Credit Card Rewards: Our Budget Travel Plans for the Rest of 2015

Our Budget Travel Plans for the Rest of 2015 - picture of Marco Island beach at sunset

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As many of you know, we have traveled all over the place using credit card rewards during the last 12 months. Since this time last year, we’ve gone on a cruise to the Bahamas, traveled to London and around England, visited Paris and New Orleans, and jetted off to St. Maarten, Jamaica, Canada, Las Vegas, and California. You can read those trip reviews here:

It’s been a lot of fun, but 2015 isn’t over yet.  And since people keep asking me where we plan to go for the remainder of the year, I thought it might be wise to write an update post with details on how we pay for all of this. Because, let’s be honest, when it comes to budget holidays, the whole goal is paying for as little as possible, right? Right?!?!?

With that in mind, I created this post. Dear frugal friends, fellow travel enthusiasts, and genuinely nosy readers, this one’s for you.

[Editor’s Note: This is a post from 2015. Therefore, these offers and redemptions may no longer be current or available.]

Our Budget Travel Plans for the Rest of 2015


My husband is spoiled, I tell ya. S-P-O-I-L-E-D. Last year I took him to the Bahamas on a cruise for his birthday, and this year I’m taking him to Beaver Creek, Colorado, and of course, Denver. We’re going with friends too, which means plenty of shenanigans will ensue. For the record, we are going hiking up a mountain or something, so I know at least one day will be chock-full of good, clean family fun.

How we paid:

We used Southwest Rapid Rewards points to pay for our airfare. We couldn’t use our companion passes because we already have our children designated for an upcoming flight, so our flights cost us around 16,000 miles plus $11.20 each. For our hotel stays, we paid 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points to stay the Westin Beaver Creek Resort & Spa and the Westin Denver downtown.

Total Cost:

  • 32,000 Rapid Rewards miles + $11.20
  • 30,000 SPG points

Important: Please don’t tell me I can change my companion with Southwest. I freakin’ knooooooow. I can’t change it because my kids are our companions on a sold-out flight later this year.


Although this trip will only be financed partially with rewards points, I thought it was worth mentioning. Folks, we’re going to FinCon in Charlotte this year, and it’s going to be grand! I really like networking and meeting people, so make sure to hit me up if you’re going to be there! Warning: I am pretty awkward in person after years of working alone at home. Sorry.

How we paid:

Since we got a group rate for our hotel, we opted to pay the $149 per night and take the tax write-off. We also paid for our flights home with real money because all of the points options left at the crack of dawn. Last year I flew home from FinCon on the first flight out Sunday morning at like 6:00 a.m. Big mistake. Since I have like a gazillion American Airlines miles, I opted to purchase our flights to Charlotte with them.

Total Cost:

25,000 AA miles plus $11.20, and I paid for the rest as a business expense.


This is our really big trip for the year, and I’m so excited. We’re going to ItalyI’ve been dreaming about this day for a while now, folks. I simply cannot wait. Our itinerary includes Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, Florence and Venice. Please don’t email me and tell me I should spend time somewhere else in Italy because I already have it all booked people! (If you have restaurant suggestions or anything, feel free to hit me up.)

How we paid:

We used 80,000 American miles to pay for our round-trip flights to Rome and home from Venice. Our taxes and fees were $109 total. We paid for our hotels in the three main cities using cash-back from my final and last Capital One Spark Business card. That was fairly easy to do since we’re staying in cheap bed-n-breakfasts that run about $100 per night. We also booked trains for around $120, and I paid for them with real money.

Total Cost:

  • 80,000 AA miles + $109
  • $600 in cash-back for hotels
  • $120 for trains


This is a trip that I’m extremely excited about! For the first time ever, we are taking a family vacation during Christmas break. We have never been able to do that before because of Greg’s job, but now we are freeeeeeeeeeeee. We didn’t want to deal with the hassle of customs or international travel over Christmas, so we opted for a resort in Marco Island, Florida. I can’t wait to take the kids on a relaxing beach vacation!

How we paid:

We turned in 390,000 Marriott points for an Air+Hotel package worth 7 nights in a Category 9 Marriott hotel and 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Our flights cost around 25,000 miles for Greg and I, but our kids were free as our companions.

Total Cost:

  • 390,000 Marriott points
  • 50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points plus $44.80 in taxes ($5.60 per leg)

Budget Travel: Gearing Up for 2016

Even though we have a lot of trips planned, I am just starting to price and point shop for our 2016 travel. So far, we’re already heading back to Jamaica and staying at the same hotel during Spring Break! However, we also plan to (maybe) go somewhere warm in January or February, plus head back to Europe and work in a few weekend trips. I also plan to take an international trip with the kids during their Fall Break. We’ll see.

