My Frugal Weekend Getaway with Credit Card Rewards

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Greg’s Prius died and left us stranded on the side of the road.  I also mentioned that it was Greg’s birthday and that we were headed out of town for a fun weekend trip.  I didn’t go into detail about it at the time, but I’m now ready to share the details of our almost-free weekend getaway.  Oh, and aren’t you excited?  Of course you are!

It all started when I signed up for the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.  The deal went like this: Spend $1,000 in three months and get $400 in travel credit.  And, the cool thing about the travel credit is that it didn’t have to be redeemed through some marked-up cheesy travel reward website.  No, I could book my travel anywhere I wanted, whether it be Expedia or Travelocity, or whatever.

So, once I signed up for the card, it was super easy to spend $1,000 in three months.  I just put my groceries and gas on the card, as usual, and paid it in full every few weeks.  Then, BOOM.  I totally reached the spending requirement and the travel credit showed up in my account in lightening fast speed.  And, I liked it.

How to Earn $440 in Travel Credit

Since Greg was going to turn 34 on a Friday, I started looking for frugal weekend getaway ideas.  And, it had to be something kid-friendly since our little monsters would be in tow.  So, I had the bright idea that I would look for a waterpark.  And, I found one!  In Dundee, Michigan, there is this cool place called Splash Universe that has a Holiday Inn next door.  Unfortunately, the website said that suites big enough for our family started around $279, which means that I would have to actually pay for part of the trip out of my own bank account.  Oh, the horror….

So, I called the hotel and asked for a discount in my nicest phone voice.  “It’s my husband’s birthday!”  “It’s a special treat for my kids….”  Fortunately, the lady who I talked to was in a generous mood.  And, after negotiating a little bit, we were able to get a two bedroom suite for $149 per night.  They also offered to throw in a free breakfast buffet for both days AND free waterpark passes for four!  Of course, I was all over that deal and signed us up.  So, when all was said and done, I paid $345 (including taxes and fees) for a two-bedroom suite for two nights, eight breakfasts, and four two-day water park passes.  And, I’m left with $100 in additional hotel or flight credit to spend on our next trip.

More Amazing Savings

One of the most amazing things about the room we booked as that it had a small (and ghetto) kitchenette.   This meant that we were able to bring drinks, meals, and snacks with us.  So, although we ate dinner at Applebee’s on my husband’s birthday and McDonald’s for lunch on Saturday, we ate the rest of our meals in our room.  And, having a fridge in the room came in super handy since my kids guzzle milk and yogurt like it’s crack cocaine.  But, they’re so adorable.  So, it’s fine.

Also, make sure to check out this review of the Discover It Card over at Frugal Rules!

When is the last time you traveled using credit card rewards?  Or, if you haven’t done it, are you considering it?

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. We prefer cash back for our rewards cards – I hate having restrictions on what I can spend on and often it seems like our travel is largely paid for by employers.

  2. Seems like a great deal! I keep saying this after reading all the travel rewards posts, but I totally need to open up a travel card and take advantage of one of these opportunities. I just might have to do it if we end up making that Costa Rica trip next Spring.

    • Do it!

      You could both churn this card and end up with $800 off of your trip (actually $880 because you earn $1 per point on your spending). Greg and I both churned it.
      Feel free to use my affiliate link. Muaahahahahhh!

  3. The rewards card is cool. The story of you calling up a holiday inn and negotiating your own deal is cooler. That was quite a discount! :-)

  4. Wow, you rocked it there, girl!!! I’m amazed that you got the hotel gal to give you that big of a discount. What on earth did you say to her? I want the scoop!

    • Ha!

      She actually said that they had a fall promotion but she could give it to me a month early. I got the eight free breakfast for agreeing to sign up for their rewards program.

  5. We are leaving for Ireland next week and our hotel stays are 100% covered by points. Retail for the hotels is close to $1500 for the week (they are some pretty nice hotels I probably wouldn’t actually pay for). The credit card we are using probably has the most generous point redemption option (basically stay one get one free when you do a 2 night stay on points).

    After this trip we will have to start plotting our next churn.

    • That sounds awesome, Brian! What card did you churn for this trip?

      • The main one was the Club Carlson Card (I had a huge stash of points after doing their “big night out” promos last year), which netted me close to 100K points after minimum spend. There is an annual fee, but that is offset by the 40K points they give you each year. As I mentioned above, the last night free on a reward stay is a HUGE benefit, which can basically turn into a stay one, get one if you only do two night stays.

