Booking our first family vacation with Chase Rewards

We’re just dipping our toe into the travel optimizing pond here and I was a bit nervous. It required opening AND using a credit card, so if that makes you nervous, don’t do it. We had to be disciplined and used the card for most purchases and a few large purchases, like summer camp, to maximize points earnings.

Here’s what we did, as well as a few mistakes we learned from:

  • We both opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and spent the required $4,000 (each) easily within three months to earn 50,000 bonus points (each). Lesson learned: We forgot to have my husband use my referral code when he applied, missing out on 10,000 bonus points.
sailing on the delaware
Sailing on the Delaware River, pining for the Bahamas
  • We set a goal: get enough points to get our family of four to the Bahamas or any Caribbean island over the week of Thanksgiving. Of the Chase rewards travel partners, Southwest was clearly the best option with the lowest amount of points required: I estimated 140k – 150k points for our family, however November travel dates were not released when we were planning.
  • Searched for the best deal: Southwest didn’t release their winter travel dates until May 31, so we knew we had to earn the required points by then. When the flights were available, we had 133,775 total points earned. I used Southwest’s low fare calendar to find the best combination of dates that would give us a 5- to 7-day Thanksgiving vacation with our points, but I kept coming up short.
  • Transferred points from Chase to Southwest: you can’t book Southwest through the Chase portal, so a points transfer is required. This was pretty easy. I transferred 73,000 Chase Rewards points to my Rapid Rewards account and it appeared immediately. I then transferred 60,000 of my husband’s Chase Rewards points to my Rapid Rewards account and when it didn’t appear immediately, I had a minor freak out. When transferring from Chase, you have to enter the cardholders name on the Chase site, plus a Rapid Rewards number. I used my husband’s name with my Rapid Rewards number and when the points didn’t appear, I assumed that using his name with my Rapid Rewards number was a big mistake. The Chase customer service was absolutely great and while we were talking through how to course-correct, the points appeared! I just needed a little patience.
  • Purchased additional Rapid Rewards: Since we didn’t have enough, I purchased 7,000 rapid rewards points for $134 to give me the points required to book our trip.
  • Booked it! It was a rather smooth process despite my human errors. Here’s the breakdown:
    • Earned Rewards: 133,775
    • Purchased Rewards: 7,000 ($134)
    • Total Redeemed Rewards: 139,776
    • Taxes and Fees: $463
    • Total: $597 = $149.25 each!
  • Versus Actual Costs: Flights: $3416.16 +  Taxes/Fees: $664.16 = $1,020.08 each. We saved $870 each – that’s $3,480! There’s no way we would have or could have spent that. And these prices are already higher than they were when I booked just five days ago.

Another thing I learned from the Marla Tanner interview on ChooseFI is that you can, in fact, redeem British Airways miles through Chase. I tried to figure this out online and couldn’t, so thank you Marla for teaching me that you actually have to call the airline. I will keep that in mind, but I think we’ll stick with Southwest for now because our next travel goal is a rocky mountain ski vacation.

A huge thank you to ChooseFI for teaching us how to travel for less!

How we saved over $800 on an FI Family weekend in NYC

We haven’t been vacationing much lately. Almost two years ago, we moved our family of four  from Seattle back to our native Philly ‘burbs. In our ten years in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, every weekend was like a vacation because everything was new and exciting to us! The mountains, the sound, the Methow, Whistler, San Juans, Portland, Yellowstone, whale watching, etc. We were serious tourists for a full decade.

Back to the East, we’re still weekend warriors, with the benefit of having family (a free home away from home) on a lake in the Poconos, in beautiful coastal North Carolina and in the Finger Lakes … we’re really lucky to have family in great, vacation-worthy places.

But, we still like to take advantage of the culture, food and adventure of the east-coast cities. We’re only a 30-minutes train ride from downtown Philly, so we get there often. But this past weekend, we took the kids to NYC, with a little FI-style.

FI Family in NYC by the Numbers:

  • Amtrak from Philly to New York’s Penn Station: $243 for four. This is actually what prompted this trip. I got a special offer email from Amtrak … and off we went. SAVINGS: $123
  • Hotel: FREE!  We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Times Square for $0. I redeemed 140,000 Hilton Honors points for 2 nights and it was the perfect location for tackling Manhattan in a weekend. SAVINGS: $652

There is so much to do in Manhattan, so free, some not. Let’s start with the free things we did:

Other free activities we didn’t do include the Staten Island Ferry, so many museums and art galleries, central park, and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

We chose to pay for one activity per day: an observation deck on a tall building and a museum. I discovered that my company offers a ton of discounts on shopping, travel, insurance, plays, activities, etc. So we took advantage of discounts on these two:

  • Top of the Rock: $110 for four. I thought that looking at the Empire State Building would be better than the view from it. We selected 6:40pm so we could watch the sunset, but the warm spring day took quite a turn and it was chilly and cold! The sunset was a bust, but the view was great and we stayed until the Empire State Building’s lights went on. SAVINGS: $55
  • The American Museum of Natural History: $51.50 for four. Looking at the forecast, we knew we’d want to spend our time on Sunday inside. This museum is huge and was so crowded, but we were still able to see a ton of exhibits without feeling like sardines. SAVINGS: $20.50 and we got out of there without buying anything from any of the many gift shops!

I would have loved to see a show with the kids, so I looked at tickets to the Blue Man Group, but with the charges and fees, it came to $500 for four. It was $350 with the company discounts, but we still chose to pass. It’s a lot to spend and there’s only so much time in the day.

We didn’t save any money eating, in fact I’m afraid to look at what the total damage was. We’re thankful for the food hall trend – we all eat what we want in one place:

  • The Food Court at the Plaza: The Doughnuttery only further fueled our son’s desire to open a donut shop.
  • Eataly: the Italian food market; we hit the one in the financial district and enjoyed a drink, pizza, charcuterie with wine followed by gelato and some serious market browsing with beer. There’s an incredible amount of prepared food to indulge in here and plenty to offer to make every weary traveler happy.

Finally, how we got around:

  • Walked 12.6 miles
  • Climbed 30 floors
  • Rode the subway six times
  • And took four cab rides

With what we spent on food, drinks, souvenirs, subways and cabs, this was by no means an FI vacation, but we saved $850.50 with the points and discounts we used. We can be frugal and always look for the best deal, but by no means do we deprive ourselves, especially on vacation.

We’re looking forward to coming back to NYC for a weekend in Brooklyn!