For the last three years I’ve gone on vacations for my birthday. There was Washington D.C., Baltimore, and now for 2015, I’ve booked the most amazing birthday trip so far: the land of my dreams, the warrior land full of elves, druids, and fairies, the trip that will fill my soul with meaning: Ireland.

I don’t understand why people don’t want to celebrate their birthdays or wish to acknowledge them. Perhaps, I won’t understand it until I’m older; although i doubt it since I’ve never been like other people. I love traveling and I love celebrating my birthday so what could better than combining these two things?

However, if I was going to travel to Ireland for my birthday I needed to be financially savvy. So I did my research, as I am constantly searching (haha), and I completed my mission to book an affordable Irish birthday vacation… Oh, and did I mention I booked it for $1,002.19???

This is where your jaw drops, you let out a shriek, you mutter, “Holy sh–” Yeah, $1,002.19.

This number is more impressive when I break it down for you. 10 days, 4 cities, 8 sites, and one night in a FREAKIN’ castle–ALL for $1,002.19. I received a plane ticket quote for a ticket to Ireland about a week age and it was almost $1,200–for just a plane ticket. That definitely puts it in perspective.

Yes, go ahead–scream again. Or better yet, wipe the drool from your chin and close your jaw because I’m about to share my secret to budget booking so that you can use it on your next vacation.

I got three free hotel nights and my plane ticket was (basically) free.

There’s this amazing secret out there that the average traveler or even family is not aware of and the fact that you aren’t aware of it, is a crime. A crime I tell you! As I was doing my research on traveling I kept discovering that so many people were able travel each year to international destinations. But how? That’s when I discovered their secret: loyalty credit card programs.

Loyalty credit card programs usually scare people off. Nobody wants more debt than they already have and if you can’t control yourself with a credit card, then this is not for you! However, if you are a mature adult who can maintain your budget, then you really should try loyalty credit card programs.

Loyalty credit card programs are great because they allow you to accumulate miles which you can use toward plane tickets, rental cars, hotels, and gift cards. And that is exactly what I did. Last year I applied for the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard which is the loyalty credit card program associated with American Airlines. (Airline loyalty credit card programs have the best deals in my opinion) They had this amazing promotion at the time (and still currently have it): If you spend $3,000 in the first three months, you get 50,000 American Airlines miles, plus the yearly fee is waived the first year. It wasn’t hard to spend $3,000 in three months. I asked my roommate to allow me to pay for rent for two months (and she paid me her half by check) and boom! I had 50,000 airline miles!

After those first two months I began looking for ways to get extra miles on that card. I put my rent on the credit card  and any time I needed to buy something online, I would try to buy it through the AAdvantage shopping mall which gives exclusive deals such as 3x miles or 5x miles on each purchase. By January, I had 64,000 American Airlines miles.

I should also note that I don’t rack up debt on my credit card. I budget out my expenses for the month that I am going to put on the credit card (or have put) and I pay off the credit card before my next statement. This way I build up my credit without building up debt.

With those 64,000 miles I bought a plane ticket for 40,000 miles! Although I do have to admit that I did have to pay $451.30 for the taxes and fees for my plane ticket (which sucked!). I called American Airlines and they told me that you always have to pay taxes and fees for flights, regardless if you use miles to purchase your ticket, especially when you travel internationally (the fees go to customs check). Unfortunately for me, British Airways has the highest rate of fees and taxes with American Airlines. But one thing remains true—I got a plane ticket for $451.30 when usually a plane ticket to Europe is over $1,000.

Now what is really cool about my Citi AAdvantage Mastercard is that I get 10%  of my miles back for every American Airlines purchase I make with my miles; so after purchasing a plane ticket with 40,000 miles I received 4,000 miles back.

I had 28,000 miles left and with those 28,000 miles I got three hotel nights for free in Dublin! All I had to go was go through American Airlines AAdvanatage program, select redeem miles, and follow the instructions. Yay for me! Two of those hotel stays includes breakfast–touchdown, baby.

After all that, I have a little less than 5,000 airline miles left.

Now the Citi Mastercard AAdvantage credit card program is not the only credit card program out there that offers great promotions. Check out NerdWallet or Wallet Hub or the most up-to-date information on promotional credit card programs.

If after you’ve read this you still say, “No, I can’t do another credit card,” or “Alex, my credit is terrifying to look at and no credit card program will approve me,” then never fear because there’s more options out there. Read this carefully: You do not need a credit card to be a member of a loyalty program and almost every hotel and airline has a loyalty program–FOR FREE.

Start racking up airline miles or hotel points by signing up for any and every loyalty program that you can. American Airlines, Southwest–every airline has a loyalty program that you can start using today by going on their website and signing up for free. Hotel’s also provide free loyalty programs. Either sign up on their website or inquire about it when you arrive at your hotel. Regardless, think of these programs as free plane tickets and free hotel stays–what could be better?

I get to see the Irish countryside, which includes 3 cities and 6 sites for four days, for $138.89.

Fun fact about me: I am a major history nerd. I’ve always been fascinated with the Celtic culture and so I knew that I wanted to travel around Ireland to see the amazing historic and natural sites that the country has to offer. So I had a decision to make: how was I going to get around Ireland? All the travel books said that driving was the best way but I was a little nervous about driving on the left side of the lane in an unfamiliar country. Unfortunately, traveling by train in Ireland would have created too many issues so traveling by car was my only option.

I began by looking through American Airlines AAdvantage program for car rentals. Unfortunately the car rentals required a lot of miles and I could not find an automatic car for the number of days that I wanted so I had to shop around.

It did not take me long to find a great deal at Avis. For $138.89 I’m renting an automatic compact car for 4 days which includes a GPS and unlimited mileage. I even found a coupon online that gave me 15% off on my car rental. Instead of buying the insurance through Avis, I used my Citi AAdvantage Mastercard which covers car rental insurance for up to $100,000 (just another perk of my credit card loyalty program).

Remember, before booking—shop around! And always look for promo codes (codes that give you discounts) on or for any company that you book car rentals or hotels with. Even if its 10% off, that’s money you are saving!

AirBnB is the

I still needed to find places to stay for six more nights. So I went to my go-to favorite travel site: AirBnB. So many people are still not aware of this site and the amazing deals it provides. AirBnB let’s people rent their entire houses, apartments, condos, private rooms, and couches to travelers for a fee. I’ve used AirBnB twice, once in Washington D.C. and once in Long Beach, California. My family stayed at a beach house right on the beach in Long Beach which included a hot tub, for less than $200 a night. Similarly, I rented out an entire apartment in D.C. for less than $70 a night.

Most big cities have pricey hotels in safe areas that you and your family of four cannot afford. AirBnB provides you a safe place, in whatever part of the city you wish to stay in, for usually half the price you’d pay for a hotel (and sometimes less!). And usually these places provide free Wifi, the use of the kitchen, and sometimes offer perks like a hot tub, a pool, free parking, breakfast, bicycles to use, etc.

I’ve always had this fantasy of staying in a castle in Ireland so thanks to AirBnB I found a castle for $171.00/night near Galway and I booked it for one night. AirBnB also features cool places to stay like castles, teepees, mansions, old school trailers, and even tree houses.

I booked two nights in B&Bs and two nights in a spare bedroom in Dublin. The two nights in the B&Bs include free breakfast as well. Now, don’t worry about my safety. Everyone who hosts on AirBnB has to be verified by the website. Additionally, I only stay at places that have a lot of positive reviews by those who have previously stayed there. And so far, the reviews have never steered me wrong.

If you want $25 off on your first stay in an AirBnB rental follow this link:

I spent a total of $412 toward my sleeping arrangements on my 10-day birthday adventure in Ireland.

Something worth noting is that I saved up for the $1,002.19 by budgeting for the last 8 months. If you want to go on a trip, it doesn’t matter how much you need. Prioritizing your spending will get you there.

Now the big question is: could I have spent even less on this 10-day birthday trip? YES.

I was very picky when choosing my AirBnB rentals. I chose safe neighborhoods near the city center’s of each city so that I could easily access the main attractions on foot. There were many rentals for $30 or less on the outskirts of the cities and in locations far from the city center.

I also could have chosen not to stay in a castle for one night and saved over $125, but it’s a castle and it’s my birthday so sue me. Additionally, if I had the skill to drive a manual car I would have saved money since automatic cars in Europe are less common and therefore cost more.

Traveling with others and splitting hotel and AirBnB stays would have also saved me money but I am adamant about making this trip solo. Similarly, I could have had more miles to use toward this trip but most of my bills cannot be paid with a credit card. For large families, I believe you could rack up 2,000 miles a month solely by paying your bills with your loyalty program credit card, while I barely get 900 miles a month with my bills. Lastly, I could have saved immensely on taxes and fees if I had chosen a different destination such as in South America.

So as you can see I saved a lot of money on booking my birthday adventure in Ireland thanks to researching, perseverance, budgeting, and being smart. It doesn’t take much to travel across the world, just the spirit and the drive to make it happen!

(And maybe a little inside advice from yours truly)

Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at

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