  6. Wow it sounds like you really rocked that deal! Good job!

  7. Sounds awesome! We really want to start churning cards, and now that homebuying is on hold, we are really thinking about it.

  8. Thankfully.. My fear of credit cards has subsided and I can now see the benefit in saving up points and using them for things like what you guys just did. In fact, we recently did something very similar that I will be writing about soon.

    Sounds like a great trip..

  9. We have a rewards credit card but the annual fees are $120 for my hubby and $50 for me just paid up 2 weeks ago. The bank gave us $35 cash back but still combined we are paying $135 per year to use the card. The rewards are fairly generous (RBC Avion card) but I am definitely going to try churning in the next 6 months!
    I have never been able to get such a steep discount as you just did on a hotel rate. I’ll have to work on my technique!

  10. Wow, I think the most impressive part of that whole thing is the discount you were able to negotiate from the hotel. What exactly did you say to them to get that deal? Was it really as easy as saying that it was Greg’s birthday?

  11. Nice work on the discount Holly! Even better work on having another $100 of free money to spend! We both churned the Barclycard and are using one to pay for the hotel costs for FinCon and the other towards our trip for my birthday in January – which will be our first little monster free vacation in several years :)

  12. Sounds like a good trip! I use a travel credit card (or two?) and really enjoy the perks it gives me.

  13. We are working on the Starwood card right now, but maybe this one should be next. Free travel is a huge reason to get out of debt and get your credit score in good shape. I feel sorry for the people who shell out big bucks for trips.

  14. Wow Holly…you totally took the bull by the horns so to speak! And while I am not a fan of credit cards, that Barclay Card deal sounds awesome!! Way to go grrl :)

    Take care and all the best.

    Lyle

  15. Amazing work negotiating that discount!! That absolutely is the most impressive part of all…

    We just finished up our Chase Ink Bold 60,000 point bonus and are now working on the next 30,000 Starwood bonus points.

    We just reached the 40,000 total SPG points and next week I’m going to book the Disney Swan for five FREE nights for our family trip to Disney next year!! Then it’s on to the Southwest Visa to get our flights for free. I love travel hacking!

    And you’re right, it doesn’t hurt your credit at all; my credit rating dropped from an 803 to 797, which could be a normal fluctuation anyway, and I’ve earned probably $10,000 of completely tax-free travel. I wish everyone would stop being so hesitant and just jump into this…

  16. Nice job using your nice phone voice to negotiate a sweet deal. I would take that one as well. I like that Arrival card. It has some perks.

  17. Interesting, I never knew you could negotiate the rate over the phone to get a better deal. That’s pretty cool. Sounds like you guys had fun!

  18. Wow, I might have to finally open a second credit card! That sounds like a pretty amazing deal, plus traveling is the #1 thing I spend my money on. More than the card I’m impressed with your made negotiating skills. Props Holly!

  19. I just got the Hyatt visa card so that I could put some of my hotel at fincon on it. I really only got about 1.5 days for free (since the fee is 75 for the card and I had to spend an extra 20 because I paid my estimated taxes online to reach the 1k I had to spend quickly), but it was totally worth it. I also use my southwest card for all my daily purchases so I can get free flights. I’m getting better at this game every day!

  20. Leslie and I don’t live too far from Splash Universe and were looking at the idea as a fun vacation one day! Thanks for the tip on a frugal vacation, I’ll make sure to see if we can get a better deal by calling and asking for a discount :)

  21. It sounds like a great card. I will sign up for it once we start traveling again. Maybe next summer.

  22. Though I normally don’t click on affiliate links, I might do it this time! I also sent your post to a friend. That’s an awesome deal! Thanks for sharing. Also, good work on the hotel room.

    I’m also thinking about starting a blog instead of just reading everyone else’s and turning it in to a real side gig, so thanks for the post about that too.

    • Meghan,

      If you sign up through my affiliate link, I’ll name my third born child after you.

      You should totally start a blog! You seem like someone who has something to say, and it can be a great outlet for doing just that. And, if I can do it, anyone can. I seriously just learned how to use Twitter a few weeks ago. I’m dumb.

