We’re not wealthy but we love to travel. Luckily we’ve found some great ways to do more for less!
1.) Get, use and get more credit cards.
I think that my friends are tired of hearing me talk about credit cards, but I can’t help it. I feel like I am getting something for nothing. It’s like I challenged the credit card issuer to a financial duel and I won.
My favorite deal right now is using Chase Southwest credit cards to get their companion pass. The companion pass lets your companion travel for free; it lasts for the remaining calendar year that you get it plus the entire next calendar year.
There are two catches: 1) you can only change who your companion is three times per year. 2) You will have to pay the government imposed fees and taxes – less than $10/ticket for domestic but was about $65/roundtrip ticket for our tickets to Aruba (from Saint Louis).
To get the companion, you need to get 11o,000 points in a calendar year. We stumbled upon this lucrative offer by applying for a Southwest personal credit card when the offer happened to be 50,000 points. We happened to apply for the card early in the calendar year and we happened to spend $60,000 points in the remainder of the year with a lot of home renovation projects.
We got the companion pass in the mail having never heard of it before, and we were elated!
When that companion pass was nearing expiration, we were desperate for a way to continue the deal. The Points Guy led us in the right direction. We applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card as well as the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card. The personal card offer changes over time, but I waited to apply until the sign up bonus was 50,000 points. The business card usually offers 50,000 sign up points. You need to spend $2,000 in the first three months for each card in order to get the bonuses. Then you just need to spend an additional $6,000 to get the companion pass.
There is an annual fee of $95 for each card, but I would pay a lot more than that if it means getting the companion pass. I did cancel the business card before being charged the annual fee for a second time.
The companion pass is a huge cost saver; we basically get a free ticket every time we travel, and we use points to pay for the other tickets. When we consider the cost of a trip, we assume our airfare is essentially free. That’s a nice feeling!
Update 2/3/17: Chase Sapphire Reserve is no longer available… sorry, but I’ll still show my review. There will be something to come in its place some time in 2017.
The next best card for us is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This card gives you a 100,000 point sign up bonus in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. They advertise that it’s worth $1,500 of travel when you book through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
You can also transfer the points to many different rewards programs. One option is to transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards (no, it doesn’t count towards the companion pass… bummer, I know). The Points Guy values each Rapid Reward point at 1.5 cents, so that also comes out to $1,500 in Southwest flights if you transfer the points to Southwest.
Anyway, my point is that I haven’t booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal yet, but believe their advertising that 100,000 points are worth $1,500 if you did. The card also automatically reimburses $300 worth of travel. I read that this deal won’t last too much longer, so apply now if you’re interested.
2.) Stay with friends and relatives.
Sorry for the obvious recommendation, but at least once a year we take a trip to Fort Myers, FL to stay with Jessica’s cousin. Our flights are cheap or free and our lodging is free, so it’s a nearly free trip.
3.) Use a timeshare.
For us, we’ve been very lucky to be able to sneak in a trip here and there using Jessica’s parents’ timeshare. A few years back, Jessica asked for her parents’ timeshare login info to see what resorts and dates were available for a specific trip.
She noticed that there had been certificates that had expired previously and some were nearing expiration. It turned out that they never used the specific week at the specific hotel that they purchased and they always “banked” it into a time share exchange called Interval. I’m really not sure why they didn’t use all of their stays, but we are now helping them make sure that a stay doesn’t expire 🙂
My impression is that purchasing a timeshare can be a good deal. For example, Jessica’s parents’ annual dues are about $400 and we paid $275 to book somewhere that wasn’t the one week at the one specific hotel that the timeshare was originally purchased for. $675 for 7 nights for a two bedroom on the beach is still a pretty good deal.
4.) Scour the web for good deals!
Jessica is constantly checking VRBO, Air BnB and comparing small hotels in the locations we want to vacation at. Once, we got a home for 50% off on VRBO because we were the first to stay in it. Their weren’t any pictures of the place online yet so if you’re used to luxury this might make you squeamish. The place was newly rehabbed, clean, had a private pool and ended up being perfect for our family.