Budget Travel Tips: How to Get a $3k Vacation for Only $1k!

The biggest complaint about not being able to travel is due to a lack of money.  However, we believe that if you really want to travel, you have to make it a priority in your life.  That includes building it into your financial budget.  The good news is that it is entirely possible to find creative ways to save / earn for your vacations by doing things you already do.  It just take some time & planning to figure it out!  That is exactly how my mom recently booked a vacation valued at nearly $3000 for roughly a $1000 bucks.  So keep reading to learn about our best budget travel tips!

Josh and Liz at top

Sign up for Loyalty Points Programs…Now!

If you are not already signed up for various loyalty points programs through airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc. then SHAME ON YOUMany casual travelers overlook this, but of all budget travel tips, this is the simplest way to earn free travel!  Sure it may take some time depending on how much you travel or spend, but why not?!?!  Loyalty point programs are not going to give you free travel all the time, but there are all sorts of ways you can build up your points to use them on future travel.

Hawiian Airlines

Be sure to read up on each program because they are all different.  Some can be combined with each other, while others can’t.  You will also want to figure out the best ways to earn points and if / when points expire.

Ways to Earn Travel Points & Credits

The standard way to earn points is by using the services they promote.  For example, flying will earn you frequent flyer points, and staying at a hotel may earn you their hotel points.  Other times you may be able to receive credits or discounts for being a member, such as cruise line member rates.  However, not everyone realizes that there are other ways to earn points.

For example, I have my natural gas bill tied to my Delta frequent flyer account so that I earn points for paying my monthly bill.  There are also many partner companies or websites where you can earn points, such as buying flowers or renting a car.  Be sure to check out these details on the reward program websites.

SuntrustCard_2012-skymiles2 I also have a Suntrust bank debit card tied to my Delta frequent flyer account too (yes debit, not credit) so I earn miles just for using my bank account!  However, the most popular way to earn points (and where we get most of ours) is through credit cards.

Using Credit Cards to Earn Travel Points

Credit cards are the most popular way to earn points, and that is actually where we earn most of ours  Having a specific card that is tied to a points program lets you earn miles every time you use the card.  Some cards are tied to one specific program, like our Delta American Express card or our Disney Visa, while others build up points that can be transferred to many programs, such as our Chase Sapphire or Capital One Venture Card.

carnival card  chase sapphire  card_premier_mickey_friends_front

We also pay attention for bonuses or special offers related to these cards.  For example, many cards will have promotions on certain days of the week or month where you earn double or even triple points for things like dining out at restaurants or buying gasoline.  This is a great way to earn points for things that you already purchase on a daily basis.

“Travel Hacking” the Extreme Form of Earning Travel Points

Okay, so let me preface this by saying that “Travel Hacking” is not for everyone.  It takes work, good credit, and careful discipline.  If you have trouble with debt or controlling yourself when it comes to spending money, then I DO NOT recommend that you get into this.

Basically, “Travel Hacking” is a term used where people take advantage of credit card sign-up bonus offers.  There is typically a minimum spend requirement to get the bonus.  People sign up for the cards, solely for the points.  They will use it until they get the bonus, then they may opt to get rid of the card after a period of time.  The point is to continually look for the next bonus to build your points.

Credit Cards
Getting more points while exploring the top of the St. Louis Arch

We use travel hacking to a certain extent.  The key for us is to ONLY sign up for a card when we know we have upcoming expenses already planned that will help us meet the minimum spend.  For example, last summer we knew that we were going to buy a new MacBook and a nice DSLR camera.  So we signed up for the Chase Sapphire, met the requirement with those items and earned 50,000 miles – for things we were going to buy anyway!  Using this method of hacking, we have earned over 200,000 points over the last 9 months…without flying.

However, we are not the experts on Travel Hacking.  In fact, we learned what we do from other great websites out there!  There are some great resources that we recommend to learn more about Travel Hacking and current deals on the market.  The Points Guy is also a great resource to learn from as well.

world of wanderlusting

So How Did My Mom Get a $3000 vacation for $1000? Using Her Travel Points!

