My Low-Cost Travel Plan

Are you getting as restless as I am about travelling?

My last trip was in October 2019 for a short stay in Los Angeles. I was supposed to travel again in April 2020, but you can guess how that went down. So it’s been a year now that I’ve been putting off this trip reluctantly.

Well, that gave me plenty of time to think about it! Since then, I’ve been working out how I plan to travel on a budget. I’ll be able to do this through the use of specific credit cards, the use of points and miles and a generally frugal lifestyle.

I know I’ve said it before, but I have to give a shout out to the excellent travel hacking resource that is Milesopedia. For anyone who wants to travel on a budget, and is interested in signing up for credit cards to earn bonus points and miles, you’ll find answers to your questions there. They also have a Facebook group where you can ask questions or simply discuss!

However, beware. There is a lot of information. Seriously, it’s overwhelming, but absolutely worth spending some time there. Personally, I’m more than happy to have spent an hour or two exploring that website.

On another note, please be advised that this present article contains some affiliate links. If you click on some of my credit card referral links, I’ll get a few extra points. That’d be much appreciated! 🙂

My Points and Miles

So, I’ll start by giving you my points and miles balance for my main travel programs. I signed up for my first credit card to earn bonus points back in March 2020. That’ll  give you a rough idea of how many points and miles one can earn in about a year.

I’ll break down below what I can get with these points. 🙂

I could have done even better, but I started slowly with one card at a time. I was slowly getting acquainted with the concept. Now, I subscribe to two or three cards  at a time, every three months. Let’s just say it adds up a lot faster!

Let me reassure you. It hasn’t been at the expense of my credit score. It’s doing just fine. 🙂

My Next Trip

So, what will my next trip be? I’ll actually go exactly where I was supposed to go in April 2020. I was supposed to go to Hawaii for two weeks with my sister. Initially, we would have spent a week on Big Island, then a week in Maui.

However, I am more inclined to slow-travel now, especially once I’ll be FI. In that spirit, I want to give it a try for that my next trip. So, to avoid feeling rushed, my next trip will be two weeks on the same island: Big Island.

There will be another time to visit Maui just as slowly. 🙂

I’ve actually been to Hawaii before with two friends. We had been on Big Island, definitely my favourite, and on Oahu. Everything felt kind of rushed, and I told myself that I wanted to go back one day to see more.

From memory, that trip cost me around $4,000. I wasn’t necessarily that frugal back then, and I didn’t have any points or miles to cut down expenses. Let’s see if I can do better this time. 🙂

So, I’m going to go over the major travel expense categories and see how I can cut costs.

Flight

For very hypothetical dates (that I don’t even dare say out loud, for fear of jinxing it), a round trip flight from Quebec City to Kailua-Kona currently costs around $850, according to Google Flights. Instead, I could use my Aeroplan points to pay for the flight. It would cost me 35,000 Aeroplan points. I would only have to pay the taxes, about $200.

I did the simulation with AIR MILES for the same hypothetical dates. It would cost me either 8,500 miles during the low season or 11,000 miles during the high season. In either case, I don’t have the exact required number of miles currently. Honestly, I doubt that it’d be the best value for AIR MILES, anyway.

In reality, I’ll most likely use my United credit granted to me after cancelling my April 2020 plans. However, you get the idea.

Accommodation

Personally, I love booking on Airbnb. It’s clearly cheaper than hotels, plus it offers a lot more amenities.

Not all travel programs include Airbnb bookings. One that does is American Express Membership Rewards. I’m currently earning them with my Cobalt American Express.

It’s important to note these points convert at a rate of $10 per 1,000 points. I currently have 27,000 points, and the Cobalt current promotion allows me to get up to 45,000 points in bonuses. That means $450 applicable on an Airbnb reservation! That’s a lot of (free) money.

Of the Airbnb places I’ve looked at for Big Island, the average cost seems to be about $2,000. With my current point balance, I’d be able to reduce the bill by $270. That would leave $1,730 left to pay, which I would split with my sister. That means $865 each for a two-week stay in Hawaii!

Alternatives

Of course, there are other options than Airbnb. If I were to prefer hotels, I could transfer my American Express points to the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. This way, I could reduce my Marriott hotel bill with my points. Of course, the Aeroplan and AIR MILES programs also allow using points and miles for hotel bookings.

It’s just not a frugal enough option for me, but it sure can lower the bill for those who prefer that option!

There is also house-sitting, which I had already mentioned in a previous article. It’s something I might consider, but I doubt there are many opportunities in Hawaii. Plus, if there are, I’m sure they get picked up pretty fast! Still, I’ll definitely look into it. I won’t admit defeat until I’ve tried! Even if it’s only a few days of house-sitting, it’d still help reduce the bill. 🙂

Food

As a rule, I don’t eat out very often. In fact, I prefer to know exactly what’s in my plate, and I also love to cook! So, eating a restaurant dish I could have made myself for a fraction of the cost feels more insulting than anything else. 😉

Of course, I understand that this is one of the small pleasures of travelling. However, like everything else, it’s good in moderation. The advantage of booking through Airbnb is getting options like a functional kitchen. Then, you can buy some groceries so you can prepare a few meals at a lower cost. You can buy local produces as much as possible in farmers’ markets and cook them yourself!

