Use Credit Cards for Cheap Travel

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You are retired or planning retirement. Good for you!  If you want to travel extensively and you are not rich you need a strategy for cheap travel. 

 
With retirement comes the luxury of time. We worked hard for thirty or forty years. We had careers and jobs. We raised children through college or university and helped them get established. It was hard. It took all our energy and time.

Now, the kids are gone. They are responsible adults on their own. There has not been a withdrawal from mom and dad’s ABM for a couple of years – if you are lucky. Paychecks have been replaced with private pensions, government pensions, RRSP withdrawals, stock dividends or a combination of several.

Retirement is a fantastic phase of life. Like a kid on summer holidays. Freedom to play and the luxury of time to do it.  But so much better because you’re not a kid you’re an adult. No curfew. No one telling you what to do.  And money to do things you want to do; like travel!

People with the luxury of time travel the cheapest. When flying or cruising the difference of a day or week can make a difference of hundreds and even thousands of dollars. 

Free Accommodations

When booking accommodations, the longer you stay the cheaper the per night cost. If you travel off season you can save half the price of peak times. Nightly accommodation costs can drop from $500 to $50 per night saving you hundreds and thousands of dollars that you can use for more travel.

It is amazing how little money is needed using the slow travel mode. We spent a month living in a large and beautiful apartment in the Old Town of Nice, France just a few steps from the beach for $1500. We lived in the heart of  Waikiki for a month for $1500. We have done week long trips to Ottawa, Halifax, Washington DC, Nashville, Austin, Las Vegas and Miami for under $650 including airfare.

The biggest cost in travel is accommodation. One of the ways to reduce your accommodation costs is to use a hotel loyalty credit card. The one that I have been using for the past 5 years is the Marriott American Express card. 

When I joined I got a free bonus of 30,000 points good for up up to 3 nights accommodation absolutely free. No taxes to pay like the airlines. There are a lot of hotels to choose from as Marriott owns and manages over a dozen brand names in addition to the Marriott brand.

The other year we drove to Las Vegas and Scottsdale for the month of November. (The month cost us $600. Read about it on our Las Vegas Destination Guide). It was a 3-day drive down and 3-days back. We stayed in Marriott brand hotels for the six nights and did not pay a cent. 

The least expensive Marriott brand is the Fairfield Hotels. We were able to get a night lodging for as low as 10,000 points a night. The Fairfield Hotels are newly built and they are found on the outskirts of towns. 

We plan our stops so that we are stopping by 2 PM. That gives us the afternoon to explore the area and take in some of the sights. 

On the way home we stayed in two Marriott Hotels that have suites with kitchens and were able to cook our own dinners. On travel days we usually cook something easy and open a nice bottle of wine with dinner. Instead of spending $100 for dinner we spend $20.

Cheap Transportation

The second biggest cost of traveling is transportation. We have been using travel credit cards for the past 30 years to reduce the cost of flights. 

The first card we used was an Aeroplan credit card. Over a period of 20 years we had accumulated over a million Aeroplan points that we have used for over 40 flights around North America and Europe. 

For 25,000 Aeroplan points you can fly anywhere in North American. The flight is free but you have to pay the tax separately. The taxes generally run around $120 per ticket. We can collect 60-80,000 points a year using our Aeroplan credit card.

Flights 20 years ago were much more expensive than today.The cost of flying major routes has dropped drastically in the last 10 years. I have paid up to $900 to fly from our local airport in Cranbrook, BC to Vancouver return; an hour flight. 

Last year we flew from Vancouver to Southeast Asia return for $300 each on ANA (All Nippon Airlines) a total of 30 hours flying. This year we flew Calgary to Panama City return for $400 on United for a total of 20 hours flying. The price of flying is dropping overall. Although, with the pandemic and the airlines almost shut down, there will be some adjustments in flight travel prices for the next few years. 

I do not use my airline points to fly heavily discounted routes. I now only use my Aeroplan points to fly routes that are expensive and don’t typically go on sale. 

For example, we flew from Calgary to Halifax return with a week layover in Ottawa for a total $120 in taxes and 25,000 Aeroplan points. Regular airfare would have been over $900 each. We saved over $1500. That paid for the rest of our trip; car rentals, admissions to sites, as well as food and beverages while out exploring. 

Fifteen years ago when we started to fly to Mexico every winter, we got an Alaskan Airlines credit card. We flew from Kalispell, Montana to Seattle and overnighted in a hotel, then flew to San Jose del Cabo the next day. We did that for 5 years.

Flying home we did the same routine. Return flights were at least $600 per person. Our flights were free because we used the Alaskan Airline points that we collected all year purchasing food, gas, and other goods. The flights were free but we still had to pay airport taxes, parking for our car for 4 to 6 weeks plus we had two nights of hotels and dinners. This generally cost $600.

Ten years ago, Westjet Airlines began flying direct from Calgary to San Jose del Cabo. Their credit card gives the client, 2-5% return on everything purchased in Westjet Dollars plus once a year you receive a Companion Fare voucher. 

Within North America the Companion Fare costs $139; Mexico, Hawaii and Europe are $279 plus taxes. It does not save a huge amount once you add the airport taxes but it more than pays for the $75 yearly card fee. 

For the past five years we have been flying return from Calgary to Mexico for under $200 each. In 2018 we flew to London, England from Calgary return for $250 each using Westjet dollars and our companion fare.

Just by using an airline and hotel loyalty credit card you can save thousands of dollars in travel expenses a year. There are many cards available. There are a number of websites that do comparisons so that you can pick the best credit card for your needs. Start using those cards and start flying and staying for free.

Happy Budget Slow Travel

I am sharing my cost saving tips with you through a series of travel blogs. By reading them and following the tips you will save hundreds and thousands of dollars each year while travelling.

We are Patrick and Loie Robertson and took early retirement from our careers in 2009 to travel extensively. We have created this website to encourage other retirees, couples and solo travellers to travel to your dream places. We want to show how you can use the Budget Slow Travel mode for cheap travel that will save you thousands of dollars and enrich your travel experience.