Travel Hacking New Orleans

Flights & 4 nights for 5 people- under $300

Hey!  We just returned from New Orleans and I wanted to share with you how we saved so much money on this trip by travel hacking our accommodation & flights.  We’ve been able to travel more since learning how to better utilize our credit card points.  For more info, start HERE:

Why this Dave Ramsey follower still uses a credit card

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

We flew to New Orleans on Southwest airlines.  The total cost of 5 flights on Southwest would have been $1269.40!  Instead, our total was $56 and some change thanks to using 56,350 points.  You could get this many points by getting the sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred and then transferring the points to Southwest.  Check out 10xtravel for more info on all things credit cards!

Savings: $1213

For our hotel nights, we wanted to do a plantation tour, but also stay in the city.

Because we were arriving into New Orleans on a Saturday night during Jazz Fest, city hotel rates were really high.  We decided that we’d stay outside of the city for the first night, then drive in on Sunday.

The first night we stayed at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Gonzales, LA.  This was a perfect family-friendly property.  Our room with two double beds and a sofa bed was HUGE, and the free breakfast was sufficient.

The total cost for that night was $112.78.

We had some points left on our Barclaycard Arrival+.  Which allowed us to completely “erase” the purchase.  Barclaycard is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus which is good for $500 of travel purchases.

Savings: $112

In New Orleans, we picked our hotel considering what would accommodate our family, but was also not too close to the French Quarter.  I’d read on some blogs that the French Quarter can get a little rowdy at night and little ones (or their big mama, lol) would have a hard time sleeping.

Brian had some Hilton points to burn, so we chose the Hampton Inn by Hilton by the Convention Center.  If we would have paid out of pocket for the Hampton, 3 nights would have cost us just over $694.  This is without 2 nights of valet parking (we were able to park the first night on the street), which would have added an additional $88). Hilton now allows you to redeem an uneven amount of points – i.e. the Hampton was 36k a night and we redeemed 77k to help us save a little more on the last night.

Our final bill at check-out was

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking FULL PRICE: $782

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking WITH POINTS: $235

Savings: $547

We also rented a car, but it’s not a necessity when visiting New Orleans so I won’t include it.  Our reason for renting was because we did want to drive out to the plantations, and we needed cost-effective airport transportation.  I’m so glad we did have the car because of all of the flight debacles we had on the return.

Also, when flying on Southwest Airlines, your car seats fly for free!  This is a big money-saver!  We bought car seat bags a couple of years ago from Amazon and this backpack one is our favorite.  Hands-free with kids is a must!

We also just purchased this inflatable booster seat for our oldest.  It worked really well – and we could fit 3 kids across the back of a Ford Escape.

 

(If you weren’t traveling with three small kids you could easily purchase a plantation tour with hotel pick-up plus airport transfers).

So that’s how we did flights for five & 4 nights of hotel for under $300!  Do you travel hack?  Have you been to New Orleans?

While in NOLA: Visit the Garden District & Tour Lafayette Cemetery

** Leah’s disclaimer:  It’s never a good idea to go into debt by using credit cards.  We use them for most of our business/personal expenses and then pay the statement each month.  Don’t play this game if you lack self-control. **

 


Booking.com

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

A four-night, four-star trip for next-to-nothing.

I’ve been so eager to tell you how we took second-honeymoon style trip to the Canadian Rockies for pennies on the dollar.  We started travel hacking about 2 years ago and using points and miles has definitely helped with our travel game.

After booking our trip to Australia last year, I had a bunch of American Airlines miles left.   Reading Bryce’s blog about how to use the Fairmont VISA gave me an idea- I’d been dreaming of staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise since I was a teenager- travel hacking the hotel was the ticket!

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First, I booked our flight from CMH -> Calgary using 75,000 AA miles.  Here’s what I would have paid using the same flights but paying cash.

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Instead, here’s what I paid:  75k miles + $123.60 in taxes and fees

Savings on flights:  $1,232.40

You can accrue AA Advantage miles by signing up for 2 Platinum Select Citi AAdvantage cards- if you got the business card and the personal card, you’d immediately have enough miles.  More info HERE.

Our first night of the trip was at Emerald Lake Lodge (review).  Not only was the place exquisite, it’s very pricey.  One night was $329 CAD + taxes.  Our bill at check out for one night + dinner in the lounge and breakfast in the dining room was a whopping $497.89 CAD!

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Before we left home, the Barclaycard Arrival + was offering a sign-up bonus for 50,000 miles after spending $3k in the first 3 months.  We used the card for all of our expenses on the trip, plus  all of our personal expenses and my husband’s business expenses.  After less than 2 months, we hit the minimum spend on this card- giving us 50k points/ $500 in travel credit.

