The goal was to pay all travel of hotels and airline costs, including fees and taxes. Really the goal is to show what costs are inherent for anyone traveling, and thus anyone can travel for free.
- $0 Trip to Latin America: Introduction
- $0 Trip: Booking the Flights
- $0 Trip: Why MS is Boring but Free
- $0 Trip: The Travel Credit Cards
- Highlights of Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala
Does life cost money? Yes, you need food and that has a monetary value that varies. Are there ways to travel without incurring other living expenses? Yes, and that’s what we did. The principal here is dead simple. A few credit cards, to get enough miles for flights, and enough points for hotels.
But to be extra consistent, we made sure we weren’t paying for fuel surcharges and airport taxes. The airlines are apparently willing to advertise free trips, but not all airlines are willing to not pass on fuel surcharges. And a lot of people have had quams with the name “travel is free” stating that fuel surcharges are expensive. And I’ll say it once, and I’ll say it again; we have never paid fuel surcharges. Fuel surcharges are simply optional, you could fly another airline or transfer to a different frequent flyer program and avoid them.
So given that we completely avoid fuel surcharges, we’re left with taxes, which can add up seeing as we booked a flight with a total of 9 connections. Thus, we paid for these charges with the Barclay World Arrival Plus card. The Arrival Plus earns 2 points per dollar, and then you can redeem points for travel expenses. 2,500 points = $25, and there is a $25 minimum, and you get 10% of your points back.
Either way, the entire goal was to get free flights and hotels, and that was easy.
Now flights from the US are few in airport taxes. However, the flight that went from Panama to Colombia, to Costa Rica, to Guatemala for 20,000 United was $121.66 per person.
And even the flight from Guatemala back to the US was $63.
But luckily, the 10% back after redemptions makes it 5,580 points.
The next downer on things that you could no doubt avoid, but still is travel related would be the car rental and taxi.
The car rental was a little more expensive than we had planned or booked. It was supposed to be $9 a day, but since they didn’t include the “mandatory” insurance in the “mandatory fees” listed when booking, it ended up being about $30 a day.
12,400 points for a $123.72 car rental.
First of all, I absolutely kicked myself after I realized that both Panama City and Cali have Uber (given that we have more than $120 in free Uber rides).
However, I was able to charge taxis to the room and pay with Arrival points again. So in Costa Rica we did a car rental, but in Panama City, Cali and Guatemala City, we charged cars to the room.
But I noticed a problem. 3 cars charged to the room, but look:
Only two InterContinentals on the list of “travel expenses” to get reimbursed. When another hotel was on the bill:
What I’m noticing is that IHG hotels aren’t coded as travel, but as pretty much anything else. The Miramar (Panama) is apparently a food expense. Which is a problem only because “travel” is the only expense that gets reimbursed 1 point to 1 cent.
So I called, I believe for both Panama and Cali and nothing came up automatically and I had to call. However, the Panama one still hasn’t shown up. So I’ll call again and then update the screenshots when all the taxis are taken care of.
Also, random fact, I only seemed to have gotten charged for one taxi ride in Panama City. And some food was charged to the room at various times.
Total Travel Expenses
Totals (after 10% rebate)
- Airfare = 35,500 Barclay points
- Car rental = 11,160 Barclay points
- Hotel taxis = 10,400 Barclay points
- 34,000 Lufthansa Miles
- 35,000 AA miles
- 40,000 United miles
- 108,000 IHG points
Price of airfare and hotels in dollars = $00.00
The oddest expense is $50 for yellow fever vaccines that we never got. Other than that, I’ll break it down:
- $91.91 on sight seeing in Costa Rica
- $29.19 on sight seeing in Guatemala
- $360.58 on food
- $11.32 on Misc
All those together are $543.00. What are these expenses specificly? If you must know:
|misc (laundry, toiletries etc) total||11.32|
|Yellow fever cards||$50.08|
|Bus to Antigua:||$2.60|
|Entry to ruins:||$1.30|
|Gas fee for returning with less gas:||$11.63|
6 nights in Panama City, 7 nights in Cali, 4 nights in Costa Rica, 7 nights in Guatemala city = 24 nights total. I guess you could say that we spend $22.63 a day for the two us in non-airline/non-hotel expenses. Mostly food expenses, although when you find cheap places in Central/South America and have lounge access most of the time, it ends up being a reasonable trip in that sense. But, I promised it would be free.
So here’s what I’m going to do this week. I have $543 in expenses left over besides airfare and hotels, and even after using the Barclay card to pay for the car rental and hotel transport. I’m going to take the old version of the Amex Blue I still have, which gives 5% cashback at pharmacy, grocery, and gas, and spend $11,000 in free MS.
$11,000 at 5% will be $550 in cashback.
And that’s that.
I’d love to do the same theme for our next trip to Europe and beyond, however, it’s going to be a lot longer of a trip and I’ll want to pay for hotels for the IHG Into The Nights promo. So not too sure when I’ll do the next trip with this detailed free theme, although I hope its soon.
If you enjoyed this series and would like to see us do more of this with our travels, please let me know.