How I Saved $500 on a Trip to New York City

Emily Lounsbury

I love to travel! But let’s face it – it gets really expensive.

Between airfare, hotels, getting around, entertainment and dining, the costs quickly add up. In fact, the average cost for a couple to go on vacation for a week can be close to $4,000!

That. Is. Crazy.

Luckily, there are a few awesome tips and tricks that can help trim down those expenses and make travel much more reasonable. Outside of bumming a couch wherever I visit, my favorite travel tip is using credit cards rewards. Each year, I save hundreds of dollars on travel by taking advantage of lucrative rewards without having to spend more than I ordinarily would.

On my most recent trip to New York City to spend the holidays with friends, I was able to shave $500 off of my travel expenses by strategically planning my trip and maximizing my credit card rewards. Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Finding the Right Credit Card

I live in San Jose, so flying cross country to New York can get quite pricey. Finding the right credit card was the first and most important step to ensure that I would be able to save on my upcoming travel.

I had two main requirements for a new credit card: a big sign up bonus and flexible rewards. I ultimately decided on the Barclay Arrival Plus Card - a Birch favorite and one that is highly recommended by many travelers.

Barclays Arrival Plus

Barclays Arrival Plus

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There were a few reasons I decided on it.

  • The card has a 40,000 miles signup bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months - worth $400 when redeemed for travel
  • The $89 annual fee is waived the first year, making the card free for the first 12 months.
  • Barclay Arrival miles are flexible, which means I can book whatever travel I want and use my rewards to cover the cost. Because I was flying to New York for the holidays, I didn’t want to worry about dealing with blackout dates or overpriced award tickets with other cards
  • It has chip & pin, which is useful when traveling internationally

I applied, got approved immedately and within a week my new card came in the mail. I was rockin' and rollin'!

Step 2: Planning My Trip

I always set a budget for every vacation I take, and this trip was no different. For this trip to New York City I only needed a flight, as I already had a couch lined up for the 4 days and didn’t need the luxury of a hotel.

4 day NYC Trip Budget:


$0 (Credit Card Rewards)


$0 (Couch Crashing)

Transportation (MTA, Uber, Lyft, Cabs)



$120 ($30/day)

Bars/Going Out






Using credit card rewards to cover flights:

With most cards, in order to redeem your points or miles for award travel you need to spend the minimum to earn the bonus and then wait at least 4-6 weeks until after that statement posts to see the rewards posted in your account. That means that in the first 2-3 months after you open a new card, travel availability might change.

The Barclay Arrival Plus card is different. With this card, I can actually book whatever travel I want after opening the card and then redeem my rewards to cover those purchases after I meet the signup bonus and the miles post to my account at a later date.

I wasn't limited to a specific airline, so I just used a combination of Skyscanner and Google Flights to find the best deal - in my case, $469 roundtrip on United Airlines.

And because my card came in less than a week, I was able to purchase the flight in the screenshot above - before i earned the signup bonus. This purchase actually counted towards the $3,000/90 days spending requirement!

Step 3: Earning the Signup Bonus

Spending $3,000 in 3 months was doable for me. The Birch app showed me already that my average 3 month spend was around $7,000 (yay adulting!) so I knew that I would easily earn the signup bonus on this card.

As I mentioned before, my favorite part about this card is that I can simply purchase my travel right away and use my rewards towards the purchase at a later date.

It took me around 2 months after receiving the card to reach the spending requirement and my miles posted a few weeks after that statement was paid off. By that time, I already had my flight booked and when I checked prices, they were already $200 more than I had paid!

Step 4: