How These Families Traveled Like Millionaires for Less Than $1,500

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For the budget-minded traveler, planning a luxury vacation can be challenging when airfare, accommodations and fees continue to climb. But by using smart strategies, hacks and know-how, it is possible to travel like a millionaire without exhausting your savings. Check out how these ordinary families with low budgets managed to travel like seasoned jet-setters.

Keep Reading: 7 Ways to Travel Like a Millionaire — on a Budget

Use Airline Points  

Ariana Arghandewal used airline points and miles to fund her family’s discount luxury travel to Asia. She took her parents and two siblings to Singapore, Bali and Hong Kong. And no, she is not wealthy.

She said she traveled mostly in business and first class. “We stayed at some of the best hotels, in spacious suites and received great perks like free breakfast and club lounge access.”

Arghandewal’s strategy can be copied by any travel enthusiast. She planned ahead as far as possible and used airline and hotel bonus points to finance the trip’s airfare and hotel costs. When all was said and done, the trip for five people, which she valued at $90,000, cost her $1,500 out of pocket.

On her blog, Pointchaser.com, Arghandewal described how she amassed 600,000 airline miles, though they were set to expire. She budgeted them accordingly when she purchased airline tickets for each flight from the U.S. to Asia. On one flight from Singapore to Bali, she was able to cover most of the $572 cost for five one-way tickets, solely by using airline points. She redeemed hotel points and took advantage of promotions to stay at four-star hotels throughout the trip.

Opening travel credit cards and taking advantage of sign up bonuses, which can range from 25,000 miles to 50,000 miles — enough on some airlines to cover the cost of a round-trip domestic airline ticket — is among Arghandewal’s secrets. On her Asian excursion, she said she opened three credit cards, which “pretty much covered round-trip business and first-class airfare for three people to Hong Kong, Singapore and Bali.”

How to Earn Miles Through Credit Cards

Sisters Patti and Matilda Geroulis, co-founders of the site The Travel Sisters, have used an assortment of travel hacks to vacation like millionaires more than a dozen times in the last three years. Patti recalled one of their most luxurious flights earlier this year on a first-class Singapore Airlines Suite, which is marketed for the “privileged few with their very own haven of tranquility.” Both tickets, valued at $10,000, cost them just a few hundred dollars apiece.

“We do this through travel hacking, basically, earning miles and points through methods other than travel … but mostly through mileage-earning credit cards,” she said. “Other methods we use are taking advantage of online shopping bonuses (and) special promotions.” Consider these travel tips below.

Map Out Your Goals

When wanderlust strikes, define your travel goals. Figure out your dream travel destination and timeline. “Are you interested in free flights, free hotels or both?” Geroulis asked. “Once you know your goals, you can start focusing on rewards programs and credit cards to help you accomplish them.”

Look Early, Book Early

Geroulis recommended that consumers start their travel search as soon as possible since some airlines release their seating availability — the number of seats allocated for awards and points redemption — many months in advance. “The more time you have, the higher the chance you will find a ticket to book,” she said. “Waiting till the last minute will also cost you; some airlines will charge a close-in or late booking fee for award tickets.”

Don’t Pass Up Rewards

“The best way to save a substantial amount on travel is by utilizing rewards (from) credit card sign-up bonuses,” said Arghandewal. “It brings the cost of travel as close to $0 as possible.”

She also urged consumers to be on the lookout for points wherever they can find them. Even dining rewards can help save on eating out while traveling. Likewise, Geroulis added that some awards programs allow consumers to transfer points to a variety of frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.

Do Online Surveys

The Travel Sisters swear by signing up for travel-based online survey sites and opinion panels like e-Rewards.com and e-Miles.com, which reimburse survey takers with points or miles redeemable at the time of ticket booking.

Get on the Phone

Check out numerous travel websites to find the best airfare and hotel rates. But don’t limit yourself to the internet alone. Call the airlines and speak to representatives.

“Some websites do not show all the awards available on their partner airlines,” said Geroulis. She added that many airline awards can be found on a partnering carrier’s webpage but not on the main airline’s page.

Make Tentative Arrangements

Pencil in your travel dates with your employer but don’t confirm them until they’re secured because last-minute changes to your itinerary could tack on penalty fees. Suzanne Garber, who recently paid just $1,962 for what she said was a $30,000 trip for two to Antarctica, followed this method:

“We made tentative plans with our work to ensure they knew we would be taking off a range of dates,” she said, “but not fully confirming until our plans were finalized.

Focus on the Long Haul

If your travel requires a long flight to a major city, and then a separate flight to a smaller city, for example, Geroulis uses this approach: “If you can find a first-class ticket to a city in Europe, you can pay for a low-cost flight to your final destination.”

Look for Special Discounts

You might qualify for a special discount without even knowing it. You might qualify for discounts if you are an Armed Forces veteran, a law enforcement official, an educator or retiree. If you’re over 65, check with AARP and other similar organizations for possible travel discounts. Many major airlines also offer rate reductions for certain travelers. United Airlines, for example, offers nominal rate savings for veterans.

Related: How to Save Money for Vacation From 11 Travel Experts

Find Alternatives

If a luxury destination is simply too expensive, look for inexpensive alternatives in neighboring vacation spots. You’ll save money without losing the experience.

For the money-minded traveler, planning a vacation at a low cost can present a challenge when everything from airfare, accommodations and fees are on the rise. It’s hard not to envy those people in first class who seem to hop the globe with zero financial restrictions, a pipe dream for most of us who don’t want to exhaust our entire life savings for luxury travel on a budget. But with some smart strategies, hacks and know-how in place, it is possible to travel like a millionaire without actually being one.

Check out the following stories to see how some of these families managed to spend just a few thousand dollars to travel in style just like the jet set.

$90,000 Vacation for $1,500

Ariana Arghandewal has airline points and miles to thank for funding some discount luxury travel with her family to Asia that would have cost 60 times more at full cost. This summer, Arghandewal paid only $1,500 out of pocket for the trip, which would have been more than $90,000 if she’d paid for it herself.

“The five of us traveled to Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong, mostly in business and first class,” she said. “We stayed at some of the best hotels, in spacious suites, and received great perks like free breakfast and club lounge access.” According to Arghandewal, her savings strategy boiled down to using credit card sign-up bonuses and other travel hacking tactics that generated over a million rewards points and free miles to offset her expenses, mainly for plane tickets and hotel stays at each of three stops on her trip, plus the return home to San Francisco.

Arghandewal used timing to her advantage to get the most value out of her stockpile of airline miles. On her blog, she detailed how keeping an eye out for optimum awards availability could net her the most savings. When she booked an initial flight for five people from San Francisco to Singapore — with a stop in Hong Kong — Arghandewal was able to redeem 55,000 miles per person out of 600,000 available airline miles before they were set to devalue. Likewise, from Singapore to Bali, Arghandewal used 52,000 arrival miles to reimburse most of the $572.79 total for five one-way tickets. On two more flights, from Bali to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to California, she was able to use over 137,000 more miles in her queue.

The family stayed at four-star hotels throughout the entire trip thanks to more points redemption. Arghandewal wrote that her four-night stay at the Grand Hyatt Singapore was possible through cashing in her Diamond Suite upgrade award, which gave her access to free breakfasts, the hotel’s club lounge and suite reservations. Later, in Hong Kong, 25,000 points all but completely paid a stay at the Grand Hyatt.

Related: 10 Cheapest Beaches of Southeast Asia

$10,000 for Next to Nothing

Patti Geroulis and sister Matilda have used an assortment of travel hacks to travel like millionaires for virtually free more than a dozen times. According to Patti, one of their most luxurious flights earlier this year was on a first-class Singapore Airlines Suite — both $10,000 tickets cost just a few hundred dollars. Patti said it’s a combination of factors that goes into making expensive travel so affordable.

“We do this through travel hacking,” she said. “Basically, earning miles and points through methods other than travel. We earn miles and points through a variety of methods, but mostly through mileage earning credit cards. Other methods we use are taking advantage of online shopping bonuses, special promotions and manufacturing spending.”

From $15,000 to $981 per Person

Suzanne Garber and her family are certainly well traveled, having visited each of the seven continents and more than 80 countries. But it was a memorable trip to Antarctica a few years back that saved them some major bucks. On account of several travel and savings steps taken in advance, what would have set Garber back $15,000 per person instead cost a mere $981 per family member. Here’s how they did it.

1. Plan In Advance

Garber did her homework for months ahead of time, planning where they wanted to travel, comparing rates and exploring their options before committing to any big-ticket purchases. “This enabled us to get to know the best operators in terms of quality and alignment with our traveling values,” she said.

2. Make Tentative Arrangements

Give your employer a heads up on the time of month you might be traveling, but don’t lock into any dates until you’re absolutely sure, since they might be subject to change. “We made tentative plans with our work to ensure they knew we would be taking off a ‘range’ of dates (say, between December 15 and 30) but not fully confirming until our plans were finalized,” she said.

3. Take a Proactive Approach

The cheapest tickets for sale can be even cheaper when looking for different ways to save money on airfare instead of settling for what’s there. “We put on hold our plane tickets,” said Garber. “Getting a cheaper rate up to 21 days in advance, or using a combination of miles and points helps — especially when you are traveling at last minute. You also avoid many fees and increased prices.”

Garber also emphasized travelers speak with a live airline representative instead of booking tickets online; it may seem old school and less convenient, but a live agent, she said, can override system preferences and ticketing deadlines that the average user isn’t capable of doing on their end.

4. Keep Looking for Deals

Contrary to travel myth, booking airfare at the eleventh hour can sometimes be cheaper than done in advance, so don’t be afraid to keep looking in fear of losing out on you trip. “We scoured sites like vacationstogo.com or perx.com for last minute deals,” Garber said. “When I say last minute, I mean the day before or max a week before!”

5. Seek Industry-Specific Discounts

You and your family might qualify for a special discount without even knowing it. Are you an Armed Forces veteran, a law enforcement official, educator or retiree? You might qualify for rate or fee reductions depending on the industry. Garber recommended looking up some of these potential deals to find a potential match and secure a cheaper deal without having to pay full price for your travel plans.

Ultimately, it was taking these steps in tandem which afforded the Garber family a vacation fit for a millionaire at a portion of the cost. Flexibility and timing were key: “Even though we only purchased our tickets to Antarctica three days before we actually departed to Ushuaia, Argentina, there had been months of planning from a logistics, familial and financial aspect,” she said. According to Garber, in addition to Antarctica, the family followed a similar plan for travel to the Galapagos Islands in 2006, Lake Titicaca in 2010 and Turkey in 2011.