A few months ago, my brother and his fiance started planning their wedding that will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s quite a hoof from our little tiny Boise airport and Dave and I currently have no real income (the chickens pull their weight with egg sales, that’s about it). But, there is no way that I am missing my brother’s wedding.
So Dave and I did what we always do. We found a way to get there, stay there, and get back all on the cheap. We didn’t accomplish this with no cost to us. It took time, planning, discipline, and a total of $44.80. But if you think about it, can you really travel for free?
Monetarily free? You sure can. Planning free? Not so much. But even with having to hand over forty-four dollars, we actually ended up in the green for this trip. Here’s how we did it.
Anytime Dave and I are thinking about flying anywhere the first place we go to check airline prices in Google Flights. I have no actual proof that Google Flights is any better than Travelocity or Expedia or the like, but we always seem to get clear information and low, accurate prices when looking at Google Flights.
Maybe one day I’ll take a closer look into each search engine and let you know if we have any footing to stand on here. In the meantime, we like Google Flights.
Our initial search let us know which airlines could actually get us from Boise to Fort Lauderdale and back, and gave us a ballpark on how much the flights were going to cost. United Airlines looked to be the cheapest. So we opened a United Airlines Credit Card, which had a bonus of 30,000 miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of the card being open.
In hindsight, signing up for a specific airline’s credit card was a mistake. It limited our options when we actually went to make our flight reservations. What we should have done, was to open a generic-miles card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card. I’ve used a card similar to this one when attending a wedding in Aruba and it worked amazingly better than our new airline-specific card.
Airline Miles – A Quick Ode to Credit Cards
As a quick spoiler alert, we purchased all of our Fort Lauderdale airline tickets via airline miles. I mentioned above that we opened up a United Chase Credit Card for the bonus miles. Those miles got us from Boise to Denver and back as I will detail below:
The United Miles
We needed to spend $3,000 in the first three months of having the card in order to get the bonus miles. Unfortunately there was no big purchase in our immediate future, but we came up with a brilliant idea.
You see, we have this blue-beast of a house that we are slowly renovating, which obviously means that Home Depot is our home away from home. At some point, while trying to figure out how we were going to spend a few thousands of dollars on the house we remembered that gift cards do not expire.
Then we had a better idea. While it’s always fun to buy $3,000 in Home Depot gift cards to earn two round trip flights to Denver in bonus miles, it’s even more fun to buy $3,000 in Home Depot gift cards from Fred Meyer (aka Kroger, King Soopers, etc.) and get fuel points for those gift cards. Gas has never been cheaper!
Now please remember, the only way to make this credit card spending spree work to your favor, is to pay them off each and every month. When we received our first credit card statement, we paid all $3,000 off at the due date. It hurt. But paying 18.24% on any balance would have hurt more. And yes, this card will be closed immediately after we get back from Florida. No annual fee for us.
The Frontier Miles
It was a bit of luck that we had Frontier miles to use for this trip. A few years ago, we opened a Frontier credit card for the bonus miles with plans to fly down to Costa Rica. Very quickly after opening this card, Frontier quit flying to Costa Rica. Thanks Frontier.
Long story short, we had a ton of Frontier miles that we’ve been looking to usethey expire. And guess who flies from Denver to Fort Lauderdale? Frontier.
All together, we purchased four round-trip tickets: Boise to Denver and back, Denver to Fort Lauderdale and back. Each ticket cost $11.20, making our total airline costs $44.80.
Negating Hotel Costs, Even at a Hilton
With our airline tickets taken care of, we still had the issue of where we were going to stay. My soon-to-be-sister-in-law set up the typical group rate at the Hilton where the wedding will be held. It was a good rate and all said and done, I’d rather stay with all of my family than in an AirBnb or VRBO.
(Of course we checked all the typical vacation rental sites and decided the cost savings really didn’t outweigh staying close to family at the hotel. Especially when the hotel rooms have little kitchens which make breakfasts and lunches very cheap and easy, just like a vacation rental would have. And the hotel has a pool. I like pools.)
As I mentioned before, we are slowly fixing up our house. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we love using credit cards for various reasons. So when discussing how we were going to stay at such a nice hotel for cheap, Dave mentioned the awards we have on our cash back credit card.
Just enough to cover the cost of our four-night stay. In the end, our hotel costs are $0. Love it.
Then Frontier Changed Our Flights
So again, all together our total out-of-pocket costs for two people to fly from Boise to Fort Lauderdale, stay for four nights, and fly back is $44.80. But here’s the kicker; Frontier changed our flights, and they didn’t work for us.
To keep our hotel reservation the same, which was important since the block of group-rate rooms were all taken, we needed to move our flight from Denver to Fort Lauderdale back a day. This meant that I couldn’t just hit the “I accept” button in the Frontier email. I had to call customer service.
Frontier’s customer service line is actually quite easy to deal with…when you get the correct person, but I won’t get into that one. What I want to tell you about this encounter is that after changing our flights for no cost, the customer service representative simply asked if there was anything else they could do for me. There was.
Frontier had moved our flights, by more than 12 hours. Those changes would have cut our vacation short by a day and a half. That’s more than enough reason for me to ask if there was any compensation they could offer for the inconvenience of having to call and then still having to jostle around vacation plans.
So I simply asked for compensation. We are now proud owners of two $100 Frontier vouchers. That’s enough to get both Dave and I round-trip tickets to Denver to visit family, or to Vegas to visit Vegas.
Flexibility Is Key
Including our generously compensated ticket vouchers, our trip to my brother’s wedding (i.e. a non-negotiable trip) put us in the green by $155.20. Not bad at all.
Now I totally understand that not everyone can travel this way. Dave and I are incredibly flexible when it comes to traveling. We have no issue sleeping in airports or sitting separately since we think it’s ridiculous to pay for specific seats. Not everyone wants to or can put up with these little details. And I don’t think we could travel this way if we had kids.
But with flexibility comes opportunity. We have a ten or so hour layover in Denver on each leg of this trip. We’ve already reached out to our friends to see if anyone wants to head up near DIA to grab some food and drinks with us while we wait to fly out of Denver. (Yes it took years, but the Denver-Metro area has finally expanded far enough that there are restaurants near DIA.)
Even if we couldn’t pull of this level of flexibility, we would have still been able to walk away with two travel vouchers simply because I had asked for compensation for the change in flights. It may feel uncomfortable, but never be afraid to ask for perks from customer service representatives (I can say this, I used to one). The worst they can do is say “no,” and the best they can do is give you free things.