One of the things that I’m so adamant about is living by your values so you have the freedom to choose what you love and want to do with your life. I try to live by this, sometimes it’s very hard especially when you have a partner with different values, but it’s always important to remember your true core. This is what I always tell my clients because I know that no matter what is going on in life, if you live by your values you will still be happy even if things are going exactly the way you want it to.
In high school, my best friend’s father offered amazing advice as we graduated. He said “plan for the worse, but hope for the best.” I took these words to heart and often remind myself of this at least once a week.
Throughout my adult life, I usually calculate the pros and cons AND evaluate different sides of the situation and formulate risks. Call it type A, call it being prepared. Whatever. I call it me. *wink*
My Dad first introduced me to hotel points and the concept of getting a credit card with rewards. My family doesn’t fly often, maybe once every 4-5 years so hotel points were a better option for them. They loved taking us on road trips so when we were little, a few times a year we would hit the open road. My Dad loves a good value so he’s always trying out different things for the best deal. He told me many years ago, to get a credit card, charge all my expenses on it and pay it off at the end of the month and collect the points. You have to treat your credit card AS A DEBIT CARD or the points are not worth the value! He was very adamant about that which I now understand as I help others with their budgets. This worked for me, I opted for the Hilton Honors American Express card, and was able to stay in some pretty cool places in Miami, Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas, and Los Angeles. The rooms are always nice and sometimes we get an awesome suite on points.
Fast forward to December 2013 when I realized, I had NO hobbies (does reading a new parenting or financial book every week count *nervously smiling*). You know the time of year when you think about your life and what you want to add to it the following year a.k.a. resolutions (am I the only one who does this??). If I make a New Year’s resolution, 98% of the time I always follow through. So in mindlessly searching the web, I came across an article about travel hacking. What in the world was that I thought. So I did what any Type A gal would do…I researched the crap out of the topic. I read blogs, looked at forums, watched clips, and then I decided to try it out since you learn more by doing, than reading. But the most important thing that I did and something that y’all should do…I took TIME TO EVALUATE what I wanted from this new hobby. What were my values and how did they fit into my lifestyle? I was living in Dallas, TX with no family in the state. So flying (cheaply) was very important to me. I learned at an early age that accidents and bad things are going to happen so you need a rainy day fund. Unfortunately it’s true, if you live long enough, something will happen. You will use your rainy day fund because at some point it will rain and you’ll need your umbrella! But it’s always great to be prepared.
I made a promise to myself that I would strive to get 100,000 American Airlines (or US Airways points) since American Airline is a hub in Dallas. Therefore, it makes sense to use this airlines for my goal and that I flew about 4 times a year using this carrier. I figured that each ticket domestically costs between 24,000 to 30,000 round trip so I would have enough for my family of 3 in case of an emergency. Even if I had to buy one ticket, it was still better than paying for three tickets at the last minute which is typically priced fairly high. I reached my goal last November (2014) and I just let the points sit in my account. Side note – I kept them active by joining the American Airlines Dining Program. (In this program, if you eat at any participating restaurant the points are added to your rewards account and it keeps your points active. You just link any debit card or credit card and you are all set. Everything is automatic after that!)
Well last this summer, it “rained” and my grandma died suddenly in Florida. I now live in DC and my husband did not have enough time off to drive to Florida and back since he could only miss two days of work. Here are the possible solutions I came up with:
A) Drive with parents or another relative.
B) Fly alone and leave my toddler with my husband so I would only pay one airfare.
C) My toddler and I fly alone (leaving my husband in DC) and hope that I was emotionally okay to deal with her during this sad time.
D) Pay $420 per person for airfare. ($1260 total)
E) Use my AA miles and just pay the American Airline fees (for booking less than 21 days, AA charges an extra fee).
I next looked at what I valued –
- I wanted emotional support from my husband,
- I needed to be there with my family for 2 days to support them as well,
- I needed to spend less than $750* including hotel, transportation, and car rental (*food is not included, since I normally go to grocery stores to get most of my meals in Florida due to my special diet restrictions),
- I wanted the least stressed approach possible since this was an already stressful and sad situation.
