I’ve written about credit cards a couple of times in the past including how you can use them for good instead of evil and how you can make some easy cash from the sign-up bonuses offered, but I’ve never written about how the bonuses can be turned into actual free vacations. In this post I would like to outline a vacation that we will be taking that will be paid for entirely with points/miles.
Whitney and I are all set to take a Jamaican vacation in September, and our out of pocket costs for this trip will be extremely low. The cost of the 6 nights in Jamaica will probably be a little less than we are currently spending per week while on our travel assignment in Massachusetts. (Meaning, we will get to go on a Jamaican vacation and actually spend less that week than we would usually spend if we stayed home that week on groceries, gas, meals, etc.) We achieved this feat by using credit card sign-up bonuses. In this post I want to outline how this is possible using only 6 credit cards. How we actually did it is a little different than what I will outline below because I already had a huge amount of points saved in different programs from previous bonuses.
Six cards needed:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred– 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $4,000 in spending on the card within the first 3 months.
- Chase Freedom– 17,500 Ultimate Rewards points after $500 in spending and adding an authorized user in the first 3 months.
- Chase Southwest Plus– 50,000 miles after $2,000 in spending in the first 3 months. This card does come with a $69 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
- Barclay Arrival Plus– 40,000 “miles” after $3,000 in spending in the first 3 months.
- Chase IHG Card– 60,000 points and a $50 statement credit after $1,000 in spending in the first 3 months.
- Chase Hyatt Card– Two free nights at any Hyatt, plus 5,000 points after $1,000 in spending in the first three months.
Let’s start with the flights. After meeting the requirements for the Southwest card, we were able to book one-way flights from Charlotte, NC to Montego Bay, Jamaica & from Montego bay back to Charlotte for 11,016 Southwest points + $70.26 in fees for each ticket. We couldn’t find any direct flights so we do have a connecting flight in Chicago, but we don’t consider that a big sacrifice. For the two of us, that came out to 11,016 points * 4 tickets = 44,064 Southwest Miles and $70.26 * 4 tickets = $281.04 in fees. The Southwest card sign-up bonus covers the points with some left over. The fees can be charged to the Barclay Arrival plus card and then eliminated completely when redeeming 28,104 “miles” from that sign-up bonus to cover the fee, still leaving $118.96 worth of travel expenses that can be redeemed later.
Before talking about lodging, it is important to understand that Chase Ultimate Reward points are transferrable to other rewards programs including: Hyatt, IHG, and Southwest, as well as many others. Since one night at the beautiful all inclusive Holiday Inn in Jamaica costs 35,000 IHG points, we transferred 10,000 points from Chase to IHG and booked two nights there for free using those points plus the 60,000 points from the sign-up bonus. Although the Holiday Inn got some good reviews and seems very nice, based on what I have read it pales in comparison to the all inclusive Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay. Because of this, we wanted as many of our nights there as possible to be at this amazing resort. In order to achieve this, we used the two free nights from the Chase Hyatt card and then transferred 55,000 points from Chase to Hyatt to add to the 5,000 points from the sign-up bonus to stay two additional nights which each cost 30,000 points.
After taking care of the flights and hotels, we are left with this from the sign-up bonuses mentioned above:
$118.96 worth of travel expense reimbursement from Arrival plus
$50.00 statement credit from IHG bonus
5,936 Southwest Miles
2,500 Chase Ultimate Reward Points
$69 Annual fee on Chase Southwest Plus Card
The 2,500 Chase UR points and the IHG statement credit easily negate the Southwest annual fee which leaves you with some extra Southwest miles and over $100 in travel expense reimbursement still left over after planning the entire trip!
I realize that $10,500 in spending is required to get all of these sign-up bonuses, but this should easily be achievable for the average couple over the course of a year with just normal expenses. If not, then there are creative ways that can be found online to “manufacture spending,” which usually involves buying Visa gift cards and then either transferring the funds to a prepaid debit card or buying money orders with them. I can explain more on this and how I’ve done it in the past if you guys would find that useful (let me know in the comments). Also keep in mind that all of these cards offer at least 1 point per dollar spend with equals at least another 10,000 (likely closer to 15,000-20,000) points/miles accumulated while meeting the minimum spending requirements.
Let’s take a look at how much this trip would have cost us if we booked everything out of pocket…
- Picking the very cheapest fares possible on Southwest would cost around $1,000, but can increase quite a bit from there depending on the flights you choose.
- 2 Nights at All Inclusive IHG Holiday Inn: $167 per night = $334 total
- 4 Nights at Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall: $810 per night = $3,240 total (Very expensive resort that we would never stay at if it wasn’t free)
Total= $1,000 + $334 + $3,240 = $4,574
You could also choose to stay all six nights at the Holiday Inn which would make the total cost a little over $2,000. This is what we would do if we were paying out of pocket, but from what I have read, the Holiday Inn is no where near as nice as the Hyatt hotel, so the quality of the experience may be a little less this way.
Overall, I believe that signing up for six credit cards and doing $10,500 in spending over the course of a year is well worth a free all inclusive vacation that is valued at nearly half the price of the total spending in the first place! What are your thoughts on this, and have you ever redeemed points for a free vacation? Let me know in the comments!
* Some of the links above are my personal referral links to the credit cards mentioned. The bonus is the same for you whether you go through my links or if you find the application elsewhere online. I will receive a small compensation if you use my links, and I would greatly appreciate it if you find my content valuable!