Amazing Weekend Trip to New York using Rewards Miles

Last weekend, we went to New York City to unwind and discover the Big Apple. It was a great way to forget about our daily routines and enjoy the high-pace of the city. A few weeks before our trip, we planned a few activities and got our free hotel stay through reward points.

We booked a hotel in Midtown (right in Time Square) for $325 a night. However, we actually paid a total of $0.00 for our whole stay. The secret is, we used credit card reward miles. ūüôā


Free hotel stay!

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!


Visiting New York can become really expensive really fast. With a little planning, we were able to spend under $100 per day and still have a great time. Our main expense was food and drinks since we stayed away from the traditional tourist traps. Of course, we would not be anywhere near this figure without our free hotel stay.

When we checked in our hotel, another hotel guest leaving the city generously gave us subway day passes that she was not able to use. That saved us a few subway fares. (Regular fare is $3 and the 7-day unlimited pass this woman gave us is $32.00)

Thank you random hotel lobby woman! ūüôā

We spent our first day walking around lower Manhattan and exploring the great architecture it has to offer. We stopped by Madison Square Park and ate an amazing burger at the original Shake Shack then visited the New York Stock Exchange, the 9/11 Memorial, and the New York Public Library.

At the library, for example, you can get free tours at 11 am and 2 pm Monday to Saturday and at 2 pm on Sunday.

We did not get to it but if you want to see the Statue of Liberty, you can always pay and go with the tourists or you can take the Staten Island Ferry for free and it offers a great view of the city. It runs every day and anyone can just hop aboard.

We then ate amazing, cheap, authentic Thai at Pure Thai Cookhouse near our hotel and ended the night drinking $3 beer at Rudy.

Rudys bar in New York City


On our second day, walked through Central Park and then visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They ask for a ‚Äúrecommended‚ÄĚ amount of $25 for entry but it is completely up to you. Most tourists just go with the what the sign says and pay the full amount. However, you simply tell the cashier how much you wish to pay and that will be your fare.

With all its grandeur and spectacular skyline, New York City is definitively nice from great heights. Unfortunately, visiting the observation decks of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, or the 1 World Trade Center each cost over $30. The cheaper option is to enjoy a nice drink on a rooftop terrace for roughly $15. We went on the rooftop terrace Metropolitan Museum of Art overlooking the obscenely expensive real estate around Central Park. Other great options in Midtown are 230 Fifth, Sky Terrace, The Skylark or you can also get a great view of the skyline from the Staten Island Ferry or the Wythe Hotel rooftop terrace in Brooklyn.


The MET roof top viewThe view from the Met rooftop.


We then ate huge sesame bagels filled with Lox salmon and cream cheese over at H&H Midtown Bagels East. in the Upper East Side and then walked the High Line. This 1.45-mile-long linear park was built on an elevated section of the old West Side Line train track. The greenery and liveliness of the place were very refreshing. Street performers were entertaining the tourists and the lavish plants have overtaken the train tracks. Our walk ended at the Chelsea Market where we ate at Los Tacos No.1.


The high line New York CityThe High Line.

On our third day, we visited the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium both located on the Upper West Side of Central Park. Just like the Met, these advertise a suggested price but you can contribute any amount you want.

We did not have time to visit it this time but the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street is free on Fridays from 4 pm and the Museum at the Fashion Institute is always free. We would have liked to visit a few more but ran out of time. You can look up the free museum days offered around the city and easily save a few bucks.

Another great activity we wanted to try is free kayaking in Queens. The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaks on weekends and holidays and the Long Island Community Boathouse offer free kayaks and tours for you to roam around and explore the shore. We wanted to experience the sensational sunsets the water has to offer but never got to it.

All in all, we spent slightly less than $100 per day on food and enjoyed three fun-packed days. We experienced new things, tasted new flavors, and saw new heights that we simply cannot see back home. Visiting this ridiculously expensive city made us think about all this wealth. The big cars, fancy apartments, and expensive cocktails must make people happier right?

Would you be happier if you could live in a $30,000 per month apartment in TriBeCa?

How about an $80,000 per month townhouse in Upper East Side? Would you be happy then?


How to be happy$80,000 per month townhouse in Upper East Side


maslow pyramid

Findings from a study by researchers from the University of Cambridge found that spending money can increase our happiness when we spend on things that fit our personalities. These purchase that meets our psychological needs can make us happier but again, that is only true once our basic needs are met.


Our findings suggest that spending money on products that help us express who we are as individuals could turn out to be as important to our well-being as finding the right job, the right neighborhood or even the right friends and partnersSandra Matz


For some people, fancy things might answer their esteem needs but to what point? A 2010 academic study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton found that happiness increases up to an income of $75,000. After that point, the extra dollar has no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment.


The magic income: $75,000 a year. As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness. – Robert Frank, WSJ.


In states like New York, however, it costs much more to cover your basic needs. This happiness number is therefore higher. Using the current cost-of-living indexes per state from the Council for Community & Economic Research, we can find this optimal income level for each state.


How much do you need to be happySource: Advisor Perspectives


If we go even deeper and look at Manhattan, the equivalent of $75K soars to $162,500 based on this cost of living index. Now if we want to be even more accurate, we should account for inflation since the Kahneman-Deaton study appeared in 2010 and was based on 2009 survey data. The annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows a 15.56% increase from 2009 to 2017 so the Manhattan happiness number is more around $187,850 in 2017.

Our happiness number is greatly influenced by how we see ourselves in relation to others. If you live a simple life in a simple neighborhood, there is no reason to keep up with the Jones. Live life to your own standards, not the ones of others. In conclusion, New York City is a great city to visit. We had a great time but boy is it expensive to live there! Spend your dollars wisely and be happy, Xyz.



Frugal Travels to Italy

In July 2015, we traveled to Italy for a conference held in Turin. Fortunately, Mrs. Xyz traveled for free since it was for her work so we only had to pay for my ticket. In turns of frugal travels, this one was hard to beat.

We usually use our business travels as an opportunity to extend our stay and cut vacation expenses. This time around, we extended a 5-day business trip to Turin into an 11-day trek around northern Italy! ūüôā We started in Turin, then stopped for beautiful hikes in the Cinque Terre National Park, and then traveled our way to Florance.


frugal travels


You can do the same if you, or your spouse, have to travel for business or you can get free flights from credit card rewards. Where ever you go, there is always a cheaper way to get airfare and there is always cheaper activities to do.


Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!


Cinque Terre hikes

Traveling through Italy, we hiked around the coast of breathtaking Cinque Terre. This is one of the best activities in Europe for any outdoor lover or anyone who wants to enjoy the scenery between decadent Italian dishes. These trails take you along the spectacular coastline and span across a bunch of little charming villages.


Travelling through the amazing coast of Italy on a Budget


The most popular trail is the Sentiero Azzurro or ‚ÄúBlue Trail‚ÄĚ. It constitutes four individual paths along the coast and you can walk the entire route in about six hours. It is much more enjoyable, however, to split it up and take the time to explore the little towns along the coast and eat along the way. Admission to Trail #2 usually requires the purchase of the Cinque Terre card (5-7 euro/day for trail and museum access, or 10 euro/day for trail, museum and unlimited train access). Most people like starting from Riomaggiore where the paths are much easier and paved allows you to work your way up to the more challenging trails. After our research, we found that trail number 2 goes as follows;


From Riomaggiore to Manarola

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Paved
  • Length: 1.2 miles (2km); 40 minutes to walk


From Manarola to Corniglia

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Amazing gardens and sea views
  • Length: 1.2 miles (2km); 1 hour 15 minutes to walk


From Corniglia to Vernazza

  • Difficulty:¬†Medium
  • Terrain: Quite steep, uneven, climbing and descending
  • Length: 2 miles (4km); 1 hour 45 minutes to walk


From Vernazza to Monterosso

  • Difficulty:¬†Hard
  • Terrain: Lots of stairs and very narrow passages but offers a stunning panorama
  • Length: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk


This is the busiest hiking trail in the Cinque Terre so it might not be for the more adventurous. We like to step off the beaten path and avoid some of the crowds so we explored the lesser-known trails that are perfect for more serious hikers. We used Airbnb as accommodation in Deiva Marina and went on hikes around the neighboring cities.


Traveling to Italy on a budget


Another advantage of these lesser-known parts is the savings you can make. We did not need to purchase the pass and enjoyed amazing paths up the mountains for free. Traveling anywhere by train only costs a few Euros and is the quickest way to hop from town to town. Trains go every half hour or so, all day long, so you do not need to plan any precise itinerary. On top of this, you can book much cheaper hotels than along the main trail.

On our first day, we hiked from Vernazza to Corniglia. The breathtaking views of the ocean and the lovely charm of the city are worth every step. We walked in the morning since it is much cooler before the afternoon sun and we stopped for a freshly baked pizza once in Corginlia. After our hike and lunch, we then dipped in the ocean for a little swim. The shores are clean and the sandy beaches were swept by gentle, beautiful, waves. Italians really thought of everything, they even have beaches beside the train station so you can swim while you wait for your ride. ūüôā

On our second day of hiking, we went from Deiva Marina, where we had our stay, and walked to Framura. For this one, we did not need to take the train, we simply walked out of the¬†city and into the mountain trails. This was more of an adventure; we got lost, we found a little farm on the hillside, we got scared by a chicken… It was super fun! ūüėĬ†

We hiked on dirt trails and the terrain was pretty rough but we still managed to get there by noon. Once in Framura, we searched everywhere for a restaurant but the only place we saw was closed.

By the time we walked down to the town, we were both starving and grumpy but simply could not find a place to eat (which is super rare in Italy!) so we ended up eating little sandwiches in a coffee shop. Even after all of this, we had a good time and great exercise out of it. For more information about the trails and the various options, you can visit the Cinque Terre National Park website.


Italian food

The food in Italy was definitively the highlight of the trip. Almost every restaurant we tried was astonishing and really cheap.

