How We Saved Our Annual Family Vacation — Reader Success Story
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Ross, who found an upside to a costly home repair. Here's what he had to say:
My family does a yearly surf trip to El Salvador in October. We typically use Ultimate Rewards points to buy the flights and then pay for other trip costs like hotels and baggage fees with our Chase Sapphire Reserve to get the 3x points on travel. This year a bathroom leak and the associated remodel costs looked like they would derail the plan, so we had to think creatively if we still wanted to go. We had about $7,000 in out-of-pocket costs, so I thought the best course of action would be to sign up for a few new cards to earn some sign-up bonuses.
The best flights for us from JAX to SAL are on American Airlines, so we signed up for two co-branded AAdvantage cards. First was the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, which offered 60,000 miles after a single purchase and payment of the $95 annual fee, plus a 10% rebate on redeemed miles. Next was the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which offered 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 within the first three months, and a $200 statement credit on eligible American Airlines purchases within the first 12 months (no longer available). I did some research online and found that Citi would also match an offer for 70,000 miles. I sent a secure message and was able to get a Citi representative to add the additional 20,000 miles.
The last card we signed up for was the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card after receiving a mailer offering 60,000 miles after $3,000 in purchases (no longer available). After using the cards to pay the remodel expenses, we had 130,000 AAdvantage miles, $200 in credit for American Airlines travel purchases, and $600 in travel credit from Capital One. Our flights would have been $489 per person if we had used cash; instead, we paid 25,000 miles round-trip per person for MileSAAver off-peak awards to Central America. After the 10% discount, we paid 22,500 miles plus $64.94 per ticket (or 67,500 miles plus $194.82 for all three of us). The $200 statement credit on the Citi card will cover much of the $300 we'll have to spend on surfboard baggage fees.
Lastly, our hotel will be $539 for the trip, so we used the $600 credit on the Venture card to cover this expense. A trip that would have cost $2,306 out of pocket and would not have been manageable after the leak debacle will end up costing $295. Plus, we'll have miles and credits to use toward a future trip!
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Dollar for dollar, credit card sign-up bonuses offer the best return on spending, so getting a new card is a great way to maximize large purchases. For particularly hefty expenses (like home renovations, weddings, college tuition or even a car), consider applying for more than one card, especially when you can get another person involved. However, keep in mind some card issuers impose restrictions that may keep you from opening multiple accounts at once, so if you have the spending capacity to earn multiple bonuses, spread your applications around accordingly.
To calculate your return you get from a sign-up bonus, be sure to factor in any rewards you earn from meeting the minimum spending requirement, as well as any fees you incur for getting the card. Ross wrote that he earned $600 in travel credit from his Venture Rewards card, but he would have earned another $60 worth of miles from the $3,000 he spent to earn the bonus (since the card earns 2 miles per dollar). Similarly, Ross claimed that the trip will only cost them $295, but he left out the $95 annual fee for the Aviator card, which isn't waived for the first year. The difference is small in both cases, but seeing the whole picture will help you assess your options.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Ross for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!