      • Twitter… ugh. I only have room for one form of social media and that’s Facebook. If not for the fact that my family communicates exclusively through FB, I wouldn’t have that. :)

        I think I’ll sign up but I will let you know. As for the blog, I own a domain http://www.meghan(lastname).com but think that’s too personal for a finance blog. I’m thinking about it!

        • It is SO HARD to decide on a domain. I have a bunch of them because I couldn’t decide on one. I’m holding onto the others just to see what happens.
          Just make sure you pick something you like. If not, you might end up regretting it!

  23. I’m terrible at keeping track of the rewards my credit cards have! It’s awesome that you were able to use it to your advantage!

    I’m still trying to figure out how to monetize my blog– your post about earning and freelancing has me perplexed. You obviously have figured out some things about blogging to earn the extra income! I’ve not been able to devote the time (I think that’s my main problem) to it. Hopefully soon! Happy B-day to Greg! Every time I hear that someone is turning 34, I think, that’s so OLD. Then I remember that’s how old I am. And I get a little confused. It surely isn’t possible!

  24. When we’re done churning the Starwood cards (from your link!) I might just try that other travel card, too.

    How did you end up getting the ability to have links like that on your site? I’d be interested in trying the same someday.

    • You have to apply in order to get credit card affiliate links. We use credit.com and linkoffers.com. Sometimes it takes a while to get approved so you may have to reapply several times!!

  25. You go, Holly! I love that you called and scored yourself a great deal on the hotel room! I put everything on our credit cards too. We love rewards points, especially for travel, although I certainly don’t refuse cash back or gift cards either!

  26. Word up, homie. Nice work on getting half off, AND free breakfast AND free passes. That’s what I love about the Barclaycard, is you book the amazing deal and THEN they pay you back. $400 is $400 no matter what travel you are booking.

    I should have grabbed this card for my FinCon travel, but just ended up paying cash for the hotel because I had a ton of other credit cards for other vacations planned. At least I’m splitting the room cost!

  27. I’m really over airline cards. Delta has really started inflating mileage requirements for free flights and I’m ready to dump my Delta Amex. I’m looking at getting this card once I pay off the 0% interest balance on my current Barclay card.

  28. Seems like the credit card churning is really doing it for you guys. I’m curious…do you feel like you are spending more on vacations and entertainment because you feel obligated to use the rewards you are getting from your everyday purchases? Or are these basically trips you would have taken anyway? Seems like if the rewards are helping reduce the costs of trips you were already planning on it’s a great strategy.

    • I think that’s a common misconception. Yes, we do travel more because of rewards. However, we travel more because it’s free. This trip, for instance, only cost us the gas to get there, one dinner at Applebees for my husband’s birthday (which we would’ve done regardless) and a lunch at McDonalds. So, for a total of probably $60, we got a weekend trip and all of our meals.

      The last churn we did was our two Starwood cards where we had to spend $5000 in 6 months. For both of us to do it, it took nine months! But, now we have over 60,000 starwood points that we can use anywhere in the world. And, if we didn’t have those, we would have to pay for wherever we stay. We like to take 3 or 4 big vacations per year, and that adds up if you have to pay for it yourself.

      So, to answer your question, we do travel more because of rewards. But, we travel because it’s free! =)

  29. I always use miles for my overseas trips flying business or first class. In July, my wife and I took a long weekend using hotel vouchers for stay at the beach. It also included free breakfast. We got away with just dinner each night because breakfast was so big.

  30. Nice work! That’s so great the woman was able to give you an early discount. Just goes to show that it pays to ask! I only have one cash back credit card. Sadly traveling really isn’t in our immediate future, and our expenses aren’t high enough to be able to get the bonuses. It will be something to look into a few years from now though, as traveling is one of my big goals.

  31. I use my Marriott card for points but only redeem outside the US. You get much better value due to the exchange rate. I got a $700 hotel room overseas for free with the same amount of points it would cost me for a $150 room.

  32. Reward points are awesome! Especially if you acquire enough to travel like what you did! Sounds like a fun vacation.

  33. This is a nice idea, but no one wants to lose their money or home on a debt, made from holidays :) Or are they? :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] week, I wrote about how I earned a free weekend getaway using credit card rewards.  And, for some reason, it rubbed a few people the wrong way.  But this […]

  2. […] depressed by the thought of your friends going on vacation and having fun, you may just need to get out of the house.  Even a weekend in your favorite hotel can be highly therapeutic simply because it gives you time […]

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