The Basics — Credit Score

Tony and I are not wealthy — we’re both gainfully employed in jobs we like, but not jobs that pay exceptionally well (hooray for public education). Still, we’ve been able to find a way to successfully travel without going in to debt. How? Travel hacking. Travel hacking is a term that loosely refers to the process of earning “points” to use for discounted/free hotel and air travel, taking the most expensive aspects of travel and removing them as a hindrance to seeing the world.

This post will be the first of many that will explain the process that we’ve taken to build up points. Today we’ll focus on understanding your credit score and how your score will affect the way you get started with travel hacking.

Credit Score 

In order to take advantage of lucrative sign-up bonues from credit card offers, it’s important to know and monitor your credit score. It can’t be overstated, maintaining a strong credit score is imperative to this hobby. Individuals with less than ideal credit score will first need to focus on building good credit before you can take advantage of many credit card offers. Travel hacking is about responsibly using credit to build points — NOT about going in to debt; its about enjoying traveling the world and saving money over the long term. If you are unwilling or unable to committ to paying off your credit balance(s) in full each month, this is not the hobby for you.

To get started, we recommend using a credit monitoring service such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. These are both free monitoring services that give you your credit score and include features that allow you to estimate the impact on your score were you to open additional lines of credit. There are hundreds of blog posts and strategies regarding sign up strategies and “app-o-ramas”, but keep in mind that it’s best to start slowly and monitor your credit score before signing on the dotted line for multiple cards at once. Remember, a solid credit score is vital to your travel hacking success.

Your FICO credit score is broken down into 5 categories:fico

 

  1. Payment History — 35%
  2. Outstanding Debt/Amount Owed — 30%
  3. The length of your credit history –15%
  4. New credit inquiries — 10%
  5. Types of credit in use — 10%

There is no exact algorithm that you can use to estimate your credit which is why its best to use a free monitoring service to know your individual score. In general, those that do not have a credit history will need to slowly open lines of credit and responsibly pay them off to build their credit score. Those who have a history of late or missing payments will need to establish a track record of on time payments and reduce the number of debts owed in order to improve their score.

There are certain cards available to those with less than stellar credit that can help to build scores (usually with low credit limits and limited bonuses). In general, those with good credit scores (>700) will in most circumstances be approved for the credit cards that offer the highest bonuses and earn rates. Banks typically offer a hefty points or mileage bonus as an incentive for consumers to open an account with them. These cards typically have a spending minimum that must be met within the first 30-90 days of the account opening. Once the minimum has been met, the bonus miles or points will post on the statement close date. The miles or points will then be credited to your frequent flyer, bank, or hotel account and will become available to redeem for flights, nights, or other travel expenses.

Biggest take away? Know your credit score. If you’re already sitting pretty, then you can get excited about taking advantage of credit offers with big bonuses. If your score needs a little TLC, don’t despair. Take the time to build up your credit score through smart, sensible financial decisions (consistent on-time payments, reduce your number of debts, etc.) and your hard work will pay off as your score rises.

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Austin, TX

2015 should be a big year for us travel wise. We have two trips already planned and three more in the works!

First up, we’ll be heading to Austin, TX in March for a family vacation. Why did we pick Austin? We wanted a warm weather location with a short-ish flight (this will be Matteo’s first flight with his own seat). I’ve heard some good things about Austin in general — that its a cool city with plenty to see, do and eat. After checking out a few other city options, Tony agreed that Austin seemed like a good choice for us for our first family trip of the year.

austin-tx

So now we plan! We’ll be arriving in Austin on a Saturday and leaving the following Thursday. That leaves us 4 full days to fill with fun. We’ve booked our hotel and will be staying at the Hyatt Place Austin Downtown.

Hyatt Austin

I’m very excited about this hotel — it looks beautiful and has some solid reviews on TripAdvisor. In addition to being a beautiful example of downtown architecture, it hits many of our “musts” when choosing a hotel for a family trip:

  • Free WiFi — The Hyatt Place Austin Downtown, like most downtown hotels, caters to a business class clientele. That means we can pretty much count on great WiFi everywhere in the building. This is a must for us because if all else fails, Matteo will be endlessly entertained by watching Wild Kratts or Cailou or Arthur via our Hulu Plus app on our iPad. Spotty wifi makes for a cranky kiddo. Judge away, but we’re not above utilizing screen time to keep him happy and calm.
  • Free Breakfast — I can’t tell you how important this one is. In addition to saving us $$ in the grand scheme, the convenience of a hot, continental breakfast in your hotel cannot be overstated when you have an early bird kiddo. Since both Tony and I work, Matteo has to be up early on the weekdays — and his 6:30 am wake up time carries right on in to weekends and vacations. When he wakes up? Boy is hangry. Having the ability to jump out our room and to the lobby for a quick breakfast without wrangling the whole crew for a restaurant outing? Perfection. According to other family vacationers on TripAdvisor who have stated at the Hyatt Place Austin Downtown, the breakfast is pretty excellent. So I’ll be looking forward to that.
  • Central Location — This should go without saying, but really the most important consideration when booking a hotel for a family trip is location! You want to be close to everything — restaurants, sites, shopping, etc. Ideal locations include when you can get by with just a stroller. We’re still debating whether to rent a car for a day, but staying downtown puts us mere blocks away from +200 restaurants, a 10 minute walk to the beautiful state Capital,  a 5 minute walk to Lady Bird Lake, and only one mile to the University of Texas.
  • Extras — Anytime a hotel offers extras, you’re in luck. This hotel has an indoor pool which will make inclement weather that much easier to deal with, should the need arise. It also has a fitness area, lobby coffee shop, lobby bar, and gorgeous views of the city. All of which will certainly add to the fun of the trip.*

With the hotel booked and waiting for us, that leaves us time to make the wish list of what we’d like to see while we’re in town. Keeping in mind that we’ll be a walking family, here’s the short list of what we’re thinking of checking out while in Austin,TX:

  • Austin Nature & Science Center – A 10 minute drive from downtown, this kid-friendly museum has hands-on activities for little ones. At 2, Matteo will be on the young side of the target demographic, but this still looks like a great option to check out.
  • Thinkery, the new Austin Children’s Museum – A museum created with kiddos in mind, this place looks awesome. A workshop, a kitchen, painting, a light lab, etc. Again, the museum is 10 minutes from our hotel.
  • Texas Governor’s Mansion – I think this one looks like fun! According to Google maps, another 10 minute walk/bus ride will take us to the Texas Governor’s Mansion where we can schedule a tour. According to the website, tours must be scheduled at least one week in advance, but are free. We love free!
  • Zilker Metropolitan Park – This park is supposed to be amazing, with a miniature train, canoeing, and a HUGE playground area with picnic tables. Matteo loves nothing more than being outdoors so this park will be a must-do on our list while in Austin.

Because of some very exciting travel plans coming later in 2015 (more on that to come), I feel like we’re a bit behind in planning this rapidly approaching trip to Austin, but now that we’re getting a bit of a list together of things to see, I’m getting excited…

Are there any Austin, TX experts out there that can tell me something that we MUST SEE while we’re in town? Let me know — we’d hate to miss out on something great!

*Tip for traveling with little ones – Another important extra to look for when booking a hotel? SHUTTLES! A lot of downtown hotels offer shuttles for their guests to hit up area hot spots. Inquire with your concierge prior to arrival to see if this is something that your hotel offers  — and plan ahead with a car seat for your little(s) if needed.

Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa

Sometimes you want to get away…but not too far away. That’s what we encountered last month, a weekend with no plans and an itch to get out of town. We’re lucky to live outside of Phoenix, with several decent travel destinations in easy driving distance. For this trip, we chose Sedona, AZ. The drive was quick and easy, and nothing beats Sedona for rugged, natural beauty.

Sedona Rouge

Tony booked two nights at the Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa off a deal they were running pre-Christmas on Orbitz. We learned our lesson over the summer — booking one hotel room means when the baby goes down for his early bed time, mom and dad are stuck whisper talking or watching barely audible television and all hopes for a relaxing, connecting kind of weekend go out the door. So this time around we decided on a suite and booked the Andalusia suite.

sedona-room-merch

At the Sedona Rouge our room on the third floor had a beautiful view of the red rocks that make Sedona so breathtaking. The highlights of the room were two large bathrooms (showers only, no bathtub), a giant King sized bed, two small balconies overlooking the rear of the property, plenty of closet space, a pull out sleeper couch and two TVs. We requested a crib for Matteo and had a decent pack n’ play ready in the room, with a child size pillow and plenty of blankets. The room was really clean and a modern. A privacy curtain allowed us to separate the sitting room area from the bedroom area — which meant when 7:00 hit and Matteo was ready for bed*, we simply closed his curtain and retreated to the other side of the room where we could continue to watch tv, talk, eat, whatever for the rest of the evening. It was so much better than sharing a single room — when that’s happened in the past, Matteo fights bedtime and we all end up in bad moods.

As we were at the Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa in December, we didn’t get to use the pool but we did enjoy the spa. We also took advantage of the “free small plate” coupons at Red’s Restaurant that we received upon check-in. Red’s Restaurant never seemed terribly busy and we enjoyed the food we tried. We were also very happy with the hotel staff — kind, courteous and quick to offer assistance.

Negatives of our stay? The $20 resort fee of  per day is charged which covers wi-fi (which was average at the best of times) and use of the fitness room was a bit high for what was offered. Also, the hotel had a beautiful observation deck but it was not in operation, though a fire pit and heaters seemed available and ready. The Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa is currently in the middle of an expansion project, which means construction. We weren’t disturbed at all by the construction, but if you plan a visit in the near future be aware that they are expanding and that means a working construction crew will be on site and making noise during the day Mondays through Thursdays. If you can over look the construction site though, its still a great place to stay for a weekend in Sedona.

*Traveling with baby/toddler tip: bring a sound machine! White noise will help lull baby to sleep and allow mom and dad to talk/watch tv/eat/whatever without worrying about baby waking up. We’ve used a sound machine with Matteo since he was 7 weeks old and credit it for allowing us to travel with ease — Matteo will sleep anywhere as long as he has his sound machine on. This is the one we have and love — it also has a light projector which is a big hit with our little one. 

Our Vacation Daze

1379286_740331404834_924276849_nYou know what happens when you get married? People feel the need to give you advice. So you get advice, lots of it. Never go to bed angry. Start planning for retirement early. Take a great vacation before you have kids because once you’re parents you won’t travel again until the kids are gone. 

Tony and I have been married for 8.5 years now. We married young (just 22!) which also means we married poor. There were no fancy vacations after we returned from our honeymoon in Punta Cana, DR (thanks again for footing that bill, Mom and Dad!). The years after our wedding were spent trying to become not-poor. Get a job. Work at said job. Get promoted at that job. Quit job and move across the country. Get a new job.

Then, in the fall of 2012 we became parents to an adorable little maniac we named Matteo. And I thought to myself, “Crap. There goes ever having a sweet vacation. We missed our window.” Because everyone told me that would be the case. It’s too expensive/inconvenient/unsanitary/insane to try to travel with a baby, remember?

Enter the conundrum. In the past year, it has become clear to me that Tony has a passion for travel and since I have a passion for Tony I started to think about it a little more. And guess what — when I started to think about the world out there and all of the different cultures, cities, foods, and sights there are to see, I realized that I have a passion for travel too. But I also have a passion for raising our little son, and having the finances to both well seemed like a challenge.

Tony, that determined insistent man, was not to be deterred. If I was willing to travel, he’d find a way to make it work financially. He started doing some research in to “travel hacking”, namely a way of earning “points” so that air travel and hotel costs would no longer serve as an obstacle to pursuing our adventures. There’s some amazing info out there, things we can share that are working for us and might work for you too.

Hence this blog. We’re at a point where a day doesn’t go by where we’re not planning for a nearing trip or daydreaming about a future one. As for maniac Matteo? It turns out that he’s not a bad little traveler after all. There are lots of ways to make traveling with a little one work for every one involved, no matter where your final destination may be.

So welcome to our blog, and watch us spend our vacation days in a vacation daze.