We tried authentic pizzas, seafood dishes, desserts, and pasta that were simply out of this world! You can find authentic, family-owned, restaurants at every corner street serving anything from pasta carbonara to Margherita pizza for a few Euros.


Our frugal travel budget 

To give you an idea of the cost of traveling in Italy, we kept a few receipts. The amazing food, for example, is actually really cheap! There is always expensive options but if you go to local, authentic, restaurants, you can usually eat for less than 10 Euro each. We ate at multiple restaurants, whether in the downtown core, oceanfront, or mountaintop, we could always find something at reasonable prices.

In terms of accommodations, we spent $740 for 5 nights in Turin (we got that one reimbursed by Mrs. Xyz work), then spent $269 on Airbnb for 3 nights in Deiva Marina and $272 for a 2-night stay in Florence. Our total cost for 10 nights was $1281, or an average of $128 per night. Our actual total cost was only $541, or an average of $54 per night.

For transportation, we spent a total of 16 Euro each on trains from Turin to Deiva Marina and then another 15 each to Florence. In addition, we spent 5,40 Euro on local trains throughout our hikes. In terms of airfare, we spent $1 043.


The Italian mindset

One thing I have noticed, and really appreciated, was the relaxed mindset of the Italian people. Their core values resemble ones of Financial Independence in many ways.

Firstly, they value time off and every worker has the right to paid vacations of at least four weeks per year. They also have laws that limit work hours to 8 per day, 40 hours per week. With overtime premiums to work over 40 hours per week and pay premiums to work on holidays, nights, or weekends.

A whole month of vacation is huge compared to the U.S. where most companies have an ‚Äúemployment-at-will‚ÄĚ policy where you can get fired simply for asking for a vacation. By law, there is no statutory minimum paid vacation or any paid public holidays in the United States.


We have almost no job security in the U.S., no legal requirement for severance pay and, with very few exceptions, can be laid off without notice – John Schmitt


Even out of those who have the chance of having vacation days, over half (55%) of Americans did not take all their vacation days in 2015, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off.


Country Minimum annual leave Paid Vacation Days (5-day workweek) Paid Public Holidays Total Paid Days Off
 Canada Two weeks of paid vacation in all provinces except Saskatchewan where employees are entitled to three weeks of paid annual leave. 10 6 16
 Ethiopia 14 working days of paid vacation for the first one year of service, and 14 working days plus one working day for every additional year of service. 12 13 25
 European Union Minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation. 20 0 20
 Italy 4 weeks paid vacation plus up to 104 hours of reduction of working time (in Italian Riduzione Orario di Lavoro), used in blocks of a few hours each time for family/personal needs. 20 12 32
 United Kingdom 28 total working days (5.6 weeks) of paid vacation. 28 0 28
 United States There is no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays. It is left to the employers to offer paid vacation. Full-time employees earn on average 10 vacation days after one year of service. Some employers offer no vacation at all. 0 0 0

Source: Canada, Ethiopia, E.U., Italy, U.K., U.S.


In the chart above, we can see that even one of the poorest country in the world; Ethiopia, has better vacation laws than the U.S.

Italy offers paid vacation and paid personal time for family and personal needs. This general acceptance and prevalence of time off is an amazing step towards the FI mindset. As a Canadian with an employer that pays for multiple weeks of vacation per year, I cannot imagine having zero days off!


There is a vast difference between American and European culture. Learn more and discover!


Secondly, Italy is also very strong on community and shared spaces. From efficient public transit to grand public spaces, Italians have built communities even in the smallest cities. This is yet another way they follow the FI mindset of efficiency and shareability. Why own everything when we can share our wealth and all benefit from it.

The American views towards ownership are slowly changing with the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, Lyft…) but the main values of the American Dream are deeply entangled with the consumerism lifestyle most live by. Big cars, big houses, and gated yards are all inefficient and self-centered ways of life that will keep you in the rat race.

Not only do the Italians live in smaller apartments, share public spaces, and take public transit, but the ones who do own a car really do not see it as Americans do. Cars are a sense of pride, image, and entitlement in the U.S., but over there, cars are simply to get from point A to point B.

They have small, fuel-efficient vehicles, and almost all drive the same few models. With the exception of Ferraris or Lamborghinis, I do not think that Italians see their cars as their prized possession. To prove my point, they even built the ugliest car in the world; the Fiat Multipla. ūüôā


Travelling through Italy on a tight BudgetIf that’s not a solid proof of not caring, I don’t know what is?


The majority of the population takes public transport, bikes around, or owns a scooter. This amazing lifestyle follows the virtues of many early retirees like MMM who preaches car-less lifestyles. Traveling through Europe, you can quickly see how America is lacking the basic infrastructure to live car-free but hopefully, this is slowly changing for the best.


How to travel in Italy on a frugal budget


Since this trip, we flew back to Europe and discovered even more of this wonderful part of the world. That will be for another post.

You sometimes need to improvise your own trails and play a bit with reward programs. There is always a frugal way to explore the world. You can get flights for free through rewards programs, find a bunch of free activities with a little online research, and book hotel stays for free through rewards.

Please don’t be shy to comment your own European adventures and remember to always stay happy, Xyz.