Amazingly, we’ve found that it is cheaper to live out of a hotel and see 20 countries or so a year than it is to live in Cville. But since we publish every penny we spend, I’ve been able to see what traditional strategies work and don’t work. Simply put, redeeming points for aspirational hotels is a bad idea for me, contradictory to what the typical advise may be. So this is about what things do work, and what we look for.
Mistake Fares – “duh”
I’ve talked a bit already about how mistake fares are an incredible opportunity not only to travel for sometimes the same price as an award ticket (as you pay taxes) but to also earn miles. The last mistake fare I booked to Oman, I turned around in DC only to fly right back to Kenya. A long way to fly the route, but those flights alone earned us at least a oneway to Europe whenever we want.
No need to sell the idea too much.
Miles are obviously cheaper than paid tickets but the value increases when I realize that I end up mostly only buying oneway tickets. Like I can fly from the Caribbean to Europe for the same price as US to Europe… so why pay for the flight from the Caribbean back to the US first?
It’s crazy how often oneways cost the same amount as a roundtrip. Absurd way to price tickets, in my opinion. But like it or not airlines charge a ton for oneways. In this way, the value of miles increases a lot.
As chasing hotel deals is off and on an important part of our strategy, booking last minute flights without a fee is often important. Airlines like British Airways, or Lufthansa not only allow oneways but don’t charge “close-in fees”.
On the other hand, airlines like AA or United charge $75 for booking within 21 days of travel – this is the “close-in fee”.
Therefore stocking up on miles like BA and LH, or points that transfer to these programs have become pretty important. In my mind, BA is the perfect currency for chasing deals. They don’t charge close-in fees, and have really cheap short haul prices.
Status doesn’t help
Status genuinely doesn’t help in the typical ways people seek status. So it’s not something we chase. Double miles is great if you pay for a ton of flights, but there are seriously cheaper ways to get miles than the selling of your soul to a company.
Grant it, I like airport lounges and other perks, but status doesn’t help save money. Now in rare situations I have been able to work the system to a profitable degree, but this is rare. The way status is set up in general is that you honestly feel like you’re winning, and you’re honestly losing. Unless you’ve got an ace up your sleeve, you’re paying because you like it and not because it saves money.
This is counter intuitive, but using points in expensive places can be a waste of points. However, since we track, publish, and anaylze our expenses publicly, I’ve learned a lot about saving money on travel. Most recently, I realized that higher priced points redemptions were causing me to spend more money on hotels, and low category redemptions were bringing down my average cost of a hotel.
Think about a hypothetical in a city like New York with me for a minute.
When I use 50,000 points on one night at a hotel like the InterContinental New York I don’t have any points to use on cheaper points hotels. So later when I’m in a place like Krakow I end up spending $100 a night for what could have been 4 or 5 nights.
But let’s say I forked up $250 (I’m giving a high number as I’ve spent $100 for decent hotel in NYC) I save 50,000 points and earn points. Earning points with the Big Win promotions has led to hundreds of thousands of points. I estimated at one point that I was probably earning 30,000 points a night. But let’s just ignore the earning, (despite it being huge), and say I just saved 50,000 points.
Then when I go to Krakow I don’t pay $100+ a night and use points.
Okay, this was just a what if scenario, but it seems to be true for me. And for most people it’s probably not as true because they have enough points to cover both the hotel in NYC and the hotel in Krakow. But for me I have seemingly an infinite amount of hotel stays ahead of me and a limited resource of points.
I get tired of moving around all the time but am so driven by the deal that we hop around hotels even when we’re in one town. In 10 nights in Budapest we switched hotels every other day.
Things like BRGs are great for saving money and a tiring amount of effort on both ends.
So I think saving points for longer lower category stays and spending cash when there isn’t a good option will save me money in the end and prevent me from burning out.
I’m trying to watch out for other deals for longer stays as well. Here’s what I currently do:
- Mistake Fares
- Low category award nights
- General deals – like the Orbits deal ($100 off any stay) Expedia’s version, and others.
Other things I’m considering in the future:
- House sitting
I’m not a fan of planning ahead, or feeling responsible for other people’s stuff, but I’m a fan of saving money. So if you have other suggestions on strategies to get long stays for cheap, feel free to share them.
Much like mistake fares, not only does a good promotion keep me from spending points, it earns me a ton of points. And with this method alone we’ve been able to bring our average night down to $30. Because, while we pay over $100 a night in cash for the average paid night, we end up earning a ton of points from the intentional paid stays we do.
If there is a good promotion and you stay in hotels a lot anyways, consider combining a few of the things I’m talking about. Get your paid stay in when the earnings are huge. I figure I’ll pay for nights once I’m out of hotel points anyways, so might as well stay ahead of the game. It helps if you keep track of your uses of points and cash on hotels.
Go where we want to go
I don’t have to go where I don’t want to go. Mistake fares to the middle of nowhere, or places I’ve been and didn’t love (England) aren’t something I have to do. PointBreaks at the Warsaw airport isn’t something I have to book. For this reason I haven’t booked many PointBreaks hotels in a long time.
Personally, I like seeing new places and places I love. I see no point to go back to a place that I’m not in love with because of a deal. Life is too short. Although right now the focus is mostly on seeing new places.
Work is equally first
I can’t afford to spend more time away from the internet unless it’s my dream destination. The truth is that I have 100 things going on at this point in my life, and anyone who knows me well knows that I spend an unhealthy amount of time working.
This is why we live out of 5 star hotels and not hostels. I mean, you can probably think of a few other reasons 5 star hotels are nicer than hostels, but basically we’re not backpackers.
We’re living in hotels.
If people can understand the fact that the hotel is our home, and not that we’re homeless, it helps. Because if I find out that your rent is high, I don’t suggest living in the hostel of your city… you would look at me like I’m crazy. Same with you if you suggest staying in hostels. I love being cheap, but I also really value work and… ya know having a minute of alone time, and being married.
But I realized recently that you can have a nice hotel room with no comfortable place to work. We stayed at a hotel in Budapest, and I can’t complain since it was free via the Orbitz deal… but man the only place to work was on the bed and that just isn’t a way to spend 18 hours of every 24 hours.
So the more I work the pickier I get in regards to a hotel, and hotel room. Good internet, good work space, and great location. I don’t want to spend 2 hours of my limited free time on the subway.
Mostly the thing that I learned last year, and therefore went all in on, is that hotel promotions are the backbone of basically all travel. I can’t understate how great it’s been for us in terms of saving money, staying in nice hotels, and getting longer stays in.
However, I still crave for even longer stays. We need more time to work before packing up and heading to the next place.
At the end of the day, I don’t need to change anything as I’m happy with the way things are going. But saving money and staying put to work more is never a bad thing.