How we travel hacked our way to Hollywood

Have you ever heard the term “Travel Hacking”?  Until last year I really hadn’t paid attention.

Last summer while working LONG days on my wholesale catalog I found myself binge watching (listening) to a course on travel hacking.  What is travel hacking?  It’s finding cheap and free ways to travel basically.  Let me share my secrets with you!

Many of you know our story with paying off our debt and swearing off credit cards so needless to say I was very hesitant to dive into this world. So I started small and joined a few airline mileage clubs. Then a hotel club.  Took a few surveys, etc.  Then while watching this travel hacking course on creative live, I decided I would set a goal.  I knew I wanted to take my daughter Skylar somewhere fun for her 18th birthday.  We’ve had a fun and interesting road together, before there was Bruce, or Aspen… there was me and Sky. Basically since I was a kid myself (23) she’s been there.  I wanted to take a little girls trip and really celebrate this chapter together, celebrate that we’d done it. Celebrate that she’s a pretty amazing person and I’m excited to have her as my kiddo.

hollywood travel hacking


So here is what we did.


We first opened a United Explorer card.  The promotion they were offering was that once we’d spend a couple thousand dollars on that card in the first few months, we’d receive the bonus.  So I transferred everything from our phone bills, electricity, gas, groceries, and all else we could for a couple months to this card. We worked really hard to not spend a cent more than we normally would.  We paid the balance off in full every couple weeks to make sure we stayed on track.  Note: We are VERY hesitant credit card users…

Then once we got the bonus and the extra mileage for our purchases I was able to get 2 tickets to LAX and only have to pay $22 total.

Yep, $22. amazing!  Here is the link if you want to get that card.  (This link will hook me up with a miles bonus too).  The most important thing though… do not do this unless you can pay it off each month.  Don’t get into debt. It’s not worth the stress of debt. I promise you.


Next, we opened an Amex card linked to Hilton.

We did the same thing as above, switching all purchases we could over to this card. Within a couple months I had enough bonuses to get us 2 free nights in hollywood (right near Hollywood and Highland).  There were also options near Universal Studios, the airport, LA, etc.  Here is the link to get that card if you want to do the same and earn free stays.  Again, this link will link back to me and get some bonus points too.   Re-read my warning from before though… don’t go into debt. Pay off, use smart.

Side note- can I also add that we didn’t have enough points accumulated to cover our last night in LA but we stayed at a gorgeous Hilton right near LAX.  It was the night of the Grammy’s as they were happening in LA.  There was an electricity in there air that was amazing.  As Hilton honors members we were invited to a private meal and later back to the lounge for free desserts.  They had the Grammy’s playing in that private lounge and it was so fun to be a part of.  And we earned big points on that stay since we paid for it (enough to put us over the edge and help us get a free night in Vegas for our upcoming summer RV vacation)


Next, here is a MAJOR points secret.

If you do online shopping you can be earning rewards on all kinds of rebate programs.  I’ll link all I can here:   ebates, MrRebates, Honey and more.  Those 3 are my go-to’s.  I have them added to my task bar on my browser and they save me $ everywhere from ebay, to when I order art supplies, makeup, etc.   If you are shopping online and want to see what programs have rewards or points at the store you are visiting,  this is a GREAT website to visit.     I may get referral bonuses for those links above but I promise I would not recommend them if I didn’t love them and use them weekly.  (In fact just an hour ago,  I ordered canvases and will be getting a 3% rebate on that purchases, it’s that easy)

Another travel savings site is AARP and AAA.  You can join these and find savings, maps access, trip planners and more.  We’ve also had great luck booking certain things and rental cards from the Costco Travel site as well.   (Also, on the AMEX you can lookup small businesses in each town so you can show them extra love too.)

I wish I could say that I was able to travel hack the food as well but I didn’t.  We did use the credit cards where it made sense to continue earning points/miles on those purchases though where it made sense.

girls trip to Warner Brother studios

A few last tips, if you go to Universal studios –  buy online.  We saved $30 by buying online ahead of time. Plus we got in the park 1/2 hour early and got to go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 3D ride before the park even opened.  It saved us SO much time rather than waiting in a long line.

There is a $8 bus you can take from LAX to Hollywood.  Google Flyaway.  It was easy and cheap.  Uber was our go to, except when we rode the metro that runs under Hollywood Blvd.   There was great cheap transportation all over and it was pretty easy, safe feeling, and left us extra money in our budget for fun meals and more fun.


SO here is the thing….  I’m super frugal…except when I’m not.  I love to travel, see new places. There are special conversations and a deeper bonding that take place during traveling.  I love to get to see new things, learn about new cultures, history, and even pop culture.  So when all was said and done we were able to do the entire trip for under $900.  (Including the $70 it cost us to park here at the airport.)   We could have eaten cheaper still, got fast food more or groceries instead of sit down restaurants for dinner but I think we balanced it pretty well.


Some people travel hack too and use points so they can fly first class and stay in the nicest hotels for less.  So there is travel secrets that can help all styles of travelers.


So where would you go if you could travel hack it for cheaper?   I’ve got my eye on Europe for our next biggy… 🙂

2022 update!!   My favorite bonus from any card so far has been the IHG chase card. (You can follow my affiliate link here if you’d like to possibly open one as well, for each person that opens one they will gift me some extra points – although I promise I’d recommend it even if there was no bonus in it for me. Here is why. Bruce and I both opened a card. And these are the actual places were were able to book hotel rooms using points.  (We will only be responsible for paying appropriate taxes once we check out)

We booked: 7 nights in Dubai, 5 nights in France, 12 nights in Germany!!! All with our bonus points!!!  (We also used partial points and part cash for a night in Istanbul.)  Their bonuses are out of this world! So amazing.  We are getting ready for a trip that includes: Dubai, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Scotland, England! Once we’re back, I’ll be sharing all about how we saved 1000’s of dollars on this trip by using points and miles.

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