How we travel so much (and how we got round trip tickets to Europe for $400)

We’re asked fairly frequently how it is that we’re able to travel so much. And there are several factors. But first, let me say this: unless you are looking for inexpensive ways to travel, this post (and especially the parts about credit cards) will likely be rather boring. So feel free to skim this post or just skip it entirely. I don’t blame you. 😉 But for those of you who have been asking about this, here are a few of the factors that play in to how we travel so much:

Vacation:

First of all, we both have jobs that are really great as far as taking time off goes. Christopher had four weeks of vacation this year and since I work for myself I was kind enough to allow myself the time off. 😉 And the family that I nanny for a few hours a week has plenty of family and friends in town to help out when I’m gone. We recognize that this isn’t normal for most people to be able to take off so much time so we are very grateful. We also take lots of weekend trips that only require 1 vacation day (a Friday or Monday) for a fun 3 day trip.

No debt other than our house: 

Second, we paid off all of our student loans a few years ago. So other than our house (which we’re working on), we have no debt. We’ve always paid cash for our vehicles and we’ve never had credit card debt. It took a lot of hard work and sacrifices for a few years, but we are so glad we paid it all off because we now have more freedom with our income. We can give more when we hear of someone in need, save more, and yes… even spend more.

Prioritizing how we spend money: 

Which leads us directly into the third thing: even though we have more money available to spend, it doesn’t mean that we spend it on everything that catches our eye. Some people spend their money on designer clothes or nice cars or going out to see a movie every weekend. And there is nothing wrong with spending money on those things. We would just rather spend our money on travel so we prioritize our finances a little differently.

Using Credit Cards (domestically): 

And finally, a big way we’ve been able to travel has been by utilizing credit cards. When we travel in the States we use our Companion Pass through Southwest (so for each plane ticket we purchase or redeem with points, we get one for free). Remember in 2015 when we flew to Las Vegas/Grand Canyon, the Dominican Republic, New York City, and Orlando/Bahamas? Those flights were all free. Well, free with an asterisk. Because you still have to pay taxes and fees on the flights. So each flight cost us about $12 for both of us to fly. Each time we wanted to travel we would redeem miles to pay for Christopher’s ticket and then I flew free as his companion. For this next year I have the credit card in my name so I’ll redeem miles to buy a ticket for me and then Christopher will fly as my companion.

We also have a Hyatt credit card which gave us 2 free nights when we signed up. We also had a ton of points built up on a Chase credit card from previous years that Hyatt allowed us to transfer to our Hyatt account. So that gave us free stays all over the States last year.

Using Credit Cards (internationally):

For this year’s trip to Europe we used American Airlines MileSaver points because their flight award chart showed that it was 30,000 points for a ticket from the US to anywhere in the EU. So 30,000 each way is 60,000 for each round trip ticket. Meaning that for both of us we would need 120,000 points in total to get two round trip tickets to Europe.

So in order to get our 120,000 points we signed up for two credit cards that each gave 60,000 points as an introductory offer after $2,000 in spending within 3 months. Right now the cards listed at that link don’t show that offer, but as with most credit card offers, they come and go with their offerings. Just keep your eye out and there will once again be an offer for 60k points when you sign up. We got the Citi Platinum Select Mastercard as well as another one that isn’t offered anymore (boo!). If you are only needing one round trip ticket then you can just get that one credit card. But if you need two tickets then both people will need to sign up separately for the card to build up the points. Or if that’s too much of a hassle or one of you isn’t approved then you can always at least get one ticket for free and only have to pay for the other one. Still a big savings over purchasing two tickets outright!

Keep in mind that you will still have to pay fees and taxes. For us this amounted to $200/person. So not cheap, but $400 for two round trip tickets to Europe – definitely worth it! So if you start planning your trip about a year in advance, you will have plenty of time to watch the credit cards until they offer the deals you are looking for and then you can apply and begin spending on them immediately (we put all spending on them for that time: mortgage, bills, food, etc). Doing this in advance also gives you better flight options and seats since you aren’t booking last minute.

