How I Used Credit Cards to Plan a Surprise Birthday Trip for My Wife

by Kevin on May 27, 2014

I am nothing if not a hopeless romantic.

You see my wife loves birthdays.

LOVES them. Her birthday is the second most important holiday on the calendar. She thinks your birthday is just as important, too.

We’re an odd contrast; I’ve always been kind of “eh” on birthdays. She thinks we should celebrate birthdays for an entire week or two. (And they say opposites attract…)

She turned 29 this month and I wanted to do something really special for her. Something big. Something to wow her. My thinking was 29 is just another birthday and she’s probably already thinking about her 30th. So let’s make 29 really huge when she might not expect something huge.

Here’s the deal: I did some small stuff leading up to it, but the big finale of her birthday celebration was a surprise trip to New York City.

Want to know what’s even better?

I didn’t pay a dime for our flights or hotels. Here’s how I pulled it off:

How to Surprise Your Wife with a “Free” Trip

Okay, so I did pay something for the trip. Instead of cold hard cash I used airlines miles and some credit card points. Those things have value, no doubt, so there was indeed payment and opportunity cost incurred. I could have elected to save those miles and points for other trips, but I think I got a pretty good deal overall so we’re both happy.


I used British Airways’ Avios program to book flights on their partner American Airlines. British Airways’ program is a distance-based program; this is significantly different from just about every other frequent flyer program out there that has a set cost for flights within certain regions.

Using Avios points I was able to snag two roundtrip tickets for 18,000 points total. We picked up a Chase British Airways card for my wife in the past that, after enough spending on the card, generated 125,000 points once you factored in points on spending and bonuses earned.


We stayed two nights at two different hotels on Friday and Saturday night.

I booked Saturday’s hotel first using Intercontinental Hotel Group’s (IHG) Best Rate Guarantee program.

It’s awesome and I hope they never, ever change it.

Here’s how the Best Rate Guarantee program works: if you book a hotel on the IHG (or IHG brand) website and find a better, lower rate at another site for the exact same room the first night of your stay is free.

Even on a one night stay.

There are some rules: it has to literally be the exact same room. Same number of beds, same breakfast included (or not), same cancelation terms, and so on.

With Saturday night taken care of I picked up a Barclay’s Arrival card that gave me (after minimum spend and bonuses) 42,000 points. Those points can be redeemed for 1 cent per point value to reimburse yourself for travel spending. I snagged a nice hotel (and used their best rate guarantee to get a room upgrade and credit to the little store downstairs in the lobby) and used some of the points to pay for the cost.

Two Credit Cards, One Free Trip

That’s it. Two cards. One trip. Everything but meals and transportation taken care of. Plus I have enough points leftover with the British Airways program to take about 9 more flights to New York or Chicago (since they fall into the flight radius I used for this trip).

I have a multitude of credit cards. Using them comes with risks, but if you can manage the risk well the programs can end up being quite lucrative.


Michelle May 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Awesome! I’m really starting to get the hang of using credit cards to get free trips, and it’s great. Nothing beats free or SUPER cheap. 🙂

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