Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Travel for Cheap

I have always loved trips! When I was 6 months pregnant with my first child we went to a timeshare presentation for Trendwest (Now Worldmark) to get the "free trip" to Vegas (we had NO intention of buying). Needless to say we were sold on the idea of "making memories" with our new family and purchased. 13 yrs later we don't regret our decision...just how we did it. I have gotten more travel savvy over the past 13 yrs and have learned how to "work it". I don't take no for an answer (in a good way) and know if I think outside the box a bit, I can get what I want for less.

The most expensive part of trips are airfare, accommodations, rental car, food.

Airfare Tips

1. sign up for "price alert" on kayak.com --get familiar with what is a "normal" price and what is a "crazy good deal"
Tip--search for flight price then after prices are displayed on upper left hand corner click "price alert"

--At one time I had a price alert set up for Maui, and from SLC--a good price is about $600. One morning I got my alert and it was priced at $430!!! HOLY CRAP! We decided to take the kids with us for our Christmas that year. We left 10 days after Christmas.

We love going to Maui in January...we go from 15 degree weather to 80 degrees! Nice to get a break from the cold!

2. Sign up for Credit Cards that give you bonus Skymiles to join. You usually need excellent credit to qualify...720 or higher. You also have to be super disciplined to keep track of them, and pay them off every month. I don't advocate debt!

--I got a Delta Gold Card that offered me 50,000 worth ($500 of travel) miles to sign up and spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Normal offers are 30,000 miles for spending $500 in first 3 months---I got my special offer in the mail.
*bonus--as cardholder you get free 1st checked bag for you and anyone traveling with you.
*bonus--if you don't have enough miles, you can pay part cash/ part miles
*bonus--$95 annual fee waived for 1st year

Tip--watch prices. A reward ticket to Maui requires 65,000 miles...if current price is $550--click "pay with miles" instead of book "reward ticket" and it'll only require 55,000 miles saving you 10,000 miles.
Tip--Domestic flights are 25,000 miles
Tip--Hawaii flights are $65,000 miles

--Heber signed up for a Chase Saffire Preferred Card that offered him 40,000 miles ($500 of travel because of their 20% off) for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
*bonus--you can use your miles with any airline
*bonus--book through their site and you get 20% off miles required
*bonus--$95 annual fee waived for 1st year

Tip--tickets with Chase are always based on price. Example $200 flight will require 20,000 miles less 20% if booked through Chase (16,000 miles)

Last year when Heber and I went to Maui, we used our bonus miles and got free flights ($1,200 value)...so I don't worry about the $95 annual fees, it's worth it.

--Southwest has a credit card--$99 annual fee NOT waived for 1st year. 25,000 bonus miles ($400 in flights) miles if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months. Sometimes they have specials for more miles. When I signed up I got 50,000 miles  ($800 in flights). The current deal isn't that great! Southwest calculates miles differently/ $ compared to all other airlines.

--Frontier has a credit card--you get 40,000 miles if you spend $500 in first 3 months. You can get an extra 10,000 miles if you do a balance transfer. Annual fee of $69 NOT waived for 1st year.

--United--also has a credit card--you get 30,000 miles if you spend $500 in 1st 3 moths.
Bonus--$95 annual fee waived for 1st year. 1st checked bag is free.

-In the past 18 months we have booked flights on skymiles for free...for the following trips-- Trip for 2 to Maui, Trip for 2 to Costa Rica, Trip for 2 to Seattle, Trip for 1 to Los Angeles. ($1,200 + $1100+ $480+ $150= $2930 in free flights!) Heber and I have both signed up for 2 different sky mile cards each.

3. Allegiant Air  is a new cheap airline...they only fly to a few places (From Provo, Ut-- they fly to Oakland, Pheonix, and Los Angeles) They only fly on certain days (usually over weekends) and are strict about carry on sizes and charge extra for carry ons and checked bags and drinks---I haven't flown with them, but I have found that flights are about 30-50% less than Delta. Check and see if they fly from your city.

This year we booked flights to Costa Rica with Skymiles ($1100 value). We used Heber's Chase miles that he had built back up over the past year for his ticket, and used Heber's Delta Gold Bonus Miles for my flight.

