How We Saved More Than $1,000 on Vacation with Credit Card Rewards

by Erika Torres

credit card rewards perks, paying with credit card rewards for vacation, using credit card rewardsEric and I went on a Mexican getaway to the Riviera Maya earlier this month, staying at Tulum and Playa del Carmen for a few days each, and happily we were able to use credit card rewards to pay for vacation (or at least a large chunk of it!).

We had a wonderful time and it was so great to celebrate Eric finishing his year of work probation, which means no more studying, test-taking, or being the rookie firefighter anymore, he is officially official!

It was also wonderful to get away from the stress of new home ownership. While it has definitely been a dream of ours, I also have to admit that we can get overwhelmed by the amount of projects we want to take on, and sometimes we don’t quite see eye to eye on what should be done first : ) Good problem to have, I guess?

How We Afforded Vacation One Month after Buying a House

We actually booked this vacation in September—back when we had no intention of buying a house. Of course, a month later we found a house we loved in our price range in the neighborhood we loved, and on a whim decided to buy it.

When I was telling a good friend of ours the story of how we bought our house, she said “The way you decided to buy your house sounds like the same way you decided to get married!”

Very true! I guess we just like to make major life decisions on a whim, and so far it’s worked out really well for us, right?

Maybe we just know to go with our gut.

I digress.

Since we booked it in September, a large portion was paid up front. But there were still a few things we needed money for—and since we’re trying to keep cash on hand for house projects, we really didn’t want to spend any of our own money.

Enter Credit Card Rewards.

How We Use Credit Card Rewards to Pay for Vacation

Here is the breakdown of we how we saved $1,000 on vacation with credit card rewards:
*these are not affiliate links*

Delta Flights to Mexico: $400 in American Express Blue Sky rewards
Southwest Flights to LAX: $312 in Southwest Rapid Rewards Card Points
Hotel: $525 in Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

That’s $1237 saved from credit card reward points!

I’ve been wanting to get into credit card churning (the practice of signing up for cards based on points and then cancelling them) for a long time, but didn’t want to risk negatively impacting our credit until after we bought a house.

But now I plan to take full advantage!

Due to a 50,000 point sign up bonus through SouthWest, we actually haven’t paid for pretty much any flights in the past year, except for Cabo. I just cancelled my Southwest card this month before the renewal fee. But I plan on getting Eric signed up for one soon.

The Barclaycard is one of my new favorites! The sign up bonus is big, and you get a 10% bonus when you redeem points specifically for travel. And unlike other cards, the points are instant. So I didn’t have to wait months to redeem my points.

Plus, the annual fee is waived for the first year, there is no international usage fee, and you get 2x points for all purchases. I just signed up Eric for his own card to help save up for our next vacation.

The biggest trick in credit card churning is to pay attention to the rules, the spending requirements, and cancel it before the annual fee renews. I make a note in my online calendar so I remember to call and cancel the following year.

Do you use credit card rewards? Have you tried credit card churning?



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Eddy Carlos April 12, 2018 - 6:16 am

informative, thanks for sharing this

efinancialclub February 5, 2015 - 7:52 am

Awesome…I need some clarification on whether this will negatively impact my credit score. I’m planning for new home purchase now and will have to determine if I cna choose to sign up for many credit cards now

newlywedsonabudget February 5, 2015 - 8:24 am

There is not a huge impact, but it CAN impact it, which is why we waited until AFTER we bought the house to start credit card churning. I wouldn’t risk our credit before. We both have excellent credit scores though (above 750) so at this point, a few opening and closing of credit cards isn’t going to affect us too much.

Caleb February 3, 2015 - 8:58 am

Thanks for sharing this. We are trying to go on vacation but just can’t seem to find the resources. We will have to try this and see if it helps.

mrsfrugalwoods@gmail.com February 3, 2015 - 4:17 am

Gorgeous! We went to Riviera Maya for our honeymoon (almost 7 years ago) and it was glorious. You’re smart to go during the dead of winter–we went in June right after our wedding, but we should’ve waited until January!

I’m intrigued by the Southwest Rapid Rewards card–seems like a lot of folks have been churning that one lately. Have you been happy with it?

Tonya@Budget and the Beach February 2, 2015 - 2:54 pm

Sounds like a great vacation! And it doesn’t seem like your house purchase was that much of a whim…at least you’ve been talking about it on here for awhile. I have used points to travel, and more recently for cash back towards some purchases I wanted to make and just to have some money in the bank.

Abby Farnham February 2, 2015 - 2:42 pm

Does it affect your credit negatively to cancel credit cards? For some reason when I was younger I was told it did – so now I have a slew of credit cards…. some with balances and others without.

newlywedsonabudget@gmail.com February 2, 2015 - 3:02 pm

It does impact it a little bit but not to a huge degree, which is why I waited until after we purchased our house to start messing with credit. Eric and I both have excellent credit scores, so a few points on our report won’t affect us much. Plus, we’re only opening one at a time, and closing them after we’ve had them for a year (to avoid the annual fee).

chonce@mydebtepiphany.com February 2, 2015 - 8:55 am

That’s awesome savings for your vacation! Free flights definitely add up. I’m really interested in getting into credit card churning as a way to travel for less but like you said I’m a little hesitant about opening too many accounts and closing them before I buy a house. I’m in the process of rebuilding my credit now so I can’t really afford to take the risk of lowering my score. I am however, racking up points for travel on an American Express card so I will end up using that for a while and maybe open up one more.

Holly@ClubThrifty February 2, 2015 - 5:40 am

I write about travel for a living, so we use rewards heavily. Last year we redeemed over 20K in points and miles and traveled to Jamaica, Florida, Las Vegas, Denver, New Orleans, Nassau, London and Paris. In 2015, we already have trips planned to Jamaica, Las Vegas, and California, and just got back from St. Maarten. Credit card rewards don’t pay for everything but they pick up the tab for most of our big expenses!
Great job on your trip. And you’re right- now that your home loan is final you can really take advantage.

Brittany @ Fun on a Budget February 2, 2015 - 5:23 am

I was just telling my fiancé yesterday about how I’ve read that some people use their credit card rewards for vacations or Christmas gifts at the end of the year. I usually just apply them towards my balance every once in awhile, but that doesn’t seem as fun as a trip to Mexico! How tedious is it to switch it up in order to maximize rewards, and how much of an increase in cash back do you get because of it?

newlywedsonabudget@gmail.com February 2, 2015 - 8:47 am

I don’t find it that tedious at all. I just keep tabs on which credit cards I open and I also limit ourselves, because we DO have to meet the spending requirements in order to qualify for the points. It really helps ease the sting of paying for travel!


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