Our Travel Hacked Mediterranean Cruise & Italian Vacation

I enjoy travel hacking and playing the credit card bonus game more than I probably should – scheming ways to maximize the value from my monthly spend is one of my favorite hobbies. So, with all of the time, planning, and scheming that goes into this hobby, what’s the result? If done right, you get to do a lot of cheap traveling – last year we went to Costa Rica for $800/person, Camp Mustache in Seattle, and a holiday weekend in Vegas – all partially paid for with airline miles or other rewards. This year we’re planning a trip to Italy in September, and my goal is to pay for a majority of the trip with credit card rewards. Here’s how it’s shaping up so far:

  • Flight to Rome
    covered by American Airlines miles from credit card bonuses
  • 1 night pre-cruise at the Hilton in Venice
    covered by Hilton Rewards from credit card bonus
  • 7 night Mediterranean cruise
    covered by Chase Ultimate Rewards points (redeemed through the Sapphire Reserve portal for max value) + $300 statement credit + $650 cash
  • 2 nights at the Park Hyatt in Milan
    covered by free nights from Chase Hyatt credit card bonus
  • 2 nights at the Hilton in Florence
    covered by Hilton Rewards from credit card bonus
  • 1 night at a yet-to-be-determined hotel in Rome
    we haven’t booked this yet, but we have plenty of SPG points to find something!
  • Flight back home
    covered by American Airlines miles from credit card bonuses

Of course, I had to pay the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and we had to pay fees when booking reward flights, etc. but for the most part we haven’t spent much to book an amazing trip. On the trip we will need to pay for food, in-country travel (trains, buses, taxis), tours and activities, and other incidentals, but all of the big-ticket items will be taken care of. So far, here are the real out of pocket costs:

  • $450 – credit card annual fee
  • $650 – cruise cost, after rewards points and credit
  • $190 – cruise pre-paid gratuities
  • $80 – airline fees, after rewards points

$685 per person

One of the things I like best about travel hacking is that I know I *have* to spend the points we’ve earned on travel; without the big discount, I am not sure I would ever feel comfortable paying for such a luxurious trip completely out of pocket. For example, I am positive that without the 2 free night vouchers, we would never stay in the luxury five-star Park Hyatt hotel in Milan, but now we get to have that experience, for free!

So, what great trips have you taken or are planning to take, thanks to travel hacking? Also, if you’ve been to Venice, Milan, Florence, or Rome, what attractions are a must-see?

[featured photo courtesy of: Moyan Brenn]

Posted in Musings
  • mrwow

    Good on ya! This is definitely something we need to get better at. We’re racking up points left and right, and eventually we will have to spend them and I’ll look to you guys to help us do just that.

    BTW – we have some friends in Venice that run a food tour. If you’re interested in more info, let us know!

  • Sarah @tortoise_happy

    You’ll get an awesome view of Venice from the church on the opposite island, San Giorgio. A 24 hour water bus ticket is pricey so don’t go for it automatically, you might not get value out of it. We did a cichetti tour (the venetian version of tapas) with a company called urban adventures. It was expensive but we wouldn’t otherwise have had a hope in finding any of the places we called at, and we got recommendations for our other days.

    Climbing to the top of Milan cathedral is impressive, not necessarily for the view, but just for the architectural genius of a building supporting a marble roof. It’s also worth checking out a gorgeous deli shop called Peck.

    Whatever you do in Florence, don’t buy an icecream in the main square. You will blink/ swear/ have a heart attack at the price- 4 times what it is a couple of streets away. My husband has travelled a lot more than me but says the Duomo in Florence is the best building he has climbed- for the building itself and the view. If you want a non-touristy (read: epic) sandwich, go to the food market and point animatedly at what you’d like them to put in it!

    Sounds like an awesome trip- enjoy!

  • UncommonDream

    I spent a month traveling around Italy in 2000. I loved it but haven’t managed to get back there since. My wife and I are in planning mode for another three month trip somewhere next winter and Italy is on our list of potential destinations.

    A cruise seems so luxurious but like you said, the advantage of travel hacking is that it encourages us frugal types to actually travel.

    I’m inspired by your travel hacking prowess and hope to learn more from you about it.

  • Wow, pretty impressive! Saving a few (or more) bucks feels so satisfying…