Sharon and I love to travel. That’s no secret if you know us. For me, travel has been a part of my life for, well, my whole life. My parents took me places all the time. Now, we weren’t going all over the world. In fact, we hardly ever went on an airplane until I was in high school. That meant our vacations were usually a week or two long road trips in the summer.
Times have changed since then, but our approach hasn’t altered all that much.
Back then, we didn’t travel fancy. We rented a pop-top Starcraft camper and stayed in KOA campgrounds to save money on meals and lodging. I still loved every minute of it. We eventually ditched the camper and stayed at hotels. We booked our rooms using an Entertainment book so we’d get 50% off, and this allowed us to stay at some pretty cool hotels that would usually be out of our price range. I guess that’s where I got the drive to always travel better than I was paying for. Here we are relaxing in the suite we got when staying in Washington D.C. The room was almost bigger than our entire house.
I honed these skills while I was in college and refined them after I graduated. Back then, I was totally into Walt Disney World and would travel from New Jersey to Florida 2-3 times a year for short trips. That became taking a trip every 2-3 months, and then it eventually turned into every 1-2 months. My record for one year was 8 trips, which happened the year before I finally moved to Florida. To save money on the trips, I would search and search for the lowest airfares using Easy Saabre, which was a home copy of the American Airlines booking system software. I’d also search for hotels on my computer, finding the lowest prices I could. I had the advantage of being able to read reviews and look at pictures of hotels ahead of time.
Jump forward to today. Sharon and I are in a much better financial position. We are still not fancy travelers at heart; I’ll appreciate a nice hotel but for Sharon, a room is just a place to stay. We like it to be clean, with a comfortable bed, a good shower and the ability to adjust the room temperature. Give us that and we are happy. Well, I also want every hotel room to have these five things.
So then why do we end up staying at places like the Waldorf=Astoria in New York, the Park Hyatt in Washington D.C. and the Goldener Hirsch (a 70 room hotel that was built in 1407) in Salzburg, Austria? Why do we go into airport lounges before our flights and fly in business class? I guess the answer is because we can. I’d never pay full price for any of these things. Could you imagine paying $25,000 for airfare on a trip to Australia? I can’t. I get these higher class experiences but still end up paying what I’d usually pay for a more reasonable form of travel. How do we do this? I keep an eye out for specials. We usually travel off season so occasionally I’ll find a good hotel deal. Other times I’ll pay for our trips with points or miles. Now, this doesn’t mean we are traveling for free. I mean, nothing is truly free. I worked to earn those points and I have to be smart where to spend them so I get the most value.
Most of the points I earned with travel credit cards either through sign up bonuses or everyday spending. This is a great way for us to get points, partially because we don’t have any credit card debt. If you’re paying interest on your credit cards, that may not be such a great option for you as you will pay more in fees than the worth of the points you’ll earn. However, there are still other ways you can build up your point balances to travel better or travel more.
What you want to get for your time and effort spent collecting points through whichever means you choose is different for everyone. It all depends on what your travel goals are. The reasons in this post explain how and why I do this but that’s just a good reason for us. When it comes to what’s right for you, who am I to say. What you can do is take advantage of the tips that make sense for you and remember not to let anyone tell you what you’re doing with your points is wrong. Your Mileage May Vary.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary