When you first fall in love, as (I hope) most of you know, everything is roses and sunshine.
Air smells fresh… colors are more vibrant… darkness feels warm and friendly… and the whole world looks just a little bit brighter.
At some point, though, the newness fades. The adrenaline rush wears off, colors return to their normal hue, darkness occasionally swallows you like the maw of the void.
I can pinpoint the exact moment that happened for me. When I learned something so horrifying about my to-be wife — so unexpected and shocking — it immediately shook me out of my doe-eyed reverie.
Jess, my better half, had never been to New Orleans.
Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Perhaps you yourself have never been to New Orleans — so you don’t know. But my mind was blown.
Of course, there are worse things to discover about your betrothed.
In fact, if I’m being honest, this was actually great news.
Because this gave me all the excuse I needed to drop everything and start planning a trip — immediately.
And that’s exactly what I did.
From Free Weekend to Life-Altering Experience in Less Than a Month
My first step was simple — pick a date. Anytime within the next couple months would work, as long as it didn’t hit on one of the huge tourist weeks like Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest.
Easy enough. I found a weekend we both were free only a few weeks away.
Next, I searched flights. There weren’t many deals so close to the date, but I was a little surprised prices hadn’t been jacked up, either — at least, not on the exclusive travel portal I was using.
Finally, I had to find the right place to stay. Not too close to Bourbon Street — no one wants to go to sleep to the ambient sounds of college kids who can’t hold their liquor — but nothing in the boonies either.
In the end, I found a lovely, stately old hotel just outside the French Quarter, about a block from Frenchmen Street, with all its music-infused bars. The guides and descriptions all claimed this particular hotel was haunted — perfect, as we’d be there over Halloween.
(Turns out we stayed in another building behind the main haunted house — but that was fine. We wound up in a multiroom suite instead of a cramped efficiency with its own departed inhabitant.)
I made a bunch of reservations for tours and the like — graveyards, historical tours, garden tours, ghost tours — ’twas the season, after all.
At the end of a surprisingly easy half hour, we were booked up. Flights, hotels and activities — all taken care of.
While I know you’re not supposed to try to “fix” the one you love, this felt different. I was gifting an experience — something you absolutely can, and should, bring to a relationship.
But you know the best part? After seeing the joy on Jess’ face?
This entire trip was free.
You see, I’d recently signed up for a popular rewards card. And I received a very nice sign-up bonus with a ton of free points to use.
Those points can be used — through the credit card company’s online portal — to pay for all sorts of things. From Apple products… to anything bought on Amazon… to exclusive experiences like rink-side seats at an NHL hockey game (with Zamboni rides included), VIP tickets to concerts or a night of private pampered deliciousness with world-famous chefs.
Or you can use them for pretty much everything having to do with travel. In fact, when you spend your points on travel with this card, you get a 50% bump in their value. So 100,000 points — normally equal to $1,000 — becomes $1,500 when spent on travel.
The online portal made it easy to book flights, hotels and tours in one spot — with prices that stacked up against any of the other discount travel sites (I checked).
Not only that, but Jess and I got a the free Global Entry pass through the card as well, which let us skip the lines at the airports (plus keep our shoes on and our laptops packed).
In fact, going to the airport was suddenly a pleasant experience — because we didn’t just get through security with greater ease. We also got access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the globe. Once through security, we sat in plush chairs, with dedicated Wi-Fi and plentiful electrical outlets, eating free food and drinking from a free open bar.
And all the while, we replenished our points incredibly quickly — so we can do it again!
I do almost all my spending through this card, getting a minimum of 1% back on every bill, with 3% coming back on some categories… like travel. And restaurants.
If you spend your points on travel, like I do, that 3% increases by half — so it’s worth 4.5% cash back. On all your travel and dining experiences.
That proved useful, since New Orleans is renowned for its cuisine. And with our entire journey paid for with points, we felt comfortable splurging on some of the finest food the city had to offer.
If you’ve never been to Brennan’s on Royal Street, it’s worth the price — get the bread pudding.
Even though I started out getting a bunch of bonus points when I signed up, they accumulate quickly enough that Jess and I basically get a free trip every year out of the deal.
We’ve done New Orleans a few times… went to the Virgin Islands once… for our next adventure, we’re thinking Europe.
Why not? The points I racked up in 2019 are worth over $1,300 — which is over $2,000 in travel.
And if I run low on points? Well, every year my card comes with $300 in free travel credit, completely separate from reward points. Good on planes, trains and automobiles, yes — but also taxis, parking, rideshares and most anything else you could plausibly call travel or transport.
The simple fact is when you have a credit card with a healthy rewards program, it’s like the entire world is on sale. You can use your savings any way you like — including getting a check made out to you.
And remember, with some cards, your money goes much further with travel. That’s why I chose to make one of these my main credit card.
If travel is something that fills most of your favorite daydreams — you might want to make one your main card as well.
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Don’t have a great rewards credit card yet? Don’t fret — you can find a list of them from our partners here. Remember that rewards rules and options are always changing, so see what each card will give you today. UCW is not recommending any specific card or bank — especially since their rewards might change before you get this. But we absolutely do recommend you get the right rewards card for you off the comprehensive list here.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...