Important notes about using Credit Cards: 

We are very careful to avoid credit card debt. Yes, we do have credit cards and yes we do put all of our spending on it for x-number of months until we hit the minimum spend needed to get the rewards we want. However, we always pay them off in full every single month. And we always call to cancel them before the 1 year mark (when they charge you the service fee). Usually the person we talk to offers us another year free because they don’t want us to close our account with them, but sometimes we have to go ahead and cancel the card. Canceling cards isn’t bad, but it’s not the best thing ever for your credit score so you do have to be mindful of that when signing up for a bunch of different reward cards.

how-we-flew-to-europe-for-400

Hopefully all of this makes sense. If I didn’t explain something well, please let me know! I’m happy to fill in the gaps. 🙂

For those of you who have used Credit Cards to travel before: did I leave anything out? Or any other tips for me?

For those of you who have never used Credit Cards to travel: does this sound just super convoluted and crazy? When Christopher first proposed it to me a few years ago I thought it was crazy, but I’ve definitely come around!

Love Rach

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45 responses to “How we travel so much (and how we got round trip tickets to Europe for $400)

  1. Hey, thanks for the great tips. Just wondering if you used any tricks/hacks to get up to the points needed for the SWA Companion Pass? That sounds like a really slick deal, and I’ve looked into it before, but to get to the amount of points needed seems quite difficult. Thanks!

    • So the best thing to do here is to get both Southwest credit cards (the premier card and the plus card) when they are available with the 50K bonus points. Currently if you look at their offer it is 40k points, but that number fluctuates based on the deals they are offering. So in order to get the bonus points you have to hit a minimum spend (for us it was $2000, but currently it’s showing $1000) within 3 months. It’s a point per dollar so that gets you an extra 1000 points per card. So this gets you to 102,000 points (50k card + 50k card + 1k minimum spend + 1k minimum spend). From there it’s $8k of spending (for us it was $6k because we had to spend $2k on each card on the front end so we already had 104,000 points). We put all our expenses on these cards during that time and eventually hit the magical 110,000 points.

      It’s important to note that both of these cards have to belong to the same person/account. So instead of you and your wife each getting a card, only one of you would need to get both cards in order to get the 110,000 points.

      Also important: to get the companion pass, you must get the 110k points in one calendar year. So if you got a card in December and hit the minimum spend, then got the other card in January and hit the minimum spend, those December points won’t count toward the companion pass. You have to earn the whole 110k points in the same calendar year.

      On a positive note, when you receive your companion pass, it is good for the entire rest of the year when you earn it as well as the following year. The most advisable thing to do is to get the cards as early as possible in the year so you can enjoy the perks for as long as possible.

      Hopefully some of this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. 🙂

  2. This was great!! You guys are doing it right, pro’s!

  3. I use Southwest Points to get a few free flights here and there. I also ask for SW gift cards during Christmas and my birthday. I think last year I ended up with about $200! Plus it’s always a good idea to shop around when it comes to international travel. Look and see if there’s an “off season,” use vacation rentals, travel with friends to help split costs!

  4. That is so awesome that you guys only have a mortgage as far as debt goes. Not many people can say that. It does take sacrifice to be able to have expendable income in the long run and some people don’t understand that. I think it is awesome you are able to travel like you do!

    • You are so right about how much work it is to pay off debt! It was worth it, though. We graduated at the peak of the recession in 2008 so getting jobs we liked at all was kind of lucky. So we’ve always been thankful for those jobs and the way they helped us pay off debt!

  5. These were such wonderful and great tips! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Thank you guys so much for these tips ! I tend to use all my points from my credit card for travelling but not all the time I have the chance to travel.
    Hopefully next year I can prioritize a little better. Follow your tips and do some more travelling. 🙂

  7. Joshua and I are barely starting to get into the credit card “game.” We actually had a super hard time finding an apartment because neither of us had any credit since we always lived at home. We had to get a cosigner just to get the place, haha. But right after we got married, Joshua’s credit union was super awesome and approved us for a low-limit credit card so we could start somewhere with earning credit! So grateful! The world of credit is SO hard to get started…because so many things are set up as, “You can use us to build your credit, but you have to have credit before we can approve you.” It’s a Catch 22, haha!