We use his Chase card for everyday purchases--groceries, gas, bills. We both sign up for cards to get Bonus Miles. If over time we aren't using a card and all the miles have been used, we plan on canceling that card. Currently we both have 2 credit cards for skymiles.

We will always keep the Chase card because of the flexibility and 20% off. I'll always keep my Delta Gold Card because of the free checked baggage, and based out of SLC--Delta usually has the best prices for where we are traveling....and I can get free checked baggage for anyone traveling in my party (so even if Heber uses his Chase card to book his flight, he can get free checked baggage if we are traveling together---you just have to checkin together and tell the person checking you in). This saves you $50 per person ($25 for 1st checked bag each way).

Accommodation Tips

1. Timeshares are great if you use them---many people buy and don't use and get upset about their quarterly "maintenance fee" on top of their monthly payment. Many people rent out their credits or weeks that they aren't using. Check VRBO or AIRBNB--- be leary of craigslist (almost always a scam-people steal pics from real listings and create fake listings at too good to be true prices).

IF you do find something on AIRBNB....chances are the same listing is listed on VRBO---try to find it and book with the instructions through VRBO (AIRBNB charges it's users a service fee). When we booked the Costa Rica house the fee was $90. We found the same house listed on VRBO and booked directly through the owner, a little more hassle to fax in rental agreement, etc. but it saved us almost $100.

We are so excited about the Costa Rica house--3 couples are going, and its a 3 bedroom house 2,000 sq ft. for $295/couple total for 7 night stay. I LOVE a good DEAL!

Story- Last Christmas we were trying to find a beach house to rent, and I found one on Craigslist...but I was a little leery...the price was REALLY good. I contacted the owner and got the address. I googled the address and it came up on another rental site for almost double the price. The pics he displayed in his add were mostly from the downstairs unit, but he had one thrown in of the upstairs unit. I contacted the "real rental agency" and asked if anyone else would be listing that property--they said no. The craigslist guy actually called and talked to me and and when I told him I was confused if it was the upstairs unit or the downstairs unit--he stumbled and said either was available and I could choose. When I talked with the "real rental agency" -they said the owners son lives in the upstairs unit during the winter and only the downstairs was available. RULE OF THUMB---DON'T USE CRAIGSLIST for vacation rentals.

This was the beach house we ended up staying at. It slept 10 and my sisters family came with us, and we split the cost. MAGIC...I tell you! Christmas at the beach--a few small gifts, hot tub, cinnamon roll making, paddle boarding, tide pools, dolphin watching, sea glass collecting, walks, bonfire, smores.....my dream come true! Lots of memories and no plans. This trip was all about the location and the beach right out the back door. Loved falling asleep to the sound of the waves.

2. Worldmark is the timeshare we own---we almost never stay anywhere but at these locations. We originally bought 6,000 credits from the developer for $11,000. I then got wiser and found you can buy them on the second hand market for about 70-75% off retail. You can now buy a 6,000 credit account for about $2,400 on the second hand market (EBAYTimeshare Angelssurefirevacations).

Timeshares are only worth it if you plan to vacation at least 2 weeks a year or more and have flexibility to go midweek. Otherwise you are paying ridiculous maintenance fees ($600- $1100/yr) on top of the purchase price---you can rent a week from someone for the cost of the maintenance fee.

Luckily my husband has an awesome fireman schedule which allows us to utilize our timeshare. We go midweek often, because it literally uses 50% less credits to stay midweek than on a weekend.

Story--after owning Worldmark for 7 years we decided to upgrade to 12,000 credits instead of 6,000. We bought on the second hand market from Timeshare Angels for $4,500--I found an account that had banked credits, enough to rebook my families' family reunion with credits and cancel our other reservations which everyone had paid cash ($2,300) for---making our new timeshare only $2,100. Granted we didn't have any credits for a year....but that's thinking outside the box right?

Story--5 yrs after that we decided it was time to upgrade again....at the time we had a 12,000 account and wanted to add 8,000 credits and have a 20,000 credit annual account. We bought from the local online classifieds from an individual for $3,000! Again we had another family reunion planned and booked some of the rooms with our new credits saving us $1,400 off the purchase price (we rented our credits to family, instead of renting from someone else). In the end getting 8,000 credits for $1,600! 8,000 credits from the developer would have cost around $16,000.  FYI our maintenance fee for our 20,000 credit account is $1100/yr.

