It has been such a surprise to hear how many people connect with this blog because they too do/desire full time travel. Soon, we’ll have our site launched where you can keep track of every single expense that we make and learn from the deals we pursue.
People have well learned how to rack up a million miles, which could easily get two people to 6 continents around the world (it could be done for under 160,000 miles). And when people think about a year of travel, they worry about the hotel stays.
But at the very least, you could spend a year living out of 5 star hotels for $9,125. You could even simply do this by buying points, but we live out of 5 star hotels for less than that. How much is your rent/mortgage?
I had to rewrite this post to say less about the philosphy and more about the deals. I think it’s a better read this way, but I really think the mind set has to change. You have to change the thinking regarding two things; promotions and redemptions.
Promotions: Many people didn’t get in on the Radisson promos of 50,000 points for one stay because they didn’t want to pay for that one stay. We personally went all out. The first time they announced it we were passing through the Niagara Falls area and stopped at the Radisson. But while in the hotel I did my reading and realized how good the deal was. So we walked right back down to the lobby to check into a room in Caroline’s name as well.
Redemptions: Similarly, we have to shut out the idea you hear in this community that you have to redeem for the nicest hotel ever. Instead of redeeming for a 50,000 point stay like the Radisson Blu Chicago (which is like $250 a night) we get 4 stays at a 9,000 point hotel (worth $100 a night).
So combine them. Also look for ways to maximize more. Like IHG puts hotels on sale for 50%. With Club Carlson (Radisson) you can get a free night per stay/redemption if you have the credit card. For our double-paying at Niagra Falls we got over 110,000 points.
What did that get us? This month we spent 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Budapest for a total of 18,000 points. We also spent 6 nights at the Radisson Blu Salzburg for 84,000 points. We also spent 9,000 points for two nights at the Park Inn Bratislava. For those two rooms in Canada for about $200, we got 12 nights in Europe later. Worth it?
The only other important thing I’ll say is, being flexible can save a lot of money and a lot of points. If you’re willing to chase deals, you can do this for nearly any price.
This stuff is always changing. Club Carlson (Radisson) ran their 50,000 point bonus twice in less than a year… and now it’s been over a year since they last ran it.
That doesn’t bother me though because there’s always a good deal around the corner. And some of the best are not popularized or are relatively unknown. Club Carlson was something I never had any part of until their first big promotion.
- Consider getting the Club Carlson credit card and staying two night stays like mentioned in the Best Use of Club Carlson Points and How To Book Back to Back Free Club Carlson Nights.
- Consider chasing the big promos. Run the math with ideal redemptions in mind.
- When chasing the big promos look at Club Carlson’s 2-for-1 rate and 4-for-2 rate (talked about here) and other ways to maximize the stay. Club Carlson has plenty.
- Consider staying at Category 1 hotels like the Radisson Blu Budapest
- Consider completing this Big Win promotion. I’ve given tips in the newsletter on how to secure a good targeted offer.
- Read the post on Earning IHG Rewards points on Steroids! Really. If you can combine promotions you can have a profitable relationship with IHG.
- Redeem for PointBreaks hotels. It’s a list of hotels that can be redeemed for 5,000 points. The best promo ever.
Listen, the list comes every two months. Don’t jump on a Holiday Inn 5 miles outside of a boring town because it’s a good deal. I wait for InterContinental hotels and nice CrownePlazas. I want to be downtown and in an awesome location.
- Don’t just book one night PointBreaks. If the InterContinental Fiji comes up again, I’m not just booking two nights. I’m booking two weeks. We booked 8 last time and we were under time constraints (rare). But it would be silly to book two nights and then go find a hotel to pay for for the other nights. 1) You’ll pay more money in the end and 2) IC hotels are nice.
- Also the credit card gives 10% of your IHG points back… I’ve spent 600,000 points this year, that’s a bonus of 60,000 points.
I just can’t stress the PointBreaks deal enough.
Think about it!
