How To Vacation Like A Baller - Smart Money Seed


How To Vacation Like A Baller

Guest Post by Tyler Henze

What’s up, Smart Money Seed SQUAAAAAD? My name is Tyler Henze and I’ve been a friend of the blog ever since their early college days. As a fellow millennial, I often find myself running into the financial questions that this blog seeks to answer. I know I constantly have the moral dilemma of analyzing how I should be making my money work for me, which markets I should be investing in & how I am putting my degree to good use in the workplace. We can digest all of the great content from Smart Money Seed and influence how we are spending our hard-earned cash-be it investing, groceries or spending that extra $20 saved on a nicer seat to the Buckeyes game! I’m here for one reason, though: teaching all of you how to vacation like ballers.

Admittedly, I’m a travel junkie. I love getting to see new cities across the United States and taking my talents abroad, expanding my horizons and learning more about the world around us. My travels over the past year alone have taken me to London, Jamaica, Punta Cana, Washington D.C. & Los Angeles, among other places. I’ve been fortunate to fly my family to our vacation destinations on my dime or house my friends in a nice hotel as we travel to see our beloved football teams battle it out on the gridiron. The question that naturally follows that statement: how are you paying for this, admitted millennial? This, my friends, is where I introduce you to the glorious world of travel hacking.

Before I dig in-a lot of this content was learned from the great community at If you read this and enjoy the piece, consider reading the free ebook created by the founder of the site to learn even more about the hobby!

Travel Hacking-Not A FBI Covert Operation

When I explain “travel hacking” to my friends & coworkers, I often get confused looks of disbelief and the response, “How is this possible?” The idea of travel hacking itself is really quite simple: utilize the existing deficiencies in the market to monetize your travel portfolio. In layman’s terms, we are going to take advantage of the great sign-up bonuses many credit card companies offer to travel across the world for free.

If I told you I was 24 years old and had 20+ credit cards, would you consider me insane? I can hear the shouts of skepticism already. “Your credit score must be AWFUL!” “You’ll never get out of credit card debt!” While I may be insane, I’ve racked up over $100k in available credit card lines, my credit card debt is ZERO & my credit score has risen over 100 points in the two-plus years I’ve been actively travel hacking. Yes, that’s right. Not only have I been able to travel on credit card companies’ dime for the past two years, I’ve vastly improved my credit in that time. Who wouldn’t say yes to that deal?

Step One: Identify a Travel Goal

The first step with any form of travel hacking is to identify a travel goal & decide what points system you would need to get you there. For this example, let’s say I wanted to travel to Chicago for a long weekend with my college friends. As I live in Columbus, the cheapest flight from Columbus-Chicago for me will probably be Southwest. You can often find Southwest flights from 7-10k Southwest miles roundtrip, which is a relatively cheap flight in today’s market. I’d probably stay at some form of a Airbnb or a hotel in downtown Chicago, depending on the price. Let’s assume for this example that I am staying in a hotel downtown.

Step Two: Find The Credit Card That Works For You

Once we’ve picked our destination, now we need to figure out how to pay for it. That’s where the credit card game comes into play. My initial recommendation for anybody fresh on the travel hacking platform is to sign-up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The sign-up bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 90 days after initial sign-up.  There is a $95 annual fee on the card that is waived for the first year as a cardholder.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Use my referral link to get the above deal and help me earn extra Chase UR points on the side:

For some people, spending $4,000 in three months is doable through normal expenses. However, this is where I tend to lose a lot of people when explaining travel hacking. I’m fresh out of college, only been working a few years-how am I spending thousands of dollars across multiple cards monthly to meet these bonus requirements?  Smart Money Seed squad, meet manufactured spending.

Step Three: Manufactured Spending 

Manufactured spending sounds like something I’d do in a factory but I can assure you, you don’t have to leave your local town! This technique involves buying a Vanilla Visa gift card with your new credit card & liquidating this card into cash to pay your credit card back. The only thing this hobby will cost you is a little time of your Wednesday afternoon.

First, head to your local CVS Pharmacy and purchase 4 Visa OneVanilla gift cards (these are the variable gift cards your uncle bought for you as a 12-year old when you wanted to feel cool with a credit card!) Do not make the mistake of buying a different brand than this card-I have included a picture of the card in question. These cards can be loaded up to $500, which we will take full advantage of. Each card also has a $4.95 activation fee, which we will “eat” as a cost of manufactured spending (the value of what we get in return with these points is far more than the activation fee of each card).

Since we need to meet $4,000 in spending, we would need to buy 8 total gift cards to meet that $4,000 spending goal. You do not need to use this method to meet all of the spending on the card-if you’d like to use it to bridge the gap between your normal spending pattern and the $4,000 total spending goal, FEEL FREE to do that. You can only buy $2,000 of Visa gift cards at a CVS Pharmacy every 24 hours, so this would take two trips to the CVS to get 8 total Visa OneVanilla gift cards.

Step Four:  Liquidate the Gift Cards

Everything up to this point is relatively easy. Apply for a credit card, receive said credit card, buy gift cards. This is the tricky part-how do we get the funds on the gift cards into usable cash to pay our credit card bill? There are many different ways to do this, but I’ll highlight two:

1) Utilizing a Bill-Pay Service like (sponsored by PayPal)-more costly but less risky

2) Purchasing Money Orders (I like the Post Office) & depositing into bank-less costly, slight risk

If we go route one, is our lifesaver in this hobby. You can sign-up for an account and pay virtually any company in the world that is billing you, including these credit card companies that we have racked up the bill on. Simply sign up, select the company that is billing you (in our example, this would be J.P. Morgan Chase) & use your Visa gift cards to pay back your credit card. The only catch? Liquidating each credit card comes with a $12.99 fee that is dropped to $8.60/$500 card once you verify your information (cannot do this for your first time). So all in all, you would be spending ($13+$4.95) x 8 cards= $143.60 to earn 50,000 Chase UR points, which at bare minimum are worth $500 cash. I wouldn’t recommend using them for straight cash as there is better value in transferring for airline/hotel points, but you see where I am going.

Route two, and the option I normally take, would involve us taking two trips to the post office and purchasing two money orders for $998.60 each, as the fee per $1000 of money order is $1.40. We’d then split our transaction across 4 cards, using each of our Vanilla Visa cards to liquidate the money on our gift cards. If you are uncomfortable buying that many MO’s at one time, you can simply buy $1000 at a time-this just requires more trips to the post office and ultimately, more of your valuable time outside of that study hall/cubicle. You would then endorse these money orders and deposit them into your checking account. Paying your credit card would then complete the cycle, meaning we’d have spent ($4.95 x 8 cards) + ($1.60 * 4 Money Orders) = $46.00 to earn 50,000 UR points.

Redeeming Your Rewards

Now that we’ve spent the necessary money to earn the points, your points should hit once your credit card statement posts. In this example, we could utilize the Chase Travel Portal to transfer 10,000 points to Southwest to book our Southwest RT flight to Chicago, while using the portal to also book the hotel that works for you that weekend. Maybe that’s a Holiday Inn, maybe that’s a Hilton. Regardless-you can do all of this through the travel portal and we’ve accomplished it for PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR.

TLDR; How I Travel For Virtually Nothing

I know that was a lot to take in but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Here is a breakdown of what we did to ultimately earn 50,000 UR points (and pay for two nights of a hotel & our flight to Chicago):

1) Identify Your Travel Goal
2) Find the Rewards System that gets you there
3) Apply for Credit Card that earns those points (Chase Sapphire is best card on the market for its versatility in reward programs)
4) Supplement normal spending patterns with Manufactured Spending to meet spending requirements
5) If using Manufactured Spending, liquidate gift cards through or money orders
6) Book travel with newly acquired points & enjoy your trip!

What’s Next…

That’s it for me today. I hope to be back to help all of you meet your vacationing dreams & aid in any way you need it. If there are questions, which I’m SURE there will be, please comment on the post and I will regularly be checking to post responses. My next travels will be taking my fiancée and me to Orlando, where we will be staying at the Ritz-Carlton and visiting Disney World with $450 in gift cards. Our grand total: $150.

It’s possible to vacation like a baller even if you are that millennial in college or fresh out of school-you just need to make the big corporations work for you.


  1. I wish I would have read this before purchasing my flight to Seattle for this weekend. Fortunately, crashing at my buddy's apartment will save us some cash!

    The manufactured spending idea seems genius, but you mention that there is some associated risk. What kind of risk might be "allegedly" involved in that process?

    1. I think "risk" may be the wrong word to use here. There is virtually no risk at all in the Tio method because there is no human interaction. Simply pay with your gift card online and you are done!

      With money orders, there is always the chance that a teller does not know what to do or simply will not let you pay for a money order with a card. The US P.O. is the easiest place to do this but not ALL places that take money orders will let you use card-thus the inherent "risk" with manufactured spending.

      All in all, "risk" could probably be replaced with "inconvenience" finding a money order vendor that works for you.

    2. I see what you mean. Also, say a certain credit card has a an annual fee.. does it hurt to use the card until you redeem the points and then cancel the card, or do you also eat the annual fee to avoid hurting your credit?

    3. Typically speaking, if a card has an annual fee that is not waived the first year, I weigh whether or not the points are worth it before even applying for the card. If the card has an annual fee that is waived the first year, it's absolutely ok to keep the card for that year, use the points & then cancel the card when the annual fee posts. You'll get the annual fee refunded & it won't ding your credit in a major way.

      An important note is that while you could sign-up for a card, earn the points and then cancel a few months later, this could get you blackballed for that company's other cards down the line. Treat this like a partnership-the credit card companies will not be mad at you for holding their card for a full year, but if you are truly "earning and burning" with a quick draw on the cancellation, they'll be less apt to approve you for the next card.

      It's a balancing game but one that is fairly easy to manage in the long run.

  2. This article is frustratingly brilliant. I really wish I would have known some of this sooner!

  3. This article is frustratingly brilliant. I really wish I would have known some of this sooner!

  4. Any updates since Tio is no longer functioning, and appears you can't use the vanilla one gift cards on western union's or plastiq's websites?

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