The charge at Emerald Lake Lodge converted to $375.82.  See how I erased the purchase below:

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Showing we hit the minimum spend and all the points we accrued.
barclay-redeem
You can only erase purchases that cost over $100 each. These are the options Barclay gave me.

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So for 2 nights and 2 great meals: FREE

A savings of $375.82

Next we spent 2 nights at the aforementioned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  This travel hack involved signing up for the Fairmont Visa Signature Card.  We applied for this card over a year ago in order to have time to earn the miles and have open availability for the resort.  This card also requires spending $3000 in the first 3 months, but with that comes a bonus of 2 FREE nights!

After achieving the minimum spend I called Fairmont and booked the two nights at the Chateau Lake Louise (you must book directly with Fairmont resorts to use your free nights).  The resort quoted me a resort fee of $13/night, but I wasn’t charged it at checkout.

Here’s what our nights would have cost without credits:

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$669 CAD is currently $501 USD per night!!  Just having this credit card saved us $1002!

Earning Premier Status also gives you breakfast and dining credits at the resorts.  We were able to use 2 of these at check-out. The parking was $30/night.  Here’s our first bill from the resort and then a second one showing what we paid after the credits were applied:

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We had horrible weather while at Lake Louise (our mountain view room became a fog-view room), so we really just enjoyed the resort and the room service (YES!).  Our bill at check-out (after Fairmont dining credits) was $163.12 CAD.  This came to $123.13 USD and we were able to erase the entire stay using the Barclay points.

barclay-fairmont

Total cost of 2 nights at the Fairmont + Dining if paid for out of pocket and without credits:  $1002 + $216 USD ($288.12 CAD) = $1218

Total spent for 2 nights at Fairmont + gluttony and room service after HACKS = ZERO

The last night of our trip was in Banff.  I had prepaid for the hotel through AAA.  In hindsight, I could have also booked the hotel with the option to pay at check-out and used the Barclay points to cover it.  However, it was the least expensive option by quite a bit- we stayed at the Banff Aspen Lodge for $133 USD.  The room and amenities were just fine, but I would recommend this more for budget travelers or families.

Total for air and 4 nights before Travel Hacking: $3082.82

Total for air and 4 nights after Travel Hacking: $256.60

Savings: $2,826.22

Bam!!  The Canadian Rockies was one of the most magical places we’ve ever visited.  I think I’ve covered everything, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’m not the final authority on all things travel hacking- I recommend reading 10xtravel.com for more info!  I love them so much, I wrote a blog for them!

Have you done any travel hacking?  Maybe you’ve been the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe you cry, too, when you see a dream come true?

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** I’m undeniably one of the world’s biggest haters of debt.  We only use these credit cards with the premise that the uses are already budgeted for and the cards are paid off EVERY month.  I don’t recommend using a credit card if you lack self-control.  My husband is also self-employed so we can easily hit the minimum spends just by charging his gas and other work expenses along with our household expenses.  More HERE.  End sermon. **

 


Booking.com

No thanks, Pittsburgh: Your museums cost too much for my young family

I booked our last minute trip to Pittsburgh without doing something I preach over and over:  Cost planning.

I used Chase Rewards points we’d been accruing for YEARS and booked the Doubletree by Hilton for a whopping $57 total.  I had a total budget for the weekend, but completely overlooked the cost of experiences.

A few blogs and friends mentioned some different museums.  Which was all hunky dory UNTIL I looked at the prices.  How are these museum prices family-friendly?!

Let’s review the total prices to visit each museum for our family of 5:

  • Pittsburgh Children’s Museum: $74
  • Warhol Museum: $60
  • Phipps Conservatory: $63
  • National Aviary (for entrance + one show): $92
  • Carnegie Science Museum: $111.60

A weekend at the museums could literally set you back just over $400.

header pgh museums

I haven’t even fed my children yet.  Or paid for city parking.

Guys, I am a free-market capitalist.  I don’t want anything for nothing.    But, holy heck, this is not even realistic.  I look at these prices and think, “no wonder people think that travel isn’t worth it…or completely unattainable.”

On top of that, the Children’s Museum, the Phipps Conservatory, AND the National Aviary all charge for my 2 YEAR OLD.  It’s not significantly lower, either.  The National Aviary price for admission + one show is $19 for adults and $18 for kids 2 and up.  Geez, thanks for the $1 markdown for my child who may be sleeping in the stroller throughout our visit.

