Hacking a 41-Day Family Vacation

Hacking a 41-Day Family Vacation

Remember that post I wrote about how we’re not selling everything to see the world? I admit that our plans for next summer sound a lot like we’re doing just that. But we’re not – we promise.

We just happen to be talking about selling our house at the same time that we’re making definitive plans to head out to Europe for a bit. The Europe trip will be followed by a visit to the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and maybe even Alaska depending on which friends/family are around when.

This whole shebang will take 41 days.

(I don’t think any of my patients are reading this, but if you are: don’t worry! The office will be open like normal all summer and Dr. P will be there whenever I’m not. He’s way cooler than I am anyway.)

The Vision

This idea has been on the drawing board for awhile. Ever since my husband became a teacher, I’ve been a little jealous of his summers off. But I love my business and summer happens to be our busiest season. This ultra-long vaca was something we wanted to do together, but with me busy in the summer and him busy during the school year it was not going to happen on a whim.

It took some serious planning, and it would never have worked without my business partner (which is one of many reasons you should think about getting one if you like travel but also have a location-dependent business).

Between kids and home renovation projects and that new house we’re building as an investment, the stars aligned well enough and we decided summer of 2020 could work. This fall I consolidated my summer work schedule (yes, 8 months in advance) to allow the maximum possible time off while my husband and oldest kid were on summer break… and suddenly it was official.

Now obviously due to my recent ragging on people who won’t answer money questions, I have to answer the money question: How are we paying for this?

The Money

No, we have not found or won or inherited money recently. No, our respective incomes did not suddenly skyrocket; they are more or less the same as last year, if you must know. No, we are not putting this on credit and hoping to use home-sale proceeds to pay if off next year. And we are not a DINK couple; there are two rugrats in this equation (a toddler and a teenager)!

The real answer is that we’re paying for this by: 1. Travel hacking and 2. Saying “yes” when we get invited places.

We have been using Cap One Spark and Venture cards to wrack up all sorts of points through our business expenses, and we’ve both got the British Air Visa and its “4 Avios per dollar” thing going, adding to those Avios we ended up with after our trip to Switzerland in January.

(We admit that Avios often behave like Bitcoin currency, but we’ve been able to make them work for us. This will be the first trip where we use them on American Air and Iberia instead of just on BA, so we’ll let you know how that goes.) We’ve also both got one or more American Air cards, and my husband has a Southwest card.

Regarding the portions of this trip that involve visiting people: they will be a big part of this. We have good friends and family in mainland Europe, as well as in Chicago (which just happens to be a great place to position yourself for flights to and from Europe), as well as in the PNW.

Take-home message: if you invite us to visit you there’s a 99% chance we will, so don’t even mention it if you don’t genuinely want us to show up in your guest room.

The Plan

map of destinations listed below
A partial draft of the travel plan. Image generated by Great Circle Mapper.

Here were the goals for the trip (not necessarily in order):

  • Visit London – on purpose this time.
  • Visit friends in France.
  • Convince friends from the States to come with us to London and Paris.
  • Convince family from the States to meet us in Portugal.
  • Convince friends who currently live in Lithuania to meet us in Portugal.
  • Visit my brother in Galcia, Spain.
  • Visit Iceland.
  • Visit family in Chicago and/or Michigan.
  • Visit friends and family in the Pacific Northwest
  • Visit family in Alaska?
  • And of course: travel hack it all!!!

The Hacks

The first major leg of the trip has been paid for as of last week: 4 tickets on a direct flight from Chicago to London in British Airways’ premium economy (which we’ve had a great experience with) on the massive A380.

The boys are thrilled because we’ll be on the upper deck of a 2-story plane, and I’m thrilled because the cash price of those 4 tickets was $12,372.00 and we got them for 104k Avios and $1,014.80.

BA's A380
A pic of the A380 that I obviously did not take. Photo credit to British Airways.

For those of you that are wary of award travel due to the sometimes-scarce availability or those of you who can’t fathom flying in anything other than the fancyclass cabins: there were plenty of premium economy and business class award seats available when we booked.

We do love a good lay-flat seat and over-abundance of hot towels, but we decided we didn’t need the extra amenities or expense of business class for the relatively short 7-hour flight – especially when we were just getting dropped at our departure airport after a relaxing weekend staying with family and taxing straight to a nice hotel for a nap on arrival.

And I’ve just found out – as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post – that we have FIVE amazing friends/family members (not including those who already live in Europe) who have committed to joining us on this adventure. It’s going to be EPIC.

Let the vacation-planning games begin!

We will post updates on the costs of this trip – both points/miles and dollars – here on the blog. And of course there will be a trip report when all is said and done, as well as several more of our surprisingly-popular reviews of flying individual airlines with the munchkins. Follow along if you’re interested!

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