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EURO TRIP!

Deeply Discounted On Contiki Holidays

Hello friends!

I’m so glad that people enjoyed my Money Isn’t Everything post yesterday! I even saw a RT of that post got liked on Twitter by the Broke Millennial! That’s some pretty legit validation. Yesterday was the most traffic on the blog so far. Thank you so much for your interest and your support.

As long as people are reading and commenting, I have no reason not to keep writing. I have to assume that I’ll eventually run out of interesting topics since I literally have almost six months to wait before my epic road trip begins, but I’ll keep going with this as long as you guys keep going with it.

I have a super special blog post today. This was written over a year and a half ago and has been sitting as an unpublished draft on my old personal blog when I felt some awkwardness of “coming out” as a personal financial nerd.   I never had the courage to hit publish, but it’s a rather fun story for anyone who has lucked out with an incredible travel deal. I’ve added some current-day commentary in bolded italics where relevant. I’m not sure that you’d be able to duplicate my exact experience, but you can definitely utilize some of these strategies to save some money on your future trips.

 

A small disclaimer in that if you are the kind of person who thinks that saving low to mid four digit figures for a one-time life experience is on the impossible side, you probably aren’t going to enjoy this blog entry, but hopefully you still like me. 🙂 This is more for the people who can relate to it, the people who aren’t sure if they can swing Europe financially.

The short story is that I like to think that I took advantage of opportunities.

First there is the flight.

In early 2014, I signed up for a Citibank American Airlines AAdvantage credit card which was offering 50,000 American Airlines miles if I spent $5,000 in the first 90 days of card membership. Anyone who knows me know has to know that I would not normally put $5k on a credit card in 90 days. To be more specific, I could not find enough items to spend $5,000 over a 90 day period if my life depended on it, but if I need to push $5,000 of purchase transactions in a certain period of time, I had to find a way to do that so that I could get my miles.

Enter Loyal3.  Loyal3 is a start-up brokerage firm that allows one to buy stock (even partial shares) with no commission. In the beginning, around the time I got my Citibank credit card, they actually allowed you to fund stock purchases with credit cards. I am not sure why this company ate the costs to do this, but it doesn’t really matter why, what matters is that it really was the golden goose that kept on giving.

They let you spend up to $2500 per security per month, now if I was smart, I could have put say $250 into 10 different stocks, but I was lazy and lucky, so I just put $2500 into Berkshire Hathaway and $2500 into Coca Cola. Berkshire Hathaway actually owns a lot of Coca Cola, so I owned a lot of Coca Cola for a handful of days.

I  purchased all shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock on 2/28/14 and all shares of Coca Cola stock on 3/11/14. I sold all shares of Berkshire Hathaway on 3/6/14. I sold all shares of Coca Cola on 3/14/14.

I made roughly $50 on Berkshire Hathaway and I lost $4 on Coke. I withdrew the $5046 from my Loyal3 account and transferred to my checking account well before the credit card bill was even due to Citibank.

Not only did I earn 55,000 American Airlines miles (I also earned 1 mile per $1 of spending, in addition to the 50,000 miles bonus), I gained roughly 1% on my investment over the course of two weeks..most bank accounts don’t even pay you 1% interest over the course of a year. In case you were wondering, If I still had that $$ equally invested in Berkshire Hathaway and Coca Cola today, I would have profited 29% on Buffett’s company and 11% on Coke [ed. note: calculated sometime in early 2015], but I knew had a credit card bill coming up, so I took my money and ran.

I could have just as easily lost $50 or $200, or possibly even more, but I felt fairly confident that neither Berkshire Hathaway nor Coca Cola were going to have major movements in their price before the 30 days+ that my credit card bill was due. It was essentially a risk that I was willing to take. In other words…I was the right combination of lucky and smart? Or maybe just lucky? You tell me.

Loyal3 put an end to credit card funding by the end of May, which would make sense. I was surprised it lasted as long as it did, but Loyal 3 is not the point, the point is that to win at the game of credit cards, you sometimes have to think outside of the box to push your transactions through…if you already push this kind of spend on a regular basis with your debit card or some other credit card- you don’t even have to think outside the box, just re-allocate your spending to a new card for a little while. Now, some people are very highly compensated in their careers and the hourly rate of their time may not be worth gaming credit cards. I respect that. I am not one of those people. I look forward to the day when I’m so massively successful that my time is not worth a “free $1000 flight”

Back to that free $1000 flight. Flights booked with AAdvantage miles to Europe in winter are discounted because winter is a less popular time to go to Europe. I actually ended up having an ENTIRE ROW to myself, when flying my non-stop overnight flight from LAX to Heathrow, which was lovely. I was able to get the round trip European flight on American Airlines and US Airways for 40,000 American Airlines miles. With taxes and fees, It was probably another $200. I avoided some hefty fees by flying home from Amsterdam (where the tour ended) rather than London. Flights home were not so easy to find, and I was not able to get a non-stop, but I was okay with this because I was not spending any of my actual money, and it ended up making the most sense to route myself through San Diego with a connection in Philadephia. [ed note: You guys! I got to have the fun tourist experience of having a bomb overpriced Philly Cheese Steak at PHL airport during my layover]. Because I flew into San Diego rather than any of the various LA metro airports, I got to experience the Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train for my very first time. My dad has what seems like unlimited SPG points, so he hooked me up with the hotel room that was walkable to the train station for the night that my flight came in to San Diego. The train ticket costed like $20. If I had paid for a flight to Europe with cash, it would have cost me $1000 easily, even in winter.  Thank you Loyal 3 and Citibank. You just paid for the majority of my flight to Europe.

Costs So Far: $174 ($200 flight taxes +$20 train ticket less $46 in investment gain)

Secondly…at this point in my life, I prefer to travel with tour operators. The biggest reason for this is I have not historically had friends who are interested in traveling with me, and going completely alone as a backpacker in hostels is a bit out of my comfort zone. Whether that is for financial reasons, whether folks just can’t fathom the idea of spending that much consecutive time with me, or they just can’t get the time off work – I couldn’t tell you. [ed. note: I’m not against myself traveling solo in hostels anymore. I think it would be a fun social experience.] Loading up on a motorcoach with 35 new people is already enough out of my comfort zone. So, the nice thing about tour operators is that sometimes they have trouble filling their groups, and that is when you can usually find discounts. You know how I always love finding a deal? Well, this was my fourth tour with Contiki Holidays and I was kicking myself that my three previous Contiki Holiday tours were booked directly with Contiki and not with a rebating travel agent. [ed. note: You guys…ALWAYS use a rebating travel agent if booking a tour and your plans are 100% firmed.] I learned that I spent a whole 5% more than I should have on the previous 3 contiki tours. Oh well.

This time around, I used AffordableTours.com It was basically an extra 5% off the tour. Contiki’s full price for a 25 day tour across Europe with only one roommate in Europe for my itinerary was  $3885 USD. I would personally never pay that much for a 25 day Contiki tour. There are a lot of long driving days on a  spread out Contiki tour. But you see SO MUCH. For me, I try to stay around $100/day for any travel, not including optional activities and meals…unless it’s some sort of unusual destination where I would warrant higher costs.Basically $100 for a bed and transit from Point A to Point B and I’m kosher with that. Any included meals are really a bonus.  [ed note: Very hopeful that epic road trip will be under $100/day including the meals. We’ll have to see what happens.]

First, Contiki Holidays gave me a ‘past passenger discount’ of $194.25, 5% off the sticker price of $3885. Contiki Holidays also gave me a ‘last minute discount’ of $971.25, which is 25% off the sticker price of $3885. AffordableTours gave me a discount of $138.25, which is 5% off the remaining price after all Contiki discounts. My final cost ended up being $2581, or just around my target of $100/day with a bunch of meals and plenty of tourist attractions included. I also got a free upgrade to my own room for every night except the first night of my tour.  I should probably send the Australian dude who actually booked his own room all the kudos in the world,, since he probably would have ended up being my roommate if he didn’t pay extra for privacy. That is absolutely the only reason I ended up in a solo.. Since this was the last minute, I was not able to find a new credit card in time to put that valuable $2580 of spend on, but that would have been the ideal thing. I used my 2% cashback Fidelity investment Rewards American Express, so I guess you can say I saved another $51.62, bringing my final tour cost down after discounts and credit card rewards to $2529.

Cost So Far: $2703

In terms of spending in Europe…I found that perhaps some people exaggerate the cost here?. I think what helps a lot in my case is my lack of interest in excessive alcohol intake. I literally spent no more than $10 on booze. I spent a Few British pounds on a Magners cider at the pub during our first night together, and I bought 2 cans of Somersby Cider in Switzerland which was about 4 Swiss Francs. Somersby Cider is amazing by the way. Why isn’t it distributed in the USA? [ed. note: it’s probably better for my budget. This stuff was way better than any other cider I’ve ever had. I’ve basically given up alcohol, but I might break that rule for a Somersby.] The rest of the alcohol I drank was included in various activities – which certainly I contributed to monetarily in the costs of my tour or of the optional activities, but I don’t think about it specifically as alcohol spending.

In terms of cash on hand, I departed America with $21 USD, 15 GBP, 25 CHF and 380 Euros in my wallet. I gave 80 Euros as the combined tip for my tour manager and driver,  I won 23 Euros in the Monaco casino and I was given 15 Euros in Lyon, France when a meal that was supposed to be included was not planned.. I actually came home with 20 Euros, GBP 1.25 and 20 Czech Kron to spare. This means that in USD, I spent roughly $600 when converted from the foreign currencies [ed. note: I have no idea where I came up with that exchange rate conversion. I’m assuming that I converted the currencies the day I originally wrote the draft!], in addition to what I put on credit cards.

Cost So Far: $3303

My credit card bill for the month in Europe was roughly $1000. 1/2 of this was optional Contiki activities (some meals, some concerts, river and canal cruises, gondola ride, walking tours) etc and the rest would be the remaining meals, snacks, museum entries, and the like). I found that as a light-drinker, Europe was a pretty cheap place to be. Soda was on the expensive side, and of course I kept drinking it because they actually use real sugar over there rather than the high fructose corn syrup  that we unfortunately use over here. I also used a credit card that had no foreign transaction fees which was beneficial.

This was basically a final cost of $4,300 at the end of the day, but that’s not really how I perceive it, because we also need to consider that I saved a significant amount of money by not spending that month in my expensive beach apartment in California and commuting to work [ed. note: I moved away from the beach a year and a half ago to save more money and be closer to work. It’s been a huge boost to my net worth.] and incurring my normal expenses for an extended period of time: 14 work days of the driving the California 73, 133 and 241 toll roads in both directions: $210. Approximately ten gasoline fillups for my Civic: $300, and my biggest culprit: 25 days of eating. I need to pay for food whether I’m in Europe or America, and I found that food in Europe, at least at the places we went to weren’t really any more expensive than in Dana Point, some were actually quite a bit cheaper. I’d say that I easily spend $20 a day on food when at home (definitely my achilles heel when it comes to frugality.) [ed note: I do spend less on food now since I moved away from the beach. Hooray for lower cost of living areas. I still drive to the beach some weekends.] so lets go with $500  (25 days at $20/day) that I didn’t spend on food at home. There are obviously a ton of other things such as dry cleaning, unused utilities, wear and tear on the car, but we’ll go with the nice round $1,000 to keep the math simple.

I would say that after backing out the costs of all stuff I didn’t have to pay for because I wasn’t at home, I was basically out $3,300 in added costs for the month long trip. Now, it’s of course worth mentioning that not everybody has the luxury of a spare $3,000, but this is not an obscene amount of money for a young professional to spend to go to Europe for a month…especially when a flight alone usually costs 1/3 of that.

At $132/day, I feel like this was an incredible bargain for the value that I received.

I am sure that many of my tour mates would tell you that they spent significantly more than I did while in Europe, especially the women who were wowed by the various European fashion brands. I’m not sure that you could spend have less than I did while having your own private hotel room…unless maybe you went to Europe and never left your hotel room, in which case, why go to Europe?

We all have different reasons for traveling. I booked this tour for three reasons: to see new places, to try new foods, and to get some much needed exercise. I guess you could say there is a fourth reason: I booked this tour because I felt like I couldn’t not do it at the price at which it was offered to me. I accomplished all of those goals, and I even managed to make a few new friends along the way.

How I Did Europe in Own Hotel Room