My Upcoming Trips with Credit Card Rewards Part One - picture of cruise ship in large water body
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My Upcoming Trips with Credit Card Rewards, Part One

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Good morning, party people!  Happy Monday!

I just got done planning out the details of my August budget, and it’s…ummmm…..slightly on the pricey side.  That’s because some of the trips we’ve been planning are coming up this month and, as we all know, travel ain’t cheap.   

Fortunately, credit card rewards pick up the tab for the most of our adventures, which is the whole point of today’s post.  I always talk about how to earn rewards, but I rarely talk about redeeming them.  So I thought it would be fun to write about my upcoming travel plans and explain how I used strategic travel-hacking to stretch our travel budget as far as it could go.

August Cruisin’

Let’s start with this month, shall we?  I have a crazy confession to make.  Even though I am afraid of open water, cruise ships, sailing, drowning, and tsunamis, my husband used crazy voodoo reasoning to convince me that now is the time to go on a cruise.  I was only willing to go along with it if we could get a balcony room instead of an interior room, which he agreed to.  If that thing tips, I’m stuffing a kid under each arm and swimming for safety!

Anyway, we’ll start our trip on Thursday, August 21st, with a direct flight from Indianapolis to Orlando on Southwest Airlines.  For strategic reasons, I chose not to use Southwest Rapid Rewards miles to pay for our trip.  Let me explain.

Southwest was having a sale a few weeks back and one-way flights to Orlando and back were only $126 each.  And since I have the Southwest Companion pass, we would only need to pay for three round-trip tickets instead of four.  That made the total cost for our four round-trip tickets only $756, a sum I felt comfortable paying in cash.  I’ll save my Rapid Rewards points for some of the pricier trips we’ve got planned for 2015 and beyond.  (Rewards Enthusiasts: I DID buy $600 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards at Staples for the 5X Ultimate Rewards points at office supply stores to pay for our tickets!)

Note:  Links to the Southwest 50K offer are currently dead.  However, I do have  referral codes to hand out to anyone who wants to sign up and earn 50,000 Rapid Rewards points before September 30th.  If you use my code, I’ll earn 5,000 Rapid Rewards points for referring you.  Simply indicate that you want a code in the comments section and I will email it to you ASAP!

Cruise Details

Our first cruise leaves Port Canaveral on August 21st, stops in Nassau, Bahamas, then returns back to Port Canaveral on Sunday, August 24th.  Greg’s 35th birthday is Saturday the 23rd, so I’m pretty pumped that we’ll be able to celebrate at sea.  The cruise itself retails for around $871 for the four of us- an amount that can easily be covered with a travel card like the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard.  In case you’re wondering, that figure includes cruise tickets for four, taxes, and all port fees.

In addition to paying for our flights out-of-pocket, we budgeted $100 for a rental car and parking, $138 for gratuities on the ship, and $200 for miscellaneous.  Since this is our first cruise, I wasn’t sure how our “extra” expenses would look.  I was also just informed that the cruise ship has a casino.  I think we know what that means.  I’ve accepted the fact that Greg will likely shred $20 bills play craps on his 35th birthday.  Ahem.

Total Cost for Our Cruise:

  • Flights: $756
  • Car and Parking: $100
  • Gratuities: $138
  • Misc.: $200
  • Cruise: FREE

Total: $1,194

Brother Sister Surprise Divorce Celebration Vacation

My brother (who is awesome) got a divorce earlier this year, and I decided to take him on a surprise trip to mark the occasion.  While he doesn’t know exactly where we are heading, he does know that we are flying Southwest and that he needs to bring a passport and a swimsuit.  (Hint: It’s in the Caribbean)  Anyway, I paid for our flights with almost 41,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.  All I had to pay for were the government-mandated taxes and fees, which were around $148 total for the two round-trip flights.

I paid for our all-inclusive hotel with cash-back from my Capital One Spark Business card.  After meeting the $4,500 minimum spending requirement on the card and earning 2 points/$1 spent, I earned 59,000 “miles” which were redeemable for $590 in cash-back.  I used that to cover our resort which was only around $550 after my media discount.  Total Cost for Hotel: Zero

Our resort is all-inclusive, meaning that the price of our lodging includes things like meals, drinks, and non-motorized watersports.  The only funds I budgeted in addition to our flight taxes were $100 for round-trip airport transportation and $100 for tips.

Total Cost of Our All-Inclusive Trip to Mystery Destination:

  • Flight Taxes: $148
  • Hotel: FREE
  • Taxi: $100
  • Tips: $100

Total: $348

Stay Tuned for Part Two…..

Also check out my recent post on hotel loyalty programs:

Beginner’s Guide: Best Hotel Loyalty Programs Part One– Richmond Savers

Do you have any trips planned with credit card rewards? 

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71 Comments

  1. Nice job! I have an aversion to cruises too – mostly because I have an irrational fear of drowning in an enclosed space (think a car going into a river)… Maybe it is because I watched Titanic too many times as a 12 year old. Either way, the idea of a cruise ship freaks me out a bit.

    Also, I love that your gratuities budget is $138… what an oddly-specific number for a budget line that is up in the air 😉 enjoy your trips!

    1. Their suggested gratuity is $11.50 per person, per day. That equals out to $138! =)

      Yeah, I watched the Poseidon Adventure a few too many times growing up! Titanic too.

      1. Did you factor in kids in the tip? they count as a person too (above 3)…

        1. Yes, I did! They said $11.50 per day, per person. So that’s $46 per day for 3 days. Does that sound right?

          1. yep, good for you! I went on a cruise last weekend and that fee for our son totally caught me off guard. ugh.. Bon voyage 🙂

          2. I only know because I was clueless and asked for an itemized list of things I would be expected to pay for. They said the $11.50 pp per day is standard, so that’s what I’m going with. Did you have fun on your cruise??!?!?! =)

  2. I’m pretty unsure about cruises myself. But all in all that sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

    That’s really awesome of you to treat your brother to a trip like that!

    1. He deserves it! I think it’s funny that he has no idea where he’s going.

  3. Good job Holly! For sure, you will have a perfect trip, oh how I wish I can do cruising again. 🙂 I love ship and sea even if I don’t know how to swim, my father was a seaman before and whenever they had scheduled trip in our country, we always find ways to see him.

    1. Glad to hear of at least one person who loves cruising!

  4. Ben Luthi says:

    Lots of good stuff! We went on our first cruise for our first anniversary to the Bahamas–they ended up having to leave early because of Hurricane Irene, but luckily they’re really good about watching the weather, so we were completely safe. It was amazing, though. I loved every second of it.

    I just paid for our flights and hotel with points for a trip to Disneyland later this year. Now I’m just waiting to accrue a few more to cover as much as possible of our tickets to the park. We’ll end up having to switch hotels halfway through because I had to split between Starwood points and Ultimate Rewards, but it’s worth it because it’s FREE!

  5. That’s a pretty sweet deal for the cruise and my wife is the same as you when it comes to dying, water etc. lol. I’m pretty sure after watching Mayday she might never want to get on flight back to the UK or anywhere for that matter. Sounds like Greg will have an awesome 35th Birthday on rewards points!! I wish we picked up that many points. Actually, one of our fans is huge into rewards points and travelling so it can be done in Canada. I might have to pick her brain more about this topic. That was nice of you to set up the trip for him. Divorcing must be tough so taking a break will be helpful. Have a great week. Mr.CBB

    1. Yeah, I don’t know about travel-hacking in Canada. I’ve heard that it can be done but that the offers are different. I would definitely check with your friend!

  6. I’ve never been interested in going on a cruise but I’ve seen some incredibly affordable trips that make me want to reconsider. We have our second Barclaycard right now. Not sure what we will be doing with the rewards yet. I love thinking about the possibilities!

    1. Carnival has some seriously inexpensive cruises. I couldn’t believe the pricing!

  7. Each of you take a bottle of wine onto the cruise with you… that should calm the nerves for at least one night and it will save you from buying really expensive alcohol for a little bit.

    If you have a Chase Sapphire you can use that to get cash for the casino (it counts as a “travel” purchase and then you can also deposit it back when you get home. I forget the max amount you can get, but there are some really hardcore people who spend this way when they happen to be cruising.

    The only trip we have planned is to Vegas to see my in-laws so that is pretty much a basically free trip (actually found cheap seats on Southwest). We might catch a show this time, but most likely we will just go to some more off the beaten path places to eat.

    1. I heard that we can each take a bottle of wine. I’m all over that! =)

    1. Oh, I’m sure I’ll share pictures and details afterward!

  8. Would love a code for 50k Southwest offer.

  9. Nice work Holly! I like your addition of buying the gift cards and getting the 5x points. 🙂 I think you’ll like cruising, though I did have to laugh at your comment about what you’ll do if it tips over. 🙂 We’re taking the kids to Chicago in October for a week on rewards and still planning out what we want to do next year. We want to take at least one trip ourselves and one with the kiddos.

    1. Yeah, hopefully it won’t tip! I hope you have fun in October!

  10. Well, that sounds like a damn good time. I went on one cruise so far and I loved it. It was awesome and I would do them again in a freaking heartbeat. It really is an awesome time. Can’t wait to see part duo!

    1. Great! A lot of people have told me that they love cruising. I’m sure it will be fun- we always have fun! =)

  11. I’ve been on a couple of cruises and I really enjoyed them. Hope you have a good time.

    I’m amazed by what you do with rewards. I want to challenge myself to take a free vacation next year.

    1. You can do it! Always feel free to ask me anything about CC rewards.

  12. You are amazing at going on super cheap vacations! Good job. Sounds like you some fun months planned 🙂

    Don’t be afraid of your cruise!

  13. Which cruise line are you going on? I always thought a cruise would be fun, but my wife wasn’t too fond of the idea. I guess I could have done some crazy voodoo reasoning too but after the Carnival incidents, I was little leery myself! Cruises are really great deals though especially when you’re traveling during the off peak season…kinda tough to do if you have kids in school though.

    1. Carnival! Yeah, I seriously hope we don’t end up trapped in the open ocean, eating cans of spam and hot dog buns!

  14. I have yet to travel on a cruise but I hope to remedy that this year or in 2015. I’m looking forward to your report back on your upcoming cruise and nice score on capitalizing on the rewards.
    Based on the insane response speed of your emails, deals don’t stand a chance of escaping you!

  15. Very sweet deals Holly. You’ve got that travel hacking figured out like a pro. You didn’t mention the Island vacation destination? (Where you going?)

    1. The Caribbean! I’m not going to say in case my brother is reading!

  16. wow you work the cc rewards like no one I’ve ever known! I could have take a super cheap long weekend trip to my friend’s lake house this weekend, but I’m having to cut back to the bare bones this mont. 🙁 BTW my senior year our class took a cruise to the bahamas. It was really fun! Hope you enjoy it as much!

    1. I’m sure it will be fine. Hopefully the kids have fun. That’s all that really matters to me.

  17. Sounds like August is going to be a blast. Once you’re on the ship, you’ll probably think nothing of it. I lived on one for two and a half months and it never bothered me, except when I was drunk and we were in rough waters 😉

  18. Nice! I also have a minor fear of cruise ships, but I am sure you will be fine. I’m in awe of all your points-wrangling! Have fun!

  19. Good for you, enjoy.! I have taken a number of cruises and they are enjoyable.

    1. Well, I don’t know about that…… =) I have always been an asshole, and I’m trying to make up for it!

  20. Sounds like some great trips, Holly! You can’t beat the price and I’m sure Greg will love celebrating his birthday at the casino … I mean at sea! LOL! And I love that you’re taking your brother on a vacation to celebrate his divorce. He deserves some rest and fun after what I am sure was a tough year for him!

    1. LOL, he will probably be at the casino. Fingers crossed that he wins!

  21. Once again, your travel hacking and planning leaves me in awe! And what an awesome sister you are for taking your bro on a trip! Very nice.

  22. I have Cap One Venture card and get 2 or 3 miles for each dollar spent, depending on where I spend it. I’ve never paid for an airline ticket since I got the card, there are no blackout dates and it’s good for any seat. I fly JetBlue and don’t pay for check-in luggage either. For my needs, it’s the best card.

  23. Hi Holly, I’d love more info on the SW Rapid Rewards link!

  24. I’m not sure if I’d like a cruise or not, but I like most trips and I’m a good swimmer, so I’d give it a try. I’m just afraid I’d get seasick, but maybe not on a big boat like those. I would not be afraid of the boat sinking but if the bathrooms stopped working and we were stuck at sea, that would suck. I’m sure it’s rare and the media makes it out to be a bigger deal that it is.

    1. I also have 3 SW codes if you use all yours up and someone wants one.

    2. Yep, I’m going to buy some Dramamine for sure!

  25. What’s the spend on the SW Rapid Rewards? I’m looking for a new card! Thanks!

    1. It’s $2,000 within 3 months, but the annual fee ($69) is NOT WAIVED. Emailed you a referral code.

  26. Sounds awesome – enjoy! I’ve never been on a cruise but they sound so fun. Hubby and I just used Southwest RR to fly to and from California for a grand total of $20, so I really appreciate you laying out how you earn and spend your rewards! Hopefully that will lead to more travel hacking in the future 🙂

  27. Great deals you got there with your travel hacking. It’s always nice to see the details on how to put everything together. My first cruise was to Mexico and did not go well. But then I took another chance a few years ago on a cruise to Bermuda. We had a nice time and all went well.

  28. I would appreciate the code for the Southwest Rapids 50 k rewards offer.

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