$8 and 2 Free Books


Swagbucks is running a great deal where you get 800 SB (equivalent of $8) when you get two free Puzzle Buzz books for your kids from Highlights! You pay $2.98 in shipping and handling, meaning that you walk away with a $5 gift card of your choice. This deal is running through the rest of March and is perfect for the little readers in your life. Even the youngest child learns to tackle activities independently — and puzzle-solving skills grow.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Click here to get to the deal and create your Swagbucks account if you don’t have one. You’ll be my referral!

2. Click “Continue” and complete the offer. Your SB will be credited almost instantly!

3. If you’re signing up as my referral, you’ll get an additional 300 SB bonus for completing this offer, meaning that you’ll net $8:

Complete offer: $8
Bonus: $3
Shipping and Handling: -$2.98
Net bonus: $8.02

If you’re not familiar with Swagbucks, it’s a rewards site where you earn points called SB for discovering deals (like this one), online shopping, taking surveys, watching videos, and even searching the web. Then you can turn those points into gift cards from places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, PayPal, and more!

Free Honeymoon With Two Credit Card Bonuses

Weddings can be a pretty expensive proposition. The average cost of a wedding in the US is more than $26,000, although most people spend less than $10,000. I guess the multiple Kardashian weddings skew the number up. After spending all of that money on a wedding, who wants to spend lots on a honeymoon? Yet many Americans do. They don’t have to, as there are ways to get a free honeymoon.

I Did Not Get A Free Honeymoon

I recently wrote a post related to how I got involved in travel hacking.  It was quite eyeopening to learn that I could travel for pennies on the dollar. However, this knowledge came a bit late for my own honeymoon. My honeymoon was probably the last major trip I took at full price. Had I known about the ease of scoring frequent flyer miles, my trip to Cancun would have been quite a bit cheaper.

A free honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta is possible.
A view of the pool and ocean and the Puerto Vallarta Marriott, photo by author

You Can Get A Free Honeymoon

Through the use of travel hacking, you can get a free honeymoon. All that it takes is a couple of strategic credit card signup bonuses. I do want to note that by free, I’m referring to highly discounted flights and hotel rooms. Food, ground transportation, and attractions would require more than the two signups that the title suggests. There are taxes on any flights that you can’t get around easily without certain credit cards that give credits for purchases. Additionally, there is the possibility that the hotel will charge a resort fee.

Get The Starwood Preferred Guest Card

Until April 5, 2017, the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card (link with higher signup bonus good until April 5, 2017) is offering a 35,000 point signup bonus with 25,000 paid out after spending $3,000 within three months and another 10,000 paid out after spending an additional $2,000 in the first six months on the personal version. You’d need to spend $5,000 and $3,000  over the same time frames to get the same bonus on the business version. **Please note that you cannot get this bonus if you’ve ever earned it before.

This 35,000 bonus is the highest that anyone has ever seen for the great card. With the recent merger between Marriott and Starwood, it may disappear in short order, so the time to apply is now.

While this number of points might not sound as impressive as some other cards that might be offering 50,000 or even 100,000, it can actually provide even more value.

When I first started reading travel hacking websites a few years ago, this card was the number one recommendation for everyday spending. Users of the Starwood Preferred Guest (personal and business versions) can transfer to just about any airline that has a frequent flyer program. These points transfer at a 1:1 ratio in most, but not all, instances.

A Room at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino in Oranjestat
You could use your points for a room like this one that I enjoyed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino.

Transfer Starwood Points To Marriott

Those who transfer in 20,000 point batches get a 5,000 mile bonus. This results in what is effectively 1.25 miles per dollar spent, which is a pretty good deal.

However, for the strategy that I’m recommending, you’d want to transfer these points to Marriott Rewards. Marriott recently bought out Starwood, and those who have an account with both programs can link and transfer back and forth between them. Starwood points are worth 3 Marriott Rewards points each.

If you spend the required $5,000 to get the 35,000 bonus points, you’d also earn at least 5,000 additional points at one point per dollar of spending. These 40,000 would then equal 120,000 Marriott Rewards points.

If your spouse-to-be has not earned the bonus before and you still have some wedding expenses coming up, you both could possibly get the bonus by applying before April 5. These two bonuses would equal 240,000 Marriott Rewards points, and you’d be set. I’ll show you how below.

Sign Up For the Marriott Rewards Card

If you’ve only signed up for one of the Starwood cards, your second application should be the Marriott Rewards Premier card (sign up the the highlighted link–I may receive bonus points if you do, and I’d definitely appreciate your support–this is the highest offer currently available so you lose nothing by using my link).

This card offers an 80,000 point bonus after spending at least $3,000 in the first 90 days after your application. This will result in at least 83,000 points. 80,000 of these points will come from the bonus, and the additional 3,000 Marriott Rewards points will come from meeting the minimum spend.

You’ll earn one point per dollar spent on everything outside of restaurants and travel. These purchases earn two points per dollar.  Additionally, purchases at Marriott properties earn five points per dollar.

If the Marriott Rewards Premier Card is your second card, you’d now have at least 203,000 points after transferring the points from the Starwood card. If you both decide to get a Starwood card and then get the Marriott card, you’d then have more than 320,000 points should you be able to meet the required spend.

This is where it gets really, really interesting and where the free honeymoon comes into play.

Get A Marriott Vacation Package

Marriott is pretty unique among loyalty programs, because it provides the option of getting a week at a hotel AND frequent flyer miles. For 200,000 Marriott Rewards points, you could stay a week at any of their category 1-5 hotels and get 50,000 miles in most domestic airline programs (as well as a few international ones).  These miles could get you to many places throughout the continental United States, including California and Florida.

The 320,000 points that you could get should you choose to get two Starwood cards (one for you and your significant other) and a Marriott card would get you 7 nights in a category 6 hotel and 120,000 miles. This would be enough miles for a trip to Europe for both of you in economy class. You could also get 7 nights in a category 7 hotel and 100,000 miles, which would be enough for a trip to Hawaii if you can find availability.

If you both got a Starwood card and a Marriott card, you’d have more than 400,000 Marriott Rewards points available, and that would score you a week at just about any Marriott property in the world and some lower level Ritz Carlton properties.  You can search the various Marriott vacation package options at the Marriott site.  These options open the possibility of a free honeymoon to just about anyone who has solid credit.

Online Earnings For February 2017

Some of my online earnings came from Swagbucks
I earned some of my online earnings from Swagbucks.

I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to track my online earnings this year. I used to do this when I started my site a little more than four years ago, but dropped out of the habit. I’ve since started tracking passive income from dividends. I believe that passive income is the best income, and that dividends are the best form of passive income.

Passive Income Does Not Build Itself

However, to build up passive income, I need to earn income from active work. This is necessary because passive income does not create itself. It’s a function of earning money off of capital invested in anything from pork bellies to gold to stock in great companies.

Starting around 2008, I began earning a bit of extra money online. I took a big pay cut to start a job that I really wanted. There was the possibility of this job becoming a great career, and it did. However, the financial remuneration at the time was not the best. I had a new and growing family, and I had no desire to work retail if I could avoid it I therefore started to focus on online earnings so that I could make money without leaving the house outside of my day job.

This effort started to pay off nearly immediately, and I’ve not had to go back to working in retail or fast food to make ends meet since. Some months I make more; some months I make less. Regardless, the additionally money outside of my day job has really helped my standard of living. I made money online via two different avenues during the month of February 2017.

Online Earnings For February 2017

Swagbucks:                                                               $25.00
Freelance Writing:                                               $176.87

Total Online Earnings, 2/17:                          $201.87

This was less than the $334.60 that I earned online in January, but it was still a nice little bit of income that helped me toward my overall financial goals of building up passive income. Part of the money that I made in February went toward buying quality dividend stocks that should pay me passive income for years into the future. Hopefully, I’ll make more in March that can help propel me further. I’m hoping that both my online earnings and my passive income will snowball in the future.

Passive Dividend Income for February 2017

Passive Dividend Income Builds Up Slowly But Surely
The month of February is not quite up, but I’ve already gotten all of my passive dividend income payments for the month.  I always enjoy looking back over the month that was and add up my dividend earnings. Dividends are my favorite form of passive income because they come in whether I have work or not.  As I’ve said many times before, passive income is the best income.

I own some great companies that pay me on a regular basis. These companies sell their wares around the world every day. They have workers who are dedicated to serving their clients, and I’m not one of them.  These workers show up to do their jobs when I don’t have to. I have weekends off, but companies like Starbucks (SBUX) sell coffee each and every day in just about every time zone known to man. This is a really cool concept that allows me to build wealth.

