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

Actually, You Need a Credit Score

Credit ScoreLast month, The Minimalists did a podcast on debt. That podcast led to a profusion of tweets about the drawbacks of credit scores. In fact, the underlying message–ripped out of Dave Ramsey’s playbook–was that no one should want a credit score.

The Minimalists by way of Ramsey tweeted out that a credit score is nothing more than an I-Love-Debt score. If you don’t love debt, you don’t want a credit score. At all. None. Nada. Zero. It sounds absurd–and it is–because a credit score in-and-of-itself doesn’t cause the debt problem. By their logic, I should throw away my mirror if I don’t like my hair. I should get rid of my scale if I don’t like my weight. And I should probably disregard those wellness screenings I get every year. Those warning lights on my car dash? Apparently, my car can’t have problems if warning lights don’t exist.

The reality of a low credit score is that it reflects a small slice of a vastly complex conundrum, just like a check engine light or a thyroid test result. It is one piece of someone’s overall financial health. It’s not the only piece, nor is it the most important piece. But it is a piece nonetheless. So let’s not ignore it, okay?

Instead of thinking of a credit score as an I-Love-Debt score, I think of it as a Make-Money-Work-For-Me score. Money is a tool. Learn to leverage it. A healthy credit score matters. Not convinced? If you ever plan on doing any of these things, someone is probably going to take a hard or soft look at your credit score:

  • Buy a home.
  • Rent an apartment.
  • Take out a loan.
  • Employer background checks.
  • Set up utilities, Internet, or cable.
  • Rent a car.
  • Open a bank account.

So credit scores do count for something. Of course, if you can pull a Dave Ramsey and pay cash for your mega mansion, you don’t need a credit score. But for the average person, having an understanding of credit is important because it plays a role in establishing a financial foothold. Saying it doesn’t either speaks from a position of ignorance or privilege. And if Ramsey is the financial guru he’s lauded as I’ll let you decide which camp he lands in. While it may be true that you can work around credit inquiries, why put someone in a position where they have to learn to do that?

Besides possibly needing a credit score when establishing yourself as a homeowner, renter, employee, or TV binge-watcher, a high credit score can open a lot of doors for people. If we’re going to teach financial fitness, let’s share all the possibilities. Let’s not limit people.

Here’s a short list of ways in which I’ve put my credit score to work:

  • Financed my Master’s degree and wedding with 0% cards – hello, bonus points!
  • Travel hacked my way to cheaper vacations
  • Qualified for a better mortgage loan rate to the tune of .50%
  • Financed a car for 0% – gasp, I know!

And I’m sure there are all sorts of other ways that my credit score works on my behalf that I haven’t even stopped to consider. The fact of the matter is debt is a problem, but credit scores are not. Like most things finance related, with a deeper understanding, this is one more tool that can put money to work for you.

So Tell Me…What do you think of credit scores? Have you ever put yours to work for you?

Actually, You Need a Credit Score

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