The Galapagos Islands are a set of about 20 volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador in South America. Their unique landscape and abundance of rare plants and exotic wildlife make it a dreamy destination for any nature or wildlife enthusiast.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Of the over 20 islands, only 3 are inhabited. Two of these islands (Baltra and San Cristobal) are served with major airports that connect you to mainland Ecuador with 2-6 flights per day. Tickets can be as low as $150 round-trip from the two international airports in Ecuador: Quito and Guayaquil. To save money on flights to the Galapagos, check out this post.
IS IT RIGHT FOR ME?
To get the maximum fulfillment in the Galapagos, it is important that you enjoy nature walks, wildlife spotting, and snorkeling/diving. If you are not a water person, you will likely feel left-out on half of the adventure. Keep in mind that the Islands are not exactly a tropical paradise like Bora Bora or Grand Cayman, but do have a unique history and topography. Visiting the Galapagos for 6-12 days is the perfect amount of time.
HOW TO SEE THE ISLANDS:
There are two main ways to see the island: Land Tours and Cruises.
Land tours are basically day trips to different islands while staying overnight in the same hotel on either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz. These itineraries involve trips on various sizes of boats, some of which can be extremely rough on the water. It also doubles your travel time each day, which is certainly less fun after the first day. Land tours tend to cost slightly less than cruises depending on the accommodations you choose, however if you get a good deal on a cruise, they tend to equal out.
The best way to see the various islands is via Cruise. Cruises are not the typical cruise you may think of from Carnival or Royal Caribbean. They are much smaller ships (often with about 8 cabins) that provide an all-inclusive experience. Most cruises include all meals, private cabins, excursions, visits to multiple islands, and a private guide. The range of quality for a ship ranges greatly, as does the price. Although numerous cruise lengths are available, the most common cruises leave from San Cristobal or Santa Cruz for about 5 or 8 day trips. An eight-day cruise will surely give you a complete experience of the islands, but be prepared to bring your wallet.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Unfortunately, visiting the Galapagos is extremely expensive. Assuming you want to do more than sit in a hotel on one of the islands, a week full of excursions in the Galapagos will start at about $2000 per person and can get more expensive from there. Keep in mind, that the only way to visit the more remote islands is via a tour or cruise.
THE BIGGEST TIP TO SAVE MONEY IN THE GALAPAGOS:
Cruises in the Galapagos will discount their prices by 50% closer to departure to sell their unsold rooms. Although this involves some risk for the traveler, the savings could be immense. For example, last year we booked a 5-day cruise on the SeaStar Journey for less than $2,000 per person. The list price of this cruise is over $5,000! Half the people on our cruise had booked it for the listed price, while half of us were able to snag last-minute deals! Thankfully, it didn’t make the trip awkward, but secretly, we were thrilled to not have paid $5,000 for the exact same cruise.
HOW DO I BOOK:
Want to get a deal? Here is what you do:
All in all, we were able to spend 9 days in the Galapagos Islands for a total of $5,600 total. (for 2 people, not including flights). As you can see, that is still a lot of money that could’ve been used for other, much longer trips. So in a nutshell, I would still recommend visiting the Galapagos if you mostly fit the following criteria:
Hawaii is an aspirational vacation for many people. The convenience of being in the United States coupled with the perfect weather and scenic geography is a unique combination that attracts most travelers. However, flights and hotels in Hawaii are not the only expensive part of the vacation. Once in Hawaii, prices for food, tours, and transportation can add on serious costs. Most couples need to save at least $5,000 to vacation in Hawaii for a week. My wife and I recently spent a week in Maui for under $2,000. Here are some tips that helped us save money!
TIP #1: BOOK WAY IN ADVANCE or LAST MINUTE, AND KNOW WHEN THE PRICE IS RIGHT
When looking for the cheapest flights, be flexible in your dates and search dates with the lowest price. From the East Coast or Middle of the Country, fares under $500 round-trip are available if you book way in advance. Sometimes, last minute flights are even cheaper. From the west coast, never pay more than $400 round trip. Tickets can be found even lower than $300. Use google flights to track prices for a few weeks if the prices are high for the dates you want.
TIP #2: IF NOTHING CHEAP IS AVAILABLE, USE MILES
The following airline currencies are the best value for redeeming miles to Hawaii: Air France Flying Blue, Korean SkyPass, British Airways Avios (from the west coast), Alaska MileagePlan and Singapore KrisFlyer. All of these airlines offer round trip tickets to Hawaii from the mainland for 25k--35k miles. Availability is often difficult to find, so you really need to research how to redeem these currencies and which airlines they partner with. As a comparison, Delta, American, and United offer flights to Hawaii for more than 40k round trip.
TIP #3: STAY IN A PLACE WITH A KITCHEN
Unfortunately, dining options in Hawaii are quite expensive. Each meal can cost more than $75/couple. Using groceries stores like Costco and spending time cooking at home can save lots of money in a week. My wife and I asked for a microwave in our hotel room, and only spent $150 all week on breakfast and lunch by eating in our room and packing sandwiches to go. Which brings us to dinner....
TIP #4: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HAPPY HOURS
When eating out, we found amazing happy hour specials on both food and alcohol in nearly every restaurant. Food would be discounted nearly 50% and many drinks were cheaper as well. Beer and wine tends to be much cheaper in Hawaii than cocktails. We spent two meals at Maui Brewing Company and saved over 50% on our bill by ordering pizzas before 5:30pm! Our dinner bill never went up to $75 on any meal using this strategy.
TIP #4: TRAVEL TO THE BIG ISLAND
All of the islands in Hawaii are spectacular, but the big island (also known as Hawai'i) tends to be the cheapest for accommodations. Because the island is more spread out and less congested than Maui or Oahu, prices for Hotels and AirBnB's tend to be cheaper here, as low as $60/night.
TIP #6: USE AUTOSLASH FOR CAR RENTAL
When renting a car, use the company AUTOSLASH! We were able to get a luxury car for a week in Maui for only $270. However, if you want to cut costs even more, avoid renting a car for the days you want to relax by the pool or beach. Car rental companies are available in many tourist areas around the city, not just the airport. Renting a Jeep or Convertible for a few days instead of a week could save you hundreds!
TIP #7: USE INTER-ISLAND FLIGHTS TO BE CREATIVE
When my wife and I were looking for mileage tickets to Hawaii during our spring break in Boston, we couldn't find anything available to Maui since it was vacation week! I ended up searching flights to Lihue airport on the smaller island of Kauai and found an amazingly cheap flight back to the mainland. This allowed us to use our Delta miles, see Kauai for a full day, and take a fun inter-island flight on Hawaiian Airlines. Flexibility is usually the key when traveling during peak times.
TIP #8: THE BEACH, WEATHER, AND WATER IS FREE
The activities and tours available in Hawaii are seductive. From whale watching to snorkeling excursions, each of these activities usually costs more than $100/person and can quickly add to the cost of your trip. Hawaii has so many beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes that can be just as entertaining. Bringing your own snorkeling equipment and snorkeling yourself can give you a similar experience to the expensive tour companies. We snorkeled with turtles and were only 20 feet off-shore in a public area.
TIP #9: VISIT PLANTATIONS AND FARMS
Another great thing to do is visit the local agricultural scene. Coffee plantations, banana farms, and other local businesses often welcome visitors to their properties without any costs. Make sure to stop at local pop-ups by the side of the road for fresh fruit, popsicles, or baked treats. The banana bread at the halfway house to Hana was the best 5 dollars we spent!
TIP #10: SKIP THE RESORT AND FIND AN AIRBNB INLAND
The prices for resorts in Hawaii can be outrageous. The dining options in these establishments can be even more shocking. The savings of staying inland in an AirBnB can be more than 50%. If you rent a car, you can still access the beach almost anywhere within minutes. Using AirBnb can not only save you money on lodging and food, but can give you much for space for a family or even two! Sharing your Hawaii vacation with friends and family and renting one AirBnB can lead to huge savings on your trip! The only good value for staying in a hotel is when you can you your reward points!
