How a Family of 3 Saved $4,346 on a 7-Day Portugal Trip

Sometimes the best trips are the ones you weren’t planning to take in the first place.
Last updated Oct 1, 2020 | By Matt Miczulski
How a Family of 3 Saved $4,346 on a 7-Day Portugal Trip

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Brian H., of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, isn’t technically new to the points-and-miles game. Back in 2001, he started traveling for the military and federal government. Through those trips, he began racking up points and miles that he used for free flights and hotels. But it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that Brian stumbled upon the FBZ Elite - Travel and Points Facebook group — and realized he could have been doing a much better job at the points-and-miles game.

Brian dove into articles on award travel and began implementing what he learned. His family’s seven-day Portugal trip, which we will discuss shortly, was his first award trip done “right” from start to finish. And it wasn’t even a trip his family had planned to take; the deal they got was just too good to pass up.

Brian’s Portugal trip with his wife and son, Amanda and Maxx, took them to the dramatic landscapes of the Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic and autonomous region of Portugal. There, they hiked and visited three different hot springs and a slew of thermal gas vents. Then, they grabbed a flight to Portugal’s coastal capital city, Lisbon, where they strolled the streets of the historic town of Sintra, visited the Pena Palace, and indulged in the delicious local food and wine.

How a Family of 3 Saved $4,346 on a 7-Day Portugal Trip

Sounds good, right? And it didn’t cost a fortune. Here’s how Brian’s family saved $4,346 on this adventurous trip to Portugal — a trip that would prove less complicated once Brian utilized his new-found knowledge about award travel.

Flights

Brian and his wife had been paying attention to Delta’s flash sales for some time, planning to use their travel rewards to go somewhere they’d always wanted to visit. But after one of the flash sales featured flights to the Azores — a place that wasn’t on their list but that they had also never been — they figured, why not? Captivated by photos of the islands, Brian and his wife decided to jump on the deal. It was a decision they would not regret.

Brian took advantage of a Delta SkyMiles flash deal to secure two roundtrip tickets from Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport to João Paulo II Airport in the Azores for 40,000 Delta SkyMiles each, or 80,000 SkyMiles total. While the 80,000 miles covered the airfare to the Azores, they did have to pay taxes out of pocket as well as a 10% lap infant charge on one of the tickets. This all came out to around $140 total for the three of them. Had they had used cash instead of miles, it would have cost around $1,040 per person at the time of booking, plus the $104 lap infant charge.

How a Family of 3 Saved $4,346 on a 7-Day Portugal Trip

Additionally, Brian purchased their roundtrip fare from the Azores to Lisbon Portela Airport on Azores Airlines for $230 per person roundtrip, or $460 total. This amount included the charge for having a lap infant.

The miles Brian and his wife used to book their flights to the Azores came from a mix of organic spending and a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus Brian received for signing up for the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card. The current sign-up bonus for this card is: Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (offer ends 10/28).

Expense category Regular price What Brian paid
Flights $2,680 $600

Hotels

During their seven-day trip to the Azores and mainland Portugal, Brian and his family stayed at three different Marriott properties. They did this by using Marriott Bonvoy points Brian earned from a credit card bonus and from regular spending during his business travels.

Brian received 40,000-point bonus points when he upgraded his Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card to the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus (now known as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card). For new cardholders, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless comes with a potential bonus of 5 free nights after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.

There was limited hotel availability in the Azores, but Brian knew he wanted to stay in luxury for at least part of the trip. So, they stayed:

After all was said and done, Brian saved over $2,000 in lodging costs by using his Marriott Bonvoy points.

Expense category Regular price What Brian paid
Hotels $2,110 $0

How a Family of 3 Saved $4,346 on a 7-Day Portugal Trip

Rental cars

Brian and his wife wanted a car to get around on both the Azores and in Lisbon, so Brian rented vehicles through AutoSlash. AutoSlash is a website that searches all the car rental companies in a given area to find the least expensive option and then continues to monitor inventory for lower rates from the time you make the reservation until you pick up your car. Since you don’t pay until you pick up your vehicle, this helps ensure you’re getting the best price possible.

