Traveling on a Budget (Part I)

From my last post, you will know I was lucky to be a holder of the amazing Southwest Companion Pass. Many travel bloggers and aviation geeks out there agree this perk is one of the best and most valuable airline statuses to get. Granted, Southwest doesn’t fly many direct flights across the county or have those amazing first class upgrades, but they do have great free snacks, live TV and the ability to provide no change fees and flexibility on their domestic and international flights. I am 6’3 so legroom and getting First Class Upgrades was always my first priority in an airline but when I saw they were giving out a free year of their famous Companion Pass when you sign up for a Southwest Chase Credit Card, it was a no brainer. Your companion will fly for free ($5.60 for taxes but that isn’t breaking the bank). And you can even change your companion up to 3 times in 1 year if you want to live that single life and have “Southwest Companion Pass holder - Applications Wanted” in your Dating Apps. The Southwest Companion pass in 2018 saved me over $1000 in free travel. I was able to go skiing in Breckenridge, CO and Park City, UT, hiking in Sedona, AZ, Zion National Park, UT, and Valley of Fire State Park, NV, to lounging on pristine beaches in Miami, FL and Tulum, Mexico. Granted, I flew way more times than I would have but I was able to experience so many new places and get great value for my dollar.  

Qantas A380 LAX
Qantas A380 I flew in First Class from LA to Sydney for less than $100

Typically, to qualify for this perk you need 110,000 Southwest Points in a calendar year or have flown 100 one way routes. Since the subject of this post is to maximize your dollar, let me help you stretch that dollar.

They don’t always offer that Companion Pass offer for new card members but keep an eye out for it. Currently they run promotions ranging from 30-60K miles when you sign up for their select credit cards and meet their spending requirement in the first 3 months or so. If you are lucky enough to get a large sign up bonus you can be already halfway there with a click of a button. Southwest lets you earn the rest of your points by booking flights or spending money on your new credit card.

Southwest Airlines Companion Travel
@TheTravelDaughter with her companion... my Drone

When booking your flight and flying Southwest you will earn 2 miles / dollar. But an even better way is to login to your Southwest Profile and search for the Dining/Shopping/Travel portals. You will quickly see that by signing up with Southwest Dining and visiting some of your neighborhood restaurants that you will now earn bonus southwest miles for going to a place you already used to dine. Don’t miss out on those easy bonus miles that could get you closer to that Companion Pass or even a free award flight.  

Southwest Airlines Bonus Miles Shopping Portal
Southwest Airlines Shopping Portal = BONUS MILES!

Want to earn even more miles? Do you online shop? Southwest Shopping Portal lets you take those Nike sneakers you buy and get 2, 4, 6, or even 10x bonus points for every dollar you spend. Check their portal frequently as they often run promotions for higher bonuses periodically. There are hundreds of stores that will let you earn a lot of bonus miles. I have earned a lot of bonus miles on purchases which will ultimately help me secure Companion Pass again.

Southwest Airlines Bonus Miles Travel Portal
Southwest Airline Travel Portal = BONUS MILES

Another big way to earn points is through the Travel portal. Book your boy’s trip to Vegas or your weekend getaway and you could earn 5,10, and even 20,000 bonus points for that hotel stay you were already going to book!  One or two trips could be an easy way for you to secure a free award flight immediately.

Without going into to much detail, all I will say is be smart and have a plan. By utilizing simple strategies I have been able to fly my companion @TheTravelDaughter and I for essentially 50% off. I have also even been able to get a first class flight to Australia from Los Angeles for about $100 and a bunch of miles that I had accrued from daily spending. I essentially got a $20,000+ ticket for $100 and signing up for a credit card. (Note, this wasn’t through Southwest but I will write a post about that later).   

Below are a few questions that will help you understand how to maximize your dollar.

What are you trying to achieve?

Where are you trying to go?

Do you travel solo, friends, couple, family?

Do you live near a major airport?

What Credit Cards do you currently hold?

What are you trying to achieve?

Is money tight? Are you looking to travel as cheap as possible? The cheapest method to travel and explore is by obviously going to places near you. Living in Los Angeles there are hundreds of free places to visit that are truly amazing just from a short car ride. From beaches, to desert, to snow capped mountain ranges, the options are endless. A simple road trip to a National Park or even a neighboring state can be as simple as a tent (or sleeping in your car) and the cost of a full tank of gas. Figure out what works best for you and your budget. You don’t need to be in a 5 Star Hotel to have a great trip. And many times while you are sleeping in your hotel bed you are missing those amazing sunrises early in the morning.

