6 Things I Didn’t Really Plan But I am Glad Happened Last Year

Even though I start each year with a rough idea for our travel plans and strategies, occasionally things go in a different direction. Sometimes it happens because I decide to change course and other times because I am thrown a curve ball.  Either way, I try to make the best of it.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!  Every day we make a ton of them big and small. As the year progresses, I am often faced with decisions.  Which credit card to sign up for, which hotel to stay at, which airline to fly with, what destinations should I visit and so on.  I try to use my initial plan as a guide, but there are times when you just decide to make other choices.

 

I Opened a Southwest credit card with a Companion Pass for 2019

Signing up for the Southwest credit card was not part of my original credit card strategy for last year. But it was packaged with a 1 year companion pass as the initial spend bonus that was just too tempting to pass up.  Ultimately, I am really glad that I did it because I was able to stretch my travel dollars so much further by using both the points and the companion pass.  I took some amazing trips to Texas, Oregon and Hawaii because of this decision.  Sorry…..not sorry!

Although the card does’t hold as much value for me in 2020, that’s ok because I worked it hard last year and am planning different types of travel this year.

 

We Bought all new Samantha Brown Luggage

My 20 plus year old luggage literally died on our trip home from Oregon in May.  The old set had been showing some wear so I had already been looking at new pieces, but this forced my hand to actually buy it. So I bought all new luggage.  By stacking some deals and watching sales, I was able to get great prices on the exact pieces that I wanted for both my husband and I from Samantha Brown’s line.  We tested the luggage out during a few of our trips last year and we were very pleased with the durability, functionality and design.  Mark really loves his Sam 22′ carry on bag.  It is super organized and he can fit so much into it.

 

I Learned how to better use my credit cards as Travel Tools

I did plan to get better at this, but surprised myself at how well I did.  I now have cards earning points at a lot of my favorite hotels, airlines and some universal transfer cards. I have found ways to capture most of my monthly spending with cards that offer elevated categories to maximize my points return.  This network of cards can cover a lot of our biggest travel costs.

We really tested out our card network for our trip to Hawaii where we were able to fly free on Southwest card by combining points and the Companion Pass.  Additionally, we used 3 Reward nights at the Hyatt Centric Waikiki (some of which we transferred from a Sapphire card) and even dodged the hotel’s resort fees (3 nights at $29/$87 total) because they were reward nights.  We were reimbursed for both of our airport taxi transfers and and a Southwest Early Bird Check in fee by using Capital One Venture’s travel eraser.  I used my American Express Airline Fee Credit to cover other Early Bird Check In fees.  For the cost of the remaining 3 nights of our stay in Hawaii (at the very amazing Turtle Bay Resort) we used a new card to help meet the high spend requirement in order to get the sign up bonus.

During the Oregon trip that I took with my daughter, I used a points and miles rate at Hyatt to get us a really great deal for 3 hotel nights.  For our remaining hotel night, I used IHG points for a reward night with breakfast.  Since my daughter flew free, as my Companion on Southwest, our airfare was very minimal for this trip as well.

What I learned was that utilizing the available benefits from several cards when we travel can really work well to get us a super affordable trip.  It’s more than just using points to pay for a hotel or airfare, it’s figuring out which card to pay for the taxi with so that we get reimbursed later or to book a car rental with in order to get free primary auto coverage as well.

 

We took a trip to Hawaii

This trip was nowhere in my mind or my plans when I entered 2019.  I wanted to use the Southwest Companion Pass for 1 more trip last year so I asked my husband in May where he would like to go.  Looking at their route map he chose Hawaii, a location they had just started servicing.  I managed to pull the trip together in a little under 5 months and it turned out amazing.  First of all as I mentioned above, we did it on a very small budget really only spending for 3 hotel nights, food and entertainment.  It turned out to be amazing.  We managed to explore, see some sights and just relax (which is unusual for us on a vacation).  Hawaii was the best budget trip I have planned to date!

 

I Discovered how much I like Hyatt hotels

Because I have always been very budget conscious, we had always stayed in the less expensive chain hotels like Best Western, Holiday Inn Express or even the Choice hotel chains.  They were especially affordable choices when we were traveling with our kids. Gradually, over the last few years we have started staying at nicer and nicer hotel.  Last year we really got to know the Hyatt chain.  They are just really nice hotels for the price point they are at.  I enjoyed a super nice stay at the Hyatt House in Portland Oregon and an amazing stay at the Hyatt Centric Waikiki.

The Customer Service was excellent during both of our stays.  The hotels are beautiful, well appointed and offer one of my favorite breakfast options of any hotel chain we stay with.  If you are a Hyatt loyalty member, you can book nice rooms as reward stays with just a small amount of points.  The fact that some hotels also waive the resort fees if you book a reward stay is an added bonus that can mean you save even more money.  I am looking forward to exploring more of their properties this year and have my eye on their rewards card in the near future.

 

Mark has Finally gotten on board

I get very excited when I book a big travel deal and really want to share my win with my husband.  But he had only been mildly enthused until he saw for himself during our Hawaii trip just how far I could actually stretch miles, points and benefits to cover our travel costs.  Now, even though he is still somewhat of a background player, he is a little more motivated to do his part to help earn points and go along with my strategies.  It has really helped us continue to capture more and more of our spending for future travels.  He currently has 2 credit cards that he keeps in his wallet and now knows which one to use to get the best return on his gas, dining and general spending purchases.  That my friends was a huge win for 2019.

 

On to Bigger and Better Things!

We had a lot of really amazing successes in 2019. Most of those successes stemmed from that one move where I made a gut decision in January and stepped outside of my initial plan and signed up for the Southwest credit card.  The combination of points with earning the Companion Pass allowed us to travel further and so much more last year than we would have been able to otherwise.

It’s awesome to now have Mark on board for all my crazy travel schemes going into 2020. I hope that we are successful this year in turning our travel plans into realities and that there will be a few surprises along the way too. It can only get easier to save big on travel as I become more practiced at it.   We will be so prepared for our travels this year with our new luggage, the right combination of credit cards and a much better knowledge base to make it all happen.

 

Dream, Plan, Save, Adventure!