Saturday, December 14, 2019

$8000 Trip for under $1000???

Yesterday I wrote about how I got into travel hacking. Today I want to share about a big challenge I set for ourselves for 2020. 

Mandy and I have always loved planning trips almost as much as actually taking them, and travel hacking has taken this to a new level. I decided I wanted a challenge. I wanted to take a big trip next summer, and I wanted it to be as close to free as possible.

We settled on Hawaii. Mandy and I went to Maui for our 5th wedding anniversary. We didn’t have much money so we stayed in a very inexpensive hotel, quite a ways from the beach. We spent a couple of days at Wailea Beach, which is a public beach but is next to the Grand Wailea, a very nice resort. We rented chairs and tipped a waiter 20 bucks, and he treated us as if we were guests at the Grand Wailea. We were pretty proud of ourselves. 

Fast forward 15 years. Now that Southwest flies to Hawaii we decided that we wanted to go back to Maui with the boys, but we wanted to stay at the Grand Wailea, and we wanted to do it for as close to free as possible.  

For those of you who don’t know, Hawaii is a very expensive place. And rooms at the Grand Wailea, which is a Waldorf Astoria resort, go for $600 and up per night during the summer. Those who know me know that I’m not shelling out that kind of money for a hotel room, no matter how nice it is. But (almost) free is another matter.  

Here’s how we did it. 

The first thing I did was to apply for the AMEX Hilton Surpass card. I received 150,000 Hilton points after spending $3000 in my first three months (this has since gone down to 125,000 points). There is a $95 annual fee. You also get automatic Hilton Gold status, which gives you some nice perks. Then Mandy got the AMEX Hilton Aspire card. This one gives you 150,000 points after spending $4,000 during the first three months. This one has a hefty annual fee though: $450. Before you stop reading, know that you get travel credits that bring it down. You also get Hilton Diamond status, which is Hilton’s highest rewards level.

This got us to 300,000 points. After some more spending, and the purchasing of some points, we got to 380,000. What is so special about this number? Well, a room at the Grand Wailea tops out at 95,000 points per night (versus $600 cash!). Another great thing is that if you book four nights with points, you get a fifth night free. So we booked five nights at the Grand Wailea for next June. It would have cost us, with taxes and resort fees, a little over $3200. But it’s going to be free!!!

Getting to Maui isn’t cheap either. That’s where my favorite credit card comes in…the Chase Sapphire Preferred. When you sign up and spend $4000 during the first three months, you get 60,000 points. I’ve had this card for a couple of years now. The great thing about Chase points is that they can be transferred to other airlines and hotel chains. This includes Southwest. We had a lot of Chase points, so we transferred them to Southwest and then purchased tickets to the SF Bay Area, where we’ll spend a few days, and then from there to Maui. Total cost:  $67.20 for security fees. Without points: $3600!

The final piece to the challenge was to book a hotel for our time in San Francisco, another place that is very expensive. I created an account with Hyatt, then transferred 40,000 Chase points to Hyatt and booked the Grand Hyatt in Union Square for two nights. This would have cost me almost $1000.

All of this means that my lodging and airfare for an amazing trip will be covered. We’ll pay for a rental car, food and entertainment. 

I won’t say that all of this has been easy. It’s a bit of work, and there are some areas that can be confusing. But it’s been worth the effort for us. The good thing is that you don’t have to take it to this level. And believe me, there are some travel hackers who make me look like a novice. 

If you’re looking for a place to begin, I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because of the transfer partners. After that I’d go to a Chase Southwest card. If you have a business (and you’d be surprised at what all qualifies as a business), go for the Chase Ink Business Preferred, unless you’re going after the Southwest Companion Pass, in which I would recommend you getting the Chase Southwest Premier or Performance Business Card.

UPDATE (04-02-20)
The current deal for the Chase Ink Business Preferred isn't as appealing as it once was. You now have to spend $15k within the first 3 months. As an alternative, check out the Ink Business Cash Card.

Here are links to my favorite cards. And as I mentioned yesterday, if you are going to sign up for one, it would be awesome if you’d sign up through these links, as it will help both of us out!

Finally, a few resources...

This podcast episode that got me hooked
Favorite website - The Points Guy
Great article on the Southwest Companion Pass

Friday, December 13, 2019

Travel Hacking 101

I first got into travel hacking over fifteen years ago, while we lived in the bay area. We got a Southwest Airlines credit card and began accumulating Rapid Rewards Points. It’s how we afforded to make trips home during the holidays. Ever since then we’ve had Southwest credit cards and have continued to do this.

However, I really got into travel hacking eighteen months ago. That’s when I discovered the ChooseFi podcast and website. From there I learned that the secret to true travel hacking is to take advantage of the bonuses that credit card companies offer when you open a new account. 

One of the things I learned was that the Southwest Companion Pass is the holy grail of travel hacking. I learned that in order to get it you needed to take 100 1-way flights (that wasn’t going to happen) or you needed to accumulate 110,000 Southwest points (that number has since gone up to 125,000). That seemed like a daunting task as well, but that’s where opening new cards comes in. 

You may be wondering what is so great about the Southwest Companion Pass, so I will happily tell you. Once you have it, it allows a companion to travel for free, and this is good for the entire year that you receive it, plus the next year. 

Towards the end of 2018 I started preparing, so to speak. I applied for a Chase Southwest business card and a Chase Southwest personal card. They both required a certain amount of spending within the first few months. I made sure to hit the spending at the beginning of 2019 so that the companion pass would be good for 2019 and 2020. 

Around February, 2019 I received notice that I had the companion pass. Now I could begin using it. And use it we have. The great part is that not only did I have the companion pass, but I also had an additional 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. This meant that not only did my companion (Mandy) fly free anytime I flew, but we would all be flying free using points.

By the end of 2019 our family of four will have taken trips to Dallas, Denver and Orlando, and Mandy and I will have gone to Chicago. And our total for airfare during this time: $0!

One question that is often asked is how one does this much spending in order to get the bonuses. Some cards require $1000 during the first three months, while others are $3000-4000. That can definitely be a challenge. I have a business that requires a lot of spending, so that has helped me. I've also gotten good at timing large expenditures, pre-paying bills and even buying gift cards to places like Amazon and Kroger. 

I probably don't have to say this but I will anyway...the one key here is that you have to pay off your credit cards in full every month. If you don’t do that, then you shouldn’t travel hack.

Part 2 of this post will be tomorrow, as I’ll share our big challenge for 2020. 

I’ll end this post by sharing a few of my favorite cards. I’ll share more about some of these tomorrow. Note that if you are going to sign up for one, it would be awesome if you’d sign up through these links, as it will help both of us out!

Thursday, August 01, 2019


A little over a year ago, as I was wrapping up my sabbatical and coming to the decision that it was  time for me to step out of vocational ministry, Mandy and I were having lots of conversation about what was next. This was going to be a big decision, and we wanted to make sure that we had a good place for our family to land for this next season.  We pretty quickly came to the conclusion that Christ City Church was going to be a great fit for us. We knew the leaders and resonated with the vision of the church. At the time we felt like this would be a place for us to rest, but we also wondered how we would contribute once a period of rest was up.

One morning Mandy woke up and asked what I thought about doing Alpha at Christ City. Alpha has been on the periphery of our lives since I was on staff at Hillside Church in Marin County. That church had been doing Alpha for several years at the time we were there, and though we were never a part of it, we saw the impact that it had on the church.

We thought about doing Alpha when we started Neighborhood Church but didn't feel it was the right time. Over the years we would hear about how God was using Alpha in other parts of the world, and we would wonder if it was time. It never seemed to be the case. She and I were both too maxed out to give it the proper attention and leadership it needed.  So now, as we were making the transition out of vocational ministry, we wondered if it could be the time.

We've been at Christ City for eleven months now, and after a great season of rest, we're stepping back into leadership. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach at Christ City. I taught on Rest and Responsibility (you can listen to it here if you'd like). It has been so good to be in a season of rest this last year, but I know that I'm not meant to sit on the sidelines too long. I'm created for responsibility. I still have such a love for the church, and after doing ministry for twenty years, it's not something that I want to completely give up. I'm just happy to be doing it on a smaller and more focused scale.

So I'm happy to share that Alpha at Christ City Church starts on September 8. For the past couple of months we've been recruiting a team, and over the next month we'll be solidifying the many details needed for the launch. I'm excited to be able to focus on one thing, and I'm excited that this is something that Mandy and I will be doing together.

I recognize that I've yet to tell you exactly what Alpha is, but rather than tell you here, I invite you to check out the Alpha page on Christ City's website.

Friday, April 26, 2019

My New Office

In January I came across a couple of posts by Mr. Money Mustache (here and here) about buildings that he had constructed. As I read these articles, I found myself starting to desire to build a home office for myself.

There were a couple of initial reasons. First, now that I am doing real estate full-time and don’t have any plans to stop, I know that I’m going to be working from home for the foreseeable future. This has been working for me for some time, though it gets a bit tricky in the summer when everyone is home. Second, I have a little more time on my hands than in the past, and I thought it would be fun to take on a physical project. I have learned over the years that I am not a “measure twice, cut once” kind of guy. That’s just not in my DNA. So I stick with the things that I’m good at, but at the same time, I have a desire to grow in this area.

After reading quite a bit over a couple of days, I pitched the idea to Mandy. I wasn’t sure what she would say. She loved my two reasons but added a third. Adam is about to be in high school, and he and Micah have always shared a bedroom, and she thought it might be nice for them to have their own rooms. She suggested that I build something for me, and then Adam take the bedroom that is my current office.

And there it was. We were on the same page way quicker than I thought we would be. As I researched, I quickly came to the conclusion that it would not be a wise move for me to try to build something from scratch. Again, the “measure twice, cut once” is really important for that kind of work. So I went to Probuilt of Memphis to look for a shed. I decided that my best bet would be to hire someone to build a 20x12 shed, and then I would finish the interior.

First we had to demo the existing shed. Then we had to make sure water wouldn’t build up under the new shed. We also had to get new fencing since the existing building’s  had served as the fence.

On Monday, March 18 two guys from Probuilt Memphis showed up to build my shed.  The only thing they had built in advance were the roof trusses. By 3:00 on Tuesday the shed was completed. I was blown away at how good these guys were. We had them build a wall to divide the building into two parts. I still needed a place for the mower and other tools, so six of the twenty feet is shed. The ceiling is lower on this part, which allowed for a loft in the office portion for storage. So glad we did that. And they built shelves in the shed portion.

The next day the electrical rough-in took place, and the day after that, we had closed cell spray foam insulation installed.  Then the drywall went up.

On Saturday the entire family painted the exterior. Once the drywall was finished, I painted the interior. Then I laid this vinyl plank flooring from Home Depot, and finally I had a carpenter install the heat and air unit and install the trim and baseboard.

As one who is involved in a lot of construction projects, I'm so pleased with how the project turned out and how quickly it happened. I love my office. Here are a few photos of the finished project.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Books Read - December 2018

Last December I set a goal to read 30 books. I had never set a goal like this before, but I wanted accountability. I ended the year having read 45 books, which I am very pleased with. There were two takeaways from the goal setting. First, it was great motivation to start a new book. Second, and even more important, it was great motivation to finish a book before starting a new book. That's my normal problem. I start a lot of books. The problem is finishing. Setting a goal, and then providing updates on that goal, went a long way in helping me read more and thus better myself.

So here are the five books I read in December...

Long-Distance Real Estate Investing, by David Greene
David Greene is the new co-host of the Bigger Pockets podcast, which is one of my favorite podcasts. I heard him interviewed in a podcast sometime in 2017 and was immediately impressed by his work ethic and organization. I'm not so much a long-distance investor, but I found a lot of gems in this book that help me nonetheless.

Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr
I'll be the first to admit that this one took me awhile to work through. I find that Rohr is one of those right place right time books. It takes me a little while to get truly engaged. But once I do, I find words that cause me to breathe more deeply.

Of Blood and Bone, by Nora Roberts
This is the sequel to Year One. Though not as good as the first, still a page turner.

The Lions of Lucerne, by Brad Thor
This is book 1 of a rather large series by Brad Thor. I really like political thrillers. This one wasn't amazing, but it was good enough that I'll probably read others by him.

West Cork, by Sam Bungey & Jennifer Forde
This was an audible exclusive. It's more like a podcast (think Serial) than a book, but I'm still counting it :)  It's a fascinating true crime story set in southern Ireland.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Books Read - November, 2018

Eleven months in and I'm happy to report that I've read 40 books. My goal in January was 30.

Here are the four books I read this months.

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard
I first read this book fifteen years ago. It's probably shaped me as much as any other book has, and I decided that I wanted to go back through it. It's not a quick read at all, but taking your time through a book like this is highly recommended.

Retire Early with Real Estate, by Chad Carson
A few months ago I heard a BiggerPockets podcast with Chard Carson and really liked what I heard. Carson is younger than me and is financially independent, which means he has enough money coming in each month to cover his bills. The bulk of this is from real estate. He still works, but he's able to do the things he's passionate about. The thing I loved most about this book is the profiles he includes in each chapter of real estate investors who have done similar things to him.

The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin
I checked this out from the library and read it in a day and a half. It was that good. I hope to see the movie sometime soon.

Year One, by Nora Roberts
It's a bit of the Hunger Games meets Harry Potter, though not as good as either and with a few more adult themes. Still, a good read, and I'm about to start the sequel.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Books Read - October, 2018

Here are the books I read in October.

Unshakeable, by Tony Robbins
This is a follow up to Money: Master the Game, which was an excellent book that led to several big changes in how we manage our finances. There is some repeat material in this book, but it's still great. The last chapter is worth the price of the book.

The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod
Elrod advocates early morning habits as the key to productivity. He coined a nice acronym to help one remember those habits: SAVERS
S - Silence
A - Affirmations
V - Visualization
E - Exercise
R - Reading
S - Scribing (Journaling)

The Miracle Morning for Real Estate Agents, by Hal Elrod
I read both of these books because they're free on Kindle Unlimited, which I am currently subscribed to. That being said, I'm glad I didn't pay for this book, as it is basically a repeat of the material of his previous book, albeit with the addition of a story about a real estate agent woven throughout the book.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
After reading John Grisham's Camino Island, which is about Fitzgerald's works, I decided to read his most famous novel. It's a short and fascinating read. Highly recommended.

Haunted, by James Patterson
This is the tenth book from the Michael Bennett series. Not one of his finest but still a good read.