Passive Dividend Income For February 2017

I earned multiple payments in February 2017. Three companies and one fund paid me basically for existing. Without holding you in suspense any longer, here is my passive dividend income for the month that was:

Taxable Account:

Starbucks (SBUX)                                                   $1.12

IRA

Realty Income Corp (O)                                      $2.11
Omega Healthcare Investors (OHI)         $31.00

401K

JP Morgan Equity Income RF (OIERX)     $2.33

TOTAL dividends, 2/17                                   $36.56

By looking at my passive dividend income for February, I was able to earn $36.56. I like to compare my income on a year-over-year basis, and in February 2016, I earned $6.27. This was more than $30 less than my earnings just one year later, which means my passive dividend income grew by more than 500 percent in just one year. I have to say I’m happy with this result. However, I don’t assume that this will continue indefinitely.

It’s evident that OHI was my biggest payer for the month. I don’t really like the outsized income that I get from one company, so I’m hoping that I can diversify more so that my income is not so dependent upon one company.

When I add my January income to my income from February, I’m now up to $48.19 in passive dividend income for 2017. It was June before I passed this amount of income in 2016, so I’m definitely thrilled with this progress

Hours of Freedom Earned

I like to track how much freedom my dividend income provides me each month. I have a forward estimated dividend income of $322.95 for the next 12 months. This means that I now have about 16 hours of freedom built up for the next 12 months.

I argue that I would need to earn $20 an hour to maintain a similar standard of living to what I currently have. This figure is arrived at with the assumption that I would not be paying toward retirement or Social Security. Additionally, I would have fewer expenses associated with work like an occasional meal out and commuting.

16 hours of freedom is the equivalent of 1 hour, 20 minutes a month. If I look at my income from February only, it would have nearly bought me 2 hours of freedom. It’s not quite the 170 hours that I’d normally work for a month, but it’s a start.  I enjoy looking at the upward trend, however.

How was your passive dividend income for February? Let us know in the comments.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress, be sure to sign up for updates in the email signup box near the top of the page. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional financial advisor. I intend this information for informational and educational purposes only. Perform due diligence before investing in any equities. See my disclosures page for more information.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Online Earnings For January 2017

The title of this site is Earn Money In Pajamas. I like earning money while sitting at home and watching TV or hanging out  with the family. I can earn money at home at just about any time that I’m not at my day job. The money that I earn online goes toward investing and toward paying bills. It also goes toward paying off debts.  I’m again tracking my online earnings.

Online Earnings Can Add Up
A $500 bill, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I used to keep up with how much money I made each month. I set online earnings goals for the first couple of years that I kept this site up. The past couple of years, however, I’ve slipped up on this process. I’ve been focusing upon earning money online, but I’ve been reporting on the money that I’ve made from dividend income.

Dividend income is a great method of earning money in pajamas. I own teeny little slices of companies that pay me a portion of their profits. All I have to do is wake up and get the notification that I’ve earned a dividend.  This is an example of passive income, which I firmly believe is the best form of income.

Online Earnings For January

I’ve also been involved in active income in the past couple of years, and one of the methods that I’ve continued to earn money is via online activities. After giving it some thought, I decided that I might give regular updates to show you that it’s possible to earn money online (in your pajamas) in 2017. Here is what I earned via online activity in 2017:

Swagbucks:                                      $75.00
Freelance Writing:                      $259.60

Total Online Earnings 1/17:  $334.60

I can’t complain. The money that I’ve earned with Swagbucks has gone toward purchasing stock in high-quality companies. The rest of the online earnings that I’ve accumulated over the month have yet to be spent on anything. I would like to invest them, but I need to build up some emergency savings. How did you do via online earnings last month?

Top 8 Ideas To Stay On Top Of Personal Finances In 2017

The following was contributed by Amy Nickson:

Many people ignore their personal financial health because they know fixing the problem is not an easy task. However, many people don’t even know where to start. Most of them ignore the idea of staying top of their personal finances, but instead of ignoring, you must take care of your personal finances to see good results in the coming year.

