I estimate that we saved $1000 on our almost-weeklong trip to Washington DC with my favourite form of travel hacking. Half-assed travel hacking or mild-travel hacking.
Travel Hacking Washington D.C. Flights
We used 23,900 Aeroplan miles and just paid $150 CAD for two tickets (including an infant) to go to Washington D.C. from Vancouver. Tickets from YVR to DCA are normally in the realm of $400- $1000 per ticket (big ballpark) depending on dates of travel. The way we acquired the Aeroplan miles was mainly from using the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card.
We also saved money on check in luggage because the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card includes a free first checked bag on Aeroplan flight reward redemptions (of course I didn’t realize this until a few days before the flight, thank goodness for the free checked bag ($30+ tax value each way), otherwise I was really going to cram everything into carry on luggage just like I did for the 2 week flight last year).
- Spent: $150 CAD
- Saved: $900 CAD
We stayed in an Airbnb in downtown Washington DC. It was a one bedroom with a nice gas stove, dishwasher, and even access to washer and dryer. For 5 nights after taxes and all the extraneous Airbnb fees, it ended up being about $145 USD/night. Not too bad considering everything was walkable and it was a cute brownstone! The neighbourhood is up and coming but there was some police tape one night and a car with trunk and all doors opened being searched… lol. I think the key to saving money when traveling with family is to stay in a place with a kitchen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, having access to a kitchen is great, you won’t have to endure the anxiety of eating out with a toddler three times a day!!
- Spent: $740 USD
We wake up way too early to catch a morning flight to YYZ (Toronto). We take a taxi there. $27 CAD. The checked baggage was free because we redeemed Aeroplan points using the TD Aeroplan Visa. This would normally cost around $30 to check one piece of luggage in with Air Canada. The Pack N Play and the stroller were free to check in. My husband was nauseated and didn’t feel like eating so I quickly went with toddler GYM to the Priority Pass lounge to grab something to eat. I have two priority pass lounge tickets left to use, and one after this one. Thankfully there were only 3 other people there, I eat some scrambled eggs, sausages, yogurt, and have a latte… and toddler GYM has some pancakes and yogurt. The priority pass ticket by itself would cost $50 but this was free from the CIBC Aventura card that I signed up for earlier in 2018. $0.
We have a layover in Toronto for an hour or so and then are off to Washington DC. My husband was sleeping most of the time on the flight and I was getting a bit annoyed with his man cold. I check out Priority Pass lounge again in YYZ but it looks really full and there wasn’t much time so didn’t go in. Wasn’t really hungry anyway. We arrive in Washington DC in the evening and need some help loading our SmarTrip cards. We load up the cards, the cards themselves are $2 each, and a trip from the DCA airport to the station where our Airbnb is was $2.65 each way. $20 USD.
I grab some groceries at the Safeway nearby. It was only a 5 minute walk, the other option was Walmart, a 12 minute walk but that’s a bit too long. Food prices are like Vancouver prices, but in US dollars. $4.99 for blueberries!? (I got some anyway because toddler GYM loves his blueberries). We quickly eat and put toddler GYM to bed. $47 USD.
- Saved: $75 (Priority Pass lounge access and check in luggage)
- Spent (joint): $67 USD + $27 CAD
Related: PC Travel Review
We have breakfast at the Airbnb because I usually pack some dry cereal (haha, I’m one of those people) in the luggage. Husband still wasn’t feeling well so he continued to rest and nap at home. Toddler GYM and I walked about 20-30 minutes to go to the Museum of Natural History. He was very difficult on the walk there (and I thought a few times of turning back because it was too difficult) but we persevered and made it to Wegmans Wonderplace. It was great and he LOVED it there. Walked back to the unit and had some lunch (pizza, the frozen kind!). Husband was feeling better and so we walked to the National Art Museum (toddler did not do so well there but he enjoyed the Kodoy courtyard where he splashed around a bit), then to see the White House, and then to Nordstrom Rack (that was too much walking, we were exhausted). I tried to do some shopping at Nordstrom Rack but toddler GYM wasn’t having any of it and it was too difficult to shop with him. We stop by Chinatown area and see the Capital One Arena. We get a souvenir mini-hockey stick for toddler GYM. $10 USD. We get some quick groceries again. $8 USD. We go back at have pasta for dinner at the Airbnb.
My husband was feeling worse again and then he decides to go to hospital for an assessment in the late evening. I make some phone calls to make sure we can get coverage (this is the first time I’ve ever had to use travel medical insurance). He firmly said he doesn’t want toddler GYM to go with him and asked that I stay home with our toddler. I called and gave the hospital our Gold American Express Card number to charge the $1400 USD it would cost (at least we can build towards a free hotel stay in the Maldives from this!?) for his visit. We were going to pay with our US Dollar TD Visa but after speaking to TD, they suggested it be paid with a Canadian credit card so that reimbursement is done without exchange fees that might fluctuate and we might lose out on the exchange rate. This was a smart suggestion, I had not thought of this.
- Spent: $18 USD ($1400 USD for hospital admission but this should be reimbursed)
After a night of non-restful anxiety filled sleep, toddler GYM and I head to the hospital. Husband is in emergency and is admitted to the hospital, we wait to speak to a specialist about the plan of care. He’s feeling much better after a dose of intravenous medication. I am really hungry for lunch and find a hot dog stand outside the hospital. The nice lady gave me a discount of $2 because I guess she felt bad my husband was in hospital! My husband eats a hot dog as the tray didn’t arrive yet. I also eat my husband’s ice cream on his meal tray (he couldn’t eat much, he was still nauseated). $2 USD.
