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 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. We actually ended up coming back $1000 richer than when we left. I am not the best travel hacker, but the stars somehow aligned because with my best efforts, we were expecting the trip to cost us $1400.
Travel hacking free airfare
I started churning credit cards a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve 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. I wanted to get the most value for these points, but that doesn’t happen if you are trying to force it without taking your time.
A few weeks before I quit my job, I started looking for cheap airfare to various places we haven’t 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.
Keeping food costs down on the road
I didn’t count food expenses for our trip because we didn’t spend any more than we would have at home. 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’s 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. We ate a lot of rotisserie chicken.
I may have spent a bit more than usual on beer though- there were just so many good local brews to be had.
Use Airbnb to find accommodations on the cheap
Ever since we started using Airbnb, we haven’t used much else. It’s usually a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel, and hosts tend to give much better advice about the area than a hotel concierge.
We’ve 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. That’s about $67/night including all fees. We used Marriott points to book our 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.
Be ready to pounce on opportunities!
On our way home, 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 didn’t 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 intercom and says there was a delay because we can’t fly through Cleveland airspace. They needed 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. 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 travel vouchers, but they also gave us $30 in meal vouchers. The beer and burger we got with our free voucher was the best airport food I ever had.
The flight we gave up was delayed another hour. In the end, they 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.
We spent $1400 and ended up with $2400 in airfare bringing us ahead $1000
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.
We’ve since travel hacked flights to Costa Rica, an all inclusive trip to Jamaica, and our entire trip through Catalonia Spain. It’s saved us thousands of dollars, allowing us to go on way more vacations than we though possible in early retirement.