2018 Travels, Hacks, & Tips. A Year in Travel Review.

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2018 was another year filled with adventures: domestic and international along with deals new and old we used to make those trips possible.

We hope to hear from you, if we shared something you didn’t know, or if we inspire a travel fire you didn’t have! Comment and let us know!

kremlin, moscow

kremlin, moscow

Also this might sound like a glorified ad for my Amex Platinum, it wasn’t meant to be, it just happened that it saved me quite a lotta bucks and grief! If you’re thinking of getting one, there’s a link at the end of this post to get one for yourself.

March - Four Days in Alaska

Sunset near roadside stop surrounded by huge ice chunks

Sunset near roadside stop surrounded by huge ice chunks

If you know us, you know that it’s not our first time in Alaska. We’re also not ones to go to the same place twice. But Alaska is something else; and it’s sort of in Americas back yard, some might say its in Russias back yard too. If you want to see more about Alaska visit this blog post - These 22 Photos Will Make You Want to Visit Alaska.

Yes it’s beautiful! So how did we hack it?

Off Season means its CHEAPER!

Hiking across a frozen Portage Lake, yep it was cold and windy but believe it or not, there were a lot of people making the hike.

Hiking across a frozen Portage Lake, yep it was cold and windy but believe it or not, there were a lot of people making the hike.

We traveled in March which meant affordable hotels. Alaska doesn’t have a lot for accommodation so when you travel during peak season June-August, space is limited and prices are HIGH. We made Anchorage our home base and made day trips to the surrounding sites.

During our previous trip (linked here) we slept in the car 70% of the trip!

Incredible private glacier views - I was dropped off on this rock while the boat pulled back to get this photo!

Incredible private glacier views - I was dropped off on this rock while the boat pulled back to get this photo!

Use Points for Free Flights

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After earning my 60,000 point sign up bonus using my Amex Platinum Credit Card, I used ~35,000 points to book my flight to Anchorage from Chicago. Since I decided to squeeze in a snowboarding trip I needed to check 2 extra bags. With the same Amex Platinum you get to choose an airline for which you can waive Bag fees and in flight purchases for up to $200/year.

Saved $60 in bag fees with this perk!

Long Distance - Better Upgrades

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Corey opted to use his upgrade certificate that comes with his Delta Platinum Status for his flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage. Since it was a longer haul “Domestic” flight, the upgrade was definitely worth it!

Car Accident? No Problem

With the same Amex Platinum I was able to get the car protection after a freak Ice+Hill+Parking Meter accident. OK I parked the car on a hill with one wheel on ice and when we came back, the car miraculously slid sideways into a parking meter, denting the back bumper and blowing out the tail light. Luckily I turned the wheels for safety and I did avoid hitting another car - Phew!

I’ve never used a credit card car protection with a rental accident and it was incredible how easy and seamless it was. All of our nerves about extra cost and increased insurance rates went out the window and we were able to enjoy the rest of our trip!

Yay I got to snowboard after 4 years!

Yay I got to snowboard after 4 years!

I didn’t lift a finger and it covered the $1,000+ in damage to the rental!

Thanks Amex Platinum!

I arrived a day earlier than corey so of course I went exploring with my GoPro. with the sunshine, the weather was quite pleasant, I even took my winter coat off!

I arrived a day earlier than corey so of course I went exploring with my GoPro. with the sunshine, the weather was quite pleasant, I even took my winter coat off!

Off Season = Private Everything

With some luck of sunny days and 30-40 degree weather, Alaska in March was a treat!

We splurged and rented a private boat tour (Private because there is nobody booking at all!) to take us to some glaciers. During peak season, these destinations are packed with tourists from cruise ships so imagine these with hundreds of boats.

We experienced a rare sight of Porpoises swimming and even surfing with us.

So unexpected and special!

quick fact - our boat driver used to fish for ice and sell it to japan because having glacier ice was cool and it doesn’t melt as fast.

quick fact - our boat driver used to fish for ice and sell it to japan because having glacier ice was cool and it doesn’t melt as fast.

When we arrived to the glaciers and sat under them we could hear them rumbling and cracking. Crazy to think that at any moment they can come crashing down! Exciting and intimidating.

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May - Vegas for the Eighth Annual Pool Party

Ok… we’ll admit there isn’t much hacking going on but we love to get together for the Annual Vegas Pool Party at the MGM Lazy River Pool!

Fun hack - stand out from the glitzy crowd with some cool wigs!

