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  • Cait B.

How to Save Thousands of Dollars on the Luxury Trip of Your Dreams

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Take a moment right now, wherever you are, (“taking a break” at work or sitting at home in your bunny slippers) and think about the one place you have always dreamed of visiting. (And don’t pretend you don’t have one—everybody does.) Got it?

Ok, good. Now my next question—if it is your dream trip, then why haven’t you gone yet?

For most people, I imagine the answer is probably one of two—not enough time or not enough money.

Let's consider reason #1—yes, time is a finite resource, but that is all the more reason to spend it on things you LOVE. We all have more or less the same amount of time, and as the wise Gandalf once said, “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So stop procrastinating, and start traveling! Ok, glad we’re on the same page now.

So that means all that stands between you and the trip you have always wanted is the small inconvenience of paying for the darn thing. And while your vacation of a lifetime might seem prohibitively expensive, it doesn’t have to be!

Dreams are for sleeping, so let’s turn this dream into a reality!

Cait and Andrew in Africa on Safari

Andrew and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary with a trip I’d dreamed about since I was a kid—a multi-country luxury safari adventure in Africa. AND we did it without breaking the bank.

With some of these travel hacks, you can save literally thousands of dollars on your dream trip, just like we did!


FLY FOR FREE (or at least save thousands of dollars)

Airfare can be the most expensive part of any dream vacation, especially when you fly internationally, double especially when your destination is particularly remote (*cough* Africa *cough*). But this is also where you can save literally thousands of dollars.

Flying to Africa in Business Class

My first ever experience in business class----the lay-flat seats ruined me for coach!

A quick Google search of round-trip business class flights for two from New York to Livingstone, Zambia show prices from $8,000-$22,000 (holy moly! Who has that kind of money? And why aren’t we friends with them?). Guess how much we paid? $200 each for taxes and fees (I know, right?!).

Conservatively, we saved almost $8,000 on our flights alone.

How is this possible? Through the beauty of credit card points and miles. Travel rewards through credit cards and loyalty programs are the most lucrative way to travel more. It does require some organization and dedication to keep track of your programs, but the payoff is worth it!

Here is a breakdown of how we leveraged points for our flights to and from Africa:


Orlando to New York

Carrier: Southwest Airlines

Rewards: Southwest points and companion pass

This perk is one of the most lucrative credit card bonuses out there (which I already extolled in our recent post about CUBA).

Cost: $14 in taxes and fees

New York-Zurich-Johannesburg-Livingstone

Carrier: Multiple through Star Alliance

Rewards: Ultimate Rewards and United Airlines Points

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and United MileagePlus each carry a sign up bonus of 50,000 points. After we each signed up for both cards, we had almost enough points to cover our flights. This cost us literally no money—it just took a good credit score, a little effort on our end to apply for the cards, and a little planning to make sure we met the minimum spend threshold to qualify for each sign up bonus.

Ultimate Rewards Points are my favorite because they have multiple transfer partners (airlines and hotels) and they are some of the most valuable points on the market. We transferred our UR points to United Airlines. Despite their recent bout of bad press, United has one of the best award charts, does not impose arbitrary fuel surcharges (which devalues your points), allows you to redeem one-way awards, AND allows one stopover and one open jaw on award flights! Therefore, we booked business class seats from New York with a ten day stopover in Zambia.

Zambia to Cape Town

Carrier: Mango Airlines

Rewards: None

Cost: $90 each

Our round-trip award flight picked up again in Cape Town, so we had to secure our own transportation on this “open jaw” section. While points and miles are one of the most cost-efficient ways to travel, other options include budget airlines, especially for short-haul flights. These budget carriers don’t always show up in airfare search engines, so be sure to do a separate search for local budget airlines and then book through their sites directly.

Cape Town to Orlando

Carrier: Multiple through Star Alliance

Rewards: Continuation of our Ultimate Rewards ticket

We picked up our round-trip flight after our time in Cape Town and opted for economy seats heading back to the States, which cost us fewer points overall, a benefit of one-way award travel.


Flights can be tricky, and can be discouraging when you are on the cusp of taking the leap to booking your dream trip, but all you need is a little creativity! Points and miles are the most lucrative approach, but there are some good budget airline options (which really are bare bones, but worth it if it gets you to where you want to go—like our $99 flights to Iceland!). You can also try setting up alerts to track when air fares dip a la AirFareWatchdog.

EDIT 5/6/18: If opening credit cards or flying on budget airlines aren't up your alley, I just joined a brand new company called CloudClub that specializes in discounted international airfare for hundreds of dollars off published rates on major airlines. Feel free to check it out!

To learn how to get started racking up points and miles for free travel, I recommend you visit The Points Guy.

Set Financial Goals

Ok, I know the advice to “save money!” is not really rocket-science, but it is still important and, ironically, often neglected.

If travel is important to you, I recommend setting up a travel fund with a monthly automatic withdrawal. Otherwise, your hard earned money will trickle away little by little on expensive lattes and lunch out.

Once I realized we had enough points to actually fly TO FREAKING AFRICA, my childhood dream started to become a little more concrete. So I came up with a financial plan, since I knew points and miles could only get me so far. Eventually, no matter where you travel on your wanderlist, there will be excursions or experiences that will require cold, hard cash.

Cait standing by a safari truck in Botswana, Africa

No points and miles programs all the way out here!

To keep all of our dreams and wishes in the realm of attainable reality, we set aside a designated sum of money to go into a separate “travel fund” each month. I personally use SmartyPig to keep track of my multiple financial goals because the program allows me to compartmentalize my budgets. It even has a handy calculator that determines how much money you should put in monthly or weekly to meet your desired goal in time for your trip! Another handy feature? Other people can contribute to your fund! So if you have a birthday, anniversary, or just really nice friends, this could be a good way to get you to your goal.

In short, start saving money NOW so your once-in-a-lifetime-don’t-put-it-off-til-tomorrow experience can be a reality.

With the idea of Africa so close, I tightened up my personal spending so I could put even more money into our newly minted “Africa Fund”. Having a designated fund for Africa in particular is important because much to my chagrin, points and miles do not extend to safari tours. With cash in hand, we were able to book four nights with the luxury safari provider &Beyond in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Dream. Realized.

Take the Road Less Traveled…During the Time Less Traveled

Now that you have spent some time diligently putting money aside, it’s time to put it to work! And I firmly believe in stretching a dollar as far as possible. Another way to travel smart and save hundreds of dollars is to simply look for some secondary or even tertiary “tourist spots”. They can be just as beautiful, and sometimes—bonus!—less crowded. For our first African safari, it would have been understandable if we had visited the Serengeti in Tanzania or the Masaai Mara in Kenya (which, to be honest, we do still really want to visit), but a little research turned up an “up and coming” safari destination in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. The price per person per night was half the price of the more popular safari destinations and we had an incredible (and definitely uncrowded) experience. Plus, our hard saved safari money went further in this location, so we could afford a more exclusive tour.

See? The giraffes are just as beautiful in Botswana as Tanzania!

If your dream destination is too specific for wiggle room, then you might consider visiting during an alternate time. We usually travel to destinations during their “shoulder season”—the season right on the cusp of the tourist and low seasons. For Africa, this meant going in June, which is considered their winter. The safaris were a little chilly in the morning, but that just meant we had hot water bottles set under blankets for us to wrap ourselves in during the sunrise safaris—which I actually thought was pretty cozy!

Use Your Resources and Invest in Your Health!

These days, just about anywhere you travel will require some form of vaccination. And since travel vaccinations are considered “elective” (whoever decided that is obviously NOT a traveler, because I consider travel pretty much compulsory), most health insurance companies won’t cover them.

You can visit a travel clinic for most vaccinations, but sometimes your primary care doctor can provide certain shots. Some annual physicals can include at least the first round of your Hepatitis A and B series, so be sure to ask.

Additionally, if your company allows you to defer funds into an HSA or HRA account, that money can also go towards your travel vaccinations. Ask your benefits provider if they offer any travel assistance—our company regularly sends employees abroad and has a health clinic right on property, so they ended up being a great resource. Finally, if all else fails, you can space your vaccinations out over the course of a few months, so you don’t feel the financial sting quite as much.

Whenever you travel, make sure to check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up to date vaccination requirements.