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