I really hate sounding angry, but I was so disappointed.  I’m not typically a museum person (especially when I’m wanting to read signs and kids are eager to go from station to station), but I’m sad that it literally costs so much for a visitor to see the inside of a building.  I know these museums and zoos have lights to keep on, and try to persuade people to get memberships, but the typical middle-class, out of town family, is going to just stay away.

So as much as I enjoyed our time in Pittsburgh, I kind of have a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe our next trip will be to Washington, D.C. where most of the museums are free…  you know, courtesy of my tax dollars. (I crack myself up)!

What do you think?  Please tell me I’m not the only one thinking this is absurd!

Why this Dave Ramsey follower still uses a credit card

As much as I preach the Dave Ramsey financial gospel, there is one solid thing that I disagree with him on.

I think you can get out of debt and pay your bills and still have a credit card.  

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here is “the rest of the story.”

We never struggled with credit cards.  We had a car loan and student loan when we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  We were young and dumb, BUT we were smart enough to know that paying 18% interest was just DUMB.

So I say this all with a disclaimer:  If you’re still silly enough to pay 13%-30% interest, or think balance transfers are an advanced financial decision, this post may not be for you.

In the last couple of years we began to use credit cards fairly heavily.  Not because we’re accruing debt, but because of the type of household we run.  My husband is a self-employed salesman and we realized that all of the money he was spending each month on gas, hotels, and even some fast food, was doing nothing for us.  After a visit to our local bank branch we realized that opening one of their cards could help us accrue some points and at the very least get cash back or some small travel.

Here are three reasons we use credit cards:

Travel Hacking  

Exactly two years ago my mom saw Bryce of 10xtravel talking about Travel Hacking on Good Morning America..  Not only was Bryce a familiar face from my hometown of only 3500 people, but he helped me (via email) come up with a plan to fly our family of 5 to Australia using credit card points.  I know that Dave likes to poo-poo credit card points ,but we were able to cut the cost of our Australian airfare by nearly $4000.  We also saved $450 on an expensive Sydney hotel and still came home with a bunch of miles to fund some free flights to Banff(we paid about $125 in taxes vs the $1356 cost).  Travel hacking takes focus, but for organized people like us, the benefits outweigh the work.

American Airlines what I would have paid

Discounts

We have two American Express cards- two major hotel branded cards- and both of them offer discounts on everything from groceries to airlines and even chocolate.  If you have an American Express card, scroll down on the main page and just “Add” these discounts to your card.  Here are the promotions currently added to my card:

credit card savings

Another example I can think of is the Fairmont credit card.  They provide breakfast coupons, spa discounts, and more when being a cardholder while also staying at their hotels.  The Fairmont card does carry an annual fee, so it’s important to weigh the cost with the benefits

Security

I know numerous people say that debit cards are just as safe as credit cards, but I beg to differ.  If someone gets ahold of your debit card number, they aren’t essentially spending the issuer’s money, they are spending YOUR money.  Credit cards also provide numerous extra benefits that my debit card does not- such as some rental car coverage, lost baggage coverage and more.  I feel safer using a credit card online (and who doesn’t make lots of purchases on the internet?).

Conclusion

So while we LOVE Dave Ramsey and will forever be indebted to him (see what I did there?) for our financial peace, we really do think that credit cards can be used responsibly.  It’s not for everyone (if you’re renting your couch, please don’t open a credit card), but we’ve found using credit cards to be beneficial to helping us reach our travel goals-  and save us some moola!

What do you think?  Do you use a credit card for travel benefits and discounts?

DR credit card

**This post may contain affiliate links**

Best of the Web- April 2

Hi friends, THIS is how my day started!  At Urgent Care!  Ahhh.

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We’re home now and C is fine, a broken collar bone should heal in just a few weeks!  Nonetheless, as I was waiting for the doctor, I thought about how blessed I am to live in the USA and have quick access to medical care.  Reading Kristen’s God Help Me to Remember This on My Worst Mothering Days is an even better reminder on perspective.

 

Finances

Why We Say No to Gifts via Living Well, Spending Less.  I want to do this- but it would be HARD.

 

Travel

{Trip Report} Jackson Hole via Hi Sugarplum!

Packing light for spring international travel via The Pleated Poppy

Where to Stay on the Big Island via Flashpacker Family-  Who’s ready to escape to Hawaii?

In case you missed it, I was over at 10x Travel this week talking about how we have saved so00 much money using travel hacking!

 

Any favorite blogs?  Any travel hacking tips?  Past broken bones?  (That should cover it all)!

Best of the Web- March 26

Happy Easter weekend! He is risen!

