You keep hearing stories about people who get free plane tickets or hotels and you wonder how they’re doing it.
Being able to travel even if you’re on a tight budget honestly feels like a dream. Doesn’t it seem when you finally think you’ll have extra money, some sort of emergency or sudden expense pops up? I hear ya and have been there!
I’m a SAHM and know all about having to be super frugal to make sure the bills get paid but we also want to live in the moment, have fun and travel to other places too. While I’m an ex-accountant and strive to be financially responsible, I don’t believe in saving all of the fun and adventure for the retirement years either.
I definitely don’t consider myself in the same category of extreme travel hackers you read about in finance magazines, instead, I consider myself a regular person that simply loves to read and learn about creative ways for our family to travel to amazing places that doesn’t blow up the budget.
If I can learn how to travel on the cheap, you can too!
The dream family trip to Europe I thought we’d never be able to afford, we’re actually making a reality this summer! We’re traveling from Amsterdam, to Germany, France, Belgium and back home from Amsterdam!
Four of us are going on our European vacation, which means we’re still paying a little more than 1 ticket out of pocket. Here’s how we’re doing it:
CREDIT CARD REWARDS POINTS
Using travel and cash back credit card responsibly is how many regular people like you and me can get free flights or free hotel stays. Again, I’m not an extreme travel hacker, we’re just a family that’s diligent about putting every expense on our travel credit card that we have automatically deducted from our checking out at the end of the month.
I’m sure many people hear the word credit card and think, “no way am I doing that! I don’t want credit card debt!” I would NEVER recommend someone get in debt to travel OR put their trips on credit cards, but not pay the balance off in full.
That’s the key, this isn’t about putting yourself into debt, I’m anti-debt myself. However, for people who are fiscally responsible, credit card reward points is an awesome way to get free and discount travel.
What this means, like most things in life, this isn’t an overnight scheme that has you on an airplane to Europe next month. You can possibly make that happen if you’re traveling solo, but definitely not when traveling as a group.
EXACTLY HOW WE USED CREDIT CARD POINTS TO GET FREE PLANE TICKETS
We currently have 3 active credit cards, one is an old card we no longer use, my favorite card is the Barclay Arrival+ travel credit card, and my hubbie’s work credit card he earns Alaska Airlines miles. To help us pay for most of our flights to Europe, we used the cash back from our Upromise card and travel credit earned from our Barclay Arrival+ card.
Barclay Arrival+: $1,716.86
TOTAL TRAVEL CASH/CREDIT BACK: $2,572.72
PLANE TICKETS IN JULY FROM SEATTLE TO AMSTERDAM:
$972/ticket for each person on Delta (We chose not to fly on a budget carrier and we also wanted direct flights).
$2,572/$972= 2.8…..which means we ALMOST got 3 of our tickets completely paid for to see Europe during PEAK season!
Other ways to save even more:
Travel off-season and not during the peak of summer
Travel on a budget carrier
If you’re flying from the East Coast and not the West Coast, tickets would’ve cost hundreds less
Leave your kids at home! 😉
CARD #1- UPROMISE MASTERCARD
We’ve had the Upromise college savings credit card since Madi was little and just by using this card periodically for spending, we earned over $5,000 to use towards her college tuition costs that we got for free! (I’m not an affiliate for Upromise, I’m just providing my mom opinion about how we’ve used this card ourselves).
Upromise also allows you to cash-out your balance instead of directly sending it to the university. While I’ve been loyal to Upromise for many years, now that the kids are older, I wanted a travel rewards card instead of a college savings card. I hadn’t checked the balance on this for quite a long time and when closing the card, I was surprised to see I had a balance of $855.85.
CARD #2- BARCLAYCARD ARRIVAL PLUS
Barclaycard Arrival+ is a travel perks credit card we opened almost 2 years ago, by diligently putting every single purchase possible on this card, we’ve earned 171,686 miles, which gives up $1,716.86 in travel credits!
- We received 50,000 free miles for putting a certain dollar amount on our card within 90 days–this was equivalent to $500!
- Zero foreign transaction fees
- Earnings of 2% back on all purchases
- 5% back when redeeming travel credits
**NOTE Barclaycard recently discontinued this specific card, but here’s 2 other highly rated cards that are similar in perks (I’m not an affiliate for either of these companies, I’m just providing my research and opinion 🙂 Please be sure to read credit card details for things like interest rate or annual fees)!
OTHER WAYS TO TRAVEL TO EUROPE FOR LESS
Even with a few free plane tickets, just BEING in Europe isn’t cheap. Here are a few other tips to help reduce the cost of your vacation:
Being flexible with travel dates- we’re flying home mid-week to save $
Being flexible with your itinerary and consider changing your itinerary to make sure you get the lowest ticket price possible-our plan was to fly into Amsterdam and out of Paris, but because of the ticket price, we’re doing round-trip in and out of Amsterdam.
Earning airline credit card miles
Stay with someone you know–this saved us $600 by staying with someone we know for 3 nights
Stay in small local hotels that are simple, yet still homey. You won’t be in your bedroom other than sleeping!
Booking hotels that include breakfast
Book hotels in popular cities during weekdays instead of the weekend, like we’re doing in Paris
Consider airbnb instead of staying in a hotel (You get $40 in travel credit for your first airbnb stay with my code 🙂
Book hotels through a service like hotels.com (like I did for most of our trip) where you can also earn free hotel nights.
Traveling by train instead of renting a car
EARNING EXTRA $ TO TRAVEL
Get a part-time job within the travel industry. Madi works in a restaurant of an international chain hotel 4 hours per week and she still gets up to 70% hotel rates. (This didn’t work for many of our stops, but it helped in 2 cities!)
Start a side hustle to help pay for your travel fund. I started blogging to help pay for family extras like travel, and when I was an eBay Power Seller, I used my side hustle to pay for our entire family trip to Hawaii!
BUDGETING TIPS WHEN YOU PUT ALL EXPENSES ON CREDIT CARDS
You might be wondering how we keep track of our family budget if we put all expenses on a credit card. It’s super easy to do this using a budgeting software program to help keep track of expenses.
When you use automated budgeting software, your credit card purchases can get automatically downloaded into your budget for you. For re-occurring expenses, the system can autofill the information to save you even more time.
Personal Capital– This is the free budgeting website I’m currently using, I love that I can track both my spending and investments on the go from my phone.
Quicken Financial Software– Quicken is a great option for people wanting budgeting software you can download to your computer. It works really well and I used it for many many years, but when I wanted an on-the-go option, my account information wasn’t downloading correctly with the Quicken app. It’s possible this has since been fixed! I’d check the reviews and cost on Amazon before making a final decision.
Mint– Mint in another free budgeting app that’s perfect for those with a simple budget, for people just getting started with making a budget for the first time, or someone who doesn’t have investments.
SIDE NOTE ABOUT YOUR CREDIT
With a career background in accounting and banking, I don’t feel right about recommending credit cards without adding a couple points for you to consider.
Getting yourself into credit card debt in order to travel, is not wise my friend. We all want to see the world, but your time will come and it isn’t worth it to jeopardize your financial future.
Every time you apply for a credit card, your credit goes slightly down. Having a high FICO score is important to me, and while there are definitely people who bounce around from credit card to credit card to get free points, I prefer to find the best cards for my situation and stick with them. Brand loyalty also has perks!
I hope our example on how to use credit card rewards to get free and discount travel inspires you to start finding savvy ways for you to travel too!
Please post below if you have additional ways you travel on the cheap too! 🙂