Hacks for our Summer of Travel

We recently took the plunge and decided to go travelling this summer before settling back permanently in the UK. You can read all about that decision here.

Knowing our planned trip was going to put a slight dent in the wallet, we knew we wanted to utilise reward points we already had and seek out some new opportunities to pay for parts of the trip with points or rewards.

So, we’ve ended up with a mix of using current points and applying for credit cards to get the signup bonuses – obviously paying them off in full every month :).

We’ve also utilised our unique position of being British in America to get more value for our money. Even though we’re moving back to the UK a week before we go travelling, we’re paying for the trip from our US bank account, thereby getting more value for our money in Europe with the $ against the € versus the £ against the €.

We did think of moving cash to the UK to use our Caxton Cards to allow us to withdraw cash from ATM’s abroad but we found a US solution that you can read about here.

Rewards We Already Had

Below are the ways we used existing reward points/miles.

Avios
Over 3 years of living in New York and flying back and forth to London paid off, as we’ve saved a healthy stash of points. We managed 3 flights with our combined Avios.

Flight 1 – New York to London
BA reward flight – premium economy 48,000 miles and $642.84
(we normally fly economy but this flight is a little different. This is our flight moving back to the UK & so includes 9 bags of luggage. The BA premium economy baggage allowance – 2 free checked bags each and a cabin bag – made financial sense when we weighed up the economy fare & paying for 5 extra bags versus the premium economy fare & paying for 3 extra bags).

Flight 2 – London to Prague
BA reward flight – economy 8,000 miles and $55

Flight 3 – Seattle to London
BA reward flight – economy 32,500 miles and $308.86

Virgin Atlantic points
I had 20,000 Virgin Atlantic miles that I couldn’t see to do anything with but then I found out Hilton Honors is a transfer partner. 20,000 Virgin miles got me 30,000 Hilton Honors points, which I then transferred (for free) to Mr. LLC’s HH account as all our HH points are under his name. Mr. LLC had 10,000 Virgin miles which he converted to 15,000 HH points.

30,000 Virgin miles = 45,000 Hilton Honors points

JetBlue TrueBlue points
We had 39,872 True Blue points just hanging around. We originally thought we wouldn’t be able to do anything with them as JetBlue aren’t the best for having a diverse set of transfer and spending partners. However, very late on into our trip planning we decided to end on a high by returning to Hawaii and relaxing on Kauai for 2 weeks.

This had the perfect added bonus of us being able to use our TrueBlue points on Hawaiian Air – the only airline TrueBlue allows points redemption on.   

We had enough points to pay for one fare getting from Kauai to Seattle on Hawaiian Air for 31,500 points (plus $5 tax). Win!

Hilton Honors
We have an American Express Hilton Honors credit card that we use periodically and are always saving a moderate amount of points on to get a free hotel stay here and there.

Round 1
A 3 night stay in a Berlin Hilton hotel cost us €180 plus 30,000 points (~$196) with their great new feature of paying part points, part cash towards hotel stays. That works out at ~$65 a night, which is a way under our upper limit of $100 a night for accommodation! Thanks Hilton.

Round 2
After we’d converted the Virgin miles to Hilton we ended up with just over 50,000 HH points, which meant another nights stay somewhere on points! We booked a night in a Tokyo Hilton for part points, part cash (50,000 points and $57).

Capital One Venture x 2
Even before making the decision to go travelling over the summer, we had both signed up for the Capital One Venture card which had a signup bonus of a $400 statement credit after spending $3k on the card in the first 3 months.

$400 statement credit bonus offer x 2 = $800 statement credit off the cost of the trip.

Rewards We Sought Out

Chase Sapphire Reserve
100k points bonus offer after spending $4k on the card in the first 3 months.

We were originally going to pass on the new Chase Reserve when it launched. We had had the Chase Preferred and had found it a bit tricky to spend the reward points the way we wanted to. But, having made the decision to go travelling mere days before the 100k signup bonus disappeared forever (we had to apply in branch), we snagged one up quickly to take advantage of those signup bonuses.

This minimum spend was actually easy to achieve as we were booking things for the front end of the trip. This meant we could use our points for the final weeks we were to be travelling.

After we’d reached the minimum spend for the 100k bonus, we ended up transferring 119,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points for a 1:1 conversion into Hyatt points.

I’d read a lot online about people travel hacking with the Chase and converting them to Hyatt points as their rewards program is a generous one. I’ve never actually stayed in a Hyatt brand hotel or resort as we normally choose a Hilton brand with our Amex HH credit card. I was open to staying in Hyatt’s though, after reading good things about their rewards redemption!

We have used 105,000 points on 5 nights accommodation; 4 nights in the Hyatt in Kyoto, Japan and 1 night in Hakone, Japan.

Barclaycard Arrival
50k points bonus offer (translates to a $500 statement credit) after a $3k minimum spend on purchases in the first 3 months. 

Our suite of reward credit cards!


As we were approaching the minimum spend requirements on the Chase Sapphire, Mr. LLC received promo material from Barclaycard inviting him to apply for the Arrival. I half jokingly said he should apply for it and no less than 30 minutes later he was online, filling out the application!

50k points translated to $500 statement credit = $500 statement credit off the cost of the trip.

Chase Hyatt card
2 free nights in any Hyatt hotel or resort after a $2k minimum spend on purchases in the first 3 months.

I’m still amazed Mr. LLC managed to open this card; he applied mere weeks after he’d opened the Chase Sapphire and the Barclaycard Arrival. But he was approved and once again, we had a minimum spend to meet! Luckily it was a lower spend than the other two cards and so we met it fairly quickly.

Thanks to this card, we have booked our two free nights in the Tokyo Park Hyatt – one of the most famous hotels in the world and the location for the film Lost In Translation.

We can estimate the full value of this reward at $1018 (correct as at May 2017) as the cheapest room they offer at the Tokyo Park Hyatt for 2 nights in September including all taxes and fees is 144,816 Japanese Yen.

For the majority of the trip, we have found self-catered accommodation, cheap hotels, motels and hostels. The luxury of staying in the 5 star Tokyo Park Hyatt for free will certainly not be lost on me!

Airbnb
Mr. LLC did not have an Airbnb account and because we were paying for the trip with the new Chase card that was in his name, we thought we’d sign him up for an account. I invited him to Airbnb using my referral code and we received $40 off the cost of one of our Airbnb accommodations, bringing our 3 nights in Prague down to just $56 a night :).

Strategy

With all of the credit cards we applied for (fully fledged churners now!), we adopted the strategy of using that card as our primary spending card for everyday expenses (groceries, transportation etc.) and then stopped using it when we’d achieved the minimum.

I will say that we were mainly able to meet all the minimum spends because we were pre-paying for a lot of accommodation and transportation for the trip on them. The situation we were in – spending to get rewards to use on the trip, worked in our favour and we wouldn’t have been able to secure quite so many rewards with our ordinary day to day spending.

It’s the most effort we’ve ever gone to, to secure rewards for travel and it has been 100% worth it. We have saved thousands of dollars off the cost of the trip which has not only allowed us to keep trip costs down but has also enabled us to stay in some pretty swanky accommodation we would not have ordinarily booked had we been paying cash.

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