Trying to Travel Hack

travelI’ve decided to travel hack. So that automatically means I’m an expert, right? Actually, I thought it would be really helpful to chronicle my toe dip into these waters. Because, if you’re not a travel hacker and you’re anything like me, you’re both excited and overwhelmed by the prospect of free travel.

Don’t get me wrong. Seeing the world at little to no cost sounds like a dream. But I currently have a huge aversion to credit card fees, and our teaching schedule forces us to travel during peak times (read: costs more points/miles). This combination left me on the sidelines for quite some time. Now that I’ve scooped up my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I’m on the sidelines no more! Continue reading “Trying to Travel Hack”

Trying to Travel Hack

Travel Anyway: Vegas, Baby…Again

travel-anywayI’m going back to Vegas. Who’s shocked? I know. No one. And maybe everyone.

I do a spectacular job of hating on my mortgage. I post about it. I tweet about it. I stress myself out about it with side hustling. I think about it constantly when paying for grad classes to boost my income and my husband’s. So why in the world would I go back to Las Vegas again especially when we were just there this summer? The short answer is, Why wouldn’t I? Continue reading “Travel Anyway: Vegas, Baby…Again”

Travel Anyway: Vegas, Baby…Again

Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap

Free CirqueFree tickets in Vegas aren’t a thing of the past. You don’t have to know a guy. You also don’t have to be a high roller or a big spender. In fact, a clever combination of My Vegas Rewards and Groupon allowed Mr. P and I the opportunity to take in a show and spend a day out in the desert for $75 total. Here’s how: Continue reading “Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap”

Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap

How We Did Vegas for $250 Out-of-Pocket: Part 1

Vegas 1Tony Curtis once said, “If you know how to live in Las Vegas, you can have the best time.” Say what you want about the gaudiest light show on earth, but there’s something truly captivating about a city where everyone is hoping to get lucky. The fast pace. The bombastic shows. The glamorous nightlife. The never-ending neon. There are so many reasons why my husband and I drawn to the Strip. And the fact that we continually take this trip so inexpensively doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s often said that anything goes in Vegas. And that goes for vacation price tag as well. This past trip, we managed to clock in at $250 out-of-pocket. Here’s how we did it with some help from our credit cards, MyVegas Rewards, and some other clever tricks:

The Hotel & Flights – $0 – Credit Card Rewards

If I were a really savvy travel hacker with the ability to travel any week of the year, we probably could have found an even better deal. However, given the fact that I’m side hustling away my summer meant that we only had a small window of opportunity to travel. And it turns out, no one was going to Vegas after Memorial Day. Or that’s what I assume because they were practically giving the place away. A vacation package from Southwest that included two roundtrip, nonstop flights and a two-night stay at MGM was $500. Our Discover credit card cash back rewards footed that bill entirely.

Originally, we had planned to stay for three nights, but I had to tackle a day of meetings that I couldn’t reschedule. Still, considering we landed at 8 AM Tuesday and didn’t fly out until 6PM on Thursday, we really had three full days to explore the Strip and beyond. Even if you don’t have credit card rewards or miles, $500 for three days for two people isn’t a bad deal.

The takeaway: My affinity for the Southwest Low Fare Calendar knows no bounds. Explore different options. Check different seasons. And if you’re headed to Vegas, definitely consider going midweek. The only drawback to scheduling anything in Vegas is the fact that shows and nightclubs have different days on which they are dark. Timing really is everything.  

Bonus tip: Virtually every hotel — no matter the number of stars or bedbugs — now charges a resort fee. It covers the cost of the pools, the workout centers, wifi, and other amenities. It also allows hotels to advertise much cheaper rates than what you’re really paying. Brace yourself for an extra $25-$35 a night. And bring a swimsuit. You’re paying for the pools. You might as well use them!

The Food – Tips Only – MyVegas Rewards & Gift Cards

How we dine out in Vegas isn’t for everyone. I get that. There are no $200 caviar appetizers or $100 steak dinners here. That’s not our speed. In fact, I could have easily picked up gift cards to numerous steakhouses or other fine dining restaurants on the Strip, but that’s too much red meat and white tablecloths for my taste.

