How to Hack a Ski Trip

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I first learned to ski in middle school and then participated in ski club in high school. Additionally, I skied several times in my adult life but didn’t really pick it back up until about 6 years ago.

When I was in debt, I took a break deciding to focus most of my income on paying off my debt. However, now that I’m debt free and saving for financial independence, I’ve decided to add this lovely hobby back into my budget. The goal for 2019 was to plan a trip out west and ski some powder and that is exactly what I did.

Making the best of a yard sale
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Hacking a Ski Trip

I have some friends here in Ohio who are very active skiers and participate in some local ski clubs. Additionally, they typically take trips out west each year to ski. Well, I introduced my friends to the concept of Financial independence (FI) and the ChooseFI podcast and one of them dove all in. She was always good with her money but FI helped her take it to the next level. Once we learned about using travel rewards we decided to plan a ski trip that way.

In our local ChooseFI group here in Northeast Ohio we have a travel rewards guru, Anna, who has been a big help in navigating these waters.

To be honest I was a little overwhelmed at the thought of planning a ski trip. However, it turned out to fine. Additionally, it saved us a boatload of money. I’m convinced and will continue to use travel rewards for all of my travel.  Anywho I wanted to create a little post showing you all how we did it compared to what we could have spent with cash or by taking a ski club trip.

Spoiler alert: travel rewards is the winner by a long shot!

Credit Cards Used

Firstly, I only recommend using credit cards for travel rewards if you have the discipline to pay off your cards in full each and every month. If not, you’ll end up paying high-interest rates and negating the benefit of the travel rewards. Seriously, only do this if you can to the former. With that being said, here are the credit cards I used for this trip:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred – I earned 50,000 bonus points by spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. If you use my link to sign up, I will earn 10,000 bonus points. This card does have a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year. I plan on downgrading to the Chase Unlimited Freedom card after the first year to avoid the fee.
  2. Chase Ink Business Cash – I earned $500 cash back by spending $3,000 in the first three months. However, because I had a premium card open (see #1) I could transfer this to my Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and receive 50,000 travel points. Additionally, I use this card to pay for my internet & utilities and earn 5% cash back. If you want to sign up, go to ChooseFI and use one of their affiliate links to sign up. They’ve taught me most of what I’ve learned about travel rewards.
  3. Capital One Venture – This is probably the easiest travel card to use because you can simply erase charges that show up as travel on your credit card. I used these points to erase our ground transportation to and from the ski resorts. I earned 50,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first three months. Additionally, it has a $95 annual fee but it is waived the first year. I plan on downgrading to Capital One Venture One after the first year. Again I recommend going to ChooseFI to sign up with their affiliate links.

Cost Comparison

Alright now for the fun stuff! Let’s review three different ways we could have done this ski trip to Utah:

  1. Using Travel Rewards
  2. Paying Cash
  3. Going with ski club – keep in mind that this is not exactly apples to apples because the ski club only went to two ski resorts and we went to 4

Skiing

We decided to buy the Ikon pass. My friend, Shari bought hers in the spring of 2018 for $599 through the ski club and got a $20 visa gift card. So essentially she spent $579 for hers. I foolishly waited until the fall of 2018 and bought mine for $699. As you can see by the chart had I bought my lift tickets in cash from the 4 resorts we went to, I would have spent $660. However, by buying the Ikon pass, I have access to other resorts such as SnowShoe, WV which I skied two days. Lift tickets would have cost me $198 so buying the Ikon pass saved me money here.

The four Utah ski resorts we skied:

  1. Deer Valley (skied twice)
  2. Alta
  3. Solitude
  4. Brighton

I loved them all but I think Alta was my favorite!

Skiing Alta with our friend John whom we met at a Utah ChooseFI meet up

Flight

We flew Southwest which I highly recommend for any ski trip since they allow for two free pieces of luggage under 50 lbs. Additionally, they count skis and a ski boot bag as one. We were able to check our luggage for no additional cost. We both transferred some of our Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly to Southwest (Chase travel partner) and used 23,220 points to buy our flights. The only cost was the tax at $11.20.

Hotel

This would have been the biggest expense by far if we paid cash.  We stayed at the Hyatt Place Park City which would have cost each of us $1005.51 for the week. However, we transferred some of our Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt (Chase travel partner) and booked our room that way. We stayed 7 nights and I paid for three (15,000 points a night for a total of 45,000 points) and Shari paid for four (15,000 a night for a total of 60,000 points).

