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?