Toddler GYM and I head to the National Zoo in the afternoon because we’re thinking my husband might need to stay another night. I head to the Metro but realized I can’t find my SmarTrip card. Ugh, need to buy another one. Must have slipped out of my pocket. $10 USD. There’s a Starbucks across from the zoo and after not sleeping well for three nights, and the single mom parenting I’ve been doing, and the stress of my husband being unwell, and losing my SmarTrip card, I think I need a pick me up. I get a tall hot chocolate white mocha. $5 USD.
My husband texts me to tell me he’s being discharged. The hospital pays for his taxi ride home (wow!) and I take the Metro back with toddler GYM. I get some more groceries including some soup. $25 USD. We eat at the Airbnb, husband just has some soup he’s not very hungry still.
- Spent: $7 USD
- Spent (joint): $35 USD
We head to Arlington to the Iceplex to watch the Capitals have their practice. $25 USD. Toddler GYM has none of it and would prefer to run around instead. He also did not like wearing his ear protection (brought it as ‘practice’ for the big game). Toddler GYM falls asleep while we are waiting for the ride back and we take advantage of this to eat lunch. However, just as we got our food, toddler GYM wakes up (after a 15-20 minute nap, sigh) and starts crying and screaming. $12 USD lunch. We head back. $30 USD.
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At night I jog to Nordstrom Rack to do some shopping before they close. I am thankful for stores that open until 9pm, I can do some shopping after I put toddler GYM to bed. I find some pyjama pants to replace the ones that just ripped in the bottom at home. I had them for 7 years lol. I also buy some underwear. $16 USD. I head to Safeway on the way back and get a chocolate covered donut (after realizing I am in chocolate withdrawal for the past few days) and some wine to bring back as a souvenir for my coworker. $12 USD. I also get some more groceries like milk and fruit for toddler GYM. $7 USD.
- Spent: $28 USD
- Spent (joint): $74 USD
We wake up and have a mushroom and swiss cheese omelette that I make. I’m glad my husband is getting his appetite back. We take the Metro the Tidal basin area. I lost my card again and have to load another SmarTrip card $8 USD. Lots of walking. We walk to the Abraham Memorial. We take the bus back (it was free for the month of March!) halfway and walk another 15 minute back to the Airbnb. Toddler GYM is hungry after his snack so we buy him some garlic bread at a pizza place called Wise Guys. $1 USD.
We quickly feed him his lunch, eat some noodles cooked in the Airbnb and then put him down for his nap. After his nap we hang around at the Airbnb until the late afternoon and walk to Chinatown. We have dinner at a place called “Wok and Roll” (the popular ramen joint was super busy hence not kid friendly, and the other Chinese restaurant place I looked up on Yelp seemed too formal) and have Peking Duck (my favourite dish) and a noodle dish. The Peking Duck was probably the worst I have ever had and the noodle dish was not good either. $34 USD. My husband joked and said the restaurant should be called “Wok Away” instead. They were nice though and the service was good, also toddler GYM did surprisingly well at the restaurant. Kind of a bummer that the only time we eat out in DC, the food was not very good.
We head to Capital One Arena and watch the first period of the Washington Capitals vs Winnipeg Jets game. We bought the tickets for $45 USD each + taxes $110USD (they were nosebleed seats, thought it was a good idea since I would likely be leaving after first period anyway) but I should have used my Ebates account to buy them! I thought it was just Stubhub. Have to make it a priority to check Ebates before buying anything online. Oh well, it was just 1% cash back with Ticketmaster, but still.
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Toddler GYM wears his ear protection for the most part and got fussy at the end of the first period, I had very low expectations on how well he would do, so this was great! I walked back to the Airbnb with toddler GYM, he’s in a good mood and enjoyed the game, clapping his hands and cheering on.
- Spent (joint): $43 USD
We checkout and head back to the airport. Another 15 hours of flight + taxi to get back home. We had sandwiches at the airport $21.00 USD and toddler GYM asked for milk after we went through security, so we got him a $3.29 USD small tetrapack of organic milk. It was quite expensive but he seemed to enjoy it.
- Spent: $24.29 USD + $27 CAD
Total spent $204 CAD + $994 USD. I’d say not too bad for almost a week including accommodation and flights. Surprisingly, we spent very little on food (like way less than we would at home, but my husband, who usually eats like a horse, wasn’t feeling well so this is very abnormal food spending as he pointed out).
We had about a $10 unused balance on our SmarTrip card- if you write to the transit authority and submit your Metro cards in the mail, they will send you a check back within 4 weeks with your money. Unfortunately you can’t just cash out the money in your cards at a station.
It would have been great to have that money deposited back in our US dollar account.
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GYM is a 30 something millennial interested in achieving financial freedom through disciplined saving, dividend and ETF investing, and living a minimalist lifestyle. Before you go, check out my recommendations page of financial tools I use to save and invest money. Don’t forget to subscribe for blog updates, a free dividend yield spreadsheet, and the free Young Money Bootcamp eCourse.