Our 2018 Travel Hacking Report

Our 2018 Travel Hacking Report

This is where travel hacking took us in 2018:

map of trips listed in above text
Image generated with Great Circle Mapper

Not too bad, especially considering Baby J couldn’t get a passport until late last year. Below you’ll find our total costs and savings from all those trips, listed by month of the year. 

Note that the cost totals for Maui, Florida/Bahamas, and Switzerland are actually inclusive of the entire trip (food, gas, incidentals, etc). Our small trip totals don’t always include things like spending on food and gas, which get hard to separate out when you’re doing the weekend warrior thing or staying at people’s houses who generously feed you all the time.

Cost amounts are rounded up to the nearest dollar.

January: The Windmill Winery, Arizona

We attended a gorgeous wedding at this winery early in the year. I never knew this place existed before we got the invite (Arizona is not widely renowned for wineries, as you may be aware), and it turned out to be quite charming.

mom and baby in front of "love" sign on top of barrels

This was driving distance from our home, so no airfare.

Lodging (including breakfast): $0 (Marriott points)

Comparable cost: $144

February: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

There are plenty of scenic pictures of this area out there, but I like this one because it’s the truth about group shots: at least two people have their eyes closed and at least one is making a weird face.

group of friends with kids, puppy on high mesa

We love the wilderness areas around Cortez, which is also driving distance from our home. This particular trip was a spur-of-the-moment weekend adventure to meet up with some good friends who we hadn’t seen a while.

Lodging (including breakfast): $0 (Chase UR points)

National Park fees: included in the annual pass that we buy every year for $80.

Comparable cost: $220

March: Maui, Hawaii

This was our third time to Hawaii since our wedding but the first time taking our rugrats. We loved everything about the trip and are doing our best to duplicate it this coming March (with the happy addition of some grandparents who we coerced into joining us).

three people snorkeling

Because this was one of our bigger trips in 2018, I kept track of more details than just what we travel-hacked. You can read our cost breakdown for our week in Maui (as well as see what it would have cost without travel hacking) here. 

The vast majority of our spending was on food and baby formula.

Total: $815

Comparable cost: $6,402

June: Illinois and Michigan

We do our best to make the trek back to my husband’s hometown (Chicago, which is also where we met) once a year or so. When schedules align in our favor we get to see dozens of family members and friends all in one trip and spend a lot of time on the many amazing lakes in the midwest.

Sunset on a lake with boats

Airfare: $374 (roundtrip for all of us on Southwest using the Companion Pass and some points)

Lodging/car: $0 (staying with family)

Public transit: $44

Total: $418

Comparable cost (paying cash for airfare): $1040

July: Camano Island, Washington

Some of our best friends had the nerve to move to the PNW a couple years ago, so this trip is becoming a staple of our summer. They won’t get rid of us easily.

Airfare: $365 (roundtrip for all of us on Southwest – down from $947 using travel credit and Companion Pass)

Lodging: $0 (staying with friends)

Rental car: $0 (Chase UR points)

Ferries: $50

Total: $415

Comparable cost (paying cash for airfare): $997

September: Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire, Nevada

We had the honor of attending a beautiful dessert wedding in the Valley of Fire this fall, and we tacked on some family time on the Vegas strip. This is about 5-6 hours by car from our house, so no airfare. This trip gets 2 pics, because the city and the desert around it are such very different places. And because weddings are awesome.

bride and groom on red rocks smiling at camera

Lodging at a Marriott and at the Cosmopolitan: $0 (Marriott and Chase UR points)

Other (gas, food, parking): $137

Total: $137

Comparable cost: $714

November: Florida and the Bahamas

We admit that we cheated on this one. However, there was some travel-hacking involved in obtaining reasonably-priced plane tickets during the most popular travel week in the US, so the trip gets included in this post despite the cheating.

boys walking along beach with baby

Like Maui, this was another trip where we tracked all of our spending – including food and incidentals – for a full week of fabulous beachy vacation.

The cost breakdown and an explanation of the above-mentioned cheating can be found here.

Total: $1,995

Comparable cost (paying cash for airfare – does not include full cruise prices): $3,598

December: Switzerland

We didn’t start 2018 off planning to finish it with two pricey trips, but we got the invite to visit some friends in Interlaken and since we were still on a high from finally getting Baby J his passport we couldn’t turn it down.

The full trip report and cost breakdown of our family jaunt to the Alps can be found here here. My review of flying long-haul with kids on British Air is here.

The cost summary is that a trip that would have cost over $16k in cash – after some smart application of points and miles – cost us less than $2.5k. That’s door to door, for everything.

Total: $2,425

Comparable cost: $16,457

Grand Totals

Some quick addition will tell you we spent $6,205 on our travel-hacked trips this year, including two international trips (Bahamas, Switzerland), two weekend road trips (Arizona, Nevada), and three longer domestic trips via plane (Illinois, Washington, Hawaii). Our total time off for these trips was close to 6 weeks.

What Did We Save by Travel Hacking?

The comparable total cost of those trips was $29,572.

We can give give ourselves credit for over $23k saved this year by travel hacking… and that’s the after tax number, so go ahead and add an additional several thousand dollars onto that.

Pretty darn good for our second year playing this game!

Don’t expect as much in 2019, though. We’re running low on points and miles, and building an investment property is taking up all of our available bandwidth.

Reminder: please do not try travel hacking unless you are very well organized and ready to do some serious monitoring of your credit cards and pay off all of your balances in full on time every month. We first learned how to do it properly from Travel Miles 101

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