How to have a vacation for free every year without trying

I want to vacation for free every year without trying.  I have a decision to make.  I have a trip coming up for Thanksgiving, then a trip the week before Christmas where my family and I are flying to St. Thomas for free.  I’ve already planned our group trip with Funky Good Time Travel Club to Panama (#panama2020) for next summer. 

As a travel hacker, I consistently and constantly acquire travel reward points.  I’m not at the level of some of the people I’ve read about who have a million miles saved up.  I don’t do card churning and things like that.  It requires a lot of discipline and time.  But I do acquire points and eventually, I get to the place where I can either pay totally for my flights or even use those points to upgrade my seats.  I like to consider myself a travel expense mitigator (#travelexpensemitigator).  A $500 expense can only take $200 out of your pocket.  That's a win for me.

How to have a vacation for free every year without trying

But back to my decision.  I have been using my Venture card for all of my monthly expenses.  I use the technique of paying my bills with the card and then paying it off at the end of each month as to not accrue interest.  I’ve been doing the sky reward miles game for a couple of years but now I’ve stepped into the arena of hotel reward points by acquiring the Marriott Bonvoy card.  They had an offer of 100K after spending $5k in the first 3 months.  At this point, we’ve been rewarded over 82k miles and now I’m in the process of deciding when and where to travel to next. I’ll soon hit the $5K spend and get the rest of my miles and this will give me more options.

Venture Reward Miles
Venture Reward Miles
Marriott Bonvoy Points

When I came up with the trip to St. Thomas I accrued over 215,000 points with my Venture card.  I know this isn't a million miles, but this is real-world numbers.  I plan to vacation for free every year.  It takes time to accrue miles.  I got the plane tickets for the four of us (The Hodge Family) at no charge.  Those who are familiar with my blog know that there are four of us in the Hodge Family and we travel together.  I decided to use it for our annual “around Christmas trip”.  There are other ways of accruing points by participating in deals other brands may have with your card.  Capital One has a deal with Hotels.com where if you use your Venture card and book at their site set up specifically for this hotels.com/venture you will earn 10x points for your stay.  Last year we used hotels.com to book our stay in Bermuda and earned 30K points, which helped us get to the 215K we are using this year.  I booked our St. Thomas stay on hotels.com and I should be getting around 20K points from that will go towards next year's Christmas trip.

Hotels.com
Hotels.com

Using reward points can either pay for a big trip or at least mitigate some of the costs.  It takes some time to accrue enough points for a massive trip, say, to Tokyo or Australia.  It can take some time to achieve a trip of that magnitude.  Again, remember, I’m not doing card churning.  I’ve decided that the next couple of trips I put together are smaller ones that won’t require 500K points.  I want to do something smaller and for the weekend.  I live in the DMV, the Washington DC Metro area.  (DMV stands for DC, Maryland and Virginia, for those who don’t know.)  There are places here in the U.S., even right here on the east coast I haven’t been before.  We want to go to cities like Atlanta, Boston, possibly back to Miami sometime soon.  With the points I have from Venture and Bonvoy, I am going to put together a trip that will cost me zero dollars. 

Like to see how?  Here we go.

Finding a Flight (be flexible)

So, my first step is to find my flight.  Venture has it’s own site for redeeming your points and booking flights.  But first, I need to figure out when I want to take this trip.  In situations like this, it is good to be flexible to find the best deals.  Also, it’s a bit thrilling.  Like being a riverboat gambler.  Taking chances and throwing caution to the wind. So, first I will go to Skyscanner.com and use the tools they have to find great airfare.

If you are not sure where and when you want to travel, Skyscanner has a great feature.  The map.  You choose a month and it will show you the flight prices for cities all over the world.

The month that is chosen is February and already I see a great price for one of the cities I am interested in: Atlanta.

Skyscanner map
Skyscanner map
Atlanta
Atlanta

Though it says $75 on the map, the best price you can find is $96 flying in on Friday the 7th and staying for 3 nights, meaning you would be flying back home on Monday the 10th.  If you change it to 2 nights the best prices are $112 and flying back on Sunday. 

Also on the map, I see a great price for another city of interest:  New Orleans, the Big Easy.  For two or three nights, the best flight is out on Saturday the 1st for $112. 

Here’s one more interesting choice.  You can fly to Jacksonville, Florida for $99, 3 nights on the 6th which is a Thursday.  This is interesting, too, for 3 nights you would return on Sunday. 

New Orleans
New Orleans

Though it says $75 on the map, the best price you can find is $107 flying in on Friday the 7th and staying for 3 nights, meaning you would be flying back home on Monday the 10th.  If you change it to 2 nights the best prices are $112 and flying back on Sunday. 

Also on the map, I see a great price for another city of interest:  New Orleans, the Big Easy.  For two or three nights, the best flight is out on Saturday the 1st for $112. 

Here’s one more interesting choice.  You can fly to Jacksonville, Florida for $99, 3 nights on the 6th which is a Thursday.  This is interesting, too, for 3 nights you would return on Sunday. 

We’ll focus on the Atlanta flights.

Spirit flights to Atlanta
Spirit flights to Atlanta

Clicking on your choice will bring you to where you can choose your flight and you have options:  Best, Cheap and Fastest.  The third choice tends to be a bit more expensive because the flights are shorter.  But, as you can see, these flights are on Spirit Airlines.  An interesting surprise, there is an even better price of $96 that come up on this screen.

After choosing your price you are taken to a page where you will go off Skyscanner’s site to the website that is offering the price.  But, we’re not going to do this because we are going to use our reward points to pay for the flight.  That’s where Venture’s website comes in.

At the Venture site you have various options to use your reward points, but, we want to book a trip.  Just put in the city you’re traveling to and put in the dates you found at Skyscanner.

The prices at the individual airline’s website tend to be a bit cheaper, but, you can use it as a guideline to find a great price at the Venture site.  We find the price of a round trip flight from Washington, DC to Atlanta and back would be $125 per person.  You would use 12,458 miles and you will pay out $0.  You would get your flight for free. 

Venture site
Venture site
Miles used
Miles used

Now to that, we’ve decided we are going Atlanta, when you are going and how you are getting there, next you have to figure out where you’re going to stay.  That takes us to the Bonvoy website.

Bonvoy
Bonvoy

Choose Redeem points and choose a hotel.

Choose Learn more under Find your escape.

Put in your city and dates. Notice, the flight is overnight on the 7th so you don’t need the hotel until the 8th to the 10th.  That’s just two nights.

The number of points you use per night depends on the hotel category.  They have 8 and obviously the higher the number the more points used because they are nicer hotels.

Keeping in mind we have 82K points, we could stay two nights in a category 3 hotel for 32,500 points.  If you want to go for more luxury you can stay in a category 5 for 62,000. There is a charge of $10 US for taxes and fees (an almost perfect scenario).

Hotel Categories
Hotel Categories
Category 5
Category 5
Category 5 choice
Category 5 choice
Hotel Category 3
Hotel Category 3

We all have bills and we pay them every month.  You can make that work to your benefit.  Traveling is expensive.  I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t want to travel.  There is someplace in the world you would like to go to. 

When you take your stay at the Bonvoy hotel of your choice, you can start the process all over again.  If you use your card during your stay you will earn 6x points for every $1 spent and you get 2x points on every $1 spent wherever.  You can do the same with the Venture card.  2x points for every $1 spent can add up quickly.

Bonvoy points
Bonvoy points

It doesn’t matter if you’re white-collar or blue-collar, this technique can help you, from time to time, escape the #9to5Matrix, no matter how short or long.