Let’s say you haven’t figured out the earning thing as well as others; in that case there are sales on points. There was a 100% bonus sale on IHG and there was the DailyGetaways sale (dead now) and there will be something else in the next year I assume. During those times you can buy 5,000 points for about $28.
Actually, I think of it as 4,500 points for about $25, as I get a 10% rebate with the card.
Let’s just say that next time there’s a sale you buy a boat load of points. And then every time a PointBreaks list came out, you booked those two months full of the InterContinental hotels (and Crowne Plazas). Maybe on two different Continents, so you buy two flights every two months with miles. Who cares about that part, you get the idea.
Listen, the point is, that you live in InterContinental hotels for about 4,500 points a night. Freaking year round. At $25 a night, guess how much that would cost?
$9,125, to live in 5 star hotels year round. That’s way cheaper than what my yearly expense towards rent was! No utilities either! Heck, for me it includes food sometimes. (Just came back from the lounge (IC Kiev (on PointBreaks (17 nights)))).
It could be that easy.
And here is the kicker, I earn at a much better rate than $25 for 4,500 by paying for a hotel. Trust me! So I earn stays more cheaply by staying.
I’ve said that IHG doesn’t have the best status system, but they more than make up for it on the generosity of their sales. See the best use of IHG Rewards points; I also mention that they have sales on points other than PointBreaks. No other hotel chain has adopted such generous sales on award stays.
- How much can I really say about finding these suckers? Hopefully you got the Newsletter on it or have your own system or are connected enough to twitter and such.
- When you see a mistake fare: book now, cancel later. Ask questions later. If it’s cancelable book. Unless the mistake fare is in Detroit. But if it’s someplace in which you might be interested, book then decide. After all, it might not be around long.
- Again, don’t book one day. You’ll kick yourself if you could have been in the St. Regis longer but you only booked 1 night. Sometimes I book in one week blocks. And if it’s boring or I find something else later, I’ll cancel one of the blocks and I won’t have to bother adjusting it.
- Also, you earn points from this process.
Best Rate Guarantees?
Since I talk about BRGs a lot, people wonder how much I use them, and it’s not all that often. We’ve only done 4 in the last two months.
But it’s super helpful in two scenarios:
Expensive cities where the points and cash options are both not that great. We stayed at the IC Vienna last week and it was wonderful as hotels downtown were expensive.
Cities you get routed through for short trips. What I mean is, we normally chase deals or let the wind take us. But sometimes, following the wind takes us through expensive cities or cities with less options. For example our flight to Greece was on Air Berlin and we had a long layover in Dusseldorf, which I wanted, but didn’t have many good options for.
I wasn’t going to shell out the points and I wasn’t going to pay for a hotel downtown… rather I didn’t want to. And I wasn’t going to use my Club Carlson points when it’s a one night stay, as I get more value on two night stays. Lo and behold, the week before, the IC Dusseldorf blessed me with a free night.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret… See the Greatest List of Hotel Best Rate Guarantees? Well, Choice and IHG give free nights but it’s limited on how often. The other big options are the “Online Travel Agencies”… like the second from the bottom (which doesn’t take the $50 coupon back when you cancel).
And you might want to read up on the Best Western Best Rate Guarantee.
Anyways, that list of BRGs has more options than you think.
Reality is, it’s always changing
We might be rocking Club Carlson this little bit, but ultimately, if they don’t come out with more good promos, that well is dry! And we’ll move on.
Sometimes the golden freebies are with the unknowns. This isn’t evident on our page yet, but I’m sure it will show. The thing about the smaller programs is that it’s generally not as scalable. Choice hotels might offer two promos that align and give me honest to goodness free nights… but then I have like two. Two free nights out of 365 needed isn’t much. But I take what I can get.
If you want to stay on top of promotions, check in on Loyalty Lobby. It’s a great blog that mostly talks about hotel loyalty programs. It’s at least a great way to keep on top of the popular loyalty programs and to think about how to combine promos.
