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.

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!