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How We Were Able to go to Vegas for Free on My Birthday

If you want to go to Vegas for free, it can be done. Read how I was able to use credit card churning to pay for a vacation that would've cost over $3,000.

As many regular Frugal Rules readers know already, my wife and I were able to go to Vegas for free to celebrate my 40th birthday about six weeks ago. Truth be told, the trip wasn’t entirely free as we did take some money to gamble as well as to see a show, but outside of that we were able to travel to Vegas basically for free. How you ask? Well, it was all thanks to rewards points that we earned by churning credit cards over the past year.

Through credit card churning, we were able to fund a trip that would’ve normally cost roughly $3,000+ to fund on our own. I had read about numerous people who were taking trips all over the world and were able to travel for free and I seriously questioned it working, not to mention the ease of which it could be done. After going to Vegas for next to nothing, I can safely say I’ve been hooked on free travel! In fact, I’m currently working on a way to get us our fall vacation for free and a trip to Europe for 2015.

I’ve been asked numerous times how we were able to fund this trip, so I thought I’d just share it in the form of a blog post. That said, if you do struggle with credit card debt, then no free trip is worth racking up more debt – plain and simple! We were able to earn rewards through our everyday spending that we’d normally be doing anyway which is great considering we didn’t have to spend like crazy to earn the trip.

Where Did We Stay in Vegas?

Vegas

Our sweet room at the Bellagio.

Mrs. Frugal Rules and I enjoy going to Vegas every so often as you can usually get a really nice room for a pretty reasonable rate. We’ve stayed at a number of hotels in Vegas, with the Bellagio being our favorite, hands down. We’ve only been able to stay in the “normal” room in the past, but wanted to do something nicer for my birthday. So, we ponied up for the Salone Premier Fountain View Suite. An aside, we used the $20 sandwich trick (well, it was more than $20) to upgrade from this room to get an even better room. There’ll be a post in the near future on that.

All that said, we wanted to get our week started a little early though (as we had originally planned on getting to Vegas on a Monday) so we stayed that previous Sunday night at The Monte Carlo as we like to try a new place each time we go there. All totaled, the four nights of lodging would’ve cost us nearly $1,700.

Ouch, that is a chunk of change! However, it was all paid for thanks to three different credit cards. The first card we churned was the Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. This was my wife’s card as we had used mine to cover our FinCon hotel costs. We had just over $500 in rewards point on that card, thanks to the $400 you get after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days.

The balance of the rewards points came from our American Express Blue Sky cards. The current offer ($100 in rewards after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days) isn’t as nice as the one we scored ($400 in rewards after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and no annual fee to boot). We had roughly $1,100 in rewards on all our cards added up to us getting the rooms for free. (Well, we had to cover the resort costs of about $100 for the trip, but not too shabby in my opinion.) :-)

How Did We Go to Vegas?

 

Living in Omaha, we definitely had to fly to Vegas and we can usually get fairly good rates in doing so. We love to fly Southwest, but the cost was going to come in at just over $700 for the two of us to get there. This is where the Southwest Rapid Rewards card by Chase came into play. We managed to get the card when they offered 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days. This is what the spending got me:

  • $800 worth of air travel rewards for me and anyone else traveling with me
  • The points can be used for any of their destinations
  • 6,000 bonus points every year on Anniversary – this works out to a wash when you consider the $99 annual fee
  • Rewards points can be used on other things like gift cards, hotel stays or car rentals

 

I will stress that you will need to sign up for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program first, which is free, in order to take advantage of the free travel. Once I met the minimum spend, I called Southwest to book the airfare and it was a painless process which was done in about 10-15 minutes.

If you want to go to Vegas for free, it can be done. Read how I was able to use credit card churning to pay for a vacation that would've cost over $3,000.

Nothing in Vegas is Cheap

 

If you have gone to Vegas, you know nothing there is cheap and I mean nothing. But, there are ways to save money while there. The final piece to our credit card churning was our Chase Freedom cards. We love the Chase Freedom card as you get 1% cash back on everything with rotating 5% categories every quarter. For that reason, along with no annual fee, it’s our daily go-to card. Between the two of us we had a little over $700 in rewards cash that we had accumulated over the past year or so, which we used as our spending money for this trip.

We wanted to have fun since we were there for my birthday, but didn’t want to go hog wild either. The first and main cost was food. We wanted to enjoy a few nice meals, but also wanted to cut down on the number of meals we had to two per day. To help towards that end, we discovered the Buffet of Buffets. That is a grouping of a number of buffets you can dine at for roughly $50 per person over a 24 hour period. We were able to time it ahead so we could have lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch the following day and get four meals out of it. We did drink while there, but kept it to getting drinks while we gambled (for the most part)so we only had tips to deal with as opposed to the cost of the drink itself.

The other big spending cost was entertainment as we knew that we wanted to see a show while there. Cheap tickets can cost in the $100 per ticket range, but I was not willing to accept that. So, I did some searching online and on Vegas.com to locate some discounts. Vegas.com had some very nice discounts, but the best one we found was through Travelzoo that got us Penn & Teller tickets for just over 40% off. So, tickets that would’ve normally cost us $200 cost us a little under $120.