To start, we actually pack breakfast in our suitcase. For me, that usually involves some kind of snack bar or fruit squeeze. For Mr. P, bagels. Because he can never have too many carbs. I’m also a big fan of using my Starbucks gift cards to pop down for some tea in the morning. Since most hotels in Vegas will charge you extra for a mini-fridge, if you plan on packing or buying any kind of snack foods on the Strip, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Or get creative with your ice bucket.

For our lunches, we used My Vegas Rewards for two buffet comps: one at the Mirage and one at Aria. And man, did Mr. P eat the prime rib and crab legs. Though there were many people who did not tip at all, we tipped about $20 total for both lunch buffets. We wanted to take care of the table attendant who cleared the many, many plates at Aria. But we also wanted to tip the bartender who poured Mr. P’s beer, which flows limitlessly at the Mirage.  

Since we only had two nights, we did not really plan to get too crazy or elaborate with our meals. I used a combination of Bing rewards and Amazon gift cards to order a PF Chang gift card and a Brinker gift card. The closest PF Chang is a good 45 minutes away from us at home, and Mr. P’s love for their lettuce wraps knows no bounds. So I knew this would be on his list. Plus, they have a fantastic outdoor patio dead center to all the action on the Strip.

As for the Brinker card, we had originally intended to eat at Maggiano’s, but then we stumbled across a Chili’s that had some amazing happy hour specials and a second-story patio with glorious misters and fans. Plus, we wanted to be able to eat over the Strip. You truly can’t put a price on people watching. Since both restaurants had happy hour specials, we actually were able to put the cost of the food, the drinks, and the tip on the $50 gift cards. In fact, we actually tipped about $12 at each restaurant simply because we didn’t want gift cards with $2 on them since we virtually never go out to eat at home.

The takeaway: Dine however you want and in whatever way fits your budget. Remember that there are plenty of different options at a variety of price points. If you’re looking for a deal, scour the signage for happy hour specials. We noticed that most restaurants and bars had some sort of early evening happy hour or late-night reverse happy hour specials. You can also get creative with comps if you gamble with real money at casinos or from My Vegas if you gamble with imaginary money online. And pack snacks.

Next Up

In the next installment, I’ll talk about how our day trip to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the nightlight, parking, and even gambling clocked in at under $250. No luck involved, I promise! In the final installment, I’ll share some of the specifics for how I score all of these gift cards throughout the year in case you’d like to copy our Sin City style. Stay tuned!

So Tell Me…What are your money-saving vacation secrets? Would you ever put bagels in your suitcase?

How We Did Vegas for $250 Out-of-Pocket: Part 1

Frugally Awesome…or Awkward: Part 3

FrugallyAfter I ran my last post in this series, I thought surely I would run out of awkward moments to share. Then I remember that I’m me, and there’s no shortage of awkward moments in my life, finance related and otherwise. For instance, let’s flashback to two weeks ago in my classroom: 

I don’t normally eat or drink while I teach–out of respect for the school rules that my students follow and for fear of choking and having to rely on a 12-year-old to perform the Heimlich Maneuver or page the nurse–but I had a wicked sore throat, so I was sipping on plain green tea in an attempt to preserve my voice. I took one quick, inconspicuous sip. Minutes later, I followed it up with a second sip. This time, I managed to miss half my mouth and essentially drool down my shirt. Instead of laughing too loudly, one student promptly raised his hand and assured me that things could have been a lot worse. He promised, “You could have been the teacher who walked backwards and fell into the recycle bin last week!”

While I certainly can’t claim that level of awkwardness (yet), the people in my life have done a pretty outstanding job of making me blush when it comes to finances in the past month. I spend most of my days minding my own business, trying to do my frugal living thing. Yet these short encounters transform me from frugally awesome to awkward in no time flat. Continue reading “Frugally Awesome…or Awkward: Part 3”

Frugally Awesome…or Awkward: Part 3

The High Price of Free

High Price of Free (1)We’ve all heard the cliche that some things are too good to be true. In the case of “free”, sometimes there’s a much higher cost than anyone expects. In our consumer culture, the notion of free shows up in a lot of ways. Sample day at Sam’s Club (the horror!). Mail-in rebates. Buy one, get one free. Free gifts with purchase. Free trial subscriptions. Vouchers for free lotions from Bath & Body Works, underwear from Victoria’s Secret, haircuts from a new Great Clips. But sometimes we get–or give up–more than we bargain for with these screaming good deals. Continue reading “The High Price of Free”

The High Price of Free