When people go on vacation, they often pay face value. According to Forbes, the average vacation costs $1,145 per person or $4,580 for a family of four. I love family vacations because I like going on an adventure with my wife and kids. But I would never consider paying over $4,000 for a vacation. And I don’t want you to, either.
On my last two family vacations combined, I spent less than $100 total on hotels and flights. Earlier this year, we took a $5,000+ vacation to Cabo San Lucas for $42. Last week, we took a short (2 night) vacation to San Diego for $56. Had we paid face value, the hotel and flights would have cost $4,012.
If vacations are part of your life—or if you’d like them to be—you should seriously consider a total paradigm shift in terms of how much you think they need to cost.
In this post I’ll share how we spent so little on a great vacation. And I’ll show how you can do similarly.
Our Hotel in San Diego
We stayed in a 1000 square foot “Prado Suite.” At the time I booked the room, the cash rate, including tax, was a whopping $2,827 for 2 nights—$1,413 per night!
But we paid $0.
Back in January, my wife got the now discontinued Chase Fairmont Credit Card. Included among its benefits were 2 free nights at any Fairmont hotel and one free suite upgrade certificate. By combining those benefits, we were able to book 2 free nights in a suite at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar.
How You Can Do Similarly on a Hotel Stay
There are many hotel credit cards. But if you’re looking for one that provides an opportunity for an over-the-top room for two nights, I’d suggest the IHG Rewards Club Select by Chase.
With the IHG card, you get 80,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. The top IHGs in the world can be booked for 60,000 points, so the signup bonus is worth at least 1 night at a top IHG. But it gets better.
The card comes with no annual fee the first year. Each year thereafter, the annual fee is $49. But in exchange for paying the annual fee, you get a certificate that can be redeemed during that cardmember year for 1 night at any IGH in the world.
So by getting the signup bonus and then paying the annual fee when it comes due, you will be able (in your second year of card membership) to book any IHG in the world for 2 nights. (Or get the card at the same time your spouse does for twice the effect.)
Probably the best redemption from a dollars/point standpoint is the InterContinental Thalasso in Bora Bora, where you can book straight into an overwater bungalow. Rates at that property can exceed $900/night. For other top IHG properties—including ones closer to home—check out the Category 10 & 11 properties shown on Travel Is Free’s excellent Complete Map of IHG Rewards Hotels.
Our Flights to/from San Diego
Ok, back to our trip.
Roundtrip, nonstop flights from Denver to San Diego on Southwest would have cost $237/person—$1,185 for our family of 5.
Instead, we came out of pocket $56, which is just the cost of the government-imposed September 11th security fee of $5.60 per ticket each way (i.e., 5 passengers x 2 ways x $5.60 each way).
We paid for the bulk of the tickets using 43,716 Southwest points. That was the number of points we spent to book tickets for my wife, one of our sons, and me.
Our other son and our daughter traveled for free (zero points), as Sarah and I each have a Southwest Companion Pass. Arguably the best deal in travel, the Companion Pass allows one passenger to fly for free with the passholder on any flight, regardless of whether the flight was booked with cash or points.
So, to recap, we used 43,716 points to book roundtrip tickets for three of us. The other two flew free as Sarah’s and my companions. And we paid $56 to cover the security fee on all 5 roundtrip tickets.
How You Can Do Similarly on Flights
The easiest way to get the Southwest Companion Pass is to earn 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year. The pass is good for the remainder of the year in which you earn it as well as all of the following year.
And the easiest way to earn 110,000 Southwest points is to sign up for two Southwest Airlines credit cards in the same calendar year. There are three cards for which one can apply:
- Southwest Plus. 60,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee.
- Southwest Premier. 60,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee.
- Southwest Premier Business. 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee.
If you’re interested in getting a Companion Pass via two credit card signups, however, I’d recommend waiting. That’s because to maximize the benefit of the Companion Pass, you want to earn it as early in a calendar year as possible. Doing so allows a companion to travel free with you for almost two whole years. Earning it at this point in the year isn’t ideal.
If a better opportunity arises to earn the companion pass (which it likely will), I’ll be sure to let you know. Sign up for my newsletter to receive that alert by email.
If you enjoy vacations, go on them. Just please, don’t pay $4k. Put that money to better use on other priorities.
Question: What is keeping you from moving from a mindset that vacations cost $4,000 (or $1,000+ for an individual) to a mindset of them costing under $100? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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