If you’re not sure where to start, this article may help you. Read carefully:

1. Keep Your Household Budget in Order

Once you create a budget system according to your financial ability, you can manage emergencies, save money for the future, and make some additional expenditures. A budget also teaches you how to overcome bad financial habits as well. Once you start following a suitable budget, you’ll be able to know the amount you spend and the amount you save. Thus, you can seek to save more after meeting your daily necessities.

Be Sure to Balance Your Budget
Be sure to balance your budget

2. Take Advantage of Free Budgeting Tools and Apps to Create Your Budget

Budgeting is not as scary as many people think. Many budgeting tools and apps are available online. If budgeting sounds dull, then install a free budgeting app on your smartphone and start using it. Soon you can see the positive results in your personal financial health.

3. Save More Money Than the Previous Year

Saving money is the only way to stay top of your finances throughout the year. If you have saved 15% of your income as of now, then try to increase your savings percentage in this year. Set aside 20% of your monthly income to save more than before. Don’t use the savings account for day to day purchases. Allow the money to grow and keep saving for a longer time. Thus, you will be able to build up a solid financial cushion.

4. Manage Your Debts to Stay on Top of Your Personal Finances

If you are carrying high-interest credit card debts, then you can consider a balance transfer to a credit card that offers low-interest rates. Try to find out a credit card that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee. Don’t miss any monthly payment to avoid charges.

You may not be able to pay off all of your personal debts (credit cards debts, student loan debts) within few months, but you should start making extra payments towards your debts to pay them off as early as you can. Save money every month to make some extra payments toward your highest-interest debts.

For example,

If you’re planning a splurge of $100 this weekend, then use the money to make extra debt payments instead of splurging on something you don’t need.

This way strategy will be more beneficial in the long run by allowing you to be a debt-free person.

5. Start Funding a Retirement Account

If you don’t have a retirement fund yet, then open an account and start funding. If your workplace has a 401 (k) plan or an IRA, then take advantage of them to get the tax benefit as well. Remember, there is no particular time or age to invest money for your retirement years. The earlier you think about your retirement, the sooner you secure your financial future. Try to put money into a retirement account as soon as possible to take advantage of compounding.

6. Ask for a Raise

If you’re working hard and performing well in your workplace, then this is the right time to ask for a raise. Approach to your employer to attempt to get paid according to your capability. You can also consider a side hustle to boost your income. Go online to get a sample of ideas.

7. Financial Trouble? Seek Professional Help

Knowing the exact solution for each personal financial problem is not possible for most people. To get proper guidance and solutions, seek professional help. A financial advisor can help suggest the right option that helps you make the right decision.

For example:

Consider professional help before investing money, making a will, and taking out a loan.

8. Utilize the Internet and Subscribe to Coupons

Couponing is one of the most effective ways to save money in your daily life. It helps to save money on groceries and other household expenses. If you have a smartphone and an Internet connection, then you can sign up with many manufacturers’ websites to find branded coupons. Many companies offer coupons on a regular basis on the Internet so you must keep eyes open to grab some great deals on regular purchases.

Finally, setting financial goals is important, but set realistic and achievable goals. Don’t imagine yourself as a multimillionaire at the beginning of your personal financial career. There is no such shortcut to becoming rich. You must earn money and save money with determination. Research well and read more to invest your money for the best return. Thus, you can ensure your personal financial health in future.

Author’s Bio: Amy Nickson is a web enthusiast. She works for Oak View Law Group, a leading consumer and bankruptcy law firm based in CA and operational across US. She loves social media, as it gives her endless opportunities to reach out to a larger audience in a more unbiased way.

Image Credit: stevepb via pixabay

January 2017 Passive Dividend Income

It’s hard to believe, but the first month of 2017 is in the books. There are less than 330 shopping days left until Christmas. The end of the month is one of my favorite times of each month. It’s the time that I look back and tabulate my passive dividend income for the previous 30 days. As all of my brokerage and retirement accounts are updated, I can now add up how much I made passively in January 2017.

Why Dividends?

I’ve decided to build up a stream of passive dividend income through dividends because they come in whether I work or not. I own some great companies. These companies sell their wares or rent out their space 24/7/365. Many of them do so in many nations around the world. One of the coolest things about a dividend growth strategy is the fact that these companies frequently increase their payments with me doing absolutely nothing.

Passive Dividend Income Can Add Up
A $500 bill, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

My dividend income is admittedly quite low at this point. I’ve been working on building it up for less than two years. Any dividend income, however, is gravy. It’s currently a small snowball that’s building mass over time. This increased mass results from three components. These are more invested capital, reinvested dividends, and dividend raises. Put all of them together, and it should be hard not to see an increase in dividend income over time.  Therefore, to end your suspense, here is my passive dividend income for 2017.

January 2017 Passive Dividend Income

IRA Account:

General Electric (GE)                                 $9.60
Realty Income Corp. (O)                         $2.03

Total Passive Dividend Income:        $11.63

I did not earn any income from my taxable or 401k accounts during January. Therefore, only these two companies paid me anything. This was the first time that I’ve earned a dividend from Realty Income, but I should earn something every month, as this company pays out on a monthly basis. It also just announced a dividend increase of 0.8 cents per month. This increase added a cool $1 to my expected dividend income for the next year and allowed my to pass a dividend milestone.

Year-Over-Year Comparison

My dividend income was well off my record month in December. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it was more than double what I earned in the same month last year.  In January 2016 I only earned $4.48. Therefore, my passive dividend income grew by more than 162 percent on a year-over-year basis. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy with that result.

Additionally, my estimated dividend income for the next 12 months is up to $302.11. I’ve noted before that I like to track my dividend income in terms of the number of hours of freedom that it should give me based on a $20/hour salary. This means that I theoretically have 1 hour, 15 minutes of freedom each and every month. This should only grow over time, so I’m pretty happy about my progress. I updated my Monthly Passive Dividend Income page with these results.

How was your dividend income for January? Let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress, be sure to sign up for updates in the email signup box near the top of the page. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional financial advisor. I intend this information for informational and educational purposes only. Perform due diligence before investing in any equities. See my disclosures page for more information.

Smashing Through A Passive Income Milestone

Passive each Passive Income Milestone takes time

I was just online checking my forward dividend income today. I had neglected to put in a raise from Realty Income Corp that allowed me to smash past a passive income milestone. When I started looking at the dividend growth as a great option for building a stream of passive income over time, the idea that the companies that I own giving out regular raises was one of the top concepts that drew me to this strategy.

A New Passive Income Milestone

I input the raise from Realty Income into my spreadsheet (I’m an Excel guy). I have ten shares, which is obviously not an impressive amount. But the raise put me up over $300 in annual anticipated dividend income.

Admittedly, this is not a huge amount of money. I’m now slightly above $300 in my estimated income for the year. That’s just slightly more than $25 a month.

Figuring Passive Income In Hours Worked

Every month when I give a new passive dividend income report, I look at how many hours of work I could theoretically take off by replacing active income with passive income. Every $100 passive income milestone that I pass effectively gives me five hours of freedom, theoretically for life.

With $300 built up, I’m now at 15 hours if I figure that I would need $20 of passive income for ever hour of work. That’s 1 hour, 15 minutes every single month. I would not need to pay any income taxes up to nearly $73,000 of income if the income  is related to qualified dividends. There would be no Social Security taxes coming out. I would not be putting any money into retirement programs.

That’s quite a lot of money coming out on a monthly basis that I don’t even see. Therefore, my current standard of living would not change much, if at all, if I made $20 an hour.

Isn’t This The Slow Way To Build Wealth?

Some of you might wonder if this is the slow way to build wealth, and you’d be right if you think that it is.  Each passive income milestone seems to take a while to hit; however, this is basically the only way to build wealth.

There are tons of get-rich-quick schemes out there. They generally tend to cut wealth rather than build it. Flipping a house can quickly turn into a money pit if you don’t know what you’re doing. Borrowing money to buy pork bellies isn’t any better. You have a better likelihood of getting struck by lightning than you do of hitting the lottery.

Building wealth is kind of like the story of the tortoise and the hare. Those who try the get-rich-quick schemes might look like they’re getting ahead, but they’ll tend to wind up with less wealth than the steady plodders who put away a little bit of their income on a weekly or monthly basis.

I’m thrilled that I’ve smashed through this passive income milestone, but it’s hopefully just one of many more to come.  What milestones do you use to track your progress? Let me know in the comments.

Also, if you’d like to keep up with my progress, be sure to sign up to get updates in the email box at the top of the page or follow me on Twitter.

Disclosure: I am not a licensed financial professional. Be sure to perform due diligence making any investments. I intend my posts for educational and entertainment value only.

Image Credit: African Spurred Tortoise by Photographer 2008, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Does Your Budget Matter? Build Wealth With Small Sums

Does Your Budget Matter?

When it comes to investing money and building up a nest egg, does your budget matter? It’s commonly assumed that it’s impossible to save for the future unless you have thousands of dollars stashed away. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, more than perhaps at any time in history, it is possible to start a nest egg for with minimal expense. Here are some steps to take to build wealth at any income level. Even a dollar a day can really add up over time.

Your Budget Doesn’t Matter: Pay Yourself First

These three words make up a very important piece of advice. When you fail to save money on a monthly basis before you pay all of the bills, it’s likely that there will be nothing left over to save. This savings should be automatic. If your employer allows you to save in a 401k, have the funds taken out before you see them. If you only have access to a savings account, be sure to have a bit taken out of every check. Even $5 or $10 a week can build up over time.

Choose Your Investing Platform

There are many different options when it comes to investing. Your local bank or credit union probably has savings accounts and certificates of deposit that you can use to stash money in the short term. They won’t earn much in the way of interest under most conditions. When you get up to $500 or $1,000 in savings, it’s probably a good idea to move toward a brokerage. While the bank might have a broker that can help you buy stocks and bonds, it’s likely that they’ll charge an arm and a leg.

There are tons of online brokerages, and many of them are discount brokerages in nature. It’s possible to invest via Loyal3 and pay nothing in brokerage transaction fees. I’ve used both Loyal3 and TradeKing for cheap brokerage options.  TradeKing only charges $4.95 for trades and offers options trading.

Think About Index Investing

I’ve personally started using a dividend growth model for investing. I’m looking at the amount of income that my portfolio can provide. If you’re looking more toward capital gains, this might not be the best option for you. Even Warren Buffett told his heirs to invest his estate in index funds. These funds have minimal fees and track an index like the S & P 500. They do not attempt to beat the market like regular mutual funds. Traditional funds that try to beat the overall market tend to charge high fees, and these fees tend to cut down on your actual investment returns.

Warren Buffett and Barack Obama
Warren Buffett and Barack Obama, public domain via Pete Souza

Buffett often points out his optimism for the American economy over the long term. Therefore, he’s committed to investing in America. He’s been pretty successful so far, so it’s probably a good idea to listen to what he thinks about investing.

Look For Additional Income

If you’re asking the question, “Does your budget matter?” because it’s pretty tight, it might be a good idea to look for additional income. This might involve getting a second job. It might involve starting a business as a side hustle. It might involve trying to earn bonuses for opening bank accounts or credit cards. Here are some ways to earn money online without spending a penny.

This additional income, even a few dollars every week, can be the basis for increasing the amount that you have in your nest egg. As the nest egg starts to grow, it will build its own momentum. Many people have talked of building a dividend snowball that starts to grow on its own as more capital and dividends get added to the snowball. Over time, you might l awake to find that your snowball is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Even index funds will tend to pay out dividends that can go toward buying more shares.

Regardless of how much you make, anything above your actual expenses can go toward building wealth. The time to start is today. The younger you are, the more time you have to build your nest egg over time.  The answer to the question at the beginning of the article, Does Your Budget Matter? is a definite no.

Disclaimer: Some of these links are affiliate links that can may compensate me should you sign up for a product or service. Also, I am not an investment professional. This article is intended only for educational and informational purposes, so be sure to perform due diligence before investing in any securities.

Travel Hacking: My Introduction to a Great Opportunity

One of the coolest opportunities that is out there for most people is travel hacking. This “hobby” gives ordinary people who are far from trust fund babies like Donald Trump’s or Bill Clinton’s kids the chance to get out and see the world without spending a fortune. I had no idea that it even existed until I was well into adulthood, but I soon learned that it could really benefit me.

My Idea of a Great Vacation as a Kid

When I was a youngster, I really enjoyed going to amusement parks. My family went to Kings Island in Ohio just about every year in my youth. I really liked it and pushed to go back. My youth group at church would go. My family would go. Some years, we’d go to Kings Island and Carowinds in North Carolina if we were lucky. My parents got bored with the whole “let’s go back to Kings Island” spiel, but it’s what I was comfortable with. I went on a few trips to church camp and three trips in high school, one of which took me to Arizona, that I really enjoyed, too. Flying across the world never really crossed my mind at this point.

