The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part IV

Half-Moon Caye, Belize
Half-Moon Caye

I’ve you’ve been reading the blog, then you know that I’ve been doing a Travel Hacking Experiment.  As of the last update, I had collected all my points and just needed to put some of those bad boys to good use.

I gave you a teaser in the last update that I spent the points on a vacation to Belize.  It was a truly incredible vacation.  Mrs. Dragon and I had a blast and I managed to get her out of her comfort zone on several occasions.  Score!

I’ll be giving you a more detailed account of the vacation experience in an upcoming post, but in this post I thought I would share exactly how we used the points that we accrued via credit card bonuses.

For those who aren’t up to speed, here’s a list of the points we earned from four credit cards I signed up for back in March:

  • 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage points
  • 50,000 Hilton HHonors points
  • 50,000 British Airways Avios points

So, how did we use these points to lower the cost of our vacation?

The Flight

First things first, we needed to get to Belize.  Of course, the main reason to get airline miles is for free/discounted planes tickets, right?

We booked two round trip tickets from our hometown to Belize City, Belize for 70,000 AAdvantage points.  You still have to pay taxes/fees on award flights and we paid these to the tune of $67.95 per ticket, or $135.90 total.

I looked up the same tickets to compare the price if we had just paid cash and it was about $900 total (turns out I didn’t write the exact number down anywhere, hence the estimate, whoops!). In summary,

  • We paid: 70,000 AAdvantage points and $135.90
  • Cash alternative: $900
  • Money saved on plane tickets: $764.10

Lodging

We used points several times to cover a couple nights here and there throughout our trip.  Mrs. Dragon is sort of a nervous traveler, so we decided it would be best to spend our first few nights in a new country in a proper hotel.  Most of our lodging was booking via Airbnb, but I’ll talk more about that in the post that focuses on the trip.

Balcony view
Killer view from Pickwick balcony

We decided to book two nights at The Best Carribean Pickwick Hotel in downtown Belize City.  I didn’t know this in the beginning but you can book hotels and car rentals using AAdvantage points in addition to flights.  Who knew? OK, maybe a lot of people, but I sure didn’t.  What a pleasant surprise.

The cost for two nights at the Pickwick was 26,200 AAdvantage points.  If we had just booked the hotel otherwise it would have been $129/night and that doesn’t include taxes.  So let’s just call it $135 a night for a total of $270.

Now, we might not have chosen such a swanky hotel if we had been paying cash, but seeing the Caribbean Sea from our balcony was pretty sweet.

Later in our trip we headed to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye and stayed three nights at the Royal Caribbean Resort.  Not a fancy place, but we got our own beach side cabana.

Beach side cabana
Royal Caribbean Resort

The cost in cash would have been about $80/night including taxes, or $240 total.  Instead, we dipped into AAdvantage points again and booked the room for 33,800 points.

On our return flight to the states we had an overnight layover in Dallas, which would normally have meant paying for a hotel room.  However, we had 50,000 HHonors points burning a hole in our figurative pockets.

We ended up booking a night at the Homewood Suites near DFW.  Free shuttle to/from the airport, free wifi, free breakfast, what’s not to like?  We originally booked a king bed suite, but it turned out we needed an extra bed (more details in the post about the vacation).  So they upgraded us for free to a two room suite.

Seriously, that Homewood Suites was on their A-game.  We had a very good experience with them, but I digress.

That particular hotel is Category 5 and we booked our night for 30,000 HHonors points.  Normally, the hotel rents for around $130/night.  Again, we might have chosen a cheaper one if paying cash, but may as well compare apples to free apples, amiright?

To summarize,

  • We paid: 60,000 AAdvantage points, 30,000 HHonors points, and exactly $0 for six nights of hella comfortable lodging.
  • Cash alternative: $640
  • Money saved on lodging: $640

The Wrap-Up

We ended up spending 130,000 AAdvantage points and 30,000 HHonors points and saving $1404.10.

I can hear what some of you may be thinking, “Is that good value for those points?” or “I would have gotten better value than that.”

Here’s the thing, it’s fine to think about spending points in a vacuum, but I was on a real trip with real expenses and these points saved me money.  I don’t really care that much if it was good value or not relative to staying out in the middle of bumble fuck for 10,000 points.

By the water
Mrs. Dragon doesn’t care about your efficiency

Also, if you actually could have spent those points better, please share the knowledge!  I’m a self-labelled beginner when it comes to travel hacking, and I’ll take any pointers I can get!

The observant reader might notice that I only earned 100,000 AA points, but spent 130,000 points.  Fair enough.  I spent ~$3500 on the card which earned me 3500 points, and I’ve been an AAdvantage member for a while, and had accrued some the old-fashioned way… by flying.  This pretty much wiped me out as my current AA balance now sits at a measly 2,622 points.  But I regret nothing… NOTHING!

Seriously, this trip was badass and it really did save us a lot of money using all these points to help defray costs.

You might be wondering how much this trip did cost in total.  Well, lucky for you I’ll be spilling all the financial details and plenty of pictures in the post that describes the trip.

And that, dear reader, is how I spent the points I earned from Travel Hacking.  Easy come, easy go, eh?  And I’ve still got the Avios points and some HHonors points in my back pocket.  Not too shabby for the miniscule amount of effort I had to put in.

Thus concludes the Travel Hacking Experiment.  I’d definitely call it a success and plan to continue getting new cards for the sign-up bonuses.  But I think I will limit myself to just a single card at the time from now on.

How do you think I did?  Is there anything you would have done differently?

Other posts in this series:

A Beginner’s Thoughts on Travel Hacking

The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part I

The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part II

The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part III

Our 24 Day Vacation To Belize

Financial Details of Our Belize Trip

The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part III
Expenses: July 2015

4 thoughts on “The Travel Hacking Experiment: Part IV

  1. I agree saving cash is key. I’ve never gotten wrapped up in a minimum conversion value because there are always more points to be had, and cash is gone forever.

    Not sure where you live, but I’ve found (oddly) that you should always check BA for any AA flights you’re considering. For some reason, on short haul flights, BA will often offer flights (on AA metal!) for much fewer miles. But I imagine for this one AA was the best deal.

    But if Belize was a huge hit, you may want to invest in a Southwest Airlines cc. They begin direct service in October!

    One thing that I have found – and it seems you’re already sensitive to this – is that crossover conversions don’t seem to work out as well (e.g., using airline miles for hotels). Once you’ve got a healthy portfolio of airline and hotel points across multiple programs that won’t be a problem, but it is a good reason to keep diversifying.

    Congrats on scoring a great trip – Belize has always been on our list and just got another vote.

    • Hey, thanks for the tips! Yeah, I check out using the BA points, but I didn’t have enough to book both tickets, since we had to have a layover. But I’ve heard other people say that BA often offers better value on AA flights, so I’ll definitely keep it in mind going forward.

      Unfortunately, Southwest isn’t really an option for us unless we want to drive for several hours on both ends of a trip. Ah well.

      You’ve got another good point about the crossover points. But it was either that or cash, so I kept the cash 🙂

      Belize was definitely awesome! I’ve got a post coming out in the next day or two with more details on the trip. I would absolutely recommend it if you are looking for a travel spot. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers!

  2. Hey Bearded Dragon –

    I just finished reading the 4 part series, this is great stuff! Belize is a great destination to try that, looks like you had a great time.

    Travel is the largest expense in our budget and travel hacking looks like a good opportunity. I am, unfortunately in this case, also in the process of a mortgage application so as you did, I’ll have to wait a little bit before applying to multiple cards.

    The next step I’d like to read about in your series, now that you’ve used your rewards and before you’ll have to pay the annual fee, is what happens to your credit score once you start canceling those cards?

    Nick

    • Hey Nick, yeah I’ll be interested to see what happens to my credit score at that point as well. I’ll definitely include a part five (or an epilogue?) that gives the details of this.

      Meanwhile, we signed Mrs. Dragon up for a card, got the rewards, and have signed her up for a second. Accumulating points for the holiday season 🙂

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