If You Are Paying for Your Travel, You Are Doing Something Wrong

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Most people would be dumbfounded by this statement. Most people would roll their eyes (behind my back if they’re nice). Most of those who are not very nice would inquire if I was out of my mind.

If you are my reader, however, you are not like most people. You know that traveling for free is possible and probably within your reach. Moreover, the chances are you are not like most people who go on one vacation a year and call it quits. Since you travel frequently (or aspire to travel frequently), you can’t throw money into the wind. You need to balance your budget and your passion.

Actually, let me rephrase that: you must balance your budget with a passion!

I don’t care if you are OK, well-to-do, or wealthy. In my book, it doesn’t matter. If you are indeed wealthy, give more money to charity or squeeze in an extra trip every year. Make all your trips free and don’t feel obligated to give something back to travel industry. You already are, for who do you think gets paid when you apply for that card?

Yes, you do get paid, but you re not alone. Your favorite airline and hotel also make out like bandits selling their currency to financial institutions. Don’t you worry about them.

Of course, there are exceptions to any rules

If you have a family of four; if you travel in high season; if you have to go to a popular place; and if you couldn’t imagine sitting on the back of the bus even if your life depended on it—then it’s out of your control. Pay cash and be done with it.

Here is one more. If you are one of these folks who always rants against uniformed chain hotels and bitches about the lack of authenticity; if you get all warm, fuzzy, and bubbly at the sight of a cute bed ‘n’ breakfast or  boutique hotel—then it’s out of your control. Pay cash and be done with it.

On the other hand, here is a thought. Snap out of it and get it under control. Unless it’s is a really long flight—like Asia or Australia-long, fly in coach. You’ll live; I promise you that!

And/or break your flights. Buy separate tickets. You are going on vacation, for Christ’s sake! You’ll have enough time and chances to piss each other off after you get there!

And please, quit this whining about standardized chain hotels. You are not going to sit in your hotel room. You will experience enough local flavors, colors, quirks, and culture wherever you go during the day. The ability to have a good night’s sleep in a predictably good bed in a predictably clean room after a long and tiring day is grossly underrated.

Still want something unusual? No hotel chains where you are going? You have your AMEX Membership Rewards points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points, your Wells Fargo points, your Barclaycard Arrival and Capital One Venture miles. Use them to get your unchained hotel or a flight that can’t be had on miles. You know, or must know better than to be loyal to one hotel, or one airline, or one credit card!

Don’t ya?

Do I actually do what I preach? Usually, but not always

I have a confession to make. Even after I became mile ‘n’ point millionaire, I have occasionally paid cash for my travel. However, I believe, my cash travel splurges have been well justified. Why?

Example 1: When you need an all-inclusive vacation or a cruise

I travel 5-7 times a year. While it’s nothing compared to folks who spend most of their life on the road, it does take its toll. I love scheduling one all-inclusive vacation a year just to relax and do absolutely nothing (well, except writing, of course). While it is possible to find all-inclusive properties within hotel chains, this is usually not a cost-effective solution.

What is a cost-effective solution?  For the last three years, my cousin Timmy and  I have been going to this resort on the North Coast of Dominican Republic. The cost has gotten worse progressively: $12, $14, and this year $19 per person per day. This is not the review of the resort—that’s still in the works. The point is, when you find a really good package for a ridiculous price, this is the money well-spent. Especially if you pay for it with a card like Barclaycard Arrival and get reimbursed anyway. Boom!

Example 2: When chain hotels don’t exist

Two cases from my experience: Tenerife and Easter Island. Tenerife actually does have a Sheraton, but it was pretty far from where my friends were staying. Solution? I used my UR points to book a room at a local hotel. I did find a great half-board option that cost me much less than on Expedia, Travelocity, or Hotel.com. The value I got out of it was close to 1:1.8. Admittedly, the UR booking site is rarely competitive or at least that competitive, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

As for Easter Island, we got a great cash deal from a private owner, so I wasn’t even able to use my Arrival card. Had to eat the $50 a day cost, and it has been hurting ever since—not, LOL.

Example 3: When an airline or hotel promo is too good to miss

There have been five times that I remember, when I’ve just had to take an advantage of an airline or a hotel beyond-awesome promotion.

The first two were $300 flights to Rio and  Peru/Costa Rica. The Rio flight also had a 10K miles promotion, and I made a vacation out of it. The Peru/Costa Rica flight took me to Lima, Machu Picchu, and Manuel Antonio.

Then, there was a Delta Gold Medallion offer for completion of one international flight. I think it was 4 years ago, but I might be wrong.

I don’t value airline status enough to do a mileage run, but that was too good to miss. I booked a Delta flight to Cancun, for about $350 and since I’m vehemently against senseless mileage runs, I also booked a cheap, short all-inclusive resort stay with MR points. The AI was not a great deal, but I was flush with MR points; and besides, the opportunities of earning more with sign up bonuses were easy and plentiful, at that point.

The fifth time I paid cash for travel was the TBEX conference in Cancun this year. It was held at the Moon Palace, a 5-star resort I’ve heard a lot of good things about. At $200 per night, it was pricey but still a bargain compared to their regular rates, so I decided what the hell! There are plenty of chain hotels in Cancun, but commuting back and forth every day for three days would’ve been troublesome.

Why I don’t care about 3 points on a dollar or 5 points on a dollar, or what not!

Because I do have miles and points. And because they do devalue with time. And because they are a renewable resource. I simply don’t see the point hoarding points (pun intended) while spending my hard-earned cash. I would not consider it spending—it’s wasting.  I know what to do with cash. Cash is something I can use 365 days a year. Travel fantasy points? Not even close.

Conclusion

If you are not a business traveler, forget about all the double, triple and quadruple promotions—it’s a fool’s game! Keep collecting points across different programs with credit card sign up bonuses and easy manufactured spending (if it is easy in your neck of the woods). Do not spend money when you have enough points to go wherever you want. Book your flight only at a Saver rate and forget that “Standard” and “Anytime” awards even exist; they are rip-off. Instead of encouraging bad business practices, learn how to use different airlines and their partners to get where you want to go.

And, of course, try to be flexible. If you can’t be flexible around your dates, try being flexible around your destination. Have you seen every other interesting country, city, or island already? Didn’t think so.

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Photo By: Giuseppe Milo

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John Brew

The title could be slightly rephrased to read: If you are a US resident and pay for your travel, you are doing something wrong.
For us, European residents, there aren’t many credit card earning points/miles or manufactured spend opportunities.

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