    -Tialla

  8. These are all great tips! I’ve been trying to convince Chris to get a credit card to save on travel, but he’s a little hesitant.

    • I was super hesitant about getting a credit card at first because until you have one and use it, it’s hard to be 100% positive that you will be responsible with it. I was really worried about us ending up in credit card debt. Which is why we are so careful to pay the balance in total every month. So I can definitely understand why your Chris might be a little hesitant as well.

  9. This is amazing! Thanks for the post. I had no idea that something like this was even possible. I have been wheeling and dealing for years with tiny rewards on cards, but I would have never thought you could plan an entire vacation this way!

  10. We travel a lot and I think your tips are great.

  11. Yes! This post could be about how Eric and I travel:) We completely agree with the prioritizing how you spend money part! We get asked about how we travel so much and it definitely has a lot to do with money spending philosophies. There’s a lot to be said for not maxing out on car and house payments…those are nice, but I’d rather travel!

  12. so we have the southwest cards but i totally don’t understand the companion pass thing lol. but we love it and haven’t paid for a US flight for a couple of years (well, except for taxes etc like you said). we really like those cards, we will have to pay for our australia/NZ flights next year out of pocket, but i am considering after that moving credit cards to something that has international flights – like the ones you use – for our big italy trip that is probably like 5 years away haha. plenty of time to accrue miles! but yeah i am horrible with money and credit, made a lot of bad decisions when i was like 18-20, but am better now, and KC is super super good with money, so we always pay them off immediately and never hold a balance. i do have my own credit card debt i’m working my booty off to pay off, plus we have cars (that we are also trying to pay off) but one day hopefully!

    • So to get the companion pass you have to hit 110,000 points in one calendar year. It’s $1 per point so that is a lot of spending in one year. Ideally you get the cards when they have the 50k points bonus (right now they are offering 40k). So since you guys already have at least one of their cards, it might be hard to get to that point. But if only one of you has signed up for the Southwest card in the past then the other of you could sign up for an account to start the process toward a companion pass. 2 years ago Christopher signed up for both of their cards (the premiere card & the plus card) in the same year to get 50k bonus points on each card (so 100,000 points free). So then we just had to spend $10k of our own $$ (which is us putting all our normal spending on those cards until we hit the 110,000 points). Once you hit the magical 110,000 points, you get the companion pass. In 2016 we have done that with me (gotten both cards, hit the minimum spend, and just in the past month received the companion pass). So we plan to use it as much as possible until Dec 31, 2017. 🙂 Hopefully this helps a little. Let me know if you have other questions or if I need to explain something better!

      And girl, good for you for working on that credit card debt! I remember paying off student loans and feeling like it would never end. But it was quite the day of rejoicing when I made that last payment. You’ll be there before you know it! 🙂

  13. These are great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  14. You guys are SO TRAVEL SAVVY. I love it!

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

  15. Nate and I do the same thing! Well, slightly different, but along the same lines. 😉 We put everything on our credit cards, but then pay them off every month. We earn travel points to use on vacations. (It’s how we were able to go to Hawaii a few years ago). Now we’re saving for a family trip to Disney one day. 🙂

  16. I need better credit cards! My rewards are not very exciting…

  17. Rebekah Johnson

    I love posts like this!

    Dave and I don’t do a lot with rewards like this but maybe we should??? I guess we don’t open credit cards because every time you open a credit card it dings your score. We do save up points from airlines we travel with but sometimes those expire and it’s annoying. United Airlines is who we flew to Asia with and their points expire within like a year so instead of using airlines miles we got free items.

    I should look into this more because I think it is fun to be savy when traveling.

