How to Travel Hack a $40,500 Honeymoon for just $3,400

This post was originally written in November 2015 and some of the numbers below, especially on bonuses for credit cards, are no longer available. We kept the original numbers because this explains how Michael was able to take this trip for so little – but some of the bonuses (and cards) are not available anymore.

What if I told you that you could go on a three and a half week vacation for less than $100 a day?

That you'd visit three continents, stay in the most luxurious hotels, fly in premium seats, and pay less than a first class ticket from JFK to Tokyo*?

Too good to be true? Not at all.

My friend Michael and his wife did just that.

For about $3,400 (the cost of an engagement ring!), they visited Hawaii, Tokyo, the Philippines, and even slipped in a safari in South Africa and time in Cape Town.

I didn't believe it either… until he outlined everything.

Michael, who writes about travel hacking at his blog The Honeymoon Guy, shares his exact strategy with you.

This includes the rewards programs he joined, and the exact credit cards he applied for, plus his approach too. As I'm sure you know, promotional offers change all the time but his approach is solid gold. Use it to plan your next whirlwind vacation, whether it's for a honeymoon or some other special occasion.

Michael, take it away!

How I Saved $37,100 On My 3.5 Week, 3 Continent Epic Honeymoon

As Jim puts it, getting married is an epic event. It can also be stressful… and expensive. All of which say one thing – honeymoon!

After my wife and I got married, we wanted to go big for our honeymoon. Like three continents big.

But we needed to do so without spending a fortune because, well, we didn’t have one to spend!

So I had to get creative. I had to “travel hack” my honeymoon and in this article, I'll outlines everything I learned and teach you how to do it too.

Note from Jim: I asked Michael to share his actual honeymoon itinerary to put everything in context. I want him to show you his honeymoon and not talk about things in some abstract way. Michael is a regular guy, he has a regular job and isn't making millions.

He's very smart and figured out how to win at this game and was generous enough to share this experience with everyone. The best part is that these strategies work for any vacation, not just honeymoons!

Our Honeymoon

Our around-the-world honeymoon, consisted of Maui, Tokyo, the Philippines, and South Africa. In South Africa, we did both a safari and lovely Cape Town.

The best part? Besides all of it… was that we got all of our lodging for free with the exception of our safari room in South Africa!

Almost all of our flights, including the long-haul flights in premium cabins, were free.

In Maui, we stayed in two great locations – Wailea and Kaanapali. We visited the best luau in town, watched the sun rise at Haleakala, drove the Road to Hana and snorkeled with thousands of vibrant fish and a beautiful sea turtle!

asdfsadfasdfasdf
This friendly sea turtle joined us for a swim in Maui near our hotel, the Sheraton Kaanapali at Black Rock.

We left the beach for the city, visiting Tokyo next. There we experienced the melding of old and new, with thousand-year old temples and modern skyscrapers mere feet apart. We sang karaoke and ate sushi and checked out the busiest pedestrian crossing on Earth.

Our third stop was the Palawan region of the Philippines. There we were treated to incredible service from some of the happiest folks in the world. And their happiness level was matched only by the natural beauty of the area. There were limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters and fresh fish cooked on our day boat. We found Nemo (multiple times), snorkeled over a WWII ship and lounged in hammocks on some of the best beaches we’ve ever experienced.

The natural scene at Kayangan Lake in the Coron area of the Philippines is so picturesque you can’t help but marvel at it.
The natural scene at Kayangan Lake in the Coron area of the Philippines is so picturesque you can’t help but marvel at it.

Next, we headed to the eastern part of South Africa for an unforgettable safari. We saw leopards (a lot of them actually!), lions, giraffes, rhinos, bison, elephants and more. At dusk our guide pulled over and served us wine and hors d’oeuvres as we watched the sun set. It was truly incredible.

Our South African safari visit was everything we hoped for, with sightings of leopards, elephants, rhinos, giraffes and lions, like the beautiful male shown here.
Our South African safari visit was everything we hoped for, with sightings of leopards, elephants, rhinos, giraffes and lions, like the beautiful male shown here.

We wrapped up our trip with several days in Cape Town, on the western edge of South Africa. The bustling city offered great eats and the surrounding areas offered more incredible scenery and wildlife. We wandered atop Table Mountain, visited Cape Point, toured charming wineries and watched African penguins frolic at Boulder Beach.

For this 3 and ½ week honeymoon which took us around the world, we spent less than we would have on a 10 day honeymoon in the Caribbean.

I write this not to brag or show off but to show you what’s possible with travel hacking. You can do this too!