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Here are my favorite links from the past week:

Parenting/Life

For When Chaos Makes You Crazy via the Lazy Genius Collective

How do I raise an independent child when I am a control freak via Organized Mom

Travel

A Tale of Two Vacationers via Enjoying the Small Things

Money

Barbara Corcoran’s Biggest Piece of Advice for Millennials via Inc. – I love watching Shark Tank, and this is advice that Dave Ramsey would approve of, too!

 

Any favorites?

Best of the Web- March 5

Hi guys!  It’s March!  Hallelujah!  It’s no joke that I’m not a fan of winter-  I can hardly function.  I’m ready for you, out-like-a-lamb March.  I have windows to open. 🙂

I’m a little late to the party, but here are my favorite links from the past week:

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Life/Parenting

4 Things that Helped Astronaut Scott Kelly Tough out a Year in Space–  I’ve been really intrigued by all the coverage of Scott Kelly’s return to earth. Did you know he grew 2 inches? What?

6 Ways to Do Math without a Math Book– I know this is a homeschooling article, but it can be helpful for anyone who thinks their children need additional math skills (and kudos for all the real-life skills mentioned).

Travel

Taking a Caribbean Cruise?  Here’s what you need to know– The Traveling Canucks really spared no detail on how to take a Carnival cruise with two small kids.  This is one you’ll want to check out.

7 tips to plan your Iceland roadtrip– Because I’m still obsessed with Iceland.  And Norway.  (in summertime, of course).

Money

Why I won’t pay $15 an Hour for a Babysitter–  I thought this was interesting!  I definitely had sticker shock at the cost of babysitting, considering 15 years ago as a teenage babysitter I made between $1-$4/ hour!!  We typically pay $10-$12 an hour depending on the experience and age of the sitter.  What’s the cost where you are?

 

Any favorites?  What are you up to this weekend?

Best of the Web- Feb 27

Hi everyone!  How are ya?  Here’s my favorite links from this week:

Travel

Top 10 Things to do in New York with Kids–  Anyone going to New York City this summer?   We haven’t been there with the kids yet, but I know enough to know these are great tips.

An Airbus vision for the future of plane seating-  So the idea of a bench with kids seems appealing, I suppose. Although a hard bench for 17 hours? No.  Click through if just to see the odd face on the child Fig. 6.  Haha!

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Money

Why You Should Stop Spending Money to Impress People – Read this.  Hang it on your fridge.  Write it on Post-it Notes in your car.  I wrote a similar piece HERE.

Are you wasting $300,000 on lunch?

 

Motherhood/Life

Establishing Family Traditions for the Spring Season– I adore these ideas from The Better Mom.

 

Any favorites?  What are you up to this weekend?

Best of the Web – Feb 20

Hi everyone!  Did everyone had a good week?  We’re finally back on Ohio time , sleeping-in is over (but not over-rated, ha).   We had a nice blanket of wet snow on Wednesday morning, so we enjoyed some snow time- especially our own Princess Yea-ya.

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Here are my favorite links from this week

Travel

Book a Fall Trip- Southwest Schedule Now Open – If you’re hoping to fly over Labor Day or the Columbus Day holiday, it may not be a bad time to secure a flight.

How much does it cost to RV? – For those interested in long term travel.

Money

What are Dave Ramsey’s baby steps and do they work?  – Well of course they work!  Dave Ramsey has changed our life!  You can read more here, here, and here.

Life

How to find inspiration when you’re uninspired – Helpful

Love is a verb. – I nodded my head through this entire post.  I’ve lived this the past two years.  MUST, must read if you’re in the knee deep of trying to have a marriage while raising babies.

3 More Ways to Save Money

It’s President’s Day!  In honor of the day that celebrates Washington and Lincoln, I thought I could save you some Benjamins (who wasn’t a President, but whatev). 🙂  Here are three more things we do to save money.

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We don’t give it to the government

Seems a little ironic, right?  While I’m patriotic to the US of A, the tax code should always be used to one’s advantage!  It’s YOUR money, anyhow.  Since my husband is  self-employed, we do our best to keep track of all business write-offs, everything from meals while he is away to our cell phone bill to mileage accrued.

 It’s important to know what you’re able to write-off and keep great records.  We also get our taxes done by a CPA (Do not do H& R Block, they will rip you off).  Yes, it’s an investment up front, but they know the tax laws and they are able to package everything up for it.  Your time is valuable.  That said, if you have a small business (I see you Miss Scentsy, Noonday, Jamberry, It Works!) make sure you know if you need to be paying quarterly taxes.  A huge bill come April is one definite way to get your budget off-track.

