How using rewards points for this move saved us hundreds of dollars
As if 2020 wasn’t exciting enough, I just finished up a big old road trip across the country! Phase 2 of moving to Washington state has been completed, (phase 3 includes a tiny house and 22 acres of land that need some lovin’, I’ll let you know more about that later) and a saving grace in this move has been TRAVEL REWARDS POINTS!
I can only take a little responsibility for the magic that happened along the way (shout out to my bf and all those Hilton points) but I wanted to share this journey with you so you can put travel rewards on your radar- even if you aren’t doing much traveling right now.
And lucky for you, there is even a love story intertwined in this financial and travel-hacking guide…
One year ago, I met my boyfriend in an online singles group for people who nerd out about finance and who are working towards financial freedom. After confirming our shared joys of investing, gardening, and sustainable living, it didn’t take long for us to begin a long-distance relationship (even though we both started out avidly saying we weren’t looking for something long-distance at the time) which turns out, can be a pretty expensive way to date!
But let me tell ya, being on the same page with big financial goals as your partner can be pretty sweet. And when you meet in a finance group, and both blog about finance, you can bet there are going to be some money-saving workarounds.
Delta SkyMiles American Express Credit Cards
Last winter I got a really tempting offer from American Express- 70,000 bonus miles if I got their Delta card and put $1,000 on it in 3 months. I had already slowly been accumulating Delta SkyMiles, and that extra 70,000 would triple my current balance. Now, I don’t suggest running around opening credit cards willy-nilly (especially if they have an annual fee, like this one). Too many hard inquiries on your credit will temporarily ding your score (and sit on your report for up to a couple of years), but that being said, there are times where adding a new credit card to your life can be a very useful tool. Personally, it had been over a year since I had applied for a credit card, and the perks of this particular sign-on bonus outweighed the annual fee of $95. (Which I did call and ask if they would waive… they said they would for the first year, but that I would only get 30,000 bonus miles with that offer. Still, it’s always worth calling and asking!). So, a new gold piece of plastic in my wallet, $1,000 dollars and 70,000 bonus miles later, I had a nice little stack of Delta SkyMiles. Being in a long-distance relationship meant these miles would definitely be put to use, and save me some actual dollars.
Now, COVID certainly had a say in this, and I ended up doing a lot less traveling in 2020 than I had thought. But most recently, I used Delta miles to fly my boyfriend to Michigan, my home state, so he could drive across the country with me back to Washington, his home state. Putting an END to the dreaded long-distance!
If flights are relatively cheap, you might prefer not using miles, but for this particular case, we were looking at nearly $300 for a one-way ticket. How many miles a trip will cost you will fluctuate, but spending less than 20k on a flight across the U.S seemed reasonable, especially compared to the ticket cost in USD, so I was more than happy to trade in the 18,500.
There’s something really satisfying about booking a trip with miles, especially when it’s on your partner who is normally footing the airline cost. There is also satisfaction in acquiring miles, and having a reserve of miles on your account provides a lot of peace of mind, especially when you’re self-employed and have a fluctuating income, and live on the other side of the country now from your family and friends.
Ultimately, there is a balance to keep between acquiring, and then actually spending the miles. Delta’s miles never expire (as of writing) and my miles are almost like an emergency fund for flights. And if you are flexible and do your planning in advance, you can find some pretty sweet deals.
If you want to start accumulating Delta miles with one of their cards, using this referral link will give you the current offer of 35,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 on the card in 3 months.
Staying in Hotels with Hilton Points
With my co-pilot in the same state as me and a packed-up car, it was time to begin the 2888 mile journey across the country. Originally when we were planning our little road trip, we optimistically thought camping would be an affordable solution. Once my boyfriend was in Michigan, and also freezing his a$$ off in our gorgeous November weather, we said “screw camping” and decided to save our relationship and use up some of his Hilton Points.
Hotel rewards points are fairly new to me, and if I were doing this trip on my own- I certainly wouldn’t have been staying at a nice hotel every night. But, having a partner who is a Hilton Diamond member meant there were a tonnnnn of perks for our trip, like free hotel rooms. It also meant I got to put on my sophisticated lady voice as I pulled into the special “Diamond Member” parking spot, and it gave us free waters, coffees and breakfasts -which saved us money on food and drinks and meant we were nearly always stocked up on car snacks. Traveling during COVID also meant we got some pretty decent rates, and we got to enjoy a warm, soft bed to sleep in every night. Here’s the breakdown of our trip, and points used.
Hampton Inn & Suites
South Bend, Indiana
Rapid City, South Dakota
Total: 88,000 Points
Our total for five nights in Hilton-chain hotels, primarily Hampton Inns, across the country totaled 88,000 points, which is an average of 17,600 points per night. Not too shabby!
Booking hotels on the Hilton app was incredibly easy, and we often booked our room from the hotel’s parking lot and walked right inside to check-in. This gave us the flexibility of seeing how far we could drive before determining where to sleep, and also meant we were refreshed for a new day of driving. And every time we passed signs for campsites, I was so, so thankful to not be staying in one.
Points can be spent on any hotels within the Hilton chain, which means you can really stretch them if you need to. Most nights we were looking at hotels that ranged from 18,000 points per night, all the way up to 60,000. Different cities had different price ranges, and our night that was only 9,000 points was actually a nicer hotel than some of our more spendy nights.
Acquiring a fat stack of Hilton points doesn’t come instantly, (although it kinda does with the current card offer...) and my partner acquired his over years of having to travel for work, putting the hotels on his card, and getting reimbursed by his employer. If you have a job that requires you to travel like this, it’s definitely worth accumulating points along the way. But even if you aren’t traveling for work, getting a card through American Express can get you started with some serious points. If you are interested in starting to build your own Hilton point pile, you can start with this card, which if you put $3,000 on it in the first 3 months you get 140,000 points! (This is an affiliate link which not only gives you a stack of points, but will also give us some if you use it)!
As you've seen, 140,000 points can get you seven nights of hotel rooms right now, easy. And if you are looking for a recommendation on a cool place to visit, I'd definitely check out South Dakota. We made it a point to visit Mount Rushmore and the Badlands on our trip, and I'm so glad we did! Not to mention, Rapid City, the closest big city to Mount Rushmore, was bustling and rooms were going for as little as 9,000 points...
How much money did using points save?
Again, COVID had some influence on the lower than normal pricing of hotels, which reflected in the cost with points as well, but here is what our trip would have looked like if we had spent dollars instead of points.
Flight to Michigan - $270
Night 1 - $89
Night 2- $93
Night 3- $48 (this was a big city and very competitive area for hotels!)
Night 4- $107
Night 5- $87
And if we were to add in all of the free coffees, waters, breakfast and snacks, I would say we saved closer to $750. And the peace of mind of an easy place to sleep that didn't result in frozen tears on my face? Priceless.
How could we have done better?
There are some serious travel hackers out there, and if we wanted to make this trip even more cost-effective, I’m sure we could have. Our biggest expense was gas along the way, which we used credit cards for fill-ups and still acquired points, but not strategically. We could have been a little savvier about using points and figuring out which credit cards offered the highest percentage of cashback for use at gas stations, and utilizing those rewards… but we didn’t.
Travel hacking doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing! If you can figure out how to accumulate rewards and points that are useful to you, by all means, do it! But that doesn’t mean you have to go off the deep end, and have 500 credit cards in your wallet that are labeled with their cashback rewards. (But if that's your jam, no shame there either).
I hope this was helpful, and maybe even a little inspiring (who doesn’t like free hotels!?). If you want to stay in the loop with other useful money things, make sure to join the Friend of Finance newsletter below!