The past few years, there has been a lot of talk regarding self care especially in the teacher world and rightfully so. Working in a large school district, I see the teacher mass exodus increasing over time. Awesome teachers that give up from the burn- out or new teachers not able to push through the early years and solidify their roots in a great career. This is a demanding career with a great emotional and mental toll. As teachers, we need to ensure our mental and physical well being so we are well for our students. My way to relax, release, and rejuvenate is by traveling and based on the number of personal days I have left, you better believe I live by the rule that a burnt out teacher is no good to themselves, students, or their families. It also helps that I’ve developed a travel bug and I refuse to wait till summer to travel with thousands of other tourists in the peak of the summer sun so I tend to space out my vacations with the end of quarters and long weekends.
But how do I do it on a teacher’s salary?
That’s it. Travel points that I’ve accumulated from credit card bonuses, matching, day to day spending and rewards programs. I’ll spend time in this blog post telling you how I do it. Enjoy!
Sample Rewards Trip
January 2019, my husband and I along with my eleven- year old son traveled to Maui from Florida. My birthday is close to Martin Luther King Jr. weekend so I typically travel over that long weekend. Normally it’s a Caribbean vacation such as Belize, Bimini, or Jamaica, but this year, we got an offer for a timeshare presentation from Marriott at their newest property in Maui called the Westin Nanea so we made a week’s vacation out of it.
Don’t freak out at the word timeshare, but doing timeshare presentations can be worth your time. For about 90 minutes of your time, you can get a lot of perks. We have done them in Las Vegas, Orlando, and Virginia and each location and company provides some sort of compensation for your time. The 90 minutes have always been worth my time especially considering what we get in return such as free theme park tickets, dinner certificates or even free night stays at hotels. For our Maui trip, we were offered 6 days/ 5 nights plus 6 days AVIS car rental and 15000 Marriott points all for $898 in exchange for less than an hour. The hotel room that normally comes with the package is a one bedroom with full kitchen and living room with pull out sofa non- ocean view room (I was upgraded to a two bedroom ocean-view due to being a Marriott Gold member from the Mariott business card that we have). In other words the $898 is a steal of a deal to be at a hotel on one of the best beaches in Maui plus car rental plus enough points for a free night at another Marriott location. I do get a lot of timeshare offers without knowing why but I am a loyalty member for all the major hotel chains so that is probably how I am marketed. Just remember to say NO! It will be enticing but JUST SAY NO and go relax poolside.
Booking to hotel was the easy part.. Now to the hard part! Finding the best flight deal to Maui. First, to be honest, it was only hard because I hate using up my points. LOL. I love seeing my balance but one thing to remember is EARN and BURN them. Flights to Hawaii have lots of what is called “sweet redemption spots”. This simply means that utilizing transfer partners of the major airlines, you can use less miles to fly there compared to purchasing the flights directly with the major airline. That is a whole other blog post but in a nutshell: British Airways and American Airlines are partners/ members of the same alliance. You can book and fly on American Airlines but pay less buying it on British Airways.
Due to my delay in booking, I lost out on sweet spots. Bummer but I was still able to book most of our flights with points. To get from Fll to LAX, I decided to try out JetBlue Mint, their domestic upper class service, which was phenomenal. We were leaving straight after work and school for a 5 hour flight so I opted to pay cash ( as well as travel voucher I had left with JetBlue from a previously cancelled trip) to be able to travel comfortably cross- country and as always, well worth the experience with them. Then from LAX to Maui, I used Chase Ultimate Reward points earned from using my Chase Sapphire Preferred, my favorite card, to book Hawaiian Airlines. I heard great things about their service AND I could credit my Hawaiian Airline flight to JetBlue for more JetBlue points. Three tickets cost about 13k in points each. To make our way back home, I used 60k points total for three tickets from Maui to Fll connecting through Dallas Fort Worth. On the layover, I was able to enjoy one of the perks of my all-time favorite card, my American Express Platinum. The platinum card gives you access to Centurion Lounges in various airports around the country. We were all able to relax, eat a free meal, and get massages while we waited for our flight home to Fort Lauderdale from Texas.
All together, we used a combination of cash and points. The cash I used was able to garner us more points for a future trip. For example, we used the points earned from our one- way trip to Los Angeles from Fort Lauderdale to purchase four one way trips to Bahamas over Memorial day Weekend for a free stay at Atlantis from matching my Hilton Honors Gold membership to Total Rewards. So all around, a win- win for us and memories for a lifetime.
Sign up with airline and hotel companies’ rewards program. It’s free! While you are at it, check those old accounts that you might have signed up with many moons ago and you might be surprised to have points sitting there. Any little will help. For example, forgot I had Delta miles since they don’t expire. Hoping to top them off to use soon.
Check your 5/24 status. Chase is a biggie in the travel hacking world which means we are bound by their rule that says that you will be automatically denied a new card if you have opened up (or added as an authorized user) more than five cards in the last 24 months. Tip is to log into Credit Karma -which is free- to check how many cards you’ve opened in that time frame. Even if the card is now closed, it still counts if it was opened. Authorized users are an easy fix. Call the creditor and they can remove you which frees up that valuable 5/24 spot.
If you are good to go, my first preference for a card is a Chase Sapphire product. I personally have the Preferred but many people have the Reserve. I opted for the Preferred due to its low annual fee of $95 which is waived in the first year. Both options have primary auto rental coverage. Both the Preferred and the Reserve have the same welcome bonus but that’s where the similarities end. The Reserve has a $450 annual fee but DONT BE ALARMED!. It is offset by a $300 annual travel credit so in actuality the annual fee is $150. In addition, it has one of the best travel delay benefit in case your flight is delayed. The Reserve also comes with Priority Pass lounge access and reimbursement for Global Entry or Tsa Pre-check. There are a few other benefits but those tend to be the most prized by card aficionados. I opted for the Preferred because I already had the Amex Platinum card which was more beneficial for me with my home airport. Many of my international flights are routed through Miami International therefore I would have access to the Centurion Lounge. That card has a $495 annual fee which is also offset by a $200 travel credit, monthly Uber/UberEats credit, $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, plus so much more. It’s all about preference and lifestyle and location in my opinion when it comes to which high annual fee card to get but in the end, the fees really are not high for what you get in return.
Most travel hacking sites will tell you to fill up your Chase slots – remember 5/24 rule- before applying for any other cards but I didn’t. I wanted Amex points for a future Japan trip as well so I let my travel plans decide for me. My next few cards will strictly be Chase issued since I’m eyeing a business card to help replenish my points stash as well as the Hyatt credit card because their property locations are just down- right gorgeous! Check-out Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica (2020 trip) and see what I mean.
Is this for you?
This takes planning and some effort to do research. If you don’t have the brain energy required to piece together a trip then look for availability and searching multiple routes, then this is not for you. Though, There are companies that you can pay a small fee to analyze your points and searched for airline tickets for you if you like. If you love to travel, I say jump in and do it. Start by researching travel hacking groups. I am part of a few that has been my go to on Facebook and Instagram such as Award Travel, FBZ Travel Elite and their parent company, Finance Buzz, Straight to the Points and my favorite, The Points Guy.
As teachers, we take on a lot of burden for a lot of people and that wears us down. Worrying about our students’ well- being and education, worrying about test performance, and worrying about if we are good enough in our position, and on and on. Ultimately if you take one trip or ten trips in a year, staycation or an 18-hour flight to Bora Bora, or stay home and read a book, make the time for yourself and your family. I know this time with my growing son will be memories for all of us.