By Brad Beckstrom
You read that correctly, over 4% return on credit card spending. This includes rewards points on business and personal spending. Quick disclaimer: if you carry debt on credit cards, or don’t pay your bill off (in full) each month, any gains you have from points will be likely negated by interest charges. Once you have zero credit card debt and are ready to use cards to earn rewards points/cash back, then you’re ready to put together your rewards points plan. Here’s mine.
To keep this simple, I’m going to use Chase credit cards as examples. They have one of the best rewards programs out there that meet both my business and personal credit card needs. This program can be put together with other cards, but my best experience so far has been using a combination of Chase cards to get the 50% point bonuses and benefits, I’ll describe here.
Like many cool things, I stumbled upon the Chase Ultimate Rewards program while reading about travel hacking on personal finance sites. I was consistently seeing the Chase Sapphire cards and their Ultimate Rewards Program listed at the top of most lists for high reward, high credit rating cards.
My Ultimate Rewards set up
My setup with Chase utilizes one personal card and two business cards. The personal card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve that came with a monster 100K point sign up bonus. Normally I would not pay annual fees over $95 for a reward credit card, however, this high fee card applies $300 of the of the $450 annual fee to the first $300 in travel expenses each year. It also includes 3X bonus points on all travel and dining with another 50% point boost when you book travel through Chase. It includes an additional $100 credit for TSA Pre / Global Entry programs, travel insurance, sky clubs, and other perks. So after doing the math, this is a great value. See points bonus calculation red boxes. Read more…
By Brad Beckstrom
The proposition I made to my wife was pretty simple: “If you could spend two weeks in Europe every summer, would you be interested?” Of course I got an enthusiastic “yes”, until I brought up home exchange. Home exchange is just what it sounds like. It’s a website with over 65,000 homes in 150 countries. You list your home on home exchange, include all the countries you’d like to visit, and wait for opportunities to appear in your inbox to swap homes in places like Spain, and Italy, Brazil, and all over the world.
It’s vastly different than Airbnb as you are not paying a stranger to stay in their home. With Home Exchange, you are simply staying in their home while they stay in yours: a true exchange. The network is large enough to match up eager travelers from around the world who want to visit your town. Larger homes tend to attract like-minded families, while tiny apartments attract singles and couples. What they have in common is a sense of adventure and openness to meeting new people and trying new things.
As I started to browse through some homes along the Amalfi coast in Italy, or the Le Marais neighborhood in Paris, I started to realize our home is just not ready to attract the type of visitors we would like to exchange homes with for a two week trip. At this point, I am no more near ready to do this than I would be to start renting a room out on Airbnb. There is so much to do before I would even post some photos or create a profile. Sure, our house is in a great neighborhood less than 4 miles from DC, but it’s a big step to make it ready for some long-term visitors.
That is, unless I look at this as an opportunity. The great thing about the opportunity is at the end of the project, my reward is two weeks abroad. Not just this year, but nearly every year. That’s something worth working towards. It’s also a grand experiment in the sharing economy. So far we have truly enjoyed our experiences using Airbnb and saved tons of money using UBER and Lyft all over the world.
I was a bit discouraged when I started looking at some beautiful spotless homes in Italy and France, but then I looked up some US properties, even some in our neighborhood. I could spot the familiar clutter that didn’t seem to deter these folks from listing their homes. If we can just get our home somewhere between good and great that would be a start. I’ve always been adept with frequent flyer miles but found that hotels drain them too quickly, especially after you’ve coughed up enough miles for 4 transatlantic tickets. Doing a once a year home swap would be a perfect solution. Adding 14 nights of free accommodations to free airfare can really put some punch behind your travel plans. The great thing is we don’t have to accept any offers for a home swap if we aren’t interested. Read more…
By Brad Beckstrom
Vikings are back. Well, I’m talking about the popular History Channel TV show. Whenever I watch this show I’m amazed at the spectacular scenery. Where is it filmed? Norway? Finland? It’s actually filmed in Ireland and Canada. Regardless, there’s something about the show that just makes me want to explore new lands. So, here are my 7 reasons you should travel like a Viking this year.
