My First Attempt At Travel Hacking

I’m really excited that my 2019 is starting off with my first trip to Germany, Italy and Austria. I’ll be hitting 3 major cities in about a month: Munich, Venice and Salzburg. Because I’ve been working part time, it’s been a lot easier for me to ask for a week off. I don’t have to worry about vacation days, but at the same time, this trip is going to cost a lot more than usual. Why? As a part time worker, there is no paid vacation time and I will be missing about a week’s worth of pay when I get back.

All About Timing

I’m going to economize where I can, but the cities I’ve chosen to visit are some of the more expensive ones in Europe. The first way I’ve been looking at saving money is to travel in the super off-season of travel to these regions. Italy, Germany and Austria are extremely cold in the winter months. Even as I type this, Munich is expected to have snow every day this week. When it’s cold, less people travel. When less people travel, hotels and flights are a lot cheaper!

I’ve been really lucky to find a lot of great deals for January and February. You need to be aware, however, of holidays and reduced hours this time of year. When I was researching my trip, I wondered why the hotel rates were so much more expensive for the end of February. February 16 marks the beginning of the Carnival festival season! Thousands of tourists will flock to the canals of Venice to celebrate. The hotel I’m looking at in Venice is about $150 cheaper just 3 days before.

My Strategy For Getting Reward Points

So how am I going to pay for this trip on a tighter budget? My answer is by using credit card reward points. This trip will mark my first attempt at travel hacking. Some Youtubers are experts at applying for multiple credit cards and use their points to fly first class or to exotic destinations. That’s great for them, but I’m about getting the most out of these points as I can. I really don’t care much about the first class or business experience (I got enough of that working for an airline).

The first credit card I’m using points from is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It had a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months. It wasn’t easy, but by adding my mom as an authorized user we were able to hit the minimum spend. We gained about 4,000 points after this and were sitting on 55,000 points. This was about 7 months ago. A lot of bloggers will talk about the Chase Sapphire Reserved as the better card to go for.

For me, however, this wasn’t a card I thought I would qualify for. You need to be able to be approved for a $10,000 spending limit. It also has a $450 annual fee charged up front where the Preferred version of the card only has a $95 annual fee waived for the first year. The sign up bonus is the same for both cards. There’s more benefits for the Reserved, but the Preferred version works better for me.

So the Preferred card earned 2x points on travel purchases and 1x points on everything else. I did some research and found that if you had one of the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited credit cards, you could transfer points you earned on spending there to the Preferred or Reserved card. The sign up bonus for both the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards is 15,000 points after spending $500 in 3 months. This equates to about $150 as they are both cash back cards.

The bonus is what I was after again. The Freedom card earned 5x spending on rotating categories every 3 months and 1x back on everything else where the Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5x on everything. Now some people have both cards, but I thought one card was enough for me. I applied and was approved for the Freedom Unlimited card. This is the card I use for pretty much all of my daily spending. Between the bonus for the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred we were sitting on about 75,000 points. Both Freedom cards do not have annual fees.

How I Spent My Points

7 months after first putting some research into cards, I was ready to spend some points! I used the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to transfer my Freedom Unlimited points to my Sapphire Preferred card. The Sapphire Preferred gives you a 25% bonus on points used for booking travel through the Chase portal.

I looked into flights and was about to get a round trip flight with connections to Venice and home from Munich for about 47,000 points. Economy will get you a lot further than business class. It was a huge relief to be able to not have to worry about paying taxes and fees on the reward redemption. Note that you should read the fine print. I booked Basic Economy which does not include a free checked bag. I’ll be taking my luggage as a carry on.

What did I do with the remaining points? I used 25,000 to cover the cost of my 3 night stay in Munich. Any remaining points I’ll be saving for future use. So far I’ve only had to cover the cost of my hotel in Salzburg and train tickets. I haven’t booked my Venice hotel yet, but I’m more than happy to cover it out of pocket as I’m only spending about $500 for what could have been a $2500 trip!

Keeping the Cards for Future Use

When everything is said and done, it’s going to take me a long time to earn that type of points again, but I will absolutely be keeping both my credit cards and using them to earn as many points as possible. Will I apply for more cards? I already did! The next card I’m adding to my wallet is the American Express Hilton Ascend card. More about this in a future post.

I don’t care what YouTubers say, but I feel like I’ve gotten a ton of value out of my cards so far. The key is to spend money you would already be spending and to pay off your credit cards in full every month. I pay mine off weekly. I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do so far and I hope this helps you get started! Credit cards can be a great tool! I’ll be posting more about my upcoming trip soon! Happy travels!