If you are looking to go somewhere further or to go to someplace new and unique whether it is a different climate, a different country, or that next Instagram Hot Spot, you will obviously be flying and spending more money. Spending smartly with the right credit card or loyalty program is crucial.

Where are you trying to go?

Going from LA to Australia is going to be costly. Going from LA to Sedona can be cheaper but yet just as rewarding of an adventure/vacation. Depending on the travel you are looking to do, there are many options to help $ave Dat money (Insert obligatory Philly shoutout to the local rapper Lil’ Dicky). There are many smart ways to help you save money. Getting a Credit Card and accruing points and/or miles for your next trip can help you save on that expensive airfare or even let you go from the tight Economy Seat to a lie flat Business/First Class seat that we all know you will actually enjoy. I always wanted to go to Australia but a 15+ hour flight in an economy seat is something I couldn’t do nor would never spend money to do.  Spending over $5,000 on a plane ticket for a lie flat seat also wasn’t feasible. A flight from LAX to my hometown PHL is already my nightmare. If I can barely handle a 5 hour flight across the country I definitely couldn’t make it across the Pacific Ocean. I am 6’3 which is tall but how do really tall people travel? Props to those people! But when I use my savvy travel techniques I was able to secure a FIRST CLASS flight to Australia and I was able to go on the trip of a lifetime buy simply signing up for a credit card and purchasing my normal expense on my single account.

Unfortunately I didn’t have this blog in time so my usual companion @TheTravelDaughter wasn’t able to experience the flight of a lifetime. I also wasn’t using Southwest but rather Alaska Airlines and their Partner Airlines for this amazing trip. It was hard drinking champagne and lying in a bed over the Pacific Ocean knowing the guilt I was going to get when we landed down under. Luckily, she is a trooper and now knows how to travel like ME! (For the record, before I get yelled at, I was booking this as a solo trip before I even met her! Chivalry isn’t dead. I gave her my first class seat on some of the flights in Australia.)

First Class Qantas A380
First Class on Qantas A380

Who are you traveling with?

If you have never traveled Solo I recommend doing it at least once. It isn’t for everyone but doing things you want to do and not having anyone argue or irritate you can be very rewarding. I went on my first trip to Oahu in 2018 as my first Solo Trip. This was my first trip with my new camera and it was an adventure I will never forget. It is a great way to do what you want to do and when. It is also a great way to meet new people.

If you are travelling as a couple or a family then the costs of a trip can skyrocket. There are many ways to save money by using select Credit Cards or using Loyalty Programs to help ease the cost and get that trip of a lifetime back into a manageable budget.

Do you live near a major airport?

Growing up and living in major cities all of my life I have had the luxury of being able to find a plethora of flights and options. For those who live in smaller towns and cities it is even more important to spend wisely and have a plan to help with your travel budget.

If you live in Boise, Idaho or have ever tried to book a trip there you will know that there are not many options. The only major airline that flies there direct is Alaska Airlines with a bunch of other airline options being regional jets of small companies or sister companies of the major conglomerates. In this instance, an Alaska Airlines credit card is essentially the only airline credit card that I would recommend. The other option would be a credit card like Chase or American Express that lets you accrue points in their own system to book flights through them or even transfer points to other loyalty programs to help you get those award flights.

Best Travel Credit Cards
My Essential Travel Credit Cards

What Cards do you currently have?

This is the last but one of the most important questions to help stretch that dollar.  I do not recommend opening a lot of credit cards. Having multiple credit cards are great as you can earn points/miles at better rates with certain credit card programs. But remember, you are spending money on multiple credit cards instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket. Having 10,000 miles on 5 different airline loyalty programs is much worse than having 50,000 miles with one airline and getting you that long flight or upgrade you have been so desiring.

Sometimes when travelling on a budget using travel websites to find the cheapest fare is the only way to travel but spending a few extra bucks to stay with one airline could essentially help you more than you know down the road. Spending an extra 60 bucks on a flight from New York to LA let me earn an extra 10,000 miles instead of flying an airline that was cheaper and get miles that will expire in a year. It pays to be smart with your money but sometimes not being smart and spending a few extra bucks will pay off even more.

Hotel/ Airline Loyalty Programs:

The same principle goes with hotels and rental cars. Travelers so often go for the cheapest price. As you accrue and bank points/miles in a companies’ loyalty program, you will soon realize that paying a little extra sometimes outweighs the opportunities to save a few dollars. Granted, travelling is very expensive. And sometimes the only solution is to save money as you go. But be smart. Building a brand loyalty with airlines, hotels, rental cars, etc. can help you save money in the long run! By sticking with one rental car company that isn’t always offering the best price allowed me to accrue points faster and get those free daily rental promotions which ended up saving me a lot of money on my next trip.