Travel Hacking from Philadelphia: Our Next Steps

Fresh off our first travel rewards trip, I am planning our strategy for our next travel hack.

Our first travel rewards trip was to the Bahamas.

We used Chase Ultimate Rewards and Chase SW miles to fly from Philadelphia to Nassau (with 1 stop in FL). From Nassau, we caught a puddle jumper to Eleuthera Island and VRBO’d a house on the beach. Yeah, we still spent money, but a ton less ($3,480 less) than full price. Traveling with two energetic young boys for multiple days, we definitely prefer the space, kitchen and privacy of a home versus a hotel room.

Other expenses included a car we rented from the home owners, the $5 per gallon gas and eating out; taxes are 12% and a 15% gratuity is typically added. Not complaining, just the facts.

bahamas
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding at Sunset, Bahamas, Nov 2018

It was our first time there and a great trip. We all swam, snorkeled and stand-up paddle-boarded from the house at least once a day.  The kids had plenty of space inside and out and, after a long day of sight-seeing and beach hopping, we enjoyed our own private showing of the sunset on our beach each night with drinks in hand and a beach fire. Definitely a great vacation and even better knowing we saved so much on flights.

So moving on to our next trip … or trips. I’m exploring two tactics:

  1. We know we want to keep up with Southwest Air miles because of their low redemption threshold and abundance of domestic flights from PHL to friends we want to see in Denver and Dallas. With that, my husband will open and use a Chase Southwest Air card to take advantage of the 60k mile bonus (which is 10k more than the bonuses offered via my referral) and build on the base of miles we already have.
    Goal: Denver Ski Trip in December 2019 plus a guys weekend in Dallas at some time. The flights from Philly to both cities are direct on SW Air.
  2. I am going to segue from the Southwest Air card to a Chase British Airways card and take advantage of the 100k bonus offer. Philadelphia is our nearest airport and it’s a hub for American Airlines. I finally believe what I’ve been told: you can transfer British Air Avios miles to American Airline miles. Goal: International family vacation in 2020. 

I’m a bit concerned about spreading ourselves too thin with the spend thresholds required for the bonus miles and companion tickets. I suppose I could analyze the heck out of our spend and map out what this will really look like, but I haven’t. I’ll say I’m 88% sure this plan will achieve these goals.

A takeaway here is to follow a path that works for you. This doesn’t follow any path as discussed in the FI community. I had to look at what made sense for our family, our goals and, most importantly, what works with our closest airport, PHL.

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!