New discount Scandinavian Airlines are on a mission to pillage and plunder other airlines business Viking style.
Did you know that the Vikings were the original settlers of Iceland? Now I can fly there direct for $99 on Reykjavík based WOW airlines. This isn’t some firesale you click on and it’s gone. It’s been on their website for months. The cool thing about flying to Iceland is that you’re only about three hours away from Europe. This makes their flights to Europe very competitive. They have a cool calendar view on their website that shows you the cheapest day to fly. If I am willing to fly on a Tuesday, I can get to Copenhagen for $189. The tickets are one way and you’ll be paying some bag fees, so travel light, my Viking friend. Another airline up for some plundering and pillaging is Norwegian Air. They have some eye-opening flights out of some Northeast airports, like $69 to Martinique. Yes, that’s the French Caribbean, I might just like to hop on that flight and not look at a map. It’s only $69 from my local airport, I can’t get to Cleveland for that. They also have a one way ticket to London for $194. I also like that their flights don’t have ridiculous layovers or require much travel hacking. I purchased tickets to Paris (in June) for $700 round-trip that have a total travel time similar to major carriers charging about 60% more. I’ve put together a list of great travel hacking tools for low airfare here and here.
We will ransack your treasury and devalue your currency.
Over the past year, the US dollar has hit all-time highs, multiple times, against the euro and other currencies. When this happens US travelers can often find amazing deals. The breakfast buffet at my four-star $53 per night hotel in Mexico City set me back a full $4.25 with tip. For lunch I had the best sandwich I’ve ever had, portobello mushroom with avocado and swiss cheese and other secret sauces, along with a cold Mexican microbrew, that set me back $5.50. Read more…
The tools you need to automatically earn 2% or 2X points on nearly every dollar you spend, creating a perpetual flow of frequent flyer points.
Most airline frequent flyer programs have become a joke. When I started travel hacking years ago, you could get a decent domestic ticket for 25,000 points and get tickets to the Caribbean and Mexico for around 35,000 points. No more. Sure you might be able to find one of those 25,000 point tickets they promote between two Rust Belt cities with a 5 AM departure and a three hour layover. Forget about flying anywhere near the holidays and get ready to hear them laugh if you’re looking to cash in points for a family of four directly with the airline, to let’s say the Caribbean, Europe, or even Florida. The airlines seem proud of the fact that they’ve become so superefficient through mergers and online ticketing algorithms that they only need to cough up a few regular seats per plane for frequent flyers, unless you’re willing to pay the premium, double sometimes triple points (then the seats will appear). I plan over six months out and I still can’t track decent ones down.
Unless you are flying alone, dealing with airlines to use your points is a waste of time. If you do get lucky and find a seat you can use points for, some airlines like British Airways will hit you with a $500+ “fuel surcharge” on top of the points you’re coughing up. On more than one occasion that surcharge to the UK or EU was more than the entire cost of the ticket from another discount airline like Norwegian Air or WOW airlines. Check out their $199 fares to Europe.
There is a solution.
I’ve been able to travel with our family of four once, sometimes, twice per year using high 2% reward credit cards. And yes, we were all on the same flight departing from and arriving to the airport we wanted. To do this we created a frequent flyer points machine using two cards from Chase, one business, one personal and an American Express card from Fidelity. Read more…
The Real Grand Budapest Hotel. Palace Bristol Hotel in Karlovy
By Brad Beckstrom
Knowing little about your destination is half the adventure.
Years ago, before online travel booking, I had a roommate that used to walk into a travel agent, or up to a ticket counter, and ask for the least expensive plane ticket available to anywhere. He would gather up the information and try to talk friends into joining him at this random, often obscure, location for a weekend. It was the late 80s and discount airlines were starting to crop up with all kinds of $39 specials to destinations that they wanted to build traffic to. There was one airline, People Express, that would even collect payment for the tickets once you got on the plane, sort of like a city bus.
His rule was it had to be the absolute cheapest ticket available, not something close to cheapest. The destination would be a secret to anyone who went along until they got to the airport. Read more…