I may be part of the generation known to leave all possessions behind and backpack across the world, but this story is not your typical bohemian-Pinterest-inspiration of finding your “inner self.” Instead, this is the story of the average, middle-class couple taking their first international trip (in style) with the only expenditures of paying the cruise line.
Ten days of travel, two countries, 5 cities, first class airline tickets, two nights at a five-star hotel, an upgraded room on a cruise ship, and little to no worries, all at a measly $2,500. Yes, you read that correctly. Between the two of us, we spent a total of $2,500. That means, per person, per day we spent on average $125.
The best part is, I will tell you exactly how we pulled this trip off in a few easy steps.
**We are in no way financial advisors, this post is about our trip and how we planned it with little cost to us. This may not work for everyone but may work for a few. No, I am not being paid by these companies to advertise, we are just loyal customers 🙂 Use your discretion. Enjoy!**
Your best friends when planning a vacation will become the credit card companies. No, we are not in massive amounts of debt. Our trips are payed off in full. Our secret? Sign up bonuses (cue the hushed oooh ahhh).
Most people fear credit card companies but the truth is, if you know how to spend your money correctly and pay off your balances in a timely manner, you can travel for free. Yes, FREE. (Stay tuned for a future post where I explain our trip across Europe at no cost.)
Okay, okay we get it. You booked the trip on credit cards. Well, no, not exactly. Here is what you need.
•The Chase Freedom Card
•The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
•The Hyatt Hotel Card
•The United Airways Card
Not so scary after all, huh? These four credit cards got us to London for our ultimate destination of a cruise across the beautiful southern coast of Norway, breathtaking.
Now you may be asking, “Won’t opening these credit cards hurt my credit score?” Honestly, not really, at least not like many fear. At first, they do a hard pull on your credit score. Not sure what a hard pull is? Credit Karma does a decent job explaining this to us all non-credit card-savvy people. This effects your credit score ever so slightly, but if you pay off your card in a timely manner everything should be okay.
Now here is the important part, apply for these cards one at a time. These types of trips where we pay little to no cost take lots and lots of planning and some time.
Now, I am going to break this down for you. At certain times, the credit card companies run these promotions where if you apply for their card, you get sign up bonuses. This is what we did:
Spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening the card
Receive $150 bonus
This card is good for everyday purchases earning points in rotating categories
*if you sign up through this link, I do get bonus points.
Spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
Receive 50,000 sign up bonus points
Transfer the points to United Airlines
*if you sign up through this link, I do get bonus points.
Spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
Receive 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world
Spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
Receive 50,000 miles accredited towards flights
(Keep in mind, the credit card companies change their sign up bonuses all the time. Keep an eye out for better deals!)
You may be asking, “how do you spend that much money in the allotted time per card?” Well, if you do this correctly it is actually quite simple. Apply for each card separately over time. So, let’s say you start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you have 3 months to spend $4,000. Now, that can be simple if you get savvy with your spending.
We paid off our homeowners insurance, car insurance, and trash pick up a year in advance. An added bonus, some places even offer a discount if you negotiate paying these fees up front for the whole year. If you are really fortunate, a few of you can pay your rent on a credit card, thus easily spending the $4,000 in the first 3 months. Then use the card for every day expenses; gas, groceries, coffee, eating out, etc. Get creative folks. We didn’t spend any extra on things we wouldn’t normally buy, we just paid them off early to get the bonus points or miles.
Once you meet the minimum spend for one card, and pay off the credit card, go ahead and apply for the next one. Soon enough, you will have all of the cards and bonuses ready to go to begin planning your trip!
For our first international trip, flights were a big deal to me. I wanted to feel comfortable if I was to sit in a cramped airplane for 6 plus hours over a large ocean. Little secret about me, I HATE flying.
For a few years prior to this adventure, we had the Chase Freedom card with a 20,000 point bonus and accrued more points with spending. The great part about the Chase cards is that the points transfer between accounts and so we just added to the Freedom points with the Sapphire Preferred card.
