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, 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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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 1/2 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!
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 from Citi AAdvantage credit cards|
|Honolulu to Tokyo (HND) in Economy on Hawaiian||$2,000||65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles from Citi AAdvantage credit cards|
|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 from Citi AAdvantage credit cards|
|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 from Citi AAdvantage credit cards|
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Two of the hottest such cards right now are the BarclayCard Arrival Plus and the Citi ThankYou Premier (as of Winter 2015).
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.
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 Preferred, which offers transferable Ultimate Rewards points, are versatile and thus very valuable too.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!