    And I totally agree that paying credit cards off each month and all debt as soon as you can is a super wise idea. Dave and I have ZERO debt and I’m so thankful. It’s terrible but I sometimes feel guilty and don’t tell people because I get asked a lot how we do that or how we have money to do that, etc. I know people don’t mean harm it can just be awkard at times.

    Lastly, do you have a Discover card? We use ours and get a lot of cashback each year with that. It’s super handy!

  18. Angel’s current job is hourly, so he can take time off, it just means that his paycheck for the month will be less by how many hours he didn’t work. In the States we were used to having PTO (paid-time off), and the school in China had school breaks but we had salary, so this has taken some getting used to! In a way it kind of makes every trip more expensive by the amount of income he normally would have earned during those days–that’s definitely made us more wary about taking time off. It can be a little frustrating but it’s definitely taught me to appreciate PTO as a luxury–actually getting the same paycheck even though you took a vacation, now that’s cool!
    My favorite airline here is AirAsia, a budget airline that you can sometimes get really good deals on–we’re flying to a nearby island in January for a ministry workers’ retreat, and the round-trip plane tickets we got are the equivalent of $30 USD per person. Not too bad.
    I always think the credit card points thing is pretty cool, and when we lived in America we’d use the credit card a lot to get the cash back feature…but now we live in a cash-based society, most places don’t accept either credit or debit cards, so we’re probably about down to using our credit cards once every couple months or so, usually just for something like buying a present online for someone back home–not much cash back being made anymore! We’ve also had our cards declined a few times because transactions being made from computers in SE Asia look suspicious even though our banks have been informed that we live here!

    • Oh wow, that really does make you think about how much your vacation costs differently. It’s like an additional cost almost. Makes me appreciate PTO for sure!

      Wow! That’s a great deal on a flight! Other than using credit cards, we’ve never had a flight that cheap. That’s hard to even imagine, ha!

      It’s so interesting how quickly credit cards have become the norm for spending in the States. I so rarely ever have cash other than if I get it from an ATM to pay someone who can’t accept a check or credit card. I imagine a charge in SE Asia on your credit card definitely looks suspicious! Especially since you use the cards so infrequently.

  19. This is such a great post! I always tell people that the strategy that allows us to travel internationally every year or two is to “travel smart” and you have shared so many awesome tips!

  20. Pingback: Europe 2016 (plus future plans) |

  21. Oh, wow, I would have never known about all of this! I have a credit card and debit card, but only knew about the small little bit of cash back you get…would never have imagined you could end up traveling for so little! Sounds like you guys had such a nice time ~ that is so special to be able to do that!

  22. Jordan gets paid hourly so any days he takes off, he just doesn’t get paid, which means we have to be really careful about when we take trips because we are basically losing money from his paycheck. And I get 10 days off a year, so it’s really cool you have so much flexibility to be able to travel so much! I won’t lie. I’m super jealous! That’s probably why we haven’t seriously considered looking into rewards credit cards for flights because we really can’t afford to travel that much anyway. But these are great tips! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Someone else mentioned that their husband gets paid hourly so they have to essentially add that to the cost of the trip when they travel. Definitely makes it more expensive to travel when you’re losing out on that $$!

      And girl, we are so thankful for vacation time and the flexibility of our jobs. Our very first Christmas that we were married Christopher had ZERO vacation days (because he worked at a company where his benefits only started after 6 months and he had only been there 4 by the time Christmas arrived). So he got off work on Friday and we drove 10 hours all night long to get in to the place my family was celebrating Christmas that year. We crashed and woke up 4 hours later to celebrate Christmas with the family on Saturday, went to church together on Sunday morning, and then left after lunch to go home so he could be back at work on Monday morning. We still laugh about that crazy Christmas. It’s been 8 years since that Christmas and he has moved up a lot in his field. For him promotions plus years of experience = extra weeks of vacation (starting out he had 10 days after that initial 6 month period and it has just gone up a week at a time). So we are definitely thankful for the vacation time!

  23. This was so interesting to read! I have always wondered how you two travel so often, and I think the main thing is that you prioritize it and you’re smart with your money and using credit cards. I learned so much in this post!!

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