May - Croatia

Seven Days - Three Countries

Yep it’s possible: Stockholm, Split, and Venice. On our way to Croatia with SAS Airlines, we were lucky to have a 7 hour layover in Stockholm, Sweden. A new country & city for both my friend and I, and enough time to take a speed train to the city, have an Aperol Sprits, and try some local fare!

Layovers are a great way to see a city that you wouldn’t typically spend more than a day in and a great way to get more out of a short trip!

Warning: Be careful booking long layovers that they are during the day and not overnight unless you have an accommodation.

We booked a “multi-city” flight, meaning we flew Chicago to Split, then out of Venice to Chicago and bought a regional airline in between.

San Marco square at 6 am in venice. at noon you can’t walk through here its so crowded

San Marco square at 6 am in venice. at noon you can’t walk through here its so crowded

Venice was also another treat that I didn’t expect to enjoy. Between getting lost in the romantic canals to getting up at sunrise to capture touristy spots completely to myself!

venice parking lot

venice parking lot

Earning Extra Points w/ Flights

Since my friend didn’t care as much as I for the 5X Credit Card points, I paid for both flights and earned the 5X on our fight purchase using my Amex Platinum (yep again!).

sailing around croatias islands is one of the best past times, two of our days were spent on boats!

sailing around croatias islands is one of the best past times, two of our days were spent on boats!

Be sure to book your flights using credit cards that earn you the most rewards. Look for 3-5X rewards on travel.

brac island, croatia. you can see bol beach in the distance which is where we spent the rest of the day

brac island, croatia. you can see bol beach in the distance which is where we spent the rest of the day

Lounge Access - Ultimate Lifesaver

Priority Pass comes with two of the cards we own - Chase Reserve, Citi Prestige, and Amex Platinum. It allows for over 1200 lounges worldwide. Typically, but not always, the lounges are in international terminals so when you have a layover with 30+ minutes of down time, these are a life and money saver!

hvar island

hvar island

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All you can eat buffet and all you can drink: cappuccino, juice, wine, beer, cocktails or all of the above. Comfy seats, plugs for all your charges, wifi, nice bathrooms and even showers!

We used two lounges in Chicago, two in Stockholm, and same in Split. Imagine the money we saved on snacks and beverages.

beautiful stone streets and alleys of old town split

beautiful stone streets and alleys of old town split

Tip: Even if you take one international flight this year, get one of these cards to test out lounge access feature. Ask us for a referral!

climbing the castle on hvar island

climbing the castle on hvar island

AirBnb - More Space

Our host greeted us with Champagne and our two bedroom + balcony accommodation was perfect - varying air conditioner temp likes and sleep schedules, a typical hotel would have been a bit tight.

It’s Affordable

no 5 star restaurant, just a stop on the side of the highway.

no 5 star restaurant, just a stop on the side of the highway.

Did we mention incredible Italian, Mediterranean, and Eastern European cuisine influence on top of Cheap and Delicious Wine. A liter of wine is $10! Yes, we had a few of those.

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May - Boys Euro Trip

Free Flights & Extra Thank You’s

While I was on a girls Euro trip, Corey was on a boys trip through Dublin and Prague and he also indulged in some extra rewards by booking the flights on his Citi Bank Prestige earning 5X points on 2 flights for his friends. Using his “Thank You” Points on the Prestige Card, he booked his entire flight using points while earning 10,000 extra points for booking his friends flight.

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They also got to share Corey’s Priority Pass to enjoy lounge access in Dublin and Prague for three!

Tip: If your friends don’t care as much about points, offer to use your rewards card, get extra points, and have them Venmo you the cash when credit card is due.

Don’t let travel points go to debit cards!

August - VIP Lollapalooza in Chicago

And we didn’t spend a dollar.

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Corey used Delta Experiences to bid on a One Day VIP pass to Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. For 70,000 points (one sign up bonus!) we got two tickets to the Saturday show VIP Style. All drinks, food, shaded areas, massages, nails, glitter, water, golf cart transport between stages all included. These tickets are retail for $650 each or $1,300 and we would never pay that kind of hard earned money for one day of VIP (personally), however with points, it was completely worth it and a DEAL!

Like this idea? Check out this post on our LA Red Carpet Movie Premier and VIP after party with the stars. And again - using Delta points because you can’t buy this stuff.

Have a dream car? Rent it for a day!

One of Corey’s dream cars is the Maserati. And since he is a buyer, all buying decisions are very well thought out to ensure they bring the best value, are worth what they are, and other varying market conditions and such and such. So the best way for him to decide if he truly wanted this car is to rent it for a day, you can do that with the Turo app.

Get $25 off your first rental - HERE!