From the time Brian originally made his reservation, AutoSlash found him a better price three times. He finally booked his vehicle using Priceline but made sure to go through Rakuten (formerly Ebates) to score cash back for his purchase.

Their rental car on the Azores cost $180 total for three days ($250 originally before the final price drop) and the car in Lisbon cost $114 total, also for three days ($200 originally before the final price drop).

Expense category Regular price What Brian paid
Rental car $450 $294

The travel credit cards Brian used

Card name Sign-up bonus Earnings rate Annual fee Special perks
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else $550 Priority Pass lounge access
Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months 5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else $95 None
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (offer ends 10/28) 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and at hotels; 2X miles per dollar spent at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1X miles for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases $250 Free checked bag

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Brian’s Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best travel credit cards and was the primary card that he and his wife used for any regular spending during his trip, as it comes with no foreign transaction fees and offers 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else. Brian also used the Chase Sapphire Reserve for his car rentals to take advantage of the card’s car rental insurance coverage.

Since Brian opened the card just prior to the trip, he needed to hit the minimum spend to receive the bonus offer of points he could use on future award travel adventures — another reason this card was what he and his wife primarily spent with. He used it to cover meals, for lounge access in the airports, and for their rental cars, all of which fell under the 3X category of travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and at restaurants.

If you applied for this card now, you could earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. While there is an annual fee of $550, you get a $300 travel credit each year, as well as a statement credit for your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee, and access to Priority Pass lounges. So, if traveling is in your future, this card easily pays for itself.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Chase Ink Business Preferred

Brian used his Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to cover any incidentals during their stays at the various Marriott properties and to pay for their tickets to Lisbon on Azores Airlines. He chose this card because he was working toward hitting the minimum spend necessary to receive this card’s sign-up bonus as well.

Right now, you can earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. There is an annual fee of $95, but the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card gives you access to a list of valuable travel partners (hotels and airlines that allow you to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to their loyalty programs) that will allow you to get even more value out of your credit card points.

Furthermore, this card comes with a slew of travel and purchase protections, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary rental car insurance, and cell phone protection to name a few.

Hot Sign-up Bonus

Benefits

  • 100,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and common business spending categories
  • Flexible redemption options
  • Additional employee cards at no extra cost

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

To pay for their flight from Minnesota to the Azores, Brian used a combination of miles he earned from a sign-up bonus and from regular everyday spending with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card. He received 50,000 miles at the time — the current offer is 60,000 bonus miles, which is a great opportunity to build up your rewards.

With this card, you’ll pay an annual fee of $250, and you’ll receive a welcome offer of 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets will earn you 2X miles, and your first checked bag is always free.

Free Bag & Priority Boarding

Benefits

  • Earn up to 60,000 bonus miles - Offer ends Oct. 28
  • 3X miles on purchases made directly with Delta and at hotels
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • Statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
  • Terms apply

Bottom line

Brian’s seven-day family adventure to Portugal was his first award trip done right from start to finish, saving him and his family more than $4,000. As amazing as the trip was, it was still a learning experience. Since this trip, Brian has planned and gone on more trips and continues to learn and hone his award travel skills.

Expense category Regular price What Brian paid
Flights $2,680 $600
Hotels $2,110 $0
Rental car $450 $294
Food $1,500 $1,500
Total $6,740 $2,394

Brian took advantage of a flash sale to get airfare he just couldn’t turn down, not to mention the inspiration of going on a trip his family hadn’t planned to take in the first place. He used points and miles to save money on many steps of this trip and made purchases for food throughout to continue earning rewards for future travel.

All this goes to show that saving on travel is accessible to everyone through the right credit cards, and with a little planning and an adventurous spirit, you too can bask in the thrill of traveling more for less. To get started on your next trip, give our Ultimate Guide to Travel Rewards a read.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits