I just came back from an amazing vacation in Cancun. A vacation was long-overdue after a year of working hard to launch ValuePenguin's Singapore site, and I came back as rejuvenated as I could ever have been staying at one of the most luxurious resorts in Cancun called Le Blanc for 3 nights. And how much money did I spend? A grand total of about S$100 for airport transportation to and from our hotel and some other miscellaneous expenses. While Cancun is a bit far from Singapore, there are plenty of other ways of enjoying similarly luxurious getaways to places like Bali without breaking your bank. Here, I explain some tips on how you can afford such a trip every year.
1. Actively Earn and Redeem Miles
I was able to book my flights and my hotel room nights for "free" because I used the miles I earned on my credit card spending. Simply by using credit cards like Citi PMV Card or DBS Altitude Card, it's relatively easy to rack up enough miles in just 12 months for you to be able to afford a couple free round trip tickets in the region.
For instance, if you and your travel partner (spouse, significant other, friend, etc) spend $2,000-S$3,000 per person per month, both of the cards we mentioned above can earn at least 57,600 to 86,400 miles per year at a rate of 1.2 mile per S$1 of expenditure. Since a 1-way ticket from Singapore to Bali costs about 7,500 miles for 1 person on economy saver, you can redeem 30,000 miles for 2 round trip tickets to Bali and still have 27,600 to 56,400 miles left.
Not only that, some miles cards actually let you use your miles to redeem for lodging as well. Citi PMV Card converts 1 mile to to 1IHG or 1.5 Hilton HHonors points that you can redeem for room nights. HSBC Revolution Card lets you redeem miles to travel vouchers at up to S$0.013 per mile (1 rewards point = 0.4 miles = S$0.05), a very lucrative deal being worth roughly 30% higher than what it would've been if you just redeemed it for an economy class air ticket. Since a room at a hotel like Hilton Resort in Bali can cost as low as 29,000 HHonors points or S$200 per night, the leftover miles after getting your flights should be able to cover 30,000 to 40,000 miles required to for your weekend lodging.
While there are dozens of possible ways of utilising miles, we've just shown how a couple can redeem miles for at least 2 person's round trip air ticket and 2 room nights at a good hotel in Bali by consistently spending S$2,000 to S$3,000 on their cards per person on a monthly basis. You can even use a cash back card instead of a miles card to do something similar by saving up all of your rebates to use exclusively for your vacation needs. At the end of the day, the trick here is to plan at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance so that you are able to secure your itinerary at great redemption rates or pricing.
2. Avoid "Hot Destinations" During Peak Travel Seasons
Even if you aren't able to plan that far in advance, there are other ways of redeeming miles for a free vacation every year. A lot of people tend to look for places to visit by searching for the "best places to visit during the month of XYZ." However, this can be a losing proposition not only because air tickets and hotel costs can be much higher, but also because the availability of economy saver seats or bonus room nights can be extremely scarce during peak seasons or long-weekends. One trick I always use to avoid this hassle is to pick destinations that have just passed their peak tourist seasons.
Especially in context of redeeming miles for a free vacation, saver tickets and bonus room nights are relatively easy to secure on a regular weekend, especially if the destination's hottest peak travel season has passed few weeks ago. Not only that, you can still enjoy conditions (i.e. seasonal) that are relatively similar to that of the golden period because you aren't going there 2-3 months after the ideal conditions have passed. You may even be able to enjoy a more pleasant relaxation in a less crowded resort.
3. Actively Use Your Credit Card Company's Travel Booking Engines
Also, if you don't have enough miles or points to book an entire trip for free, you can still benefit immensely by using your credit card company's travel booking portals to purchase parts of trips that you couldn't get with your reward miles. Most banks with miles credit cards offer their own special booking portal or promo codes that provides even higher bonus miles or 10-15% of discounts on your bookings, especially for hotels and travel packages. Therefore, if you only have enough miles to redeem for free air tickets, these portals can be extremely effective in securing an affordable vacation. These portals are easy to find on the bank's website under the specific card's benefits section.
4. Consider An All-Inclusive Resort
If you are in mood for a complete and thorough relaxation without extra costs, I highly recommend going with an all-inclusive option. Staying at Le Blanc, an all-inclusive resort, helped me reduce all my dining and beverage expenditures to zero, which otherwise could have easily added up to hundreds of dollars. Not only that, a lot of these resorts are actually not that much more expensive than regular ones, and the options in Bali all tend to have great ratings on Tripadvisor as well. My tip would be to look for a well-rated place with many dining options on premise, so you can experience a diverse set of cuisines and not get bored with your food. You can also use the bank's portals that we mentioned above to book these hotels.
5. Consider Using "Sharing Economy" Services like Grab and Airbnb instead of Hotel or Pre-Booked Transportation Services
One mistake I made on my trip was booking my hotel's airport shuttle service, which charged us US$52 for 2 people. After having booked it just for sake of not wanting to worry about it at the last minute, I wanted to look up up Uber's pricing once I landed in Cancun: it was merely US$6.
Sharing economy is transforming the travel industry on a titanic scale, bringing both affordability and convenience previously not thought possible. Simply calling an Uber ride once I landed at the airport would've been both cheaper and more convenient than calling the hotel in advance to book a airport shuttle (which also entailed waiting time once we landed). Sadly, I made the mistake of doing the latter, which cost me about S$70, the biggest "real" expenditure I made on this trip.
Similarly, if you aren't able to find great hotel deals bookable with your miles, it can be wise to book an Airbnb instead, as they can be 60-70% cheaper. Not only that, cards like DBS Altitude card even lets you earn 3 miles per S$1 you spend on Airbnb booking, so you can rack up miles for your next vacation even more quickly.