is earning less than 1% interest.

So we optimized our spending as follows:

  1. pay $6,000 for braces on a travel rewards card
  2. loan ourselves $6,000 from our emergency fund
  3. pay off credit card balance with our loan
  4. setup a 30 month interest free payment plan to repay our loan

These four steps saved us $300+ on the total cost of braces, put our emergency fund to better use than earning 1%, and earned us 80,000 bonus rewards points from one credit card.

Tip #3: Think outside the box! Do you have any situations like this where you could optimize your spending by giving yourself a loan?

4. Non-profit Groups or Organizations

I coach both of my boys travel baseball teams. I have done it for the past six years and absolutely love it, as do they.

Part of the responsibilities of being a coach is ordering uniforms and equipment for the team. While each player pays their share for the season, I often get stuck writing a check to cover jerseys at the beginning of the season. Money comes in all throughout the season, so I eventually get it back.

So instead of writing a check out of my personal account that is withdrawn almost immediately, I now pay these expenses with a travel rewards card. This helps me two different ways.

First, paying for these items on a credit card buys me some time to collect money from the other parents before the bill is due. I am tired of having to come up with the money upfront, so a credit card helps.

Second (and more important), is that we can earn travel rewards on purchases that I will eventually be refunded for.

I have been told by some people this is unethical. Personally, I don't have an issue with it as I am volunteering my time to the team and basically giving the parents a short-term loan.

Tip #4: Do you help run any teams or clubs where you make purchases? You could consider earning some extra travel rewards by making these purchases on a card and then be reimbursed later.

Click here to compare travel rewards cards and find one that's best for you.

Hitting Minimum Spend Requirements on Travel Rewards Cards

Whether you plan to open one travel reward card this year or 10, leveraging big expenses can help you reach minimum spend requirements.

Maybe you have some large expenses throughout the year that I listed above? Or maybe you don't?

But I am sure that if you think outside the box, you could probably come up with some expense that would help.

What other large expenses have you optimized to pay with a travel rewards card?

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4 Ways To Help Hit Minimum Spend On Travel Rewards Cards

How A Beginner Went To Paris Using Travel Rewards

How A Beginner Went To Paris Using Travel Rewards

This article was written by a member of our Facebook group, Shannyn Allan. Here's her story of how she used travel rewards take a dream trip to Paris.

The ChooseFI community is a vibrant space that’s full of really smart people who are thinking about their goals differently than most of the mainstream. When I discovered this community, I was inspired by the general attitude that you can approach any challenges with creativity to get to your desired outcome without needing a lot of cash to get you there.

Curiosity and creativity is precisely what brings most people to FI and what leads most of them to try using travel rewards. The idea that one must sacrifice travel in order to get that savings rate to the blessed 50% simply won’t do for many–so using travel rewards are the natural alternative to not traveling at all.

One other commonality about the FI community is that there seemingly is a plethora of people who sincerely enjoy spreadsheets and thrive off of the idea of optimization. There’s just a certain type of FI’ers. I’m apparently not one of those people. I just got back from a two week trip to Paris and Barcelona that was made possible by a less-than-optimal, not-so-perfect approach to using travel rewards with credit card rewards that was pulled together with just one haphazard spreadsheet on Google Drive. (gasp!)

If you’re like me, the idea of tracking details, running projections, and being perfectly optimal about everything can be so overwhelming. You might never even get started for fear that there’s no way anything can be just right. If that’s you- read on. My approach to credit card rewards is crazy simple and may get you inspired that you can make your bucket list trips a reality. Is it perfect? No. Is it just enough to be dangerous? Yes. Hopefully this will take the sting out of starting and get you inspired to take action.

How Did I Make Paris a Reality on a Limited Budget?

Long story short–I did two things: I saved $2 a day to a savings account to cover food and gifts for folks back home. In under two years, I saved over $1220 in cash to cover anything my rewards points couldn’t cover, or, if I saw fit–to pay for a plane ticket and use my points for hotels and excursions. Second thing–I utilized three Chase cards: the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

If you want to keep using travel rewards and not spend hours researching all the options out there, start with Chase. Chase is notoriously easy to use and if you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, just start here.

Click here to compare travel rewards cards and find one that's best for you.

How Did Two Credit Cards Fund My Trip To Paris?

For those cards, I earned a total of more than 180,000 points. Since I just bought a home, I had a lot of really fun (sarcasm!) purchases in my first year that also helped me rack up points. In six months, I had several HVAC repairs, trips to Home Depot, and various contractors to pay for. I also used my Chase Business Preferred Ink card for several large purchases for my business, about $5,000–but even if you don’t have a business with large purchases throughout the year, you’ll be okay! While you can get 2-3x the points with the Reserve and Preferred by using your card on travel and restaurants, that doesn’t make up the bulk of my spending, but I tried to maximize those bonus points over the course of a year for weddings and trips home. Just think ahead to any spending you might be doing in the next year, and see what points you could rack up for them.

What Did I Use My Points On?

So, with around 195,000+ points in hand stemming from sign up bonuses, a little business spending, and home repairs, I knew it would soon be time to cash in. I kept an eye on good deals for airfare, but alas, coming from San Antonio, my pickin's were slim. I set up Kayak alerts to get an idea of what to expect in terms of fares and travel time, and when I saw a nearly direct flight from San Antonio to Paris for just $660 round trip, I knew I had to pounce. I couldn’t replicate the fast flight time and relative cost (in points) to what I saw in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal (and in this case, transferring points was not going to work quickly) so I just booked it with cash.

I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get 3x points on booking airfare for myself and my partner, so that added an additional 4,000 points to my arsenal. Long story short, with three credit cards opened through the year, I was able to book two weeks of hotels in Paris and Barcelona. By booking with the Chase Ultimate Rewards, I could consolidate my points to the portal with the best redemption rate (Chase Sapphire Reserve) to make my points go even further.

Total points: 195,235
Total redemptions for hotels: 6 nights hotel stay in Barcelona, 7 nights in Paris.
Total redemptions for activities: Champagne Tasting, Crepe Making Class for Two, 2 tickets to Disneyland Paris, “Skip The Line” Versailles Pass…and a few other fun things!

Click here to compare travel rewards cards and find one that's best for you.

So, What Did I Learn?

A few key takeaways about using travel rewards for those who don’t want to spend hours analyzing (or ahem, agonizing) programs, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • You can sufficiently fund a trip with just 2-3 cards, I recommend Chase due to simplicity in both tracking your points and being able to pay your cards in one place.
  • If you use Chase points to book your travel, be sure you consolidate your points to the card with the best redemption rate. In my case, the best card was the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which redeemed at 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, better than the Preferred. 
  • You can use your rewards points to book most things, but not all things. We used up my points on hotels, excursions (like a day pass to Versailles outside Paris and visiting La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona).  We still had to pay for trains, hotel fees/taxes and the plethora of meats and cheeses I insisted on consuming daily.

Related: Extreme Stacking and Optimizing Hotels.com

There are far more sophisticated articles out there that deal with travel rewards, I recommend you read them, but I hope this gets you started! The goal is to first dream big (I told myself Paris was too expensive for too long), then creatively find ways to fund your trip. I did it with travel rewards and by saving $2 a day. Ask questions along the way and know that everything is figure-outable, but don’t let the “I don’t knows” or “it’s not 100% optimal” keep you from starting! I also recommend that you check out the Choose FI Facebook group if you have questions or want to hear other success stories, it will help you get started!

Shannyn has been a frugality writer at FrugalBeautiful.com since 2011 and recently launched TheWonderLuster.com to help tackle her bucket list and talk about financial independence for millennial women. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her two rescue dogs.

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Award Yourself A Hawaiian Vacation–The Best Award Stays In Hawaii   

Hawaii will always hold a special place in my heart. I fell in love with Hawaii on my first trip to Maui in 2002. We were greeted with leis and I learned how to properly carve and serve a pineapple. By the way, you will never taste a sweeter pineapple than a real Hawaiian pineapple.

Both my then boyfriend and I loved Maui so much that, when we got engaged there was no doubt in our minds about where we wanted to get married and spend our honeymoon. We were married in a sunset ceremony on a tiny beach near Wailea, one of the most beautiful areas of Maui.

With Southwest announcing its plans to begin flights to Hawaii, now is the perfect time to start planning another trip to paradise. You can use your companion pass for two for one flight to Hawaii and there are many ways to use points for free hotel stays.

There are so many options in Hawaii, from the grand dames like Grand Wailea, Hilton Waikoloa Village, and Fairmount Kea Lani. Or, more off-the-beaten-path accommodations in places like Hana. There are options for great redemptions using hotel points for all the big chains, and you can spend as little as 12,000 points a night or as much as 80,000 points.

First, decide what is most important to you in a hotel redemption. For me personally, location is the main deciding factor. When I'm visiting an island paradise like Hawaii it’s all about the beach! I want to stay by the ocean and I'm willing to spend more points to be right on the beach.

Related: Extreme Stacking and Optimizing Hotels.com

You'll get the best bang for your buck (or points, in our case) by staying at a lower tier hotel, such as Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach for 12,000 pts/night. You can also use Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book a non-chain hotel pretty much anywhere on the islands.

Let’s look at some of the best point values and best redemption options for hotels in Hawaii.

Maui:

  • Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa–20,000 pts/ night
  • Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club–Molokai or Maui & Lanai Towers, Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club–40,000 Marriott pts/night or 14,000 SPG pts/night

Kauai:

  • Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa 25,000 pts/night
  • Sheraton Kauai Resort 12,000 SPG pts/night
  • Koloa Landing, Autograph Collection 40,000 Marriott or 14,000 SPG pts/night
  • Wyndham Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach Wyndham Grand Resort 15,000 pts/night
  • Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay 30,000–40,000 HHonors pts/night

Oahu:

  • Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach–20,000 pts/night
  • Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa–20,000 pts/night
  • Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach–12,000 pts/night
  • Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa 40,000 Marriott pts/night or about 13,400 SPG pts/night
  • Courtyard Waikiki Beach 35,000 Marriott pts/night or about 12,000 SPG pts/night
  • Sheraton Princess Kaiulani 12,000 SPG pts/night or 36,000 Marriott pts/night
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei 40,000 HHonors pts/night
  • Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort 60,000 HHonors pts/night

Big Island

  • Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa At Keauhou Bay 10,000 SPG pts/night
  • Hapuna Beach Resort 12,000 SPG pts/night
  • Hilton Waikoloa Village (select rooms) 50,000 HHonors pts/night
  • So as you can see there are many options for a great Hawaiian getaway without breaking your points bank. You can maximize your hotel points by taking advantage of stay four nights get 5th night free perk. Both Marriott and SPG have this option and Hilton offers this perk to their elite members.

Flexible currencies, non chain hotels, and condos

I'm personally a big fan of flexible currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Chase has a few cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points. The most popular are Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Preferred.

You can use Ultimate Rewards points to book many non-chain hotels and vacation rentals in Hawaii (including on the beach!). You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to many hotel partner programs. If you have Chase Sapphire Reserve and you are using Chase travel portal, your points are worth 1.5c/point. If you have Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink+ or Chase Ink Preferred the points are worth 1.25c/point. The price in points will directly correlate to the dollar price of the hotel, so your redemptions will vary depending on the time of the year and the type of property you choose.

Click Here to get more details on this card and compare to other travel rewards cards!

This might be a good option if you like to stay in condos, non-chain hotels or a bit off the beaten track. For example, you can book Travaasa Hana hotel in Hana, Maui for about 70,000 Ultimate Rewards pts/night. Not cheap, but if you have your heart set on staying at a one of a kind luxury property in an amazing setting like the town of Hana there aren’t a lot of other options.

You can also use cards like Capital One Venture or Barclaycard Arrival Plus to “erase” your travel purchases. Check with your credit card what they code as travel and book your accommodations. Just book and pay for the hotel like you normally would then log into your online account and “erase” the charge with your miles.

Click Here to get more details on this card and compare to other travel rewards cards!

Tell us about your great Hawaii redemptions. Where you stayed, what points you used and how you optimized your Hawaiian vacation.

Related Articles:

Award Yourself A Hawaiian Vacation--The Best Award Stays In Hawaii

Why Even Bother With Travel Rewards?

Why even bother with travel rewards? My friends ask me a version of this question all the time. People think it’s too much work, requires too much organization, too time consuming, etc. etc. For me, the simple answer to this question is: Because I love to travel!

Why I care about rewards

I like to stay at nice hotels and let’s face it, if you're going to spend 10 to 14 hours on an airplane, it’s a lot more enjoyable to sit up front in business or first class. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for travel rewards I simply would not have gone on one of the best trips of my life. Spending 15 hours in coach en route to Australia does not sound appealing at all.

Over the course of the last couple of years my interest in travel rewards has grown. That sense of wanderlust hit me bad! I want to see the world and I also have family abroad that I’d like to visit on a regular basis. Wouldn’t it be nice to do all of these things while not spending a lot of money?

I like to hunt for deals and I use shopping portals for all my online shopping. I am constantly trying to figure out how to optimize my spending on everyday things to maximize the travel rewards. This need to optimize your life is actually a perfect personality trait for anyone who takes travel rewards seriously.

Related: Extreme Stacking and Optimizing Hotels.com

I’ve flown business class to see my family abroad a couple of times over the last five years or so, but my first big win was flying to Australia in first class and staying at one of the most amazing hotels with a view of Sydney Opera House. My husband and I then flew for free, between Sydney and Bangkok in business class. We stayed at an amazing hotel in Bangkok and, finally, I flew in business class back home. After this trip I was hooked! I immediately started researching ways to travel like this all the time.

If you want to learn about travel rewards, think why YOU want to do it, what are your goals? It doesn’t have to be first class travel all the time or at all. Maybe your family is scattered all over the country, maybe you want to go on as many trips as possible, maybe you want to show your kids the world while spending very little money. Maybe your why is aspirational trips and luxury travel you could never afford otherwise.

Being good at travel rewards requires organization. You need to keep track of cards, their expiration dates, and always be on the lookout for deals. And yes, you will have to do some work, nothing is completely free but the value in travel rewards is enormous.

My rewards strategy

Anyone pursuing travel rewards needs to have a strategy. It’s like chess, you always have a strategy. You should never go in blind and just start opening random credit cards. For example, if you don’t fly Southwest or don’t do a lot of domestic travel in general, don’t get swept up in the excitement of obtaining a companion pass.

Do you want to take your family to Disney? Or travel in first class to Europe? Or are you planning a destination wedding? All of these will require you to develop different strategies so think first about your travel goals.

My goals with travel rewards all involve big international trips. As I mentioned already, I absolutely hate being stuck in coach on a long haul flight. So, I focus all my energy on obtaining rewards that would help me get to my destination in comfort. I have my big trip of 2018 planned already. My next goals are to collect enough miles to go see my family abroad. And I want to fly business class. I also want my husband and I to go to Japan in first class in 2019. I already have an airline in mind and what points/miles I’ll need to get us there in comfort.

Think of credit cards as your friends. They're not your enemies (if handled responsibly). Treat credit cards with respect they deserve, but don’t fear them. When you change your way of thinking, a whole world of new possibilities opens up.

Tell me about the trips you want to plan and what you would like to learn and let’s see how we can get you there for pennies on the dollar!

Why travel rewards are worth the effort

031 | Travel Rewards What Comes After Chase | Travel to Disney World for Free

Free Disney Vacations & Disney Credit Card

Learn how to Travel to Disney for Free. If you focus on these Disney Credit Cards you can put together the family vacation of a lifetime and save upwards of $4000 on travel.   This episode highlights which cards to work on after  you've finished with the Chase credit cards plus whether you should focus on one trip or a general strategy.

In Today’s Podcast we cover:

  • Part 2 of the travel rewards podcast series on where to go when you’re done with the Chase credit card options
  • Does it make sense to go after cards for a particular trip like Walt Disney World or should you focus on Chase cards while you are under the “5/24 rule?”
  • Brad and his wife Laura are both trying to get back under 5/24 and waiting to open up cards
  • If you are doing this with a spouse you can realistically open 10 Chase credit cards (5 each)
  • What cards would you get from other banks such as American Express, Citibank, Barclaycard and Capital One?
  • American Express has a one bonus per card per lifetime rule
  • Amex has a transferable points program called Membership Rewards that is a quality program (similar to Chase Ultimate Rewards)
  • The transfer partners we like from Chase
  • Why we like “fixed value” cards such as Arrival Plus and Venture
  • To branch out beyond Chase cards or not?

Travel to Disney for Free?

  • If you’re a member of the FI community it would be hard to ignore the Chase cards to focus on a specific trip like Disney. In fact it is relatively easy to Travel to Disney for nearly Free and depending on your travel goals you can delay it until you finish the Chase cards
  • For people not aware of travel rewards, a “quick win” like booking the Disney Dolphin hotel is a great way to get huge value from your points

Is there a Disney Credit Card?

  • Buying Disney tickets from Disney does not count as “travel” for credit cards, so you need to use Undercover Tourist (or aRes Travel for Disneyland)
  • Orlando International Airport is a huge hub for Southwest, which is our favorite airline rewards program
  • Southwest does not limit award ticket availability – it is just based on cash price
  • You have a lot of flexibility with Southwest Airlines miles
  • Flexibility will help you succeed with travel rewards

Links from the show:

What if I have a specific question about Travel Rewards?

If you have a specific question about travel rewards, join our Private Facebook Group

Ask a question

009 | Travel Rewards: How To Travel The World For Free (The Easy Way)

The Ultimate Podcast for Travel Rewards

This is the Ultimate Guide to Travel the World for Nearly Free

  • Why Jonathan started with travel rewards:
  • Wife’s family in Zimbabwe: $6,000 in flights every two years
  • What is this travel rewards strategy all about?
  • Minimum spending requirement defined
  • Options to meet minimum spending requirement
  • Return on investment: instead of 1.5% rewards, you can earn upwards of 33%
  • Impact on credit score and Brad’s personal experience
  • Is this strategy right for you?
  • The Chase Gauntlet and why you want to focus on Chase cards first
  • Where to start? Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • How to earn the Southwest Companion Pass (and the value of the pass)
  • Business credit cards
  • Ultimate Rewards points and three ways to redeem them
  • Jonathan’s trip to Zimbabwe: Helping him save $6k in 5 minutes
  • How to search for flights at United’s website
  • If this strategy can take Jonathan to Zimbabwe, it can take you anywhere!
  • Other destinations with ‘sweet spot’ options: Costa Rica, Hawaii, Europe
  • If you want to take 1-2 nearly free vacations per year, this strategy is right for you

Links from the show:

Introducing Travel Rewards and the Chase Gauntlet

 

If you have a specific question about travel rewards, join our Private Facebook Group

Ask a question