During my previous trip to Hawaii, we tried to limit ourselves to one restaurant meal per day. Other meals, we made them ourselves at our rental place. By doing this, we saved a lot of money. We also reduced restaurant bills by eating at lunch time, rather than at dinner time. More often than not, lunchtime menus are more affordable.

Otherwise, my ultimate hack to reduce food costs on vacation, or anywhere, is intermittent fasting. I already practise it on a daily basis, and have done so for several years. When I travel, it’s basically a superpower.

In fact, I usually eat between one and two meals a day, no snacks. If I prepare half my meals at my Airbnb, it’s definitely cheaper than eating three meals a day in a restaurant, plus snacks.

Transportation

Big Island, you guessed it, is not small. It’s actually impossible to explore without a car. It’s also pretty rural, so public transportation is not ideal.

According to Milesopedia, car rental is actually one of the best uses of AIR MILES.

For some reason, the AIR MILES car rental feature is down right now. However, if I look on Kayak, Expedia and Costco Travel, a 2-week car rental on Big Island runs around $1,400.

Since Milesopedia estimates the mile value at 20.24 cents/mile for car rentals, that’d add up to about 7,000 miles. That would leave only taxes and fees for me to pay. Clearly, this is a much better use of those miles, compared to the flight mentioned above.

For this particular expense, I actually don’t plan to use all of my precious miles. I want to keep them for a future trip to Disney (another great use of those miles). But again, you get the idea.

The Aeroplan program also covers rental cars. For the same two weeks, it’d cost me about 50,000 points. That could be an alternative.

Of course, if I were travelling to a place where public transit was a good option, that’d be my first pick. 🙂

Activities

I don’t necessarily have points-related tips for this category. It’s more a matter of choices.

On Big Island, there are many free activities to do, including hiking and soaking up the sun on a beach. Personally, my favourite routine during my first trip was a nice balance between the two. This time, though, I’d love to rent a bike and explore the island differently. 🙂

There are also different museums and national parks that don’t cost much. For example, the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park was, from memory, $25 per car, not per person.

In fact, the big spending comes with typical tourist activities, like participating in a luau. However, if I decide to such things, I’ll plan ahead and make sure to look for discount coupons, deals on Tuango or promotions of any kind. Basically, I’ll avoid paying full price as much as possible.

Insurance

For this part, I’m lucky enough to have a great group insurance policy that includes travel insurance. For all those who have group insurance, start by looking at your coverage before getting additional travel insurance!

Next, you should know that many credit cards offer travel insurance as well. For example, my American Express Aeroplan card offers Lost/Stolen Baggage Insurance and Travel Accident Insurance up to $500,000.

In addition, my American Express AIR MILES Platinum card offers Auto Rental Insurance, Travel Accident Insurance up to $100,000, Purchase Protection, and more.

I won’t list all the coverage offered by my different, but you get the idea. With all of these coverage combined, I certainly won’t be subscribing to an additional one. Just go through all the coverage and see if everything is there. It’s really up to your personal needs. I know some people who travel without even being insured, so all risk tolerances are out there.

Mobile Plan

For some, this category is not even up for debate. They’ll simply use Wi-Fi when it’s available. Otherwise, they’ll do without. These days, apps like Messenger and Whatsapp allow us to write messages and make calls, as long as we’re connected to a Wi-Fi, with no additional fee.

However, if you insist on having data at all times and want to use your own phone number, then you have to pay extra through your mobile plan provider.

During my first trip, I remember my provider charging $7 a day for me to use my usual monthly plan over there. For the 15 days, it ended up costing me $105.

Fortunately, I found that my current provider, Fizz, offers much better options. You only need to buy add-ons on top of your regular monthly plan. This way, you can mix and match minutes, texts and data as you wish. The whole package adds up to $38 for the whole month. This includes 2 GB of data, 60 minutes of calls and 200 texts. The price difference is pretty shocking!

Parking, Luggage, etc.

Considering that I’ll be gone for two weeks, it’s quite possible that I’ll need to check a bag. A checked bag often costs about $30 per flight. Fortunately, my American Express Aeroplan card includes a free first checked baggage for me and up to 8 travel companions, when flying with Air Canada. Convenient, isn’t it?

Otherwise, considering that I’m more likely to fly with United by using my travel credit, and not Air Canada, I won’t be able to take advantage of that. Another option would be signing up for the NBC World Elite Mastercard and get up to $250 in travel credit per calendar year, applicable on parking, baggage and seat selection fees.

Let’s just say that solves a few problems. 🙂

I Can’t Wait!

So there you have it, that’s how I see my next trip, which I hope will happen sooner rather than later. With these tips and travel hacking, I should be able to spend less than $4,000 this time around. 😉

All that’s left is to be patient until it’s safe to travel again. Yes, it is what it is.

I’ve gone over the major travel expense categories, but if you have any tips on how to save money that I haven’t covered, feel free to bring it up in the comment section! That way we can all benefit from it! You know I’m always happy to save money. 😉

Finally, I’d be curious to hear about your next travel plans! But mostly, I’d love to know if you have any travel points waiting to be spent. I sure hope you do!

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3 Comments

  1. Congratulations! Traveling on a budget is good but what’s even better is travel hacking. I’ve yet to master or even know how to do it so I have some homework to do, ha.

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