Welcome to another update from the PIE family as we navigate hectic dual careers, raising two energetic boys, vacationing, and attempting to leave enough time for some periodic blogging.
This all-encompassing update will take you on a travel hacking journey from Canada to Wyoming with a brief preview of Mexico. Not content with that, you’ll also get a quick FIRE update. Ready for the long(ish) haul? Read on!
We have written before about the importance of awesome vacations, even as we pursue FIRE. Mrs. PIE wrote a beginner’s guide to travel hacking here and we also described how much we saved in 2016 through travel hacking to indulge in our highly addictive skiing habit.
So, here are a few tales on our adventures in travel hacking over the past few months.
6 Free Nights for the Price of 4 Free Nights
In early 2016 our first official Travel Hacking credit card application was the Chase Fairmont card. (Unfortunately the card is no longer available). The biggest perk of the card was that we BOTH received 2 free nights at ANY Fairmont hotel in the world. Fairmont has an amazing collection of fine hotels, particularly north of the border in Canada. For example,
Although we have never stayed at either of these majestic properties, we have skied at both Whistler and Lake Louise. You’ll hear more about Whistler later in the post. We had our sights set on Chateau Frontenac in one of our favorite Canadian cities, Quebec City.
A few details about the reservation process: We were easily able to combine our free nights into one reservation thanks to the wonderful customer service at Fairmont Presidents Club. In fact we hadn’t even earned the free nights before Mrs. PIE made the reservation! The Chase Fairmont card also granted us Premier Presidents Club membership which provides a free suite upgrade and $50 EACH in dining certificates. We were able to take advantage of all of these add-ons for our reservation. Sweet or should I say ” suite”…!?
One of the big advantages of vacationing in Quebec City is the proximity from our mountain home in New Hampshire. We had spent Christmas in NH and after a relaxing Boxing Day, we headed off on the morning of Dec 27 by car – the drive to Quebec city is an easy 5 hours door-to-door. It’s worth pointing out that it is not so easy if you are driving in the teeth of a major snow-storm – add another 2-3 hours for that white-knuckle ride.
The magic of Quebec City, for us at least, are the snow lined cobbled streets of the Old City, the dizzying array of wonderful restaurants and the French charm that is Chateau Frontenac. If you ever get the chance to wander the snowy cobbled streets in late December and peek in the windows of quaint old shops, you can’t help but feel festive. It’s truly a magical place for couples, families, young and old alike. We love it, and we should know. We have visited the city six times over the last fifteen years.
Some of the other local attractions that suit our lifestyle are the nearby ski mountains – Mont Sainte Anne and Le Massif. We skied one day at Mt St Anne and had one awesome powder day (14 inches dumping) at Le Massif.
“This is all great, but please get on with the six free nights story”, I hear you cry…..
After a hard day of skiing, we typically eat (drink) well and are spent by about 9pm. The first night at the hotel, we all were super-tired and by about 9.30pm, the lights had gone out and four PIE’s were all peacefully asleep.
That was until we were rudely awakened around midnight by a horrendous rattling sound above the main bedroom. Mr. PIE was jolted from his slumber, leapt out of bed and assumed the fetal position, preparing for the bedroom roof to cave in. Mrs. PIE would add that a few expletives were also heard coming from my mouth but that is minor detail you don’t need to hear about.
Upon realizing that it was not noise from a rowdy party and it had to be structural in nature, a swift call was made by Mr. PIE to the front desk, explaining the situation. Moments after the phone was put down a night shift service technician was dispatched to our room. In his best Quebecois voice upon assessing the situation, he muttered “comme un train bruyant” (or something like that). Translate as “like a noisy train”. We couldn’t have agreed more!
The family PIE were quickly escorted to another family size room and were told the situation would be dealt with before morning. After a less than ideal night sleep, we skied the next day. Upon returning to the hotel, were informed that the noise was indeed structural and the issue had been addressed. True, it seemed to be fixed, as we all slept soundly in preparation for the next day at the local tubing hill.
When we say tubing, we really mean tubing on steroids! Valcartier Village Vacances, about 20 minutes North of Quebec City is the home to the largest winter playground in America – housing 35 slides for tubes and rafts. A few pics here to give you a flavor of the fun to be had. They have even added a huge indoor water park which we managed to take advantage of in the same exhausting day. We’d challenge any of you to spend a day there and not howl with delight all day long. It is that good!!
With our rinse, repeat mantra of tons of snow fun, eat / drink and sleep well, we headed to our suite that night and crashed…..yep, you know what is around the corner…..we were awakened by the horrendous noise again! Mr. PIE took the train analogy to heart, blew off some proverbial steam and based upon his vocal distaste of the whole situation, the family PIE were quickly escorted yet again to another chamber in the Chateau by the apologetic staff. Not before Mr. PIE used his best French to convey to the front desk “Je dois parler demain au manager en charge” – translated as “I must speak tomorrow to the manager in charge”. The next morning Mr. PIE conducted a furious negotiation session with the apologetic manger on duty and scored the following:
- Upgrade to a Presidential suite for our final night, with a promise of no more noise. You should have seen the room we were in……OMG, it was spectacular.