And in case you didn’t know, I do offer free travel advice on my Free Rewards Advice page. You should also check out some of my favorite cards, including these great Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits. All I ask in return for my free, personalized advice is that you use my affiliate links when you sign up for new cards. So feel free to email me with any questions you have, even if they are simple or about something related to credit cards. I love talking about travel, so it never gets old!

What are your travel plans for the rest of 2015? Any credit card rewards-fueled trips coming up?

See also:

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  1. Just so darn jealous… You’re lucky to get a free cup of coffee when you sign up to a credit card here. 🙁

    I hope you have a fantastic time on your travels.

    I look forward to eating my heart out while I look at the pictures. Kidding! Kind of… 🙂

  2. I love hearing about your travels! Holly, you are the reason I got into credit card rewards! I couldn’t contain myself after hearing of your awesome successful travel stories!

  3. Well you’ve demostrted that is possible travel also when you are on a budget and you did a great work, well being italian I can say that you would must to avoid ice cream nearly Trevi Fountains they’re really expensive but you can take subway stop at lepanto and you can find real sicialian ice cream and near cinema Adriano a lovely cafe called “il catanese” that has great sicilian food…I am sure you’ll enjoy your vacation here in Italy…. for Pompei &co try their lemon they’re really sweet!!!

  4. That sounds like a rough 2nd half of 2015. That is so awesome! I am still trying to figure out where to stay for fincon. I don’t want to use my marriott points for just me…I might actually try couch surfing.

    1. I know there is a spreadsheet floating around full of people looking for roommates! Check the Fincon Facebook page!

  5. I’m not happy unless I have trip to plan. We have Mexico coming up over thanksgiving and maybe a short trip over Christmas break. Next year, I’m taking my mom to Florida and we pan to travel the U.S. For about a month over the summer. Have fun at beaver creek!

  6. Oh my gosh Holly you are such a wizard with rewards! That’s awesome! You’ll love Italy, we were there maybe four years ago and we had such a great time. It’s so beautiful. That’s definitely one of our fav trips ever. Enjoy!

  7. Ah, Italy! That sounds amazing. We’ve been on the road a ton this summer so I’m buckling down until FinCon. Then I’m scheduled to go to Egypt in December with work which makes it free- VERY excited 🙂

  8. Amazing. The only trip I’ll be taking the rest of the year is to FinCon and my airfare will be paid for with Southwest miles!

  9. Another day, another Club Thrifty post about what I’m missing 😉 Hahah just kidding. Way to go, it sounds like you’ve mastered how to play the credit card game, something that I just can’t do (I’m such a natural spender so I’ve never had a credit card). Doesn’t mean I don’t think about what I’m missing!!

    1. I don’t blame you for not getting in on it! If you know you’ll overspend with credit, it’s smart to avoid it.

  10. This really inspires me. It makes me want to save more of our airline miles! I just got a United card (and have one of the ink business ones), but I’m still a noob here. We have a lot of spending on the house, so any free trips that we would get out of it would be awesome!

  11. Wow – so much travel! Sounds like you have some amazing trips planned! That is incredible that you are able to travel so much using rewards points. I really need to check out your travel rewards advice. I’m getting better at it but am nowhere near your level!

    My travel plans are pretty minimal for the rest of this year. I’ll go to Brazil to visit family at Christmas time, but that is about it. Maybe a weekend trip, nothing big.

  12. Self-employment sounds like the bee’s knees. I’ve been hoarding my rewards points this year for a big trip next year. Not sure exactly where I’ll go but I’m thinking Barcelona for a couple weeks. That could change though depending on how the US dollar and other currencies are doing 🙂

  13. Awesome job! I’m even excited for your trip to Italy, LOL! One would think l was going with you.. I hope you love it. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year :-).

  14. Wow, sounds like a lot of fun! I love travel rewards, but have mainly used ultimate points on Hyatt hotels. The airfare is sometimes hard to redeem. We went down to Florida (Fort Myers/Naples area) and stayed at a Hyatt resort using points. We would have flown down there but the AA miles didn’t have direct flights and it would have been a pain to do that with our toddler…it was his first time flying so I didn’t want to take any chances of a meltdown. And the other hotels other than Hyatt have high redemption levels. We’ve been big fans of Hyatt hotels recently =)

  15. Amazing! Your trip to Italy sounds fabulous. I totally agree about the domestic travel over the holidays. My husband and I are headed back to Vegas this year in December for that exact reason. Well, and because we love Vegas 🙂

  16. Your trip to Italy sounds amazing! The price sounds even better, haha. I know I read somewhere that you and your husband use multiple credit cards for points and cash back, but in general how long would you say it takes you to reach that many reward points for your Marriott and Southwest Rapid Rewards cards?