Travel and Lodging Savings Table
How Miles, Points and Free Night Certificates Saved Us $37,100

Air Travel Lodging Going Rate for Two People How We Paid for It
Airfare to Maui in First Class on United   $2,400 80,000 United MileagePlus miles
  Andaz Maui $1,400 for 4 nights 4 Free night certificates from Chase Hyatt credit cards
  Sheraton Maui $750 for 2 nights 32,000 SPG points from Starwood Preferred Guest cards
Maui to Honolulu in Economy on Hawaiian   $180 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Honolulu to Tokyo (HND) in Economy on Hawaiian   $2,000 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
  Hyatt Regency Tokyo (Club Room) $680 for 2 nights 30,000 Hyatt points from Chase Hyatt credit card spend and transfer in from Ultimate Rewards
  Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport $140 for 1 night 20,000 Hilton HHonors points from Hilton HHonors card
Tokyo (NRT) to Manila in Business Class on Japan Airlines   $3,600 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Manila to Coron in Economy on Cebu Pacific   $160 Paid with Barclay Arrival miles from signup bonus on Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
  Corto del Mar $540 for 4 nights Paid $440 with Barclay Arrival miles from signup bonus on Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Coron to Manila in Economy on Cebu Pacific   $150 Paid with Barclay Arrival miles from signup bonus on Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Manila to Johannesburg in Business Class on Cathay Pacific   $12,000 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
  Radisson Blu Waterfront Cape Town $1,400 for 4 nights 100,000 Club Carlson points from Club Carlson Visa signup bonus
Cape Town to Dulles in Business Class on South African Airways   $11,800 120,000 United MileagePlus miles from Chase United MileagePlus Explorer signup bonus and transfer of Ultimate Rewards points into United
Total amount saved: $37,100  

Travel rewards are always changing so the numbers shared here might not be available, so always check the current promotions to get what's best for your needs.


To help you get started, I’ve condensed quite a bit of the info and best tips into this laser-focused, step by step guide for WalletHacks.com readers.

Note from Jim: On lodging and airfare, Michael spent about $3,400 – which was almost entirely on the all-inclusive safari trip which included food and drink. If you were to calculate the savings from travel hacking as a percentage, it's easily over 90%.

1. Concentrate on the Big Hitters

For most honeymoons, the two biggest costs are lodging and air travel, in that order. To minimize the cost of a honeymoon while maintaining luxury, you’ll want to focus on reducing the cost of accommodations and flights.

Think of it this way – if you’re able to reduce lodging or airfare costs by even 10% you may very well be saving $200-$400. That will cover several nice dinners for you on the honeymoon!

The good news is that there are several great ways to minimize lodging and airfare costs.

2. It’s the Signup Bonuses

Frequent flyer miles, hotel points and free night awards earned via credit cards are a great way to travel in luxury without breaking the bank. Now, that probably doesn’t seem surprising. It may even be a letdown to read that as you’ve certainly heard of frequent flier programs and you may be thinking, “I’ve been religiously putting all my spending on a single airline-branded credit card for years and I barely have enough for a single flight.

If so, you’ve been doing it wrong.

Banks that issue credit cards know that a key to their business is getting new accounts.

They offer incredibly lucrative bonuses such as two free nights at any hotel in their chain worldwide (total value often exceeding $1,000) or even 100,000 frequent flier miles, just for signing up for a new card.

If your credit is good, you can sign up for multiple travel credit cards with attractive signup bonuses and make a major dent in the cost of your honeymoon.

This was the number one tactic to minimize out-of-pocket costs on our around-the-world honeymoon.

When you’ve determined which travel cards to apply for, set aside about 30 minutes and then consecutively sign up for the credit cards with the best bonuses. Applying as a batch can increase your chances of approval. Once you’ve been approved and receive the cards, be certain to meet the signup bonus requirements.

Some cards may have minimum spending requirements which can seem intimidating at first but you can time-shift your purchases to meet the requirements through purchase of gift cards you’ll use later or prepayment of utility bills, etc.

Protip: You should be getting about $400-$1,000 in value from a travel credit card signup bonus. There are a few exceptions but in general, if you aren’t getting $400 in value from a signup bonus, consider foregoing the application.

3. Double Up on Cards

Realize that both you and your fiance can get the same credit card. For example, if a card offers a signup bonus of two free nights at any hotel, by both getting it you can earn four consecutive nights at a luxurious hotel for free! My wife and I used this approach with great success for our honeymoon.

For example, we each got the Chase Hyatt Visa and then made consecutive bookings at the chic Andaz Maui. Then, we called the Andaz Maui and asked them to link the two reservations. The call took just a few minutes and we didn't have to switch rooms in the middle of our stay.

4. Focus on Lodging First

When traveling for a honeymoon, the two of you will be staying in the same room (you better be or your marriage is off to a really bad start!). This means you only need one lodging redemption per night whereas for flights you each need a separate seat of course. Hotel availability is also more transparent, flexible, and predictable than flight award availability, so hotel first.

