This article was written by a member of our Facebook group, Shannyn Allan. Here's her story of how she used travel rewards take a dream trip to Paris.
The ChooseFI community is a vibrant space that’s full of really smart people who are thinking about their goals differently than most of the mainstream. When I discovered this community, I was inspired by the general attitude that you can approach any challenges with creativity to get to your desired outcome without needing a lot of cash to get you there.
Curiosity and creativity is precisely what brings most people to FI and what leads most of them to try using travel rewards. The idea that one must sacrifice travel in order to get that savings rate to the blessed 50% simply won’t do for many–so using travel rewards are the natural alternative to not traveling at all.
One other commonality about the FI community is that there seemingly is a plethora of people who sincerely enjoy spreadsheets and thrive off of the idea of optimization. There’s just a certain type of FI’ers. I’m apparently not one of those people. I just got back from a two week trip to Paris and Barcelona that was made possible by a less-than-optimal, not-so-perfect approach to using travel rewards with credit card rewards that was pulled together with just one haphazard spreadsheet on Google Drive. (gasp!)
If you’re like me, the idea of tracking details, running projections, and being perfectly optimal about everything can be so overwhelming. You might never even get started for fear that there’s no way anything can be just right. If that’s you- read on. My approach to credit card rewards is crazy simple and may get you inspired that you can make your bucket list trips a reality. Is it perfect? No. Is it just enough to be dangerous? Yes. Hopefully, this will take the sting out of starting and get you inspired to take action.
How Did I Make Paris a Reality on a Limited Budget?
Long story short–I did two things: I saved $2 a day to a savings account to cover food and gifts for folks back home. In under two years, I saved over $1220 in cash to cover anything my rewards points couldn’t cover, or, if I saw fit–to pay for a plane ticket and use my points for hotels and excursions. Second thing–I utilized three Chase cards: the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
If you want to keep using travel rewards and not spend hours researching all the options out there, start with Chase. Chase is notoriously easy to use and if you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, just start here.
How Did Two Credit Cards Fund My Trip To Paris?
For those cards, I earned a total of more than 180,000 points. Since I just bought a home, I had a lot of really fun (sarcasm!) purchases in my first year that also helped me rack up points. In six months, I had several HVAC repairs, trips to Home Depot, and various contractors to pay for. I also used my Chase Business Preferred Ink card for several large purchases for my business, about $5,000–but even if you don’t have a business with large purchases throughout the year, you’ll be okay! While you can get 2-3x the points with the Reserve and Preferred by using your card on travel and restaurants, that doesn’t make up the bulk of my spending, but I tried to maximize those bonus points over the course of a year for weddings and trips home. Just think ahead to any spending you might be doing in the next year, and see what points you could rack up for them.
What Did I Use My Points On?
So, with around 195,000+ points in hand stemming from sign up bonuses, a little business spending, and home repairs, I knew it would soon be time to cash in. I kept an eye on good deals for airfare, but alas, coming from San Antonio, my pickin's were slim. I set up Kayak alerts to get an idea of what to expect in terms of fares and travel time, and when I saw a nearly direct flight from San Antonio to Paris for just $660 round trip, I knew I had to pounce. I couldn’t replicate the fast flight time and relative cost (in points) to what I saw in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal (and in this case, transferring points was not going to work quickly) so I just booked it with cash.
I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get 3x points on booking airfare for myself and my partner, so that added an additional 4,000 points to my arsenal. Long story short, with three credit cards opened through the year, I was able to book two weeks of hotels in Paris and Barcelona. By booking with the Chase Ultimate Rewards, I could consolidate my points to the portal with the best redemption rate (Chase Sapphire Reserve) to make my points go even further.
Total points: 195,235
Total redemptions for hotels: 6 nights hotel stay in Barcelona, 7 nights in Paris.
Total redemptions for activities: Champagne Tasting, Crepe Making Class for Two, 2 tickets to Disneyland Paris, “Skip The Line” Versailles Pass…and a few other fun things!
So, What Did I Learn?
A few key takeaways about using travel rewards for those who don’t want to spend hours analyzing (or ahem, agonizing) programs, here’s what I’d recommend:
- You can sufficiently fund a trip with just 2-3 cards, I recommend Chase due to simplicity in both tracking your points and being able to pay your cards in one place.
- If you use Chase points to book your travel, be sure you consolidate your points to the card with the best redemption rate. In my case, the best card was the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which redeemed at 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, better than the Preferred.
- You can use your rewards points to book most things, but not all things. We used up my points on hotels, excursions (like a day pass to Versailles outside Paris and visiting La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). We still had to pay for trains, hotel fees/taxes and the plethora of meats and cheeses I insisted on consuming daily.
There are far more sophisticated articles out there that deal with travel rewards, I recommend you read them, but I hope this gets you started! The goal is to first dream big (I told myself Paris was too expensive for too long), then creatively find ways to fund your trip. I did it with travel rewards and by saving $2 a day. Ask questions along the way and know that everything is figure-outable, but don’t let the “I don’t knows” or “it’s not 100% optimal” keep you from starting! I also recommend that you check out the Choose FI Facebook group if you have questions or want to hear other success stories, it will help you get started!
Shannyn has been a frugality writer at FrugalBeautiful.com since 2011 and recently launched TheWonderLuster.com to help tackle her bucket list and talk about financial independence for millennial women. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her two rescue dogs.
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