After a small hiatus, I am back with another trip report! This time I ventured out across the pond to Italy and France for the first time.
If you have kept up with my site over the last month or so you may have noticed I finished paying off $55k in student loan debt in April and officially became debt free. Becoming debt free was a major accomplishment for me, and I am very excited to start allocating my money to save and invest more. Now that I am debt free, I plan to keep the mindset like I am still in debt (no lifestyle inflation for me). The frugal mindset applies to all aspects of my financial life, including travel.
To get the best value for travel, I am a firm believer in utilizing travel hacking for free/discounted flights and accommodations. I got into travel hacking in 2015 after watching this youtube video (2017 version) that got me interested in earning points for my normal spending.
Check out my Introduction to Travel Hacking post for more details of how travel hacking works, and what credit cards I use to gain free/discounted travel.
Below is my detailed report of my total spending for the trip.
After taking the free Travel Miles 101 travel hacking course, I learned the value of a “stop over” flight. A “stop over” is a connection between flights of more than 24hrs and provides a way to get two vacations for the price of one.
I accomplished booking my “stop over” flight using United Airlines and using their “Multi-City” option and clicking the “book award travel” online. I ended up booking a trip that went from Austin/Chicago to Rome, then Florence to Paris, then Paris back to the US. The cool part is that I paid the same price if I would have done a roundtrip flight to Rome.
The flight cost me 60k points + $127 in taxes. If I had paid cash for this flight, it would have cost me over $1700.
Also, another perk from the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card, I got to use my Global Entry/TSA Pre at the US airports. The Global Entry saved us from spending hours waiting in US Customs line when we got back.
We also got to utilize the free Priority Pass lounge access in Florence, Zurich, Paris, and Washington. We received free food and drinks at the lounges.
Total Flight Spend: $127.86
I am a big fan of AirBnB and tend to book with them unless I could find a good hotel deal with points. For this trip, I decided to save my points and look for deals via Airbnb. Because I had the CSR card, I received a $300 travel credit in 2016 and 2017. I used my first $300 on other trips but used the bulk of my 2017 travel credit on accommodations for this trip.
Rome – Stayed at Airbnb for two nights
Out of pocket cost: Free (because of the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) Travel Credit). Saved $155
Florence – Free (Stayed with my girlfriend’s family) for three nights
Paris – $155 out of pocket ($94.80 covered by CSR Travel Credit) for three nights
If you are new to Airbnb sign up with my exclusive link* to get $20 off your first booking.
Total Accommodations Spend: $155
We used a rideshare service called “Wingz” to get a ride from our place in Austin to the Airport to start the trip (No Uber or Lyft in Austin). It cost $13.50 for me ($27 split), so it beat parking at the airport for almost two weeks.
We ended up using Uber from the Airport in both Rome and Paris. We did this for convenience and safety as we didn’t want to carry our luggage on a crowded train. Doing that alone cost ~ $145, unfortunately.
Once we figured out what we were doing, we utilized the train/Bus in each place we visited.
Total Transportation Spend: $188.65
The food was my biggest expense of the trip. Little did I know that Europeans charge for water. That was a big shock as I always get water for free in the US.
Other than the disappointment from paying for water, the food on the trip was fantastic (Italy especially). We tried to keep breakfast and lunch to a minimum by buying food at the local grocery store and only went out for dinner. We also splurged on our daily scoop of gelato in Italy!
Total Food Spend: $244.26
The activities that I booked were the highlight of the trip (food was a close 2nd). With the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, I was able to book “activities” with points. I didn’t pay all with points but found a balance where I paid with a mix of cash & points. With the CSR, I also get 50% more value on purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Colosseum underground and Arena tour – 4k points + $30
Rome Cooking Class: 4k points + $40
Vatican Tour: 3k points + $40
Rome Walking Tour – Free, tipped 10 Euros
Cinque Terre Day Trip – 14k points $0 out of pocket for three tickets
Tuscany Day Trip – Girlfriend’s family treated us, $0 out of pocket
Paris Walking Tour – Free, tipped 20 Euros
Paris Seine River Cruise – 2.5k points $0 out of pocket
Total Activity Spend: $140
Souvenirs and Miscellaneous
I booked extra travel insurance for $15. I just got a new job in April, and my benefits don’t kick in until June 1st so having the travel insurance seemed like a no brainer.
On the souvenir front, I bought some t-shirts and small souvenirs for my family.
Total Souvenirs & Miscellaneous Spend: $44.45
Total Trip Spend: $900.22
Overall, I was able to book a once in a lifetime trip to 2 different countries for ten days for only $900. Without the utilization of travel hacking, I would have spent $4-5k on this trip, easily.
To compare this trip to some of my other trips in the last two years, this trip was my 3rd cheapest trip, and it was one of the longest durations and an international trip.
Another plus is that I put money away for travel every two weeks in my Capital One 360 Savings account* as part of my Automatic Savings Plan, so I didn’t need to adjust any of my monthly spending/saving. The whole cost of the trip was already covered with my automatic savings. 🙂
I can’t wait to plan the next trip!
Question for you!
Where is your favorite travel destination?
What’s your favorite travel credit card?
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