Once you’ve picked your honeymoon location(s), research the lodging options. To use points or free night awards, you’ll want to identify hotels owned by companies with extensive reward programs like Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, etc. Select two or three lodging options so you have flexibility.

Using the “double up” strategy for lodging can really pay off. We combined two 2-free night awards from signing up for the Chase Hyatt Visa into a single four-night reservation at the Andaz Maui, shown here, saving us over $1,400!
Using the “double up” strategy for lodging can really pay off. We combined two 2-free night awards from signing up for the Chase Hyatt Visa into a single four-night reservation at the Andaz Maui, shown here, saving us over $1,400!

Research the rewards programs for the properties to calculate how many frequent hotel rewards points you’ll need to redeem. Then, scour the internet to find the best credit card signup bonuses for the relevant rewards program. Offers change all the time, I keep an updated on The Honeymoon Guy.

Protip: Some major hotel brands have all-inclusive properties. If you’re wanting an all-inclusive (AI), beach-centric honeymoon, check out the Hyatt Zilara and Ziva properties. They have all-inclusive properties in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. My wife and I stayed at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun and found it to be a great property. With food and beverages included we spent less than $75 out of pocket for a four-night vacation!

5. Consider Renting a Condo or Home

Mainstream hotels have major appeal for a honeymoon. They're consistent and there are some great rewards programs you can hack for premium value.

But, if you’re looking for a more intimate option, consider condo and home rentals. Airbnb has exploded in popularity and is now a major source of honeymoon lodging reservations. A friend of mine toured Europe for their honeymoon using Airbnb for all of their lodging.

To reduce the out-of-pocket costs for condo rentals, get a rewards credit card that allows redemption for general travel costs, rather than being tied to a specific program. A couple of these cards have become very appealing lately with their benefits and great sign-up bonuses.

Protip: For about $350/week, active and retired members of the Armed Forces, Department of Defense employees and select civilian employees in military support roles can often get great deals with Armed Forces Vacation Club, though mostly in the off-season. Not in the military? You can get similar deals at Endless Vacation Rental on condo-style rentals.

6. Ensure “Honeymoon” Appears in Booking Notes

There’s no better word in a travel booking than “honeymoon.”

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and travel industry workers know and respect it. For our honeymoon we made sure that each hotel booking included it was for our honeymoon and we were treated like royalty. At each of the hotels, we were treated to a special welcome and/or room amenity like champagne, dessert or a bed covered in rose petals. We were constantly upgraded into better rooms with amazing views.

Best part? It costs you nothing.

A “honeymoon” note in our reservation at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa led to a rose-petal-covered bed and a bottle of champagne! Similar treats greeted us at other hotels also.
A “honeymoon” note in our reservation at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa led to a rose-petal-covered bed and a bottle of champagne! Similar treats greeted us at other hotels also.
We alerted the safari lodge management that our visit was part of our honeymoon. They upgraded us to a special suite and served us a private dinner our first night as a honeymoon treat!
We alerted the safari lodge management that our visit was part of our honeymoon. They upgraded us to a special suite and served us a private dinner our first night as a honeymoon treat!
Note From Jim: Don't skip over opportunities to tell people it's your honeymoon. Sometimes they miss the note on the booking, sometimes they don't record it (a restaurant won't know); so mention it casually and you'll reap the rewards. Even today, we do it whenever go somewhere special for anniversaries and get red carpet treatment each time.

7. After Lodging, Turn Your Attention to Air Travel

Once you’ve determined your destination and have your lodging picked out, it's time for transportation. For most people, this means air travel because part of the allure of a honeymoon is usually getting far away. Very far away. Usually somewhere sunny.

I recommend using Google Flights for airfare searches. It will very quickly show you which airlines fly direct between your home airport and your destination. Once you know which airlines fly there, go directly to their websites. Using their award flight search option, research how much for award seats.

When looking for free flights, be flexible. You can find great deals if you can shift your days around. There's a temptation to leave immediately after the wedding, which is a good idea if the prices line up.

If they don't, waiting a few days is actually not a bad idea. Having a couple days after the wedding to recover and pack is a most welcome reprieve. If there isn’t availability two days after your wedding but there is three days after your wedding you may want to consider that a positive and take it.

Now that you know which airlines offer good flights and have available seats, it's time to check out their credit cards. If it offers 50,000+ miles as a signup bonus, it’s worth taking. From time to time there are better offers, but 50,000 is a lot of miles. It's 100,000 if your future spouse gets one too.

Otherwise, consider a credit card with transferable points. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers transferable Ultimate Rewards points, are versatile and thus very valuable too.

Protip: If you’ll be flying more than six hours nonstop on an award flight, consider splurging and fly business class. Many long haul flights have lay-flat beds in business class that can transform flying from a horrible, uncomfortable activity into an enjoyable one. Most international business class cabins are much nicer than domestic first class cabins. RouteHappy.com and SeatGuru.com give you the skinny on flight comfort and amenities.