Outside of the resort fees, the only real cost we incurred was the money we took for gambling which was a couple hundred dollars which we basically viewed as entertainment and the cost of the show. Taking a look back at what we got to do while staying in Vegas and that it was nearly all on rewards points I can say that I’m hooked and finally hooked Mrs. Frugal Rules as well – which is the real win in my opinion ;-). We normally wouldn’t take such a “nice” trip, but thanks to some credit card churning we were able to go on one for virtually free. Now that we’re looking at some longer trips, we’re on to our next churning exploits and hoping to be able to do it more often now. :-) If you’re interested in finding a card you can use to churn for your next trip you can check some out here.

When was the last free trip you were able to take thanks to credit card churning? What’s the latest card you’re working on, I want to know!

 

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to U.S. News & World Report, Investopedia, Credit Karma and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

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52 Comments

  • Kay says:

    That’s awesome! Sounds like a great trip! It’s so cool to see the rewards churning at work. Right now we are working on a trip to Bermuda. We should get 4 nights at a resort that I could never afford to stay at plus airfare for our family of 3. I’m using the barclaycard and Chase Sapphire card right now. This trip is outlined at Richmond Savers.

    • John says:

      It was, but I think I’d rather go to Bermuda. :) That sounds like an awesome trip! We’re working on the Ink Plus and SPG cards right now and determining what to work on next for our trip to Europe next year.

  • I’m glad you were able to go to Vegas for free! I found an obscure travel hack that will get us 3 (or 4) free hotel rooms in Vegas, free buffet, and free tickets to a show (or another free buffet!). I plan on sharing it in a couple weeks here. The post has been ready for a while just keeps getting pushed back. We’ll probably use our Barclaycard bonus to pay for the flights.

  • This is great! I am so jealous of everyone’s skills with travel hacking and churning. We are doing a little churn with our trip to Italy this year, but nothing that would get us a trip for nearly free!

  • Pauline says:

    Impressive! I remember the buffet of buffets but we skipped thinking our stomachs were not up for it. We found a good buffet with plenty of seafood for around $20 and had breakfast buffet for less than $5, with snacks in between.
    I am curious about the sandwich thing.

    • John says:

      Yea, it can be easy to let it get away from you but we were pretty good about it as we didn’t want to be stuffed the whole time.

  • Great work John! So it really does pay to churn. The room looks spot on too.

  • Nice job! All of my domestic flights last year (Detroit, Seattle, and St. Louis) were all paid with CC churning on southwest. And my flight to Denver before Iceland was as well. And I have another 56k points waiting there. I’m also paying my HUGE tax bill this year on two cards (well at least one since the other one is pending) which SHOULD give me 80k points for travel. I plan on using that for a trip to Croatia next year.

    • John says:

      That’s awesome Tonya! I guess it’s good to get a silver lining out of a tax bill like that. Croatia sounds awesome…especially when funded by points. :)

  • Fun! And way to go with all of that credit card churning! Can’t wait to hear about the sandwich thing :-)

  • Nice!

    I paid for flights to Vegas for myself, my husband, and two friends for this upcoming May. I’m glad you had fun and I cannot wait to go there myself!

  • Grayson Bell says:

    Since I just started churning cards, I haven’t take a trip. I do have enough rewards to travel to FinCon for free, so I will be doing that.

  • Sounds like an awesome trip. The Bellagio looks like a nice hotel. I’m not churning cards for now since I don’t want to travel with an 8 month old and might also take on a mortgage. But I can’t wait to start it up again. I do have the Chase Freedom card and the 5% categories can be pretty useful. I have different rewards cards and for the most part I get 5% on most things I buy.

    • John says:

      It was and I can’t recommend the Bellagio enough. That said, I can completely understand in your case why you’re not right now. It can be, it’s my go to card and have been using it for years now.

  • Kim says:

    That sound like a wonderful trip and I don think it’s more fun when you are barely paying anything. We’d still travel regardless, it just wouldn’t be as plush and would involve many more road trips. We are really excited about our upcoming trip to Hawaii, mostly on points. I’m working on the American Airlines master card right now. It will get our tickets to my parents for Christmas, which are pricing out at over $900 each right now. Otherwise, we’d probably have to drive to KY!

    • John says:

      That’s a good point Kim. We still would’ve gone anyway, it was just a nicer trip as we had more options with everything covered by points. We’re looking at Hawaii as well for points, and will likely do it for an anniversary.

  • Buffet of buffets is such a sweet deal. And you employed my best tactic- only drink while gambling (I guess that only works if you’re gambling smart though).

    • John says:

      It is, especially if you can work out getting four meals and not overeating. Yea, that is a huge money saver. There’s no point spending at least $6 on a beer when you can get one for a buck or two.

  • Buffet of Buffets sounds like my kind of food situation! This is really impressive John. I’m just dipping my toes into the waters of credit card churning, but it’s an incredibly alluring tactic. I hope to write my own post like this in the not-so-distance future!

    • John says:

      It really can be, especially if you can fit four meals in and not overeat. :) It really is impressive what you can do with churning. We may not be able to travel a ton since we have little ones, but it only makes sense to churn to get most (if not all) of our trips for free.

  • Deacon Hayes says:

    That is awesome. I love how you put in the disclaimer for those who are struggling with credit card debt. Kim and I are flying to Europe this summer and were able to use Southwest rewards to get to NYC for free, but then it was $440 for tickets to Paris. It’s not free, but still a darn good deal.

    • John says:

      That’s really the key Deacon and if you’re in debt or would be tempted to overspend then you should not do it at all. That is a pretty sweet deal! You can’t beat getting to Paris for that little, nice work!

  • I love the Bellagio! Such a beautiful property and I’m glad you were able to “upgrade” your room. :) Vegas isn’t a bad drive from LA but so many people fly since it’s so cheap. And it’s not like you need to drive when you’re there so you just pay to park your car. I don’t churn credit cards but I do enjoy the rewards points i earn my CC. Have a great weekend, John!

    • John says:

      As do I, it’s our favorite by far. When we lived in San Diego we drove to Vegas all the time, but it is very cheap to fly from there as well. You have a great weekend as well Shannon!

  • Your trip sounds like SO much fun!! I have never “focused” my rewards points on one event like a trip or something, but I am definitely inspired by you and others to give it a try. I typically use my points on small trips here and there. Either way, you highlight the benefits of a focused credit card strategy and the fun you can have from it.

    • John says:

      It was, I want to go back! :) It was our first time really focusing our points strategy like this and it only makes us want to do it more.

  • MoneyAhoy.com says:

    Vegas for free sounds awesome!! My wife and I use just the plain old 1% or 1.5% rewards cards. It sounds like we could easily up our game by following your example here. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I really want to read more about the $20 trick! :)

  • Sounds like a very nice deal. I’m looking forward to some credit card churning especially for a trip to Europe next year. I have some miles racked up already but need to work on getting the hotel rewards.

    • John says:

      Very nice! We want to do Europe next year as well. You should look into the Starwood Preferred Card as it is one of the best hotel ones out there.

  • John, this is simply amazing!! I can’t wait to hear the $20 sandwich trick, as we are hoping to do some traveling this summer with some rewards points we have. So glad you guys had such a fun time. Can’t wait to hear how Europe turns out in a year and a half! :-)

  • I’m heading to LA and Hawaii shortly and have every intention of using the “sandwich” trick!!
    Like you, I might put in a little more than $20 to make sure Mrs Ikonz and I definitely get a baller upgrade.

    Sounds like you had a great trip! Happy birthday!

  • Catherine says:

    Sounds like quite the trip John! I’d love to eventually take an adults only trip to Vegas. Gaining credit cards rewards in Canada is NOTHING like you can accomplish in the US though so it would take forever for me to capitalize on rewards, not to say they couldn’t help offset some costs though. Every time I read a post like this my mind is blown haha. Happy Belated :)

    • John says:

      It was – even if it was only the chance to have a quiet meal and not have food thrown at us by little ones. 😉 I feel the same way about some of the other posts I read – I’m just small peanuts compared to others.

  • Marvin says:

    We love churning credit cards and plan to go to Hershey Park this summer by churning credit cards

  • Daisy says:

    Happy birthday! Sounds like you had a great trip. I have never even been to Vegas, and I think I must be the only person on the face of the planet that hasn’t. I had considered going to Vegas for my stagette with rewards points, but I don’t think I have enough points for all of my friends to come too, just a couple, and I don’t want to leave anybody out.

    Glad you had a good time!

    • John says:

      Thanks! You’re not the only person who has never been, I know plenty of people who haven’t been. :) That makes sense, that would be hard to do.

  • Right now I’m using a British Airways Visa to earn avios towards airfare for our next trip (possibly Ireland). It’s the first time I’m doing any “churning” so I’m pretty excited about it. Sound like you guys had a really nice trip. I’ve heard about the sandwich trick a few times, but have been too nervous to try it myself. Interested to read that post!

    • John says:

      Very nice KK! I can’t recommend Ireland enough. We spent two weeks there for our honeymoon and it was absolutely gorgeous. We definitely plan on going back some day.

  • Sounds like an awesome cheap trip! How does that Chase cash card work? Did you just have a balance and then pay for everything you could with that card so that you then used the cash balance to pay the bill? Sounds great.

    I do want to try the Southwest card now that they fly pretty frequent out of LaGuardia. Do you know when the best time to sign up for their card is to get the most mileage boost?

    • John says:

      It was, I want to go back. :) That’s a good question. We had actually just been building the cash we had in our rewards account and some of it came from a sign on bonus. We just used the cards for that amount while there and redeemed the cash when we got back. It took maybe three days for it to hit against our balance.

      The SW card is an awesome card to sign up for, we have churned it ourselves. They still, to my knowledge, still have it for 50k miles with a $2,000 spend in 90 days. They do change it throughout the year to 25k miles, but the 50k is enough for two flights.

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