People always ask us how we could afford to take a year off and travel the world? Actually, by using some of the strategies below, our money went a lot further than we expected. Full disclosure, Caitlin and I both demand relatively high standards of living, so had we been able to tolerate 10-hour bus rides, sharing rooms with 10 strangers, and eating rice and beans most days, we could've cut our costs even further. Although it is hard to quantify, I think having $15,000 dollars saved per person or $20,000 per couple (including health insurance) can easily give you a year's worth of adventure that you'll never forget! Here is how we saved money throughout this past year:
1. Give up your expenses at home
Plan ahead to make sure you are not on the hook for rent, car payments, student loans, etc. If you own a property, see if renting it out could be a feasible option.
2. Start saving hotel points and airline miles.
We saved over $5,000 dollars on flights and hotels by collecting about 200k airline miles and about 300k hotel points. It may sound daunting to do, but it is totally possible with a handful of credit cards and about a year of planning. Having points saved up increased our budget by over 20%! Make sure to only use your valuable points in cities that tend to be more expensive.
3. Secure health and travel insurance
This was one of our biggest expenses during our year. Even basic government-issued health insurance in the United States costs a few hundred dollars a month. Almost all of them have good coverage for emergencies, so we took a risk with a high deductible, but made sure we were covered for anything really expensive. We also bought travel insurance for emergencies while abroad, which was only a few hundred dollars for the year. Budget: $3000 per person for the year.
4. Volunteer with programs that provide free housing (and sometimes food)
We used WorkAway to volunteer with different organizations for 3 months of our year. This gave us free housing and usually two meals a day. Most volunteer gigs ask for about 4-5 hours of work a day and then you are free to immerse yourself in your local surroundings. We really got to learn about the local culture, while meeting many new people through our volunteer work.
5. Plan to visit countries with a lower cost of living.
In general, we found that Asia, Africa, and Latin America were significantly cheaper to visit than the United States or Europe. By spending most of our time in Central and South America (Costa Rica being the exception, where prices are high), our money went much further. We spent as little as $1000 a month in Mexico and Colombia.
6. Choose Housing Diligently
We tried to use WorkAway in more expensive countries to avoid hotel or AirBnB costs and also stayed in some hostels (in private rooms).. We took advantage of AirBnB discounts for weekly or monthly rentals and used our points to splurge on any nicer hotels we wanted. Choosing lodging that includes a kitchen and/or free breakfast (and sometimes laundry!) was really important for our budget. Lastly, taking a year off also allowed us to see most of our friends and family around the world. Having gracious people to host us saved us over 50 nights of hotel costs while allowing us to spend time with people we cared about.
7. Cook more and eat out less
Groceries in many countries can be really affordable. By cooking most of your meals, you can save $100 a week, which can really start to add up!
8. Plan your destinations and flights in advance
This is the biggest challenge of a year of travel: Planning in advance can really save you money, but gives you less flexibility if you want to change your plans. By buying all of our tickets at least three weeks in advance, we were able to get good prices on our flights. We even bought some international tickets months in advance when we found a good deal. Having an outline of the countries you want to visit in advance can help dictate when to use miles and when to buy a ticket using your hard earned money!
Basic Benefits of an Airport Lounge:
Airport lounges are a fantastic way to escape the hustle and chaos in most major airports. But even more impressive is how much money you can save on food and drinks by utilizing the lounge instead of purchasing food in the terminal. The better lounges also have showers, children’s play areas, and computers, while the top notch ones will even have their own spa and salon services. This past year I was able to save at least $500 by visiting over 20 lounges. At the airport, most people spend between $15-25 on a meal. If you multiply that by 2 (if you are traveling with a companion) and add free alcohol, then a trip to the lounge can easily save you $30 for each visit. However, keep in mind that all lounges are not created equal. I have visited lounges in very small airports (like Zanzibar) that have very limited food selection and basic drinks. Mostly, they offer a quieter place to relax, with nice chairs, wifi, and air conditioning. (all important things in Africa). Other luxurious lounges (like the Centurion Lounges) offer restaurant quality menus with top-shelf alcohol, free 15 minute massages, and amazing views of the airport.
How to Access the Lounge:
There are three main ways to gain access to a lounge:
Tips About Lounge Access:
For most people, the AMEX Platinum Personal or Business Card will give them access to the most lounges (over 1,200) including:
All Priority Pass Lounges
Delta Sky Club (without a guest) when traveling on Delta Airlines
Select Lufthansa Lounges in Germany
Plaza Premium Lounges
AMEX International Lounges
The card comes with an annual fee of $550--$595 but also includes many more benefits! Contact me if you have any questions about signing up for this amazing card!
My Top 5 Favorite Lounges: (from the one's I've visited)
5. GVK Business/First Class Lounge, Mumbai
Free 15 min. foot massages and a huge buffet
4. SALA VIP International, Quito
Great food, spacious, and beautiful outdoor space
3. Centurion Lounges, Dallas-Fort Worth
Amazing food, free 15 min. back massage, and top shelf alcohol
2. Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge, (old) Istanbul Airport
They had 100 fresh roses in the bathroom and a fresh ravioli station
1. The Pier, First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
Best decor and atmosphere
Delta Sky Club in Seattle, Oman Air Lounge in Bangkok, and American Flagship Lounge in Chicago
Hotel chains such as Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Wyndham, and Radisson reward loyal members through their rewards programs. Each program has different tiers of status depending on how many nights you stay. Here are some of the benefits for having hotel status:
Upgraded Rooms (Always ask the front desk about available upgrades based on your status)
Early Check-In and Late Check-Out (Always call ahead for early check-in and ask for late-checkout when you arrive at the hotel. For some hotel brands, this perk is “guaranteed”)
Free Breakfast (A huge money saver!)
Lounge/Club Access (often comes with free breakfast, alcoholic drinks, and hors d'oeuvres)
Waived Resort Fees (Hyatt, Hilton, and Wyndham are the best for this…)
Welcome Gifts (Often a snack, chocolates, or even champagne)
Extra Bonus Points
Free High Speed Internet
Guaranteed Room Preferences/Availability (critical when you book during a peak time or are in a bind)
Dedicated Phone Lines for Customer Service
How do you get status for free:
Aside from staying numerous nights each year with one brand, there are a handful of credit cards that offer free status just for having the card. Click here for an article about cards that offer hotel status for free!
Take the next step: Match your status to other brands:
I recently matched my platinum status with Marriott to Wyndham Diamond, IHG Spire, Caesars Diamond, and a free trial with Hilton Diamond. This has enabled me to enjoy many of the perks listed above even without any previous stays! Usually, this takes a simple email to the hotel brand with a screenshot of your status with a competing brand. Within a few days, hotels will often match your status with their brand in hopes that you will shift your loyalty. At worse, they will offer you a status challenge, giving you an opportunity to earn status with the company after only a few stays. Keep in mind, that the one brand that rarely allows a status match is Hyatt. For more details on how you can match your status, go to www.statusmatcher.com
How I put my status to the most amazing use:
My platinum status with Marriott came in really handy this summer at the Domes Miramare Resort in Corfu, Greece. I booked this luxury resort using only 35,000 points for the first night and my "free award night" from my Marriott credit card for the second night. Lastly, I applied my "Suite Upgrade" (earned through my Platinum Status) for both nights. Five days before arrival, the hotel upgraded me to a water-front pavilion suite with a private pool. The room had a retractable roof, heated towel racks, and a personal cell phone to call my concierge at any time! In addition, the room also came with access to the Haute Living Room, a beautiful water-front lounge with complimentary alcohol, snacks, and free local food tastings. In addition to these perks, my platinum status got me free breakfast each day (a 50 dollar/day value), early check-in, a welcome gift of fruit and champagne, and a farewell bottle of local olive oil! I saved over $2,000 on the room rate for two nights and even got most of my meals for free during my stay thanks to the lounge and breakfast perk! My total bill at the end of the two nights was only $121 (which included a fancy tasting-menu dinner). Check out a few photos of my room below!
1. Each country has its own requirements for driving permits and insurance: For example, Italy requires visitors with a U.S. license to hold an International Driving Permit. You can get one at your local AAA office for about $30. Costa Rica requires drivers to buy liability insurance, and there isn’t a way to wiggle out of it! Do your research before traveling abroad!
2. Always take photos of prior damage, mileage, and fuel level at the start AND end of the rental. Take the extra two minutes to do this, it is worth the trouble if you get into a sticky situation.
3. Signup for each company’s rewards program. Even if you only rent occasionally, being enrolled will often allow you to skip the line (a huge time saving!), get upgrades, waiver second-driver fees, and choose whatever car you want in your category.
4. Know the difference between primary and secondary car rental insurance. Many credit cards come with car rental insurance, so you can reject the expensive insurance companies try to sell you. However, secondary coverage only kicks in after a claim first goes through your own car insurance company. Avoid any hikes in your insurance rates at home by paying with a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which provides primary coverage. Also note that credit card insurance does not cover liability.
5. Never fill up gas right next to an airport. It will always be more expensive. Find a place about 10-20 miles away from your final destination to fill up gas before returning your vehicle.
6. How do you get free upgrades? Besides being very nice to the agent at the counter, certain credit cards give you free status with many of the major car rental programs. For example, the AMEX Platinum gives me Executive Status with National, where I can automatically select any car in the Executive area (usually a double upgrade from whatever I rent). The United Club Card offers free President's Circle status from Hertz! Last month in Michigan, I used this status when I rented a Toyota Corolla, and picked up the Jaguar XE from the PC area.
7. Take whatever status you earn with one company and match it to others! I took my Executive status with National and matched it with companies like Avis and Sixt. Then I saw a promotion online to match those statuses with Hertz President’s Circle! I have used my status with Hertz over 10 times to get amazing upgrades without paying a cent extra! Check out statusmatcher.com to see which companies will match to each other.
8. Negotiate your upgrade! Often, agents will try to upsell you into something nicer or faster! Make sure you negotiate the rate to get the best deal possible. I have used this tip many times when upgrading to a convertible.
9. Use your credit cards, AAA, or Costco memberships to get huge discounts on car rentals. Each car rental company is usually affiliated with one of them....
10. Use Autoslash.com for 90% of your car rentals (maybe not for exotics…). You won’t regret it and will get the best price!
All-Inclusive Resort vs. Taking a Cruise:
Travelers looking for relaxing, hassle-free vacations often look to Cruise Ships or All-Inclusive Resorts for a week in paradise. Many enjoy the unlimited food and alcohol, while others want a vacation that requires little research or choice during the trip. However, when comparing these two experiences, there are important differences to consider the right fit for you and your family. In this write-up, I will be focusing on one region of the world: the Caribbean Islands and Mexico, since that’s where the majority of All-Inclusive Resorts exist. Here are some things to consider:
ADVANTAGES OF A 7 DAY CRUISE
You get to see 3-4 different countries or islands, adding a bit of variety to the trip
You can find quieter spots on the boat including libraries if you don’t want to party
Some cruise ships cater specifically to certain age groups, which can be great for children or seniors
Cruises can have casinos, Vegas-style shows, mini-golf, water slides and other extensive entertainment
Usually the service from staff is very personal and customized
Sometimes you can score incredible deals on cruises during non-peak times
Restaurants are extremely good at catering to all dietary needs
ADVANTAGES OF AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
The rooms and bathrooms are much larger than a cruise ship.
You usually have access to the beach just steps away from your room
You can stay at an adult-only resort. (there are adult-only cruise options, but they are extremely expensive or usually not found in this part of the world)
Resorts tend to feel less crowded and more spread out
You can eat dinner whenever you want rather than at an assigned time. You also don’t have to sit with strangers like you often do on cruises
The price you pay covers just about everything, except spa treatments or water sports
You can stay in one place the whole time rather than having to exit the ship every day or two.
THINGS IN COMMON
Plenty of dining options ranging from buffets and formal dining options.
Good gym and spa facilities
Each offers the convenience of having everything you want within a 10 minute walk.
A week at a 4-star All-Inclusive in Cancun for two people starts as low as $1500 for the week!
A 7 night cruise to the Caribbean Islands from Miami starts at $1000 per week for two people. (Remember that alcohol, fine dining, and excursions are optional, but will be extra!)
1. Which countries are the best for safari?
When people usually think of an African Safari, they want to see the big 5: Rhinos, Elephants, Lions, Leopards, and Buffalo. The prime countries to view these animals are Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa. All three countries have a booming tourism industry and numerous safari companies to choose from. However, other countries such as Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana also offer unique safari’s often at a much cheaper price. There are also other exotic animals such as great white sharks, rare bird species, and Gorillas that may dictate the country you choose.
2. How to get there?
There are only three direct flights from the United States to the southern part of Africa: two to Johannesburg and one to Nairobi. A fourth flight to Cape Town from Newark is coming soon. Prices to these airports rarely drop below $1100 per person during peak season. If saving money is your objective, it is possible to fly to Africa for under $700 during off-peak season. Another trick is to use points to fly into Western Africa (Lagos and Accra) direct from the United States and then connect on an African airline to nations in the southern part of Africa. Lastly, there are many 1 or 2 stop flights from the U.S. that connect in Europe or the Middle East. Remember to book as far in advance as possible to get the best deal. I have seen deals as little at $600 round-trip to Africa!
3. How far in advance to book?
Booking a safari about a year in advance is not only ideal, but critical during high seasons such as Christmas time and during the Great Migration (around July/August). Although most companies won’t sell out 12 months in advance, the lodges and camps (where you sleep during your safari) often will. The later you book, the less choices you will have for accommodations as the best ones will be sold out.
4. How much does it cost?
Budgeting for an African Safari can definitely seem daunting. In general, an 8-10 day safari can range from $2000--$5000 per person depending on the type of accommodations you want. These include all meals and water, lodging, jeep use, and the safari itself with a guide. Tour prices do NOT include flights to Africa, gratuity for your driver (a few hundred dollars), Visa costs, laundry, and travel insurance. If you are willing to camp, you can certainly can fit in an entire trip to Africa for under $3000!
5. Finding the right itinerary and tour company:
Safari companies in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa are extremely competitive. They usually strive for perfection given that their clients have high expectations for their once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Start by finding companies on Trip Advisor that have at least 4.5 star ratings. Then go to about 10 of those company’s websites, before emailing your favorite 5-6 with an inquiry. You should hear back within 24 hours regarding your request as they usually communicate very professionally. See who gives you the maximum flexibility and the best price and know that you will rarely be disappointed. We ended up using Easy Travel Co. (after about 50 emails working on the perfect itinerary!) and absolutely loved our 10 day safari in Tanzania.
6. Other tips to keep in mind:
Many travel enthusiasts keep multiple credit cards in their wallet to maximize their point earning potential. I currently have 12 cards in my wallet with each card serving a different purpose. Although the annual fees may seem excessive, these cards have earned me over $30,000 in free travel over the past 5 years! Here is a list of all 12 cards in my wallet and when I actually use them. (hint: sometimes I don't....).
P.S. My credit score is above 800, so having that many cards doesn't have to hurt your credit score!
American Express Personal Platinum Card
Signup Bonus I got: 100k AMEX Membership Reward Points
When I use it: Airfare (5x points), Car rentals (when I rent an expensive car)
Annual Fee: $550
Main Perks: Priority Pass Lounge Access, Delta SkyClub Access, $200 airline credit, Free TSA PreCheck/Global Entry, $100 at Saks Fifth Avenue, International Business Class Discounts, Hilton Gold Status, Marriott Gold Status
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Signup Bonus I got: 60k Ultimate Reward Points
When I use it: Restaurants, Hotels, Car Rentals, and other Misc. Travel
Annual Fee: $450
Main Perks: Priority Pass Lounge Access, $300 travel credit, Primary Car Rental Insurance, Redeem each point for 1.5 cents of travel.
Marriott Bonvoy Business (formerly SPG Business)
Signup Bonus I got: 105k Marriott Points
When I use it: I don’t
Annual Fee: $125
Main Perks: Free night at any mid-level Marriott property, discounts for some business needs such as advertising, shipping, supplies, etc.
Marriott Bonvoy (formerly SPG Personal)
Signup Bonus I got: 105k Marriott Points
When I use it: I don’t
Annual Fee: $95
Main Perks: Free night at any mid-level Marriott property
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
Signup Bonus I got: 100k Marriott Points
When I use it: I don’t
Annual Fee: $95
Main Perks: Free night at any mid-level Marriott property
Alaska Airlines Personal
Signup Bonus I got: 35k Alaska Airline Miles, plus a buy one, get one free companion ticket
When I use it: For every purchase not mentioned anywhere else. (pharmacies, Costco, Target, Amazon, etc.)
Annual Fee: $75
Main Perks: Free Checked Bag, Buy one, get one ticket for $99 each year
Signup Bonus I got: 60k Southwest Rapid Reward Points
When I use it: Rarely
Annual Fee: $69
Main Perks: 3k points every year
Signup Bonus I got: 60k TrueBlue Miles
When I use it: Grocery Stores (2x points) or JetBlue Flights
Annual Fee: $99
Main Perks: Free check bag, discount on in-flight purchases, 5k bonus points each anniversary
Hyatt Card (old version)
Signup Bonus I got: 30k Hyatt Points
When I use it: I don’t
Annual Fee: $75
Main Perks: Free night at any mid-level Hyatt property each year
Signup Bonus I got: I downgraded my Chase Sapphire Preferred to this card, so none
When I use it: On gas, pharmacies, or groceries depending on the monthly bonus category
Annual Fee: $0
Main Perks: 5x points on bonus categories that change every 3 months. Transfer those points to my Chase Sapphire account to maximum value.
Citi Double Cash Back
Signup Bonus I got: I downgraded my Citi American Aadvantage card to this card, so none
When I use it: I don’t. It’s just to keep my credit score high because it is my oldest card.
Annual Fee: $0
Main Perks: 2% cash on every purchase
Signup Bonus I got: I downgraded my Citi Premier to this card, so none
When I use it: I don’t. It’s just to keep my credit score high because it is my second oldest card.
Annual Fee: $0
Main Perks: Nothing
Avianca LifeMiles is a points currency than can be used on any Star Alliance airline including United, Turkish, Lufthansa, Swiss, ANA, and many more. During Black Friday last week, they were selling LifeMiles for super cheap! 25k miles for 330 dollars, 100k miles for 1320 dollars, etc. Because one of my dream destinations is to go to the Galapagos Islands next year (an amazing group of islands next to Ecuador known for their amazing wildlife), I bought some of these miles to help me get there for cheap! Normally, a round-trip ticket from Boston costs at least 700 dollars. With this promotion, I could fly round trip from Boston to SCY for under 500 dollars! I You need 35k LifeMiles to book the ticket, which during black friday was about $460!
Another amazing way to use LifeMiles is for tickets within Latin America. Some routes cost as little as 3k miles! I purchased Bogota to the Galapagos Islands for only 10k Lifemiles one way and later bought a ticket from Lima to San Jose, CR for only 12k miles!
To top it off, purchasing LifeMiles counts as Airline on your credit card, so I was able to buy 65k miles and also net 4k AMEX points for the purchase (about a 50 dollar value)! You know you're a travel geek, when your entire Black Friday shopping consists of buying Avianca LifeMiles!