- A complementary two nights for our “inconvenience”, with a promise that the nights could be used at any Fairmont hotel world-wide, in a family size suite. Here’s the math: 6 free nights for the price of four!
Although we were quite inconvenienced, we were impressed by the swiftness of hotel staff to get us to a new room each night. In addition, the on-duty manager at Fairmont Chateau, Jean, was very courteous, highly apologetic and responsive as he helped resolve the situation and secure 2 complementary nights for us in July 2017 in the Mexican Maya Riviera.
2017 Summer Vacation – More Hacking…
We may have mentioned previously that a quirk of the family PIE is to plan our next vacation before we complete the current one. So, on the journey home from Quebec City, a plan was hatched to spend a week during the summer in the warmth of the Mexican Maya Riviera. Since our winter vacations are spent being super active, we thought a super-relaxing beach vacation would do the trick to unwind from the rigors of work, long commutes and all the stress that goes with being two busy parents.
Where are we going?
- Maya Riviera in late July – 7 nights (5 at the Hyatt Ziva resort; 2 nights at the Fairmont Mayakoba)
How are we paying for the stay?
We are not – really.
- 2 x Hyatt Visa cards (Mr. and Mrs. PIE) equals 2 + 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel worldwide. We are using our 4 free nights at the all-inclusive Ziva resort near Cancun and paying for one extra night on our own dime
- 2 complementary nights (see above) at the luxury resort, Fairmont Mayakoba. We also have $100 in Fairmont dining certificates that we will apply towards the family dinner on one of the nights
We are paying for four round-trip air tickets from Boston to Cancun. At this time of year, flights award availability is very limited and involves 1-2 stops and/or very inconvenient dates. We managed to secure 3x miles (more miles, yay!!) on the cost of the tickets by paying for them with our American Airlines Advantage card . We’ll take that as a win.
2017 Winter Vacation
We blogged before about our planned trip to Jackson Hole. It came, it went, it was friggin’ awesome! We spent the whole week skiing in deep powder in one of the many storm cycles that have pounded Jackson all winter long. As we described previously, we saved thousands of $$’s on this trip due to travel hacking, including the use of 200,000 United miles for four round-trip tickets.
2018 Winter Vacation Planning – Whistler, British Columbia
Did we ever mention we are Type A planners? Not content with planning our summer trip, we are looking ahead to February 2018. Traditionally, we alternate by going out West or spending a week in NH. Next year is supposed to NH. But since it will be our last vacation before we pull the plug in July 2018, we are heading out west to ski the Canadian Rockies. Whistler-Blackcomb has some mighty fine terrain for the intermediate/advanced skier:
- The award availability popped in just at the right time and we secured 4 return tickets (BOS-YVR) using 200K American Airmiles – helped by snagging 50K AA miles by transferring some funds from Vanguard to Fidelity (see below)
- 7 free nights at the Westin Whistler Resort and Spa using 72,000 SPG points. We also plan to spend an extra day skiing and have reserved a night in Vancouver at the Sheraton Vancouver airport with 7,000 SPG points
- Lift tickets – the much lower price of lift tickets in Canada (about half the price of our favorite ski destination Jackson Hole!) and the Canadian dollar advantage are all in our favor
- Our expenses will be transportation (coach) between Vancouver and Whistler, food, beverages and other entertainment we choose such as this fantastic looking Zipline. We won’t need a rental car (more money in our pocket) since there is everything you need, and more, at Whistler
Quick Snapshot of our Miles and Points Balances
We are not in the million mile club but we are happy with our stash and expect to see it grow further as we cycle through more cards. As Mr. PIE dreams in tables, here is a table with a summary of our balances across various cards.
Our latest mileage hack has taken us into new territory. We found, (thanks to Justin at Root of Good) that funding a Fidelity brokerage account with $100,000 will earn 50,000 in airline miles with Delta, United or American. We happily opened a Fidelity account and with a few clicks of the mouse $100,000 in funds / cash was transferred to Fidelity, and 50K AA miles were deposited in our American account 10 days later. No buy/sell and tax implications, just a simple transfer with no costs. We plan to move the funds back to Vanguard in a year and hopefully repeat the whole exercise. Gotta love travel hacking!
Our plans have not changed. The plan to FIRE in July, 2018 is very much on track. Our high savings rate continues unabated. This was bolstered in February by Mr. PIE receiving his 2016 performance bonus and exercising some restricted stock awards:
- Bonus = 44% of annual salary (gross)
- Stock exercise = 32% of annual salary
Yeah, Mr. PIE was floored again with the bonus and every penny of it and the stock exercise was squirreled away to Vanguard and Fidelity. The ability to save large amounts of money in the peak years of earning power along with favorable market tail-winds has powered our nest-egg to new highs.
It has been some time since we last posted but we hope that you like this little update. Work goes on, our savings goes on but our fun travel plans keeps us sane in an otherwise chaotic lifestyle.
What keeps y’all sane in your journey towards FIRE? Any travel plans on the horizon? Please share what’s going on in the comments section below.