8. Use Wedding Expenses to Meet Spending Requirements

Here's where the magic happens. The hard part about getting all the free miles from the credit cards are the spending requirements.

One of the reasons that the steps I’ve outlined here are so effective for honeymoons is that the associated wedding almost always costs quite a bit. Using your newly acquired credit cards for expenses will enable you to meet minimum spending requirements for signup bonuses without artificially spending money. You are already spending this money. Get more for that spending!

Protip: Sometimes the bride and groom are fortunate enough to have parents willing to pay for parts of the wedding. If that’s you, offer to pay the vendor yourself and have them reimburse you so you get the spend.

You should not use credit cards to make purchases that you would have otherwise not made. That's when the spending can get out of hand. Remember it's still debt and you still need to pay it off, don't see these cards as free money. Don't get a videographer just because you need the extra points!

9. Keep Track of Credit Card Signups

I’ve mentioned credit card signup bonuses quite a bit because they can be so lucrative. So you don’t want to just miss the spending requirement because you lost track.

With a simple spreadsheet you can track your credit card signups to ensure you don’t go astray. You can create your own spreadsheet or I have one that I give away to subscribers, absolutely free. The only “cost” is that I ask you to subscribe to my newsletter, which is free.

The form to sign up is at the end of this post.

Protip: There’s a belief that applying for and/or canceling credit cards will hurt your credit score. It won't. There is usually a slight reduction for a credit inquiry but it’s temporary and offset by other factors, like a reduction in your credit utilization ratio. For more detail, see how my applications impacted my credit score (you can check yours for free on Credit Sesame), which includes a graph of what happened to my score after applications.

10. Consider Unconventional Destinations

If you and your fiance(e) have an adventurous streak, consider eschewing the standard honeymoon destinations in favor of unconventional spots. In addition to making your honeymoon more unique and memorable, some unconventional destinations can offer great value.

Our visit to the Philippines was one of the greatest parts of our honeymoon and was the cheapest place we visited. Expensive doesn't mean better and cheap doesn't mean bad.

Some unconventional honeymoon destinations offer incredible experiences at hard-to-believe prices. The beaches of the Philippines, including Malcapuya Beach shown here, were some of the nicest we’d ever seen yet the cost of a top-notch hotel in the area was only about $150/night.
Some unconventional honeymoon destinations offer incredible experiences at hard-to-believe prices. The beaches of the Philippines, including Malcapuya Beach shown here, were some of the nicest we’d ever seen yet the cost of a top-notch hotel in the area was only about $150/night.

11. Go Longer

If you have a corporate 9-to-5 job, a long vacation might get you grief from co-workers and management. If you were ever going to test someone's patience, your honeymoon is the time. A three week vacation is nearly unheard of… a three week honeymoon? Once in a lifetime! Have fun!

Take advantage of it!

First, despite all the talk of divorce statistics, this should be a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. You want to decompress 100% before heading back to the grind. That doesn’t happen in a few days. Or even a week.

Who has ever heard of someone complain their honeymoon was too long?

Second, because a honeymoon is such a special trip, it’s the one vacation you can stretch without getting much blowback at the office.

12. Plan and Track Your Itinerary With a Simple Spreadsheet

Many honeymoons are international and you won’t have constant internet access. Print out your itinerary. We found our printout of our full itinerary invaluable.

The spreadsheet starts as your planner and becomes your schedule. It reduced the chances of a miscue, like forgetting to book lodging for a night. That may sound far-fetched but I know of a very intelligent couple that did just that – they got distracted during the booking process and wound up in a foreign country without lodging for a night.

Mistakes happen, and sometimes that's part of the fun, but you should avoid them if you can.

Use the itinerary spreadsheet I created or create your own and then print out the completed version for your trip.

Have Fun

Lastly, have fun. Be safe. And let us know where you go!

For even more of the latest travel hacking tips, head over to The Honeymoon Guy or check out the forums over at FlyerTalk.com, where you can connect with an army of travel experts.

And if you have a question or comment, leave it in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them.

About the Author: When my friend Michael told me about the locations he and his wife hit on their three-and-a-half week honeymoon around the world, I was intrigued. When he told me that they got almost all of their lodging and airfare on the trip for free he really got my attention! Now he and his wife are applying the same strategies to all of their vacations. If you want to learn more, he started a website – The Honeymoon Guy – to share travel strategies and guidance with others. If nothing else, head over there to say thanks!

Get Michael's Free Travel Hacking Spreadsheet

Get the spreadsheet Michael uses to keep track of all of his travel reward credit cards. He uses this to make sure he meets spend requirements by the deadline plus important dates and other notes.

You get his spreadsheet plus access to the Wallet Hacks bonuses, newsletter and The Honeymoon Guy newsletter, absolutely free.

As Seen In: