Machu Picchu was a major travel dream for my wife and me. But, it was way down the list compared to some other, more realistic travel. In my mind, we would never go there. Too many other expenses were piling up at home. Even though we saved $3,000 by painting our new home ourselves, we didn’t exactly have the money to get expensive airfares and make it to Machu Picchu.
However, travel dreams are possible with Travel Freely. And, instead of getting there in our late 60’s, risking heart attacks and hiking injuries from the tough terrain and high altitude, we made it in our early 30’s – at half the cost that other full price “retail travelers” paid. In fact, we saved so much from airfare that we were able to take our travel budget and add on some incredible experiences (highlighted below).
This is part of why I want to spread the word about Travel Freely. Because, in addition to getting free airfare, you don’t have to hang on by a shoestring budget when you arrive. You save so much on airfare that you can get that nicer hotel, do a private tour, or spend more on an incredible meal and still come out on top.
Here’s what we did to plan our trip:
Step 1. Think about your normal vacation budget…
Our summer vacation budget was a little higher than normal because my wife had been a full time student for nearly 5 years. So, we had been saving some extra money for a nicer trip to celebrate her graduation.
Step 2. Now, think about the costs of your dream trip without airfare. Are there any big expenses besides airfare?
Using Numbeo’s website we checked out Lima’s cost of living and checked out average cost of hotels, meals, and transportation. We found that all expenses were A LOT cheaper than at home. Hotels and Airbnb’s were very affordable, restaurants were cheaper, and Uber in Lima was about half the price of Uber in Denver. Overall, expenses would be 60-75% of vacation expenses in America. Good news. The only extra cost would be about $400 each for transportation and permits to the Machu Picchu.
So, how were things looking? Very Good, except for airfare – starting at about $1,000 each.
Step 3. Check your rewards balances that you’ve earned through credit cards, and look up award flights for your destination. Consider using www.awardhacker.com for finding flights. If you have flexibility with your travel dates and a surplus of miles, get a flight on business class and travel in style!
Everything was lining up for our budget, but the question was, “Do we have enough points?” Not only did we have enough miles, but we could get business class down to Lima! I had a lot of miles from British Airways, and my wife had a lot of miles on American. Since they are airline partners, we could each use our miles to book business class on American. So… expensive flights = free. And, business class for free? Yes, please! With free flights, going to Machu Picchu would actually be cheaper than a beach week in Florida!
Step 4. Consider saving more money by booking hotel nights with points. Use www.awardmapper.com for hotels
This was an option for us in Lima, but the cost of hotels through Hotels.com and Airbnb were so affordable (4 of us were traveling) that we decided to keep our points for hotels on other trips. Our total cost for 4-star hotels and Airbnb’s ended up at a very affordable $42 each per night. Note: There is a way to get hotels.com and Airbnb for free. You would use Capital One Miles. The best bonus would come from a Capital One Venture Card.
Step 5. Add up how much you’ve saved and start getting excited. Ask yourself if you want to keep that extra money in the bank or use some of those savings for some Travel Freely “Lagniappe” – this is a New Orleans term for “a little something extra.”
This is where our trip became epic and awesome. An economy ticket would have cost us $1,114 each, or $2,228 total. We wanted to save about half of that. Given the extra money in our pocket, we chose to do the following…
1) Enjoy an internationally acclaimed Peruvian fusion restaurant.
At IK Fusion, we enjoyed an $85 per person 9-course meal that was as artistic as it was tasty. Each new course drew from Peruvian history and flavors. Everything from the ambiance to the tastes were so memorable.
2) Upgrade Machu Picchu “trip” to a private tour “expedition”
We took a 2 day tour, including a 1 day Sacred Valley tour, 1 day hike on the Inca Trail, and overnight camping below Machu Picchu – all with a private guide and chef! We also added on a $65 permit to hike Huayna Picchu, the super tall mountain in the background of all Machu Picchu photos. It was exhausting, but worth the hike. Alpaca Expeditions was our company – locally owned, very professional, and treat their staff really well.
We used the Barclays Arrival Plus card to book the tour, and later redeemed the full price of the tour with points! (Capital One Venture miles work exactly the same way, where you can reimburse yourself for travel expenses purchased with the card)
3) Go Fishing!
My friend and I love fishing, and we discovered a fishing tour that took you to a secret high altitude lake (14,800 feet!) with thousands of rainbow trout. For $190, we caught a record number of fish, and I caught the biggest trout I’ll probably ever catch in my life!
4) Colca Canyon
With the extra money we saved, we decided to extend our trip another 2 1/2 days in order to go to charming Arequipa and on to Colca Canyon. While I fished, my wife went to a spa for a massage and poolside retreat for the day. The spa was located at a 5-stay ecolodge in one of the biggest valleys in Peru. Then, the next morning we wen too see enormous Condors taking flight. We used hotels.com to book, and you can use a Capital One Venture card to pay and then reimburse yourself with Venture Miles later.
Overall, the cost of our Travel Freely Lagniappe: 5-star meals, Machu Picchu upgrades, Fishing, and Spa day – came out to $1,069 total. At that price, we were still able to save $1,159 – more than half of the cost of our free airfare!
While it was an amazing experience, dream trips always come to an end. I can’t tell you how good it feels to finish an epic trip and return home knowing that we did not sacrifice our savings. There’s no over-analysis in your head of, “So, was that really worth it?” With free airfare and saving so much money, it’s always worth it!
So, what is your Machu Picchu? When do you think you’ll go? What extra fun could you have when you make it there?
Are you ready to take your dream trip? Check out the Travel Freely System and Sign up! Travel Freely helps you earn $1,500+ in free travel in your first year. Sign up now and you’ll experience free travel sooner than you’d think.