Of course, I chose to use my American Airlines miles. That’s what they are there for — my emergency points fund. I think EVERYONE should have this type of tool in their toolbox. But for those of us who live far away, it’s even more important because you don’t want to feel guilty for not being able to fly somewhere due to lack of money. You also don’t want to charge it all on a credit card and have sleepless nights when the bill arrives the following month either. I encourage you to think of creative ways to “bank” a rainy day fund.
- You can save points and miles like I did to offset the true costs of the emergency.
- You can save $5 a week in a jar until you get to your “ideal amount.” (I recommend around $500-$1000 but it also depends on your family size.)
- You can transfer $20 per pay period into an automatic savings account like Capital One 360.
- You can use your cash back credit card and don’t cash in your rewards credit unless it’s an emergency.
- You can think of ways to make fast cash to increase your savings account. (If you are stuck, get started HERE.)
I ended up paying $286 for 3 tickets on US Airways airfare 5 days before the funeral. I paid $114 per night ($228 for two nights with tax and breakfast included) at a Hilton Doubletree. The car rental was $12 a day. So I was able to stay under my small budget and not be stressed with a headache about an upcoming bill.
I’m so grateful that I stumbled upon this unique hobby because of a resolution I made last year. It has really allowed me to save some money and experience another side of traveling that would otherwise be expensive.
Whether this hobby is or isn’t for you, I encourage you to first think about what if an emergency happened, are you prepared? If not, what would you want from the situation or what do you value? Is there anything that you can do now to improve or decrease the stress if something occurred? Make a plan. One day it’s going to rain, but try not to get caught out in a downpour.
Here’s to planning!
If you could travel for free or very cheap, would you want to? Is traveling something that you value? If yes, then have you thought about travel hacking as a hobby? Travel hacking is a way of maximizing your everyday spending and traveling to get the most points, miles, and cash possible. This can be done by credit card sign-ups, physically flying or staying at hotels, shopping via portals, and more.
When I first started out reading about travel hacking, I realized that a large percent of people who participate and WROTE about the hobby were nomadic, single, in their 20s and 30s and often male. They save money on rent, car payments, have very little possessions, and it’s easier to travel for weeks at a time. While I would love their inspiring stories (and I vicariously live through their pictures), this is not my life. I am married to my husband for almost 10 years and he LOVES his job but cannot work remotely for what he does. This very job gives him about 2 weeks vacation a year. We also have a toddler so things get a little trickier. We pay very grown up bills like rent, student loans, many typical insurances, like car insurance, life insurance, rent insurance and all those very grown up bills that come up with having a child. I cannot disappear at weeks on end alone. But after re-evaluating my values list and what’s truly important to me, I realized that traveling and taking my child to different places (nearby and far away) AND experiencing the major events in my family and friends’ lives are on the top of my list. So, I decided to take up
aggressively gathering points travel hacking as a hobby.
Some people use travel hacking as a way to see exotic places, have really luxe experiences like riding in first class on airplanes, others just want to get their large family to their family reunion or special event. I do it for both. My family is spread throughout the United States and flying last minute is so costly especially when I was flying from one coast to the other (particularly flying into a small town). When it comes to travel hacking, I have two strategies. First, as my “travel emergency fund”, I like to bank 100,000 points/miles for an emergency or major life event, like a family member in the hospital, funeral, wedding, etc. Second, I have my travel fund (through Chase Ultimate Rewards) which keeps the rest of my points for fun experiences and luxury hotels. I use these for quarterly date nights/weekends with the hubby in New York City or Philly (two of my favorite cities). I use them if the hotel costs more than $400 a night or I’m looking for a suite for a special occasion. So I have a strategy. My point is there are options out there if you want to travel with your family but don’t know how you can afford it. This is just one example that I use but I hope to show you more ways in the near future of different strategies.
I think you first need to identify your values (this is the life coach talking *wink*) and what you are looking for –
- Is traveling really important to you?
- Do you like flying places or do you like road trips?
- Are you able to take longer trips away from work/home life or would a longer weekend fit your lifestyle better?
- Do you want to work remotely and travel?
- Are you the only one collecting points or is your partner helping you too?
- Do you want to travel with a family? Can you get time off from work?
- Do you want to use points/miles to visit family or friends?
- You aren’t too interested in traveling BUT would like to know how to maximize your credit card rewards for top cash back.
After you identify exactly what your end goal is, you will find a way to get results faster and be happier along the way. Don’t forget to write down your goal and get started! Here are some resources to help you on your journey.