We love to travel. It wasn’t always that way. I used to be terrified of flying. I wasn’t afraid of the plane crashing, I was just convinced I’d die mid-flight of a heart attack/stroke/DVT blood clot. Completely rational. However, things came to a head in late 2008 when we became engaged. We both knew we wanted a honeymoon abroad and we knew it’d involve a long haul flight, so I needed to buck my ideas up and get onboard with flying.
Buck my ideas up, I did. And since 2009, I’ve flown every year. Most years, multiple times. It now doesn’t bother me at all. The only thing that made me a bit iffy on a plane recently was the fact they were showing Sully on the in-flight entertainment. Why?! Whoever selects the in-flight entertainment obviously thought it’d be hilarious to wind everyone up with a plane disaster movie, I’m sure.
So, we travel a fair amount. And, given the nature of this blog I write, we like to save money. It would make sense, then, to assume we were expert travel hackers who pay mere pennies for flights/hotels/car hire. Wrong. We are, what I like to call, half-hearted travel hackers. I’d give us B3 in that department; B for effort, 3 for attainment. Doing OK, but room for improvement. If there’s an obvious no-brainer of a way to save money travelling, we’ll do it. If it involves 60 hours of effort to optimise our travel savings, I’ll just pay for the nice hotel, thanks.
Our Best Travel Hacks
Since 2009, we’ve had some great trips that have involved some money-saving opportunities. Our first foray into travel hacking came in 2009, when the term ‘hacking’ wasn’t event used for things like travel/beauty/food/life.
When Mr. LLC had his first professional job, he was required to travel a lot. He always stayed in Marriott hotels and so signed up for Marriott Rewards. This meant he accrued a ton of Marriott points over a 3 year stretch that were just calling out to be used. And use them we did! We stayed for 7 nights in New York City in a Marriott Hotel in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. For free. Didn’t cost us a penny to stay there. We also booked our flights in the Virgin Atlantic January sale, so saved on those too.
I think the best travel hack we ever did was in 2011. As if our 3 week honeymoon wasn’t enough vacation time that year, we also went to Washington D.C. for a week in October. However, that was completely paid for by Tesco Clubcard points. Yes, you read that right. Tesco paid for us to go on holiday. OK, OK. Slight exaggeration. What I mean to say is, we converted our Tesco Clubcard points into Virgin Holiday vouchers to use for a flight and hotel package for 7 nights in D.C. And this wasn’t a hotel in some run-down neighbourhood, this was the W hotel, mere steps away from the White House. Admittedly, we saved our clubcard points for years but I’d say that definitely paid off.
Since our move Stateside, we’ve continued the theme of half-heartedly travel hacking. We stayed in Puerto Rico for a long weekend using hotel points for free accommodation. Also, Puerto Rico has ridiculously cheap rental cars – we’re talking $46 for 4 days rental.
We went to Montreal in the dead of winter (-25 degrees celsius winter) because the hotel prices were ridiculously cheap. Now we know why they were so cheap.
I complained to American Airlines when our Montreal-NYC flight was delayed and got $400 airline vouchers, which we used to fly to Boston for Independence Day weekend. We also used Hilton Honors points for our accommodation in Boston and so just spending money was needed for that trip.
Credit Card Churners
We had a Chase Sapphire credit card that we used for a good year to build up points on. Unfortunately, we found it quite restrictive when we actually came to use the points for travel and opted to receive the points back as money. We had $1400 worth of points vs. actually receiving $1000 cash so we didn’t optimise as best we could with it but it got to the point where we weren’t sure if we could actually use the points for anything.
We dipped our toes into the world of credit card churning as we moved from the Chase Sapphire to the new JetBlue cards (there were 2 options, I got the no-fee, less bonus points one, Mr. LLC got the fee, high bonus points one). Once the bonus points were acquired with those, we moved onto the Capital One Discover card with the $400 statement credit for travel expenses. Having had both types of credit card, I prefer a card that gives you a statement credit to spend on any travel expense over points for a specific company. We’ll use the JetBlue points, it’s just more restrictive.
More Effort Required?
The thing with us is, we 100% save money where we can but then we also spend $10,000 on a trip to Hawaii for 2 weeks. Swings and roundabouts. I will qualify that trip by saying this was pre-FIRE mindset so we may be less inclined to spend that much now. However, it was a bloody amazing trip.
For us, travel hacking is a way to save money on things we’d do anyway. It’s not like couponing, where you’re just buying what you don’t need thinking you’re saving money when you’re actually wasting money. Our problem at times can be, we are inflexible with what we want to do. Some are quite happy to book the cheapest deal on lastminute.com or Travelzoo and get a great holiday for £200. Whereas, we have a very specific place/type of holiday in mind and then pay mostly fully price to get the trip we truly want. We could do better and will look to in the future. We’re definitely altering our mindset of using more money saving techniques to see as much of this beautiful world ours as we can. We just need more free holidays with clubcard points!