So back to the original question, how did my mom score that stellar deal on her upcoming vacation? By using the points that she has been accumulating through various loyalty programs.  Here is the breakdown for their trip:  2 people with round trip flights to Florida, a day at Disney World, then an 8 day cruise around the Eastern Caribbean!

Airfare to Florida from Idaho (2 people)

  • Price of tickets:  $800
  • Actually paid:  $0 (used frequent flyer miles)

1 day / night at Disney World (2 people tickets, hotel & meals)

  • Price:  $500
  • Actually paid:  $0 (used Disney Rewards Points from Disney Visa Card)

8 Day Cruise to Eastern Caribbean

  • Price (including meals): $1500
  • Actually paid:  $1000 ($100 cruise line voucher + $400 points from cruise line credit card)

And that’s it!

My Mom – The Original “Travel Hacker”

I call my mom the original “travel hacker.”  Growing up, we certainly weren’t rich…yet we traveled all the time!  And one of the ways we were able to do that was because my parents made travel a financial priority.  They cut back on the unnecessary material things, but also made sure to get the most out of every dollar they chose to spend!  So taking advantage of credit card offers, cash back bonuses, and frequent flyer programs, they were able to help offset the cost of many of our family vacations.

Not only did I get my traveling spirit from my parent’s, I’m so glad that they were able to show me that anyone can travel.  And actually, that’s probably the most important out of all of our budget travel tips; as long as there’s a will, there is a way!


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7 thoughts on “Budget Travel Tips: How to Get a $3k Vacation for Only $1k!”

  1. I do some of this. I don’t sign up for credit card offers because credit cards are horrible things, and I’d rather not have them in my world (personal thing – go nuts if you want to).

    What I do tho is stay with the same hotel chain whenever I can while traveling. For a given 2-3 week road trip I often get enough points for 2-3 nights free stay. When I travel for business I also try to stay at the same chain of hotels (my employer doesn’t care where I stay, only that I remain under their set budget, and since I am a simple man with simple needs, my hotel chain of choice is well under this limit). I often come back from a work trip with 1-2 nights worth of points that I can redeem on my next road trip.

    Since hotels are by far the largest expense of my road trips, getting a few nights free really helps the budget.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dave! If you are able to travel for work, then definitely take advantage of those hotel points and free stays. It all adds up, that’s for sure! Who doesn’t like getting free stuff on vacation? 🙂

      – Liz & Josh

  2. Hey, thanks for the nice mention. There’s nothing that hurts worse than hearing people say “I’d love to travel, I just can’t afford it.” We hope to banish that phrase from use.

    Here’s to many more travels!


    P.S. Peanuts.

    1. Thanks for the comment Brad! yes, let’s banish that phrase because it’s simply not true (in most cases). It’s all about priorities; if you want to travel, you can make it happen.

      – Liz

  3. Great tips. I did not know about Travel Hacking, I’ll definitely will have a look at it 🙂 I you can earn so many points with it, why not, but it is indeed good to look around and see what are the best deal.
    Thanks for sharing 😉

  4. Hey Liz,
    Thanks for this post. I’m so happy to hear about other people travel hacking. Throughout our trip we used points and before the trip we opened up tons of credit cards. I think since then we’ve had about 12-15 new credit cards. We got 30k on American Airlines, 50k on US Airways, 50k on Southwest, and 30k on Alaska. We also got tons of cash back towards travel purchases, this was huge. And, we got a ton of hotel stays free- Marriott, IHG, and currently spending for our minimum on the Starwood card.

    If we could never meet the minimum spending we’d ask mom or dad to use the card and give us the cash. If we were short a few bucks we’d buy Amazon gift certificates to be used later. So many tricks and tips to be had with this.

    Our favorite sites for this were thepointsguy.com and travelisfree.com. The latter has awesome infographics that breakdown the value of the points for each program (hotel and airlines). We only found out about this from a friend (after 11 months of traveling).

    Anyways appreciate the love through your posts, as always.

    Thanks again,
    Mark and Camille

    1. So great to hear Mark!

      Yeah, it’s crazy how much you can get for “free” just by doing things you normally do anyway. Of course, people must be careful and have discipline. But if you are good with managing your spending and will be spending the money anyway, then WHY NOT get something for free. It’s crazy not to!


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