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We love to travel, and we love to save money on travel. We ARE accountants, after all.
In November 2019 we visited Australia. If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend reading about Our Great Australian Adventure in these three blog posts before reading the summary below: the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns, the rainforest town of Kuranda, and Sydney and Coogee Beach.
Below is a breakdown of the costs of our trip and how we managed to keep the costs as low as possible. To be fair, we did not include the cost of meals, ride shares (e.g. Uber rides), or public transit; those costs can vary greatly depending on personal preferences and other factors.
All currency amounts are in U.S. dollars. Where we used hotel loyalty rewards points, we valued those points in U.S. dollars as outlined in our loyalty rewards programs post.
We had discussed traveling to Australia for a few years. We track the prices of flights to various places using Google Flights. In January 2019 we got an alert that prices from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to different cities in Australia had dropped A LOT. We usually plan our vacations way ahead of time—we have been known to make travel reservations over a year in advance—but we didn’t have anything planned for the Thanksgiving timeframe yet. Knowing this sale was a phenomenal deal and would end quickly, we sprang for the flight.
Round-trip, economy-class flights from LAX to Sydney are often $1,000 or more per person during peak tourist times; in comparison, our Virgin Australia flight from LAX to Cairns and then Sydney to LAX was a steal at $622/person.
Later on, we received yet another Google Flights alert about a one-way flight on no-frills, budget airline Tiger Air from Cairns to Sydney for $75/person (including baggage fees).
Key takeaway: Track flights to your desired destinations via Google Flights or other flight-tracking sites, even before you make steadfast plans to visit. You never know when a fantastic deal will pop up that you won’t want to miss.
We spent 8 nights in hotels, half of which we booked using hotel points.
Hotel in Cairns
We stayed all four nights in Cairns at the Mantra Trilogy Cairns. Originally, we had reserved a Holiday Inn in Cairns using 25,000 points per night. We would value 25,000 points at an Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG, of which Holiday Inn is a brand) hotel at about $150. We made the reservation, which was fully cancelable, but kept an eye out for better options elsewhere.
Lo and behold, we spotted numerous cheap hotels on Hotwire, especially Hot Rate options. With Hot Rate hotel options, you choose a specified geographic area, a star level, and desired amenities and pay for the room in advance. Only after booking and paying do you learn the exact name and location of the hotel. We booked a Hot Rate hotel and ended up with the 4-star Mantra Trilogy at a whopping $65/night. We promptly canceled the Holiday Inn and saved those 100,000 points for a better use.
Hotels in Sydney and Coogee
In Sydney, we had originally booked a stay at a Holiday Inn in the Darling Harbour area for 40,000 points per night. However, each quarter IHG releases a list of hotels referred to as “Pointbreaks,” at which the number of points required for free nights is drastically lower than usual. Hotels may be available at 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 points per night instead of much higher rates.
The Holiday Inn Potts Point-Sydney was a Pointbreaks hotel for only 15,000 IHG points per night, so we booked it for two nights. The hotel was close to restaurants and a metro station, and was within (a lengthy) walking distance from the main sights.
The Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach-Sydney was a Pointbreaks hotel in Coogee for 15,000 IHG points per night. We booked that for the next two nights. We had initially planned a day trip to hike the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk and hadn’t intended to stay overnight. However, this Pointbreaks hotel prompted us to stay two nights in Coogee so we could spend more time exploring the area.
We then canceled the original hotel in Darling Harbour, saving ourselves 25,000 points per night–a total of 100,000 points for all four nights. That’s a lot of points saved for future travels!
Key takeaway: Be flexible with hotels and locations. Book cancelable hotels early on, but monitor rates and hotel loyalty promotions up until the time of the trip to locate better deals. For tips on earning loyalty rewards in the first place, see our post about loyalty rewards programs.
Obviously, activity and sight-seeing costs will vary depending on what one chooses to do. For example, we don’t have children, so families with kids will likely choose different activities than us. Many of the things we did are among the most popular tourist activities, and several sights were free of charge.
Our Kuranda Wildlife Experience package conveniently combined the Kuranda Scenic Railway, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and three major attractions in Kuranda at a discounted price. Had we booked each separately, we would have paid more.
We scored a discount for our guided tour of the Sydney Opera House by booking online rather than in person at the box office. Make sure any discount isn’t offset by so-called “convenience fees” charged for booking online. Don’t those make you mad??
Key takeaway: Check if any of your planned activities offer discounts for booking online in advance. Look for packages that combine multiple sights at a lower cost than if you paid for them separately. And remember, some of the best things (and tourist sights) in life are free!
|Points||Point Value||Cash Cost||Total Cost (USD)|
|Virgin Australia (LAX-Cairns; Sydney-LAX)||$1,242.86||$1,242.86|
|Tiger Air (Cairns-Sydney)||$148.74||$148.74|
|Mantra Trilogy Cairns (4 nights)||$260.72||$260.72|
|Holiday Inn Potts Point-Sydney (2 nights)||30,000||$180.00||$0.00||$180.00|
|Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach-Sydney (2 nights)||30,000||$180.00||$0.00||$180.00|
|Avis rental in Cairns (1 day)||$33.47||$33.47|
|Total car rental||$33.47|
|Cairns and Great Barrier Reef|
|Seastar Great Barrier Reef Tour||$275.12||$275.12|
|Daintree Mossman Gorge shuttle||$16.03||$16.03|
|Port Douglas and 4-Mile Beach||FREE|
|Cairns Botanic Garden||FREE|
|Kuranda Wildlife Experience Package||$228.00||$228.00|
|Koala cuddle at Koala Gardens||$24.50||$24.50|
|Sydney and Coogee Beach|
|Sydney Opera House play||$146.68||$146.68|
|Sydney Opera House tour tickets||$50.13||$50.13|
|Royal Botanic Gardens||FREE|
|Ferry from Sydney Circular Quay to Manly||$20.00||$20.00|
|Harbour Bridge walk||FREE|
|The Rocks self-guided tour||FREE|
|Coogee to Bondi coastal walk||FREE|
The total cost for the two of us, including the valuation of the hotel nights for which we used points, was less than $3,000, or $1,500/person. As mentioned earlier, this cost does not include meals, public transportation, or ride shares.
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We hope this post inspires you to explore the possibilities of traveling to your dream destinations. An international trip to a highly desirable location doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars per person, like you may see in fancy-schmancy travel magazines. As we’ve tried to express in our key takeaways, it’s all about timing, planning, and flexibility.
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