  17. Very nice Holly. Like others, I’m slightly jealous about the Italy trip. I’ve not seen much of southern Europe and that’s definitely on the agenda. We’re traveling quite a bit the rest of the year – we’re going to be in Florida, FinCon and Dallas next month. We’re using points for everything but FinCon. We’re doing California in October, I think, and likely something around Christmas or early January. Next year will be likely an all-inclusive (our first time) in Cancun for our anniversary, tossing around Jamaica or somewhere similar with the kids plus a few other trips thrown in there – gotta take advantage of those Companion Passes. 🙂

  18. Wow! I have to say I’m a little jealous of all these trips you have planned. They sound amazing! After I get out of debt, I’m definitely going to do more travelling.

  19. That all sounds sooo amazing! My husband and I have been trying to travel a couple times a year and I can’t wait to start blogging about it. I look forward to seeing all of your photos!

  20. Ah, I wish I was going to FinCon! We are actually going to the Smokey Mountains and Charlotte a few weeks before for a family trip, but I couldn’t get the dates to align with FinCon and didn’t want to leave the babe for that long. Maybe next year! 🙂 But I feel like I’m also super awkward in person from working at home for a few years and now having Mom brain. I feel like I can barely have a functioning conversation, so that would probably really test my social skills, haha! Love that I’m not the only one.

  21. I can’t believe you can do all these travelling with very little real money! You are amazing!

  22. That sounds like a fun travel list for the rest of the year. Way to hack the travel points. 🙂

    I am guessing that you have some articles ready in the queue to cover for your vacations. How do you keep up with the kids, family life, and posts and still enjoy the trips? Do you ever run into issues with connecting to the internet when you are out of the country?

    1. Yes, internet can really suck overseas. Try getting wifi to work on a cruise in the middle of the ocean!

      How do I manage everything – kids, family, life, etc? I don’t know. Writing is my full-time job and I work at home, so that definitely helps!

  23. I am so jealous of your travel plans!! Especially since most are free or near free!! I’m going to have to start credit card reward programs one of these days.

    A few questions 🙂 Do your little ones go w/ you on most of these trips? At what ages would you say it got easier traveling with them? Anddd…do you guys work while traveling or try to do most of it ahead of time?!

    Hope you enjoy all of your travels!! I just found out today that I am going to FinCon for my work (I work at LendingTree) and I am SO EXCITED!!! Looking forward to meeting you and all the other bloggers 🙂

    1. Our little ones come along about half the time. The rest are adult-only trips. It just depends on whether they are in school or not. It makes sense to take them sometimes, but not always. Travel got a lot easier when we no longer had to worry about diapers! Not having to carry a diaper bag along is awesome!

      I work on vacation sometimes, but not always. I would say I work about half the time. I do keep up on emails on vacation either way because they get out of hand otherwise. That never bothers me.

  24. That’s a winning itinerary. Have fun on all those trips. Right now I’m stockpiling Hilton and AA points for an international trip for next year when my wife’s Master’s program is done. Can’t wait to use them. Thanks for all of your great advice along the way.

  25. You are so good with travel rewards! I’m sure I mentioned this but our biggest difficulty has been finding time to go. We will use our free $800 United voucher in January to go to Miami, but besides that no travel plans at all. I may go to Vegas on a “solo” trip and play poker for a few days, though… 😛

  26. Charlotte is about all I’ve got. My husband is (probably) going up to Washington on rewards miles. But the problem is that his back has been so bad lately, he might not be able to bear to couch surf. We could send him because the rental car will only be around $150. If we have to add in even a cheap hotel for a week, it may not be tenable. He needs to contact his friend to see whether he can definitely use one of the beds. (Those friends constantly have people crashing temporarily.) If nothing else, the upper bunk on their kid’s bed. Otherwise…

    Unfortunately, I started looking for rewards cards a little too late to cash in options for his travel this year. So I’ll sign up for those (through your link since you helped me) at the beginning of the year. That way, there’ll be plenty of time to rack up enough miles to cover his ticket and maybe a rental car.

  27. Sylvia @ Miss Personal Finance says:

    I love great travel deals like this! In November, I am off to South Africa for cage diving with sharks, safaris, and paragliding. It’s been on the bucket list for a few years now, so I am very excited!

    Oh, and I know you already know this, but gelato. Gelato. Gelato. 😉

  28. You have all been to all these places! Wow! This is really something. And, I can see that you still have more to visit for the rest of 2015. Have fun! I am so excited about your post on each travel. Enjoy.

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