Ever since I quit my job, new interesting opportunities seem to keep coming our way. It’s only been a month and I have had some really good luck sailing, fishing, and going on a 2-week vacation to Colorado and New Mexico – all for free! On our vacation, we stayed in Colorado Springs, Taos NM, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Rico, Grand Junction, and Denver, and we actually ended up coming back $1000 richer than when we left. I am really not the best travel hacker, but the stars somehow aligned because with my best efforts, we were expecting the trip to cost us $1400.
I am no expert at travel hacking, having only started churning credit cards a couple of years ago. Since then, I have accumulated a fair number of airline miles. My problem was actually using them. I normally find the cheapest fares I could using Google Flights or the Kayak explore map – and I had really good luck finding cheap tickets. But when it came to using points, I found things a bit more complicated. There are certain sites you need to search specifically for each type of points and the deals did not always seem the greatest. Of course I wanted to get the most value for these points, but that doesn’t seem to happen if you are trying to force it without taking your time.
Few months ago, I made myself book tickets with miles for another trip to Costa Rica slated for this fall, but there is a layover and the value I got for the points was just OK. So I took a break from the points thing for a while only because it was a pain the in the butt and I was still working. Then a few weeks before I quit my job, I started looking for cheap airfare to various places we have not yet explored including Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. I was searching the Kayak explore map and Google Flights for cash flights when I found a really good deal on tickets to Denver from JFK for ~$280 each with Delta. We had Delta points and I found I could get both round trip tickets for 40,000 points! Free flights was enough to convince us, so we booked the trip.
I did not count food expenses for our trip because we would have had to eat anyway, and we did not spend any more than usual. We only ate out a few times at cheap places, so there was no additional spending there. Most of the trip, we survived on rotisserie chickens. It is really easy to throw together dinner when you pickup an already cooked chicken and some ingredients to make a salad. The next day, we would make an omelet for breakfast, and pack some roasted chicken sandwiches so we could lunch on the road. Yeah, we ate a lot of rotisserie chicken. I may have spent a bit more money than usual though on beer – there were just so many good local brews to be had.
Ever since we started using Airbnb, we have not used much else for accommodations. It is usually much cheaper than staying in a hotel, but the best part is that you can stay locally. When you stay with a local, you get much better information than whatever touristy advice a hotel concierge has to give. We have even stayed in many places where there is no hotel available at all, making it an even more unique experience. For this trip, we ended up spending $602 for 9 nights in 5 different Airbnbs ($67/night) including all fees. We used Marriott points to book the last two nights in a hotel. We also spent $625 for our rental car and $160 for airport parking. This brought our total spend for the trip to $1388, lets call it $1400 with the extra beer spending.
So $1400 was what we expected the trip to cost us even up to the last day. We get to the airport and the flight was overbooked, they were looking for volunteers to go on a later flight. Being curious, we inquired and they were giving out a $500 voucher to go on a flight two hours later to LaGuardia rather than JFK. LaGuardia is only 10 miles from JFK so we researched how we could get our car and luggage after landing at a different airport. We decided we could swing it and deemed it worth the risk of getting in much later since we did not have any work obligations. But by the time we figured everything out the deal was gone, a group of people did not check in and the offer was off the table.
We got on the airplane feeling like a bunch of travel hacking newbs who just missed out on a $1000. Oh well – maybe next time we would be better prepared. Then the pilot gets on the horn and says there was a delay because we can’t fly through Cleveland airspace and need to add fuel for the longer trip. A few minutes later, the flight attendant makes another announcement – due to the weight of the added fuel they would need 15 volunteers to leave the airplane, and in return they were offering the maximum $1200 voucher and a flight back to LGA a few hours later! This time we jumped out of our seats. We just managed to make it in with the first 15, as there were quite a few volunteers for this new offer.
Not only did we get $2400 in vouchers and tickets, but $30 in meal vouchers. I have eaten a lot of food in airports on business travel, but the beer and burger we got with our free voucher were the best airport food I ever had – maybe it was the beer maybe it was the $2400 we made sitting there. The flight we left was delayed another hour and in the end reached JFK only 2 hours before we landed at LGA. We got our car without any issues then drove to JFK where I was able to get our luggage from the claims office. Total delay time ~2.5 hours.
So we spent $1400 and ended up with $2400 in airfare bringing us ahead $1000. Yeah, most of that was dumb luck, but the main lesson for me was to take my time looking for flights with miles, and be ready to jump on opportunities. When making any other big purchase I always took my time – often even relishing my time poring over Craigslist ads. Well same applies to points, don’t force it and something good will come along. In the meantime, we will keep churning cards and now have to figure out how we are going to spend $2400 on airfare within the next year before our vouchers expire.
So vacation was awesome, and getting bonus cash was thrilling, but the cherry on top was that this blog got featured on J$’s Rock Star Finance! Thanks to the feature, we actually have some readers stopping through here. If that includes you, welcome! And don’t worry, this is still an exclusive club 🙂