Back in March I saw some pictures of Budapest and Prague. These two cities have been on my bucket list for quite some time. I knew I wanted to go this year, but I had committed to going to Charleston to celebrate my daughters 21st birthday and this years girls trip. My only way to get there this year was on an extremely frugal budget and leave from Charleston, to make it one trip. This is when I started planning.
I had talked about it several times to a friend of mine. She always commented how she thought it would be exciting to go there. She had never travel abroad. I asked her if she wanted to do it with me? She said she couldn’t afford to do a trip like that. I told her sure you can, with the right planning. I explained to her my plans (which I will explain to you shortly). After she heard how inexpensive it was, she said she was in! My friend, Annamay, is the key to keeping on budget. Traveling with a friend (they pay for their own portion) helps cut the costs.
All this time I have been following a blog called http://www.onemileatatime.com. Ben the author of the blog is a genius! He has so much knowledge of using miles to travel. This is not just any travel it is premium travel. He usually flies overseas in first or business class. He does this using sky mileage. He says he doesn’t buy anything, stay at hotels, or fly without benefit a to him. This changed my way of thinking. I knew I needed to do the same. Here are some steps I took to be able to do this trip on a budget.
Step 1: Sign up for US Air, Avianca (Lifemiles), and Alaska sky mileage accounts. These are the 3 I did not have. Each airline has their own sky mileage account. From time to time specials are advertised for sky mileage. You have to be a member for at least 12 days to take advantage of these offers. Specials to buy miles and get 100% bonus. This is an amazing deal. My plan was to earn miles, but I wanted to set these accounts up just in case I needed to buy some.
Step 2: Decide how to earn the miles. Credit cards offer bonuses on miles. I was going to take advantage of these. I checked into different cards. The ones for me at the time were Avianca, Chases Business Ink and Chase Freedom. Avianca has no minimum spend and you receive 20,000 miles. This does not seem like much, but on Avianca Airlines (it is a Star Alliance), you can book with miles and money one way, with no fuel surcharge. With the 20,000 miles and $168.00 I could get to Budapest. It was not my first choice for getting there, it was my back up plan. With the Chase Ink I got 60,000 ultimate rewards points for $5000 in spending within 3 months. This seems like a lot of spending, but if you use it for your utilities, phone, food, insurance and purchases it is really not bad spread out over 3 months. In addition to the 60,000 points, you also earn 5 times the amount on the purchases and spending I did. This equaled 75,000 points. The Chase Freedom card offer 25,000 for $500 in spending. I was able to combined both and have 100,000 ultimate reward points. You can convert ultimate rewards points to purchase airline tickets, through the ultimate reward travel program. By converting them you are actually purchasing a ticket with your points. The conversion rate to do this is 1.25. Meaning I could convert my 100,000 points to be $1250 towards the purchase of an airline ticket. I could also transfer them to my United account at a 1:1 ratio and get 100,000 to my already existing 60,000 miles.
Annamay had to earn her miles too. Annamay chose a card giving her 50,000 miles.
Step 3: Earn miles while you’re collecting your bonus miles. I started doing all my shopping online thru the sky mall. I collect United sky miles. I used their sky mall. Target, Macy’s, Home Depot and all the popular places to shop online, are in the sky mall. I needed a garbage disposal, I ordered thru the sky mall and got $2 for each dollar and picked up at the store. I needed to renew my magazine subscription to All You magazine, I did it thru my Mileplus on United. I received a big bonus for ordering the magazine too. I joined a wine club (which you can cancel any time) and got 6 bottles of wine for under $42 dollars, shipped to my house, and 2500 bonus points. I bought a new cell phone thru the mall and earned 2500 bonus miles. There are surveys, financial services, car rentals, hotels, retail and other items in which you can earn miles.
Step 4: Choose your itinerary. I chose the dates for Charleston to what worked best for everyone going, plus the weather. October is a beautiful time to be there. It is also a nice time for Budapest and Prague. We chose to fly to Budapest first and our return flight from Prague because it had better availability. I booked the Charleston trip using a voucher I had earned. Annamay and I booked our flights using miles to Europe. United has a fuel surcharge, this is relatively inexpensive. We were able to get “saver” miles, so for 60,000 miles and $116 we got our airfare.
Step 5: Lodging. While in Charleston, we wanted to stay downtown for 2 nights. We picked the Embassy Suites for the location, breakfast, pool and happy hour. This was a little on the pricy side, averaging $320 a night. There are 7 of us, so it is just $183 per person. I was able to use my points from my credit union to pay for the majority of my daughter and I’s portion. In Budapest and Prague, Annamay and I decided to do a vacation rental by owner. After carefully selecting the perfect property based on location, amenities and price we were able to get our lodging for $250 each. We are going to bring oatmeal for breakfast and almonds for snacks.
Step 6: Transportation. Seven girls in Charleston means a minivan. Unfortunately my sister on the East coast no longer has a minivan. We have to rent a minivan. I decided we would just take Uber, a car service, downtown and not rent the van until 2 days later. This way we can use my Uber credit for a free ride, not pay to park the van ($16 per day) and save on 2 days of rental. My nephew helped us get a discount on the rental of the minivan. Now getting from Budapest to Prague. We looked into driving because it only takes 4 1/2 hours. The fees seemed reasonable at first, then I noticed high taxes, drop off fee and toll fees. This ended up being more expensive than the train. We decided train was the best option. Our tickets with the delivery fee is $138 each.
Step 7: Map out your trip. Right down everything you all want to see. Tripadvisor has a special feature button on the left side of the attraction “add to List” button. Add everything you want to see to the list and print it up. Gather everyone’s lists and consolidate them. This way you can map out everything in the area you want to see. This saves time and money. You do not waste gas or bus fare to go all over the place.
Step 8: Have fun and enjoy it. Take lots of pictures, those are the cheapest souvenirs.
When we get there we will share meals to help save costs as well. All in all for my airfare,lodging, train,and auto rental I only spent $329.00. I would have to say this is an extreme budget. With planning and playing the game, you can travel for inexpensive too.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask. I would love to help people go on a fantastic trip on an extreme budget.