After transferring the Chase Sapphire Preferred points into airline miles we had enough miles to travel with United Airlines. Of those miles, we used 57,500 miles/per person to travel first class to London, Heathrow. The remainder miles (30,000 per person) we flew economy back home, London, Heathrow to the U.S. Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay the taxes on our reward flights, we were able to have trip insurance in case anything were to happen on our vacation. You can read more about that here.
An important part of this was availability of reward flights since we were using travel miles to pay for our tickets. We took our trip in the first week of May which has plenty of availability due to the fact that it is not peak season for travel, especially to Europe. Remember folks, traveling outside of peak season usually means cheaper trips!
Anyway, back to the airlines. If you have never been in first class, well business class, on an international flight, you are in for a real treat. The seats recline completely to a full lay down bed. You get a goody-bag upon entering the plane, a gourmet 5 course meal fit for a king with complimentary wine, beer, champagne, or mixed drinks, a Sunday bar for dessert, and complete breakfast before landing. I was so stuffed by the time all of the meals were over I did not want to move off of the plane.
Remember, we like to travel in style.
The only fees we paid were for the airline taxes to fly out of London, Heathrow back to the U.S. Not bad for an international flight which can easily cost up to thousands of dollars per person.
The absolute best part about applying for the Hyatt Hotel Card is the two free nights anywhere in the world. I don’t know how many of you have traveled to England before, but London isn’t cheap.
With our two free nights, we booked the Andez Hyatt Hotel, a luxurious 5 star hotel in the city with the added bonus of a tube line and train station just around the corner. This boutique hotel is gorgeous and full of charm, built originally in 1884 for railway travelers. To give you an idea of how great a deal this was with the Hyatt card, an average night at this hotel would cost 255 pounds a night or roughly $313. That card alone saved us over $600 in hotel fees.
We bought reusable tube passes and traveled all over the city taking in the sights before our train would leave for the port several days later. The tube is family friendly, decently priced, and highly convenient. In fact, we used it for travel from the airport to the hotel. Click here to see more about the London tube visitor pass and how it could help on your travels. To find out more about places to see on a budget, or even free, in London stay tuned for a future post!
After spending two days in the city, we hopped on our train to meet our cruise line at the port. Trains are a great and cost effective way to travel across Europe. Paying in advance on non refundable tickets we got first class seats for something around $25, a great deal if you ask me. The cruise ship offered transfers for around $100 per person…thanks, but no thanks.
I mean just look at that picture of the happy rider traveling by train in first class.
For this trip, we decided to take a cruise on Holland America to explore Norway. Being first time international travelers and not knowing any of the language, this is a great way to see sights but also have the comfort of your meals provided with navigation around a foreign country.
The cruise was, good. Unfortunately, off season cruising to Norway can have some rough seas when crossing the ocean and being our first cruising experience we soon discovered my husband’s lack of sea legs. He spent the majority of the days at sea in bed. Word of advice, see a doctor about getting the sea sickness patch before your trip!
For $1,200 a person, we got a free upgrade to a room with a port window, all of our meals provided, and of course travel to four ports; Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavenger, and EidFjord.
The cruise line was clean, friendly, and comfortable. The room was decent sized and easily accessible. Many events are planned all day, every day for those interested in those type of things but since my husband didn’t feel amazing we spent most of our time in the library. I know, nerds, but we enjoyed our time anyway.
The cruise was a total of 7 days. Honestly, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about our trip. Norway was beautiful and a cruise is a great way to see the cities since they are all along the coast, not to forget you travel through the breathtaking fjords to see some of the cities. To find out cheap and family friendly things to do in the cities, stay tuned for a future post on Norway!
A Few Words of Advice
•Take your time planning your trip. It pays off in the end, literally, to take it slow and apply for all of the right credit cards.
•Travel off season, there are more deals available and it is all around cheaper.
•The best way to get cash on international trips you ask- ATM, some banks even waive the withdrawal international fees.
•Travel smart. There are plenty of things to do in these cities that are free or cheap, do your research!
If you have any questions or advice of your own, we would love to hear from you, just comment below!