Status –> Lounge Access
People think I’m against status, but heck no, if it’s free I love it (I just think it’s a red herring, a trick into loyalty). The truth is, I don’t really care about suites (although this room is awesome), I care about free food. I care about lowering cost and status can do that.
Hilton Gold & Diamond, Marriott Platinum, Hyatt Diamond, Accor Privileged, SPG and Platinum all come with lounge access. And they all (except Accor) also come with breakfast (As well as Marriott Gold). Sadly, IHG guarantees only a reason to consider other chains.
Of course not all of these statuses are really easy to get and some are impossible (meaning you actually have to pay for stays, and a lot of them). Unfortunately the Marriott Challenge is currently down. They made it sound like a temporary thing, but who knows.
The goal for me is free food. Of course in Asia, the lounge is just a luxury, not a huge cost saver.
If you haven’t read it… you’re probably missing out on something.
And status is an extra boost in earning points as well.
No lie, this is new to me but people need housesitters and Caroline has a friend who does this with her full time traveling family of 6! For sure a house would be better in that scenario. You would need 6 hotel rooms otherwise. And the kids aren’t old enough for credit cards.
If you ask anyone who has done this, creating your profile is the most important part. When the websites brag about their success rates, it will say “Of people that have a full profile…”, (or something similar), “… xx% have found house sitting gigs.” A full profile means pictures and even character references.
And by far, Trusted House Sitters is the most popular, most reliable and most expensive. For one year it’s $79. But Dr. Google was kind enough to show me a working promo code to save 25%:
We found “hscouple” and “retireearly” both actively giving 25% off.
I recommend browsing the sites above and getting a gist for availability in your destinations, options, timing, etc… And perhaps you can go ahead and plan out a big trip. If you see a desirable destination, this could be worth a trip alone.
Personally, we would love to do this to spend a month in the Rockies next summer. But we’ll see. I wouldn’t mind just about anywhere in Austria either. Although some places seem to be competitive and you’ve got to line it up early. So this is not like booking a hotel, this is for flexible people, in my opinion. Instead of saying where and what dates you want, you are told where and what dates.
Think about how quickly that $50 membership fee could be made back. On a single night really. Imagine the monthly value. If the place is right, this is something we’ll for sure try.
Other not travel hacking strategies
I am a fan of CouchSurfing, I love meeting and hosting people… but I’m not a fan as a long term traveler. If you’re spending a year on people’s couches that makes you an official bum. That being said, as a married couple we have done two CouchSurfing stays and they were both on islands with too few options for budget hotels.
Both were amazing stays with great people. Our last CouchSurf was on the island Zakynthos and it was an experience beyond words. I will eventually get a post up about the experience. Authentic and amazing.
Staying with friends and family
Ultimately the reason I don’t like relying heavily on CouchSurfing is the same reason I don’t like relying too heavily on staying with friends, and friends of friends… I don’t like feeling like a bum, a drain on someone else’s space, privacy and income. Paying for groceries and what not helps.
Having said that, we’ve had some amazing experiences because we have been able to stay with people instead of Hyatts. It’s much more authentic. Recently we stayed with a couple in the alps of Germany and we went hiking and rafting and it was awesome. And in China we stayed with great friends, Colonel and Kelly. We spent two weeks with them! And I only hope to do it again.
However, more time with family is a huge perk of full time travel for us. Although I haven’t been out to my parents in… too long (sorry Mom!), when we do make visits home, we’ll spend a month I bet. It’s awesome. Better than seeing them for 3 days over Thanksgiving. Then again… I hear some of you are traveling to avoid family over Thanksgiving. :-p
Where to travel
Maybe this is a philosophy thing but I feel as though the tricks are meant to be pulled out at expensive places. And in general Europe and the US are places to burn points. And in general, Asia is a place to earn points.
Or heck, for $20 a night you could find a nice little hotel on the beach with better internet than 90% of Europe (unless it’s farflung or an island). And seriously in Thailand, two people could have a massage everyday, three very full meals (with Thai tea) and a decent room all for $40/day. Or even much less, depending on your standards of “decent”. :-p