The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island
Replica of the Eiffel Tower at Kings Island in Mason, OH

My Introduction to the World of Travel Hacking

After I proposed to my now wife, I set toward planning a honeymoon. I’d never been outside the US at this point, and we decided upon a week in Cancun. This would be my very first time ever on a plane. It would also be pretty much the last vacation that I’d pay full price for. About this time, a new accountant started working at my office. This guy told me he’d been to Hawaii. FOR FREE. I pretty much thought this was an impossibility, but I asked all about how he got to a tropical paradise that I figured I’d never visit because of the cost.

Enter Marriott Rewards

He then proceeded to tell me about the Marriott Rewards program. Needless to say, I wanted to learn more. He told me about the vacation package that you could get through Marriott’s loyalty program. Enough points would give you a free week at a Marriott hotel and frequent flyer miles to get you there. Wow. How can one get these here Marriott Rewards points? I wondered.

He then told me about the Marriott Rewards credit card that gave you points every time you stayed in a hotel owned by Marriott and a point for every other dollar you spent. Beside that, if you got approved for the card and made a single purchase, you’d get a bonus of 10,000 free points. This bonus is laughably small compared to what Marriott offers today, but back in 2003, it sounded like a good idea.

My First Travel Card

I talked to the new wife about this idea. She was cool with it, so I ditched my old AT & T Universal card that acted as a calling card and a credit card (I’d gotten it before the days of anyone and everyone having a cell phone. People actually used pay phones and hotel phones in those olden days). I applied for the Marriott Rewards card. I excitedly used it as soon as it came in to get the bonus points.

Not long after, we decided that perhaps my wife could qualify too. We saw an ad for 20,000 bonus points after the first purchase, plus a FREE NIGHT. We thought this was a great deal. Again, this bonus is pretty laughable compared to what’s available today. The newer Marriott Rewards Premier card now offers 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in three months. It also offers a free night to offset each renewal of the annual fee.

Off to Hawaii Via Marriott Rewards

It took more than two years of spending on the card, the two bonuses, and staying at Marriott hotels when out of town to build up nearly enough to pay for a week at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Back in those days, seven nights at what was then a category 5 hotel took 110,000 points. I was just short and bought a few thousand points to make it happen.

My account didn’t have enough to get the package deal with the airline miles, but I did get tickets for $448 from my small-town airport in the Eastern US. I also had a $50 coupon for a United flight from an Entertainment book that I bought to get buy-one-get-one deals at restaurants. This brought the final cost for $398 for each ticket to Honolulu. Needless to say, I thought this was a big score. I got to Hawaii for about $1,200 total and got to stay in a nice resort.

Travel Hacking Since

In those early days, I rarely got new credit cards, thinking it was a good idea to avoid having too many. I’d heard that too many would hurt your credit score. If you’re responsible with them, they really don’t. It took me several years to get enough miles and points to get my next trip, which landed me at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, another Marriott property in a tropical paradise.

CasaMagna Marriott Resort Puerto Vallarta, part of a travel hacking trip
Entrance to CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly) I actually paid for this hotel, but got my flights for taxes only.

Since the trip to Aruba, I’ve been more aggressive with the travel rewards cards. I’ve earned bonuses from the new Chase Sapphire Reserve, as well as the older, but still good, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Freedom. An upgrade with a new Marriott Rewards Premier card also earned me a hefty bonus. I’ve been able to take highly discounted trips to Los Angeles/Disneyland, Paris, and Mexico over the past few years. Additionally, I’ve got another trip to Europe planned with points and miles taking care of most of the cost.

Bottom Line on Travel Hacking

If you’re responsible with your finances, and you can pay off all of your credit card bills every month to avoid interest costs, you too can travel the world. Signing up for one of the cards listed above can be a good start that can help you achieve some dreams you might have thought outside your ability to achieve. Travel hacking has changed over the past couple of years, and it’s more difficult to score as many bonus points. However, the opportunities that remain are definitely worth taking advantage of.

Have you been able to take advantage of travel hacking? If so, let me know in the comments. Also, be sure to sign up for updates by filling out the email form at the top of the page or follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Some of my links on this site are affiliate links. I may receive compensation should you choose to sign up using them. I appreciate any support.

Making Money without Leaving the House