Yes, the title is correct. There’s no gimmicks and no timeshare appointments I have to visit. My partner Teddy and I are traveling to Italy for 2 weeks in April, First Class and staying 2 weeks. All for under $1,000! I’m just a normal person who works a regular 40 hours a week and I’m not rich by any means.
If you read my About page, you’ll see that travel hacking is all new to me. I only started this adventure back in February 2014. Since then, we’ve earned over 1.5 million miles this year alone. I do spend about 3-4 hours running around collecting miles by purchasing gift cards. Other than that, the rest of my miles and points come from credit card signup bonuses.
Okay, so how did we book a 2 week trip for under $1,000
1. From January 2014, until August 2014, Citi had an ongoing 100,000 mile offer. The card required $10,000 in spending within the first 3 months and came with a $450 annual fee. We signed up for this card over and over, and ended up with 5 cards by the time the deal was over with.
2. We did NOT spend $10,000 of our own money on each card in order to qualify for the miles. Instead, we bought Visa gift cards and then deposited them into our BlueBird account (AKA, I call it my Walmart bank account). Check out my Beginner’s Guide on how to do this.
3. We completed the spending requirement on each card within the first month so that when the miles posted to our American Airlines AAdvantage account, we’d call Citi and cancel the card and receive a FULL refund on the $450 annual fee.
In the end we ended up collecting 550,000 miles without spending any of our own money. The annual fee was refunded on each card as well. In fact, we actually made money because Citi was giving a $200 statement credit on each card. We got to keep the $200 regardless if the card was left opened or closed.
Once the miles posted to our AAdvantage accounts, we booked our round-trip Business/First class tickets for $58 total. Whenever you book an award ticket, there’s always some sort of fee and taxes involved.
What about the hotel?
Next, we both signed up for the Citi Hilton Reserve card. The signup bonus includes two weekend night certificates after making $2,500 in purchases. Again, we bought gift cards to complete the spending requirements to earn 4 free nights. Excellent! We’re staying 14 nights in Italy and we’ve already got 4 nights free. Now we only have to worry about 10 nights.
I also have the American Express Hilton Surpass credit card. The signup bonus at the time was 75,000 HHonor points. Since being approved for both Hilton cards, I’ve constantly been buying Visa gift cards between these two credit cards to earn enough Hilton points for our hotel stay.
On average, we’ll need about 50,000 HHonor points for a free night and a grand total of 500,000 points for 10 nights. Between our two HHonor accounts, we have 300,000 points. We still need to collect another 200,000 points, but that can easily be accomplished by purchasing Visa gift cards. I take advantage the Amex Hilton Surpass card earning 6x points per dollar spent at grocery stores, so the points add up quickly when spending thousands on gift cards!
The final cost
As you can tell, I buy a LOT of gift cards in order to earn enough miles and points to travel for “free”. Each gift card does come with an activation fee. Depending on where I buy the gift cards from, it’s either a $3.95 fee or $5.95 fee per card. Since I’ve had to buy hundreds of gift cards, this is where a majority of the cost comes from out of that $1,000.
I can’t say exactly how many gift cards I’ve purchased for this trip, but I’m going to guess it’s around 200. If you take an average of $4.95 fee per gift card, that’s roughly $990 I’ve had to spend of our own money to get us to Italy First Class for two weeks. Not bad! That’s the price of a coach ticket to Europe (if you’re lucky).
Again, I’m not rich and there’s no tricks involved. With a little bit of leg work and persistence, you too can go on your dream trip… every year! I hope you find my blog useful, and as always, feel free to contact me with any questions. I’ll answer to the best of my ability!