Well, there goes that travel card…..

I think a lot of folks in the FIRE community who engage in “travel hacking” feel a little guilty over exploiting the credit card companies and their free offers. We sign up, charge, pay them off immediately, get the bonus points/miles and then drop them like a “hot potato.” It almost feels like stealing. We comfort ourselves with the fact that the credit companies must be making money offering this, and our small percentage of “hackers” is just a drop in the bucket to their massive profits. Still…..

Well, in August, I added another card to my bank of cards, the Hilton Am. Express card. I stay in Hilton’s a lot for my company, and the offer was a card with no annual fee, and 60,000 points if you spent $1,000 in the first month. With a lot of my business trips causing me to spend that in one week, it was a no-brainer. Sign up and go!

Well in late August I went on a business trip, and had some business expenses. I tend to pay my credit cards off several times a month. When I get my travel reimbursement back, I transfer that exact amount onto the card (so I can track what got paid for business and what still needs to get paid for personal). It’s just the way I keep work.

Unfortunately, American Express wouldn’t let me do this for the first 30 days of the card. They told me that it was an issue at the beginning, but would end after the first 30 days. I was OK because I had gotten the money back for my travel reimbursement and paid the $1K bill for that on Sep 12th. The date for the new bill was Sep 16th. I also tried to finish paying the card off entirely on Sep 15th (even though these charged had happened on Sep 10th). Again, as a travel hacker, I knew I wanted to pay the card off as soon as possible, even if I could have let it “ride” for another couple of weeks.

Well, I finally get to the point where its past 30 days, and I can pay a second time within the 30-day period, and I see a charge for $14.29 on a remaining balance of under $200. What the heck? Turns out that I needed to pay my bill by Sep 11th, not the 16th (when the printed the bill) and because they wouldn’t let me pay twice in the first 30 days, I had extra funds still on the card – funds I could have paid off but they wouldn’t let me.

Well, that was “outside of enough” for me. I had the bonus points already to my Hilton account, so I called them up and asked to cancel the card. They said they’d pull the interest rate charge out and apologized, but I believe that if they played these games in the first 30 days, they’d keep playing them. I may have been at fault for not reading all the fine print (i.e. knowing that I had to pay the bill by the 11th) but not being able to pay the bill multiple times a month and track my spending really irritated me. Best to be done with them.

So I did the good travel hacking thing, got the points and cancelled the card – and I don’t feel any guilt about this one.

Other posts of interest

 

Mr. 39 Months

Travel Hack Completed …..Somewhat

As folks know, Mrs. 39 Months and I took the opportunity to travel to Northern California and Oregon recently, both to enjoy the scenery and for her to take a class in shoe making. It was a great time, and one of those opportunities everyone should take advantage of if they get the opportunity.

I also wanted to use this trip to put into practice some of my travel hacking skills. As you may remember, I’d worked hard on the two Southwest Airlines cards in order to get to 110,000 miles and get the companion pass. I have now been working on the Chase Sapphire card, to try and nail down the 60,000 bonus points for that.

Overall, the trip consisted of 10 days (2 days in the air, 8 days on the ground). We flew into San Francisco, saw a few sights (Cathedral, Fisherman’s wharf, etc.) and then hit the sack. The next day, we visited Alcatraz, and then headed north. The following three days were spent in Northern California and Oregon, visiting national parks and enjoying the outdoors. We ended up Wednesday in Portland, where Mrs. 39 Months spent the next 4 days in class, while I traveled about and saw the city and surrounding area (Columbia River, City of Portland, etc.). We finally headed home on Monday (long flight).

So how did my hacking do?

  • Air flight: free (except for some fees) – savings of $1,088
  • Rental car: paid $338 for 10 days through Alamo, plus gas (about $120). Didn’t use any points, but all the cost got onto my Chase card, helping me towards my goal for the free 60,000 points.
  • Hotel: Due to where we were staying in the national parks, I couldn’t really use any points on stuff, but we did get the hotel in Portland for free: savings of $745
  • Food, Gas, other: Couldn’t use points on these, but again, was able to use the charges on my Chase card to hit my goal. By the end of the trip, I had achieved the usage on the card to get my 60,000 free points!

Overall, trip for two, Philadelphia to San Fran, travel to Portland, and then back cost around $1,512. I’m sure many of the really experienced travel hackers could have saved even more, but I’m pretty happy.

Some lessons learned:

  1. Southwest companion pass is awesome. Wife traveled across the country and back for free!
  2. It pays to get points from various vendors, not just the ones with Chase. I had several hotel options in Northern CA/Oregon that I could have used points for (ex. Holiday Inn express) that I didn’t have points for, so I had to pay cash for.
  3. Haven’t figured out a way to pay for car rental with points yet. Maybe used my 2% cash-back Citi card to pay for it.
  4. Food/Dining out is difficult to use points for – better to use card to pay for it with case and collect the points.

We had a great time, and I learned a lot about travel hacking. Time to plan the next big trip (probably 2019). Maybe the Grand Canyon?

 

Mr. 39 Months

Two steps on travel rewards, completed, working on 3rd!

OK, if you remember back in December I did my first semi-official travel hack (kinda).

Well, following the guys on ChooseFI and other folks in the community, I’ve been furiously working on additional travel hacks. I’ve applied for and received two of the Chase Credit cards,  the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card (40K miles when you charge $1,000 dollars in the first 3 months) and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card (60K miles when you charge $3,000 dollars in first 3 months).

Well, got the cards in early and mid-December 2017, and I’ve managed to put on over $6,000 in 2 months, just paying regular bills and taking one business trip. So as of today, I hit my goal for the 2nd card and got credit. I now have 106,360 miles in my Southwest account for miles (good for around 3-4 cross-country trips), without doing more than just regular spending (and paying off the credit cards) plus the $198 (2 x $99) for the credit cards. $198 for 4 round-trip coast –to-coast ticket. Two major hacks done!

Now on to the next “hack” – when you reach 110,000 miles/points in a calendar year, you get the infamous Southwest Airlines Companion Pass (someone can travel with you for free). I have a business trip next week and a personal vacation week in March, so I should be able to hop those pretty quick. I’ve already told Mrs. 39 Months that we need to plan on travel sometime in 2018 and use this option.

After that, its time to get the Chase Sapphire rewards card (50,000 points if you spend $4K in 3 months) and I’ll really be up there! I already have a bunch of American Airlines and hotel points due to business travel. I actually am enjoying this a bit. I’ll let you know how I’m doing as we go forward.

 

Mr. 39 Months

Yay! I just did my first travel hack (sort of)…..

Well, I’ve been doing the research, reading the blogs, and listening to the podcasts on it. Figured it was time to start using some of that knowledge to help out.

I’ve spoken in the past to my students and the engineers under me about the need to join rewards programs for the travel they do for business (airline, rental car, hotel, etc.). Even if they go to a “one off” hotel (regularly go to a Hilton, but stay this time at a holiday inn) sign up for the program. The points add up, and you can use them for your own personal travel (most of the time – some companies keep them for their own use).

I also suggest to the students that they write “Willing to travel” on the bottom of their resumes. Businesses know that travel sucks, and often they are willing to pay folks extra for their willingness to travel.

Well, I’ve accumulated some significant mileage in the air, which I have used in the past on personal trips (Hawaii, Alaska, etc.) but I never really looked at the hotels. To my surprise, I found I had a significant number of points in both Hilton and Mariott from travel. I figured it was time to try this out.

Mrs. 39 Months wants to attend a Dulcimer Festival in the Poconos the 2nd weekend in January. So I went on both Hilton and Mariott’s sites, and found a nice one-night stay within less than an hour of the site, for only 20,000 points (the lowest point total you can have for Hilton rooms on the weekends). Score!

I know that I’m going to be visiting North Carolina in March to take a woodworking class, so I went to look for rooms there. It turns out its pretty dead at that time in NC, in that area, so I got a five night stay for only 40,000 points (10,000 pts a night, with 5th night free!). Score again!

Finally, I did my first credit card as part of the hack (see info on travel hacking in the links to the right). I applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. If I can charge $1,000 dollars in the first 3 months, I can get 40,000 Southwest points. I’ll try and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card next, in order to get 60,000 Southwest points if I charge $2,000 on it. Thus, I’ll be 103,000 points in towards the 110,000 necessary to get the infamous Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. I just have to charge the remaining $7,000 by the end of 3 months.

I actually am enjoying this a bit. I’ll let you know how I’m doing as we go forward.

 

Mr. 39 Months

Travel Hack Plan

Well, after going through a large number of podcasts and bloggers comments and articles, I’ve chosen to enter the world of travel hacking, like so many others in the FIRE community.

I’ve already provided a link to the travel 101 blog, which I think is one of the best. Other ones to look at if you are interested in travel and seeing the world are Go Curry Cracker or RetireEarlyLifestyle (both with links to right). There also prominently featured on many of the FI podcasts that I listen to. In the end, after realizing how easy it was and the opportunities it provides, I couldn’t resist.

 

Travel 101 has an excellent course on travel hacking, and its free! For those interested, I suggest you consider taking it.

I first took a look at where I was, based on an American Airlines card and business travel. I also had some hotel stays, again based on business travel.

  • American Airlines: 234,436 miles (not bad). Good for a lot of trips, especially international
  • Marriott Hotels: 37,563 points  (good for about 3 nights, depending on where)
  • Hilton:237,817 points (good for about 8 nights, depending on where)

Not a bad start.

In looking at how to get started, I reviewed the cards that Travel 101 suggested and what I already had. One of the issues is that Chase bank has a “5/24” rule, which says you can only get 5 new credit cards within the last 24 months – and that is any credit cards, not just Chase. If you apply for one of theirs after you have gotten 5 others, they will turn you down.

Early in the year, as I started exploring FIRE and looked at Credit card benefits, I got a Citi card with 2% cash back, and an Amazon card for 3% back (because I did so much shopping on Amazon). Thus, I am limited to only applying for 3 other cards. Based on the information provided by the travel hackers, I am going to proceed as follows:

  1. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card: Apply in Dec, put $1,000 in 3 months on it and get 40,000 miles
  2. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business: Apply in Dec, put $2,000 in 3 months on it and get 60,000 points, for a total of 103,000 miles
  3. Do additional charges on Southwest Cards to reach the 110,000 mile mark and get the travel pass (hopefully as soon as possible).This would enable Mrs. 39 Months to fly with me for free on Southwest.
  4. Get a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (the mother of all travel cards): Apply in February, after I have done a lot of my Southwest Charges. Charge $4,000 in 3 months and get 50,000 points.

With that done, by the middle of 2018, I should be sitting on a lot of miles, hotels and points. Then its trying to figure out where to go?

Plans for 2018:

  • Visit Portland Oregon (Mrs. 39 Months wants to take a class there, and then we can visit some national parks)
  • Visit Asheville, NC (I want to take some woodworking courses there)
  • Visit Vermont, where my brother lives
  • Other trips?

I’ll let folks know how this is going as I try to work stuff out.

What travel hacks have you done/are planning to do?

 

Mr. 39 Months