In hindsight, we realized it would have been fewer points to stay at the Hyatt in Sandy, UT. Additionally, it would have been closer to the Cottonwood canyons and 4 amazing ski resorts (Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, and Solitude). However, we enjoyed Park City for sure and especially their free bus system.

Being that Shari used more of her points for the hotel we found a way to even out the deal. I used more of my points for shuttles and bought one of her meals.

Ground Transportation

As I mentioned the Park City bus system was free so we used that to get around Park City and to and from Deer Valley ski resort. However, to get to the Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts we used shuttles. Additionally, we used Uber & Lyft on a few occasions in the evening. All of these charges were erasable as travel on my Capital One card.

Food

I spent $232.67 on going out to eat for the week. I probably could have done better but I came in under what I budgeted for food so I’m happy. Additionally, we could have done better by going to the grocery store and making sandwiches to take to the ski resorts, but we decided to splurge a little here.

Thanks, John, for the awesome homemade sandwiches you brought to Alta!

Other

I spent $107.82 on other things such as toiletries and souvenirs. I still came in under budget with my little splurges.

Final Analysis

As you can see by the chart, I used a total of 97,725 points and paid $1059.69 for this trip. However, if we would have gone the cash route for everything, it would have cost me $2,599 total which is 147% higher!! Or if we would have chosen to go with the ski club for a similar Utah ski trip, it would have cost ~$2065.49 which is 97% higher!!

Skiing is not a cheap hobby but as you can see a seemingly expensive trip can be significantly reduced with some travel rewards redemptions. The two biggest expenses for me were skiing and food.

Closing Thoughts

While I’m all for frugality and reducing expenses, I’m also for enjoying life along the way. Skiing is something I value and so I budget and save for it throughout the year. I’m glad I’ve found some ways to reduce expenses by introducing travel rewards into my life.

Enjoy the photos and please let me know any questions you may have in the comments…

SLC Utah ChooseFI & Mustachian Meet up!
Loving Alta
We picked the right year to ski in Utah.
So much wind & snow that we couldn’t get to the summit at Solitude
Jamaican dinner & FI conversation
Friends showing us around the mountains at Brighton. I even got to demo some different skis!
Some sunshine & smiles at Deer Valley
Lunch with my friend Shari at Deer Valley
Goodbye, Utah!

 

 

6 thoughts on “How to Hack a Ski Trip”

  1. I’m new to travel rewards, so it’s great to see a detailed example and a wonderful trip! So far, we each have the Sapphire Preferred and I have completed the Chase Ink Business Preferred and my husband is working on the Southwest companion pass.

    Our “problem” is that we have a small parrot and my Mom who has watched her over the years is getting very forgetful, so we have been doing all of our traveling in our trailer. Being retired, that’s taken us to lots of wonderful places. But being in this FI community, I wanted to educate myself on travel rewards, but I just can’t yet figure out what to use them on. It will be easy to book flights for things I’m doing by myself, like next FinCon or I signed up for Camp FI in Colorado for July. But otherwise, I’m stuck right now. So, the card I just got is the Citi Double Cash, with no bonusus, since I DO know how to spend cash! (sort of…)

    1. Thank you, Susan! I am a newbie in the world of travel rewards too but this is my third flight with points and my first big trip. I’m hooked! Especially when I look at that cash price for the hotel. Holy mackerel!

      I can appreciate you doing your traveling in the trailer so you can continue to take care of your parrot. How about spending some random nights in luxurious hotels on points? That would be a fun way to use & enjoy them. Yay on FinCon! I’ll look forward to seeing you again. I bet CampFI Colorado will be awesome.

  2. Thanks for sharing, I agree on wanting to fit in some fun on the way to FI. I too have the IKON pass and this is my first season after reaching FIRE this fall. This means that when it snows and everyone else is working, I get to drive to the empty slopes. yay FIRE 😉

  3. Oh your pics made me miss those mountains! I grew up skiing in CO and went a few times when I was in UT for college. My husband and I just got into the world of travel hacking, so we are taking a trip to Austria and Italy next year. Skiing in the Alps is definitely on the must-do list! Which travel points did you use for the Uber and Lyft?

    1. Hi Jenni! The rocky mountains are so beautiful. I was in awe the whole time.

      Wow on Australia and Italy!! Yesss to skiing in the alps.

      I used the capital one points and their eraser for reimbursement of Lyft & uber charges. Anything that I charge with capital one which codes as travel (flights, rental cars, shuttles, Uber & Lyft) can be erased with points.

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