3.With Worldmark, it requires about 10,000 credits ($700 if you rent credits) for a week in a 2 bedroom condo. We usually do couples trips and split the cost of the condo. Last year we got a 3 bedroom condo in Maui for 3 couples and split it ($280/ couple for 6 nights). Now, how is that not affordable??? Once I looked into the cost of a condo in Maui when Worldmark didn't have availability---sticker shock! They started at $1500 and went up from there.

I have an Awesome contact name Fred, that rents me extra Worldmark credits for family reunions and trips for friends. He is very fair, reliable, and trust worthy. If you want to use Worldmark with out being an owner, contact me for his info. He has been booking family reunions and other accomodations for me since 2007.

Rental Car tips

1. Check out Carrentals.com ---do your search, find the best price you can and make your reservation (you only need an email address to reserve...you don't need to pay or use your credit card until you show up). This gives you the flexibility to shop around and cancel your reservation if you find a better deal.

Tip--about a month out, log on to carrentals.com every few days and see what the current price is (this is when prices start dropping--if it's cheaper, make a new reservation and cancel the old one).

Prices start skyrocketing about 1 week out from trip date.

--I once got a full size car in Maui for 7 days for $109! Normal price at that time was $200-$250. Normal price is now about $300. I never use Hotwire or Priceline for cars, I usually can get the same price on carrentals.com and I am not locked in....I can always cancel if I find a better price.

2. Most Car rental agencies offer AAA members discounts.

3. I NEVER pay for the extra insurance! My car insurance covers me, and if I pay with my Delta Gold American Express card---I get even more coverage. Check with your car insurance company to see what you need before you pay DOUBLE for the extra insurance.


If you rent a condo, you save a ton of $ on food! Buy groceries and cook most of your own meals.

Tip- when going out to eat, my husband and I always share a meal. The portions are usually perfect for two--you save $ and your waistline! I always get water too...I am not a big soda drinker.

Tip- Pack a lunch and snacks for traveling. Airport prices are CRAZY! I always make a few sandwiches (PB&J holds up the best), and I bring some fruit and snacks. I also bring an empty water bottle that I fill up after going through security at the drinking fountain.

Tip- Pack breakfast food in your luggage...oatmeal packets, granola bars, etc--I know my husband makes fun of me too! This way you only have to worry about lunch and dinner.

Beach across the street from our condo in Kihei, Maui

Zipline Tour

Heber climbing a coconut tree

Airfare--free (used Delta and Chase Miles)
Condo--free (kind of...we pay $1100 in maintenance fees/year for our 20,000 credits) + $560 rental income from other two couples.
Costco groceries $100
Activities-$500 (kayak tour, whale watch, zipline, snorkel/rafting tour)--Got 2 for 1 on the zipline off www.govity.com (like groupon for Maui). We use Activity Savers site to book our Maui activites.
Rental Car/ gas- $150 (rental car split between 3 couples)
Incidentals/souvenirs/eating out $250.
=$440 out of pocket!

I know my scheming isn't everyones style or passion---but hopefully this gives you some ideas to think outside the box, and "work it".

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Leslie~The West, a Nest and You said...

Wow, Shelley...you really are an Energizer Bunny! You always are on the go, and you amaze me with your energy, what you accomplish and your zest for life! I admire your attitude too. Also, the memories you make with your family, and the example you set for your children is quite admirable. I am envious. I have never been on a real vacation except for a Disneyland trip when the kids were really too small to enjoy, and that was almost forty years ago :-) Unfortunately, a vacation will never happen for me, but I sure can have fun watching yours through your amazing pictures and stories. Thank you for that. I look forward to Costa Rica...how fun! Thanks for sharing all the interesting info too.

So Shabby Pink said...

Oh, my goodness! You are a doll to be so detailed !!! Thank you so much! My husband may retire and we do like to travel. Our neighbors do the same thing with credit card air miles and they go to England a few times a year. Going to review the info you gave us and decide what will work best for us. Again, thank you for taking the time to share all your secrets!!


So Shabby Pink said...

Oh, my goodness! You are a doll to be so detailed !!! Thank you so much! My husband may retire and we do like to travel. Our neighbors do the same thing with credit card air miles and they go to England a few times a year. Going to review the info you gave us and decide what will work best for us. Again, thank you for taking the time to share all your secrets!!


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