Looking Back on My Most Expensive Year of Travel

What a roller coaster the year 2022 was! My dad almost died from Covid, and even though he survived, his health took a permanent hit. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, which is a tragedy on a global scale. This conflict is ongoing, and currently there is no end in sight. It’s also a reminder not to take anything we have for granted.

I am so incredibly thankful that my relatives in Belarus (borders Ukraine/supporter of Russian aggression) were able to fly out of the country and meet me in Montenegro this summer. Who knows when/if we will see each other again.

My SIL recently got engaged, something she desperately wanted, but basically gave up on. In short, for my family, 2022 was the year of “black swan” events, some good, some bad.

But we are here to talk about travel. So let’s get to it, shall we? Like many families, we went a little (more than a little) crazy this year. We’ve obviously had to cancel several major trips due to Covid pandemic. So when we all got fully vaccinated, it was time to go on a spending spree, at least when it comes to travel. Well, as much as our middle-class budget would allow, of course.

So, in this post I wanted to share some actual $ numbers with you. I make it a point to be as transparent as possible because let’s face it, travel is expensive.

It is my passion, and something I still get excited about. Fortunately, my husband likes to indulge me. Plus, I hope that our kids will have amazing lifetime memories from our family adventures. I truly think it’s one of the best gifts we as parents can give them.

I can honestly say that aside from local getaways, miles and points didn’t affect my destination choices whatsoever. We went where we wanted to go, even if it cost us extra cash.  Let’s look at some highlights from 2022.

 A long-awaited trip to Disney World

 

Savings from using miles and points: $200

Final out-of-pocket cost: $1,500

Most of you know that I’m not a huge fan of Disney. However, my kids love it, so we try to go every five years or so. My son has been begging me to take him to Hollywood Studios to see the new Star Wars section. So, this February we went all out and booked him the Lightsaber and Droid building experiences. See my post with all the details 

I used hotel certificates for a two-night stay at a Holiday Inn Vacation Club resort, and spent $98 on renewal certificates from IHG credit cards. If I didn’t have them, I would just book a random resort for around $150 per night. That’s why I’m estimating our savings at $200. A drop in the bucket, but every little bit helps.

Needless to say, my son had a blast. And so did my husband, who now wants to go back and build his own lightsaber. Ugh.

Our summer family reunion in Europe

Miles and points saved us: $5,500

Final out-of-pocket cost: $9k

I can’t describe in words just how grateful I am that this trip was a go. We’ve had so many issues that almost ruined the whole plan: canceled flights, last-minute illness, you name it. See my series of posts here.

But things worked out in the end. I absolutely fell in love with Montenegro, and my nephews in Belarus refer to it as the best trip they’ve ever been on. 

I’m so glad I was able to provide them with this experience, especially after all the things they have been through over the last two years (parents’ divorce, several apartment moves etc)

My parents and nephews are enjoying a cruise around the Bay of Kotor

I ended up adding a few detours on the way back to US, like visiting Paris and Iceland, which did increase the cost substantially. Plus, I had to cover airfare from Belarus to Montenegro for five people at $460 per person. It was a big expense, but I have zero regrets.

I did redeem miles on our tickets to/from Europe, which has saved us around $4k, due to complicated itinerary. I also used my Chase Ultimate Rewards to offset an AirBnB charge in Paris, and 100k Capital One points towards a van rental in Iceland. I skipped using hotel points on this trip because I didn’t find it to be cost-effective for the places we’ve visited.

Local Florida getaways using renewal points/certificates

Hotel points and certs saved us: around $1k

Final out-of-pocket cost: $328 ( renewal certificates and points via credit cards)

Unlike airline tickets, the value here is hard to quantify. Even though the places I stayed at technically retailed for more than $1k total, I probably wouldn’t pay more than that if I had to spend actual cash. But here I wanted to show that often it makes sense to pay annual fees on cards that provide these types of perks.

For example, my husband and I have the old Wyndham cards that have an annual fee of $69. In exchange, we get 15k (x2) Wyndham points each year. This May I redeemed these points on a Vacasa property in Siesta Key, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s located a little over an hour from our house, which made for a cheap beach getaway.

Would I pay $250 per night for it? Unlikely. But using points that I acquired for $69 was a no-brainer. In fact, I’ve booked another stay at this property next year.

We also finally got a chance to take the kids to Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort in Orlando, located 1.5 hours from our home. I was able to use my Hyatt renewal certificates for one room, and Hyatt points (12k per night) for me and my husband. Since I value 12k Hyatt points at around $150, it was an equivalent of paying $250 per night all-in for two rooms. Not a bad deal for a very nice hotel.

My son said it’s now his favorite Hyatt resort, and that he can’t wait to go back. So I guess I’ll have to indulge him at some point, as long as the renewal certificates keep on flowing. I’m not including the cost of food and parking, in order to keep it simple. But of course, those things do add up.

Our anniversary getaway to Costa Rica

Miles and points saved us: $750 

Final out-of-pocket cost: $1,250

This trip was so much fun! You can read all the details in these series of posts. I used Jet Blue points on our flights from Orlando to San Jose, and Hyatt points on one-night stay in Tabacon Resort and Spa. But the real highlight was definitely Nayara Tented Camp due to unexpected upgrade.

A stunning resort, but very pricey. Still, if you are celebrating a special event and have some money to spare, definitely look into it.

 

Our 10-day cruise to Panama Canal

Miles and points saved us: $0

Final out-of-pocket costs: around $7k

Needless to say, after we spent a fortune on our trip to Europe, an expensive cruise was not part of the 2022 plan. But I saw a deal, and couldn’t resist. All the puzzle pieces fell into place, but there was one problem. I tied up most of our emergency fund in US Savings Bonds, and would not be able to access it till May of 2023.

Putting $5k on 0% credit cards in hopes of paying it off in time was a leap of faith. A crazy one. But I did it anyway. At the time, we had just finished paying for my husband’s car, so I figured it would help. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any major emergencies, and I was able to pay off the cruise before we sailed. But guys and gals, don’t do this at home.

The cruise was incredible, and I’m glad we went. But if I’m being honest, we needed this extra expense like a fish needs an umbrella.

Final thoughts

Miles and points can certainly save you a ton of money, no question about it. However, in my case, what happens is, I simply schedule more trips with the money I save. If you look at what miles and points saved me in 2022, it adds up to a bit more than $7k (give or take). That’s basically what we spent on our Panama cruise.

So, if I used only cash for all of my previous trips, I would likely still be paying off those expenses via 0% card. And Panama Canal cruise would simply not be an option. Interesting, isn’t it? While I don’t regret anything, it’s good to be honest with yourself. Hi, my name is Leana, and I’m a travel addict.

How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.

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