2021 Travel Hacks Mack Recap: How I Spent $640 on $4737 Worth of Travel in 2021

Me jumping for joy off the side of a cliff in Aruba because my flight there was practically free.
Me jumping for joy off the side of a cliff in Aruba because my flight there was practically free.
ravel hacks. The verdict: I spent $639.89 on $4736.67 worth of travel, and used 247,300 points, including credit card, hotels, and airline miles. Now, this total includes only what I saved using various travel hacks, not the total I spent on travel. However, $4,096.78 saved is not bad. Here, I will break down exactly where all that money was spent, where I saved, and how I could have done better had I known better.

$100 hotel in Pittsburg, Paid $0 with 12,000 Marriott Points

In April of 2021 I took a road trip, stopping in Pittsburg. I used 12,000 Marriott points to pay for a hotel that would have been $100 if I paid out of pocket. These hotel points were actually not earned through credit cards, but from hotel stays I had built up from some work trips in the past year. Since I am loyal to Marriott when I travel for work, for the most part, I am able to build up points and status there without ever opening a Marriott co-branded credit card (I don’t have many options for that anyway, since I am over 5/24 and most Marriott cards are Chase).

$900 hotel in Vero Beach, FL, Paid $75 with 60,000 Chase Points

I decided to blow all of my Chase points on an expensive hotel in Vero Beach, the Costa d’Este. It was a lovely place to stay, right on the water with a luxurious pool, and free mojitos at check-in. Plus many more mojitos I paid for. And it felt even better to know we were paying less. The 60,000 Chase Points was for two nights, which was regularly priced at $900 total. I took this trip with my sister, and I paid for the first two nights using points, where she paid for the second two nights out of pocket. That’s one way to do it!

$113.67 flight to West Palm Beach, paid $86.90 using Airline voucher

In 2019 I took a flight to Thailand, flying through Hong Kong on American Airlines. My layover flight out of Dallas was overbooked by 35 people (not that they overbooked that many people, they just needed 35 people to get off the plane because it was too heavy for the weather conditions). They were offering $1000 vouchers to change your flight. The only option they presented was the same flight the next day, and many people on my flight had been from the day before, so that did not seem hopeful. While at the gate, I did some research and saw that there was another flight leaving an hour later that routed through Narita, Japan with a partner airline, and would get me to Thailand within the hour I was originally supposed to land. I asked the gate agent if I would get $1000 for switching, and they made some calls and we had a deal! So I used that voucher to fly all through 2019 and some flights in 2020. I used the remainder on this, $26.77, towards my flight to West Palm beach on American airlines.

$197 flight from West Palm Beach, paid $5.60 and used 10,000 United Miles

Flights to and from places like West Palm Beach are not cheap for me, because there are no direct flights. Using United Miles I earned from my United Explorer Card in 2020, I found a decent redemption at 10,000 miles (1.91 cent per point).

$621 Roundtrip Flight to Aruba, paid $90 in taxes and 25,000 American Airlines Miles

$621 is expensive for a flight to the Caribbean, but because I would have had so many layovers, and I was going a specific weekend, that was the cheapest costing flight I could find to Aruba. The $90 in taxes is where I screwed up–on the American Express Platinum card, you get $200 in airline fee credits, but it can only be used for one specific airline. I forgot to select an airline before booking this flight with this card, and ended up selecting American Airlines. Had I selected it in time, my flight would have been completely free! I earned the American Airlines miles I used for this flight from the Aviator Red Card. You can typically find flights to and from Aruba for 12,500 at the lowest.

$300 flight to Denver, paid $11.20 in fees and 12,000 Delta Skymiles (for two people)

It is rare that I find a 6,000 Delta redemption, but somehow this flight, even with a layover in Minneapolis, was just 6,000 Skymiles and $5.60 in fee each where it would have been $150 each out of pocket. The Delta Skymiles I used for both of us were earned using the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card.

$200 flight to Los Angeles, paid $154.60

This was a spirit flight for two people, and because I booked it at the airport, the price was cheaper.

$1230 Flight from Denver to Bangkok, paid $71.80 in fees and 88,000 Delta Sky Miles (for two people)

We flew straight from Denver to Thailand. For this leg of the trip, I was still paying for my fiance, so the plane ticket would have been $615 one way and 44,000. Even such, that is an expensive one-way flight to Thailand! I’ve booked roundtrip tickets to Asia for $700 in the past. But with COVID restrictions, flights were limited on the days we were looking at. Plus, it is definitely more expensive, when paying in cash, to book one way flights. But it is the same cost to book one way flights as roundtrip when using air miles, so it is better to optimize by booking one-ways so you can use the cheapest airline redemption possible.

$149 each way to Newark, paid $5.60 and 8,800 Delta Skymiles each way in September, then $120 each way to Newark in October, paid $5.60 in fees 12,000 United miles

Sometimes travel hacking allows to go on luxurious vacations and bucket-list destinations, but sometimes it let’s you fly home on a busy weekend for a wedding. This fall I had two weddings to attend, one in New Jersey and one in Long Island, and being able to travel hack my way there and back twice in such a short period of time made the cost much more manageable.

So, that is how I did it this year! I’m excited to get further into this in 2022, especially because I didn’t really start traveling until May of last year. And the honeymoon is coming up this year, which will be full of plenty of hacking and deals.

Any questions? Where did you travel to in 2021? Let me know in the comments, or feel free to contact me below!

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