Another way we avoid taxes is living in a city that doesn’t have high real estate taxes.  If we had the same home in a neighboring suburb, we’d pay 2-3 times a year more because of better schools, which would be appealing, but we aren’t sending our kids to public school. 😉  It’s worth it to do loads of research before you buy.  Consider the schools your children will be going to.  Look at the income tax that your city requires, plus the school district income tax.

We were unclear about homeschooling before we bought our home (and we still are some days, Ha!), but it’s good to base your decision not only on what you can afford, but the education you desire for your children.  That said, don’t overpay in the area of real estate taxes.  I cannot imagine paying $200 or $300 more per month to live in a similar home, only to complete a tax payment.  No way!

Food is important

We need food to live (thanks, Captain Obvious), but more than that, food can control our budget! For our family, groceries are our highest monthly expense after our mortgage- and I’m sure in a few years as the kids grow a bit more, it will easily PASS our mortgage!  So making good choices with our spending on food is absolutely necessary!  I’ve blogged before about shopping at Aldi and how we pay cash for groceries, but I wanted to go into a little more detail.

The easiest ways to save money on groceries are to only shop once per week (or once bi-weekly) and plan meals.  I’m not organized enough to plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner so we stick to staples for breakfast like cereal or frozen waffles (try the fit & active waffles from Aldi!).  Lunch is typically pb & j or a cold meat sandwich.  I do plan most dinners (and yes, I even plan pizza nights, as I need to know if I have money in my envelopes!).

I hate cooking, so planning meals helps not only save money, but sanity.  I buy 3/4 of my groceries at Aldi and fill in things like meat and some produce at Kroger.  Some ideas for quick and inexpensive meals- chicken & noodles, sale-priced meat with baked potato and salad, spaghetti and meatballs (I’ve heard good things about Aldi frozen meatballs).

Some of my favorite recipes:

Chicken and vegetable pot pie from Real Simple (Tip: Use split chicken breasts.  You’ll spend an extra 2 minutes pulling out the bones, but you’ll save about $1,50/lb on the chicken).

Pineapple pepper pork– Crockpot meal!

Green enchilada pork chili– It’s usually less expensive to use boneless chicken thighs.  It tastes just the same!

Buy used

What do cribs, cars, and children’s clothes all have in common?  We buy them USED.  About 6 months ago the rocker we had in the baby’s room was falling apart.  Literally.   Thanks to some rambunctious boys, the arm was falling off.  For 6 months we read books with a broken arm.  Then one day I sat it out for a garbage man.  About a month later I saw a rocker/glider on a Facebook selling wall.   FOR $20!  I nabbed it.

Just today I met a lady at Wendy’s to buy a winter coat for C for next winter.  $5.  Ok, yes, so looking for deals will take some time and a little effort.  However, instead of needing to find a coat in October when we get our first cold spell- and shelling out $25- I’ll now have one clean and ready to go- and a savings of 80%.

What have we bought used?

  • Every single car
  • Dining room buffet
  • Lamps
  • Side tables
  • 90% of our children’s clothing except for shoes and underwear
  • Specialty children’s wear- Easter outfits, Christmas dress, snow boots.  Most are worn very lightly and you’ll save 50% or more!
  • Baby supplies – carrier, exersaucer, high chair
  • Post-baby outfits.  (i.e. clothes to after childbirth before your original clothes fit again)
easter clothes
Easter clothes- everything was thrift or consignment except C’s shoes and socks (they were new!) and Jackson’s pants and shoes (they were hand-me-downs from a friend, LOL). Btw, my kids love to pose. Obviously.

There are some things you have to avoid when buying used.

  1. Do not overbuy.  Just because something is a great DEAL does not mean you NEED it.  I don’t go to Goodwill/Thrift stores unless I’m specifically looking for an item, because I know I can be easily sucked in by a deal.
  2.  Join a local buying/selling wall but ALWAYS meet at a public location.  I will never pick-up or drop-off  from someone’s home.  Let a friend or spouse know what time and where you are meeting someone.
  3. Bargain.  I’ve asked people to go lower on their price at yard sales, on selling walls, and even at Goodwill!  If I see a small stain or pilling, I”ll ask for a discount.  The best way to do this is at a yard sale.  If you are buying 10 items and say they are about $1 each, say, “would you take these 10 items for $8?” As Mom always said, “The worst they can say is NO.”

I don’t think you can save yourself to wealth, you must work on your income as well.  However, sometimes we need to start doing things the old-fashioned way, handling money like our grandmothers did.

What’s one way you save money? Have you thought about your tax rates before?  Are you a thrift shopper like me? I’d love to hear!