My travel-hacking history, pre-2017…

So here’s a little bit about what I have done so far using points and miles. The first travel card I ever signed up for was the Capital One Venture Card. This is a great travel card for many reasons, including that every purchase gives you 2 points and you can use your points to simply “erase” any travel expenses. So for example, let’s say you bought a $200 plane ticket with the card. Once you had 20,000 points (you always just divide by 100), you could “erase” the purchase and CO would refund you the cost. I used this card for almost every purchase for probably about 6 or 7 years, and I got some great travel discounts from it. For example I accrued enough points to pay for a $1000 round trip ticket to Kenya when I went with a colleague to do a training. Over the years I used points to reimburse things like rental cars, train tickets, and motel rooms. Eventually I realized that since I had already used the sign up bonus, if I started using other cards as frequently as the Capital One Venture I could acquire even more points. So I put it to rest but still do use it occasionally to pay for things like rental cars that you can’t usually use airline miles and hotel points for.

Future posts in this blog are going to focus on one trip at a time where I paid for all or almost all of the trips using points or miles. But here are some trips that I took over the past few years where I did some travel hacking, before I got really serious about it (there’s more prior to this but I can’t remember so I’ll start about a year ago).

1. Clearwater, Florida, Oct 2015. As stated, used Capital One points to pay for 3 nights at a motel and rental car, so all we paid for was plane tickets to Tampa (about $200 each) and food.

2. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, January 2016. My family and I rented a car and drove through the Yucatán for almost two weeks, stopping and staying in Merida, Chichen Itza, and Tulum. I planned this trip before I got really into travel hacking so we did pay for a lot out of pocket including plane fare and hotels. I was able to pay for the rental car that we had for 12 days using Capital One points. That said, I did use to book some of the hotels (also since it is Mexico, even the really nice hotels are cheap by our standards, so we only paid between $70-130 USD a night, excepting our splurge on a beach bungalow in Tulum). The upshot is that I accrued several stays on my account that got me closer to their promotion of book 10 nights and get one night free (which I used later in the summer). Food was super cheap because it is Mexico, so overall the trip was not very expensive.

3. Las Vegas, May 2016. This was a trip planned as a ten-year reunion with my internship class! We had a blast and booked an Air BnB suite in the MGM signature, which seemed to save use money over going directly through the hotel. To fly, I used American Airlines points that I had acccrued years ago after applying in-flight for an American Airlines mastercard. Unfortunately they didn’t have any coach award seats available when I went to book (you have to book these super early to get what you want, like 11 months in advance). So I had to book First Class. But, I felt this was only fitting for a glamcation like Vegas. I used about 50k American Airlines miles for the first class ticket and it was really worth it for such a long flight. The free cocktails, great service, and food were wonderful.

Another perk I got to use on this trip was being able to use the Centurion Lounge at the Las Vegas airport. American Express platinum holders get in for free. It’s a pretty posh lounge with an open bar and free buffet. I was able to use it after I landed and was also able to get in another friend for free. So we had a great time enjoying breakfast and mimosas while we waited for our other friends to arrive.

A third perk was when I rented a car for us with National, since I have the Amex Platinum I have automatic executive status, which means I can book and pay for a mid-size car, but then take any car  I want off the lot. So we were able to find a nice 6 passenger van (since there were 6 of us) and pay only for a mid-size car.

4. Legoland and Clearwater Beach, Florida, June 2016. As a surprise end-of-school trip for the kids we booked tickets on Allegiant Air for Clearwater/St. Petersburg out of Syracuse. Allegiant is a discount airline based out of Florida and they just started offering some direct flights from Syracuse (Clearwater/St. Pete, Ft. Lauderdale, and Myrtle Beach). We didn’t use a lot of points for this trip, except again to pay for the rental car. We did stay at a Hampton Inn, which helped me accrue Hilton HHonors points that I used to book a future trip.

5. Letchworth State Park and Niagara Falls, July 2016. Again, not a lot of points were used, but this was a pretty inexpensive trip given that we camped two nights at the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park, in Western New York. I was able to use my free night at the Best Western in Niagara Falls, so overall the trip expense was minimal.

Up next…Amsterdam! Again, not a lot of points and miles were used but some were accrued for future trips…

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