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We picked up the car and headed to Milwaukee for the day. Because why not!

September - Russia

A bucket trip for Corey and the country where I was born, Russia was an exciting adventure for both of us. For me to be reminded how bad my Russian is while Corey is feeling lucky he has me to translate about what kind of potato he’d like as his side. Not exactly, but we both truly enjoyed Russia’s history, modern culture, mens cross body fanny packs, women’s fashion, and the food (mostly for me!).

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Hotels.com >> Collect Free Nights

Whenever booking outside of Airbnb, or specific reward sites, we ALWAYS use Hotels.com to book our hotel stays for the sole benefit of earning a free night after 10 stays. We booked our Moscow stay on Hotels.com and our stay earned us a $90 credit.. referenced in the Philippines.

Fourth Night Free

Using Corey’s Citi Prestige card, we were able to get the fourth night free ( a standard benefit with this credit card) in St Petersburg. It helped reduce the overall cost by $250 while staying in the center of town.

Lounges

We used our Priority pass to lounge in between layovers. A benefit of 3 of our credit cards. It just keeps on giving!

Like these tips and tricks? follow us on Instagram and Instagram Stories for live updates on hacks, deals, and travel inspiration for the working class.

November - Philippines

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Philippines was never on Corey’s bucket list or any annual Top Ten list. But knowing I’ve been there once (not for long due to a Typhoon) and having unfinished in that country, he compromised to go somewhere unexpected. Although we spent every single day on a boat island hopping, each stop, each snorkel, and each island exploration were so different and unique that we could definitely see ourselves going back!

Oh and everyone spoke english.

snorkel & lunch spot on our private tour boat. el nido, palawan, Philippines

snorkel & lunch spot on our private tour boat. el nido, palawan, Philippines

Google Flights - Spin the Globe

quaint small town of el nido, we loved it!

quaint small town of el nido, we loved it!

We love exploring google flights for spontaneous and regular flight searches. Mid July we were surfing google flights by putting in the departure airport (ORD) and dates of travel over Thanksgiving holiday. The trick is NOT to put a destination.

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Click search and view using the map feature, scroll around the world, zoom in & out, and see what deals are out there. Seriously, its fun.

We found our flights for $700 round trip Chicago to Manila using this method (also how we found our Alaska flight).

We all make mistakes

The challenge with Philippines is, well, the 2,000 islands you have to travel in between. A lot of time is spent flying to, in between, and back from an island destination. We opted for two islands and still lost at least a full day of just traveling.

With timing and departures, I managed to book a flight back to Manila in the evening thinking we have a 12AM (midnight) flight. However, the flight was at 12 (noon) the next day. Whoopsy. We didn’t have a place to stay. However with our previously earned in Russia Hotels.com $90 credit, I booked a hotel near the airport for zero cost. Phew - crisis averted!

The cool thing about this whoopsy is we got to experience a night in the capital of Philippines, Manila. Gotta love when you can squeeze in another destination in a short trip! We walked the water side “strip” by Mall of Asia surrounded by locals, hung out where the locals hung out and ate some great food and beer. We call that a win!

snorkeling alongside whale sharks, don’t worry they are friendly

snorkeling alongside whale sharks, don’t worry they are friendly

we found a turtle!

we found a turtle!

That concludes our review of 2018 in Travel, Tips, and Hacks. We hope you gained at least one piece of insight about making travel affordable and exciting using these tips.

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Credit Cards

And if you’re interested in signing up for one of the credit cards mentioned, we would be happy to send you a referral for a sign up if not linked here. Here are the Credit Cards mentioned that we recommend:

Platinum Card, American Express (Polina Recommends!)

  • 60,000 points sign up bonus after $5,000 spent over 3 months

  • Annual fee of $550 - The rewards outweigh the cost in the first year.

  • $200/year Uber credits

  • $200/year airline bag & in-flight credit

  • 5X per $1 earned on travel purchases (travel & hotels)

  • And a bunch more rewards I found while using it like Priority Pass Lounge Access!

CLICK HERE FOR OUR REFERRAL LINK

Citibank Citi Prestige (Corey Recommends)

New 2019 Changes make this a contender for the Amex Platinum however this card has not been available since August. It WILL be available again this January!

  • Annual Fee of $495

  • $250/year in travel credit (taxi, flights, hotels

  • Priority Pass Lounge Access

  • Complementary 4th Night Free (We used this in South Africa and Russia)

  • 5X per $1 on air travel, restaurants, & cruises

  • 3X per $1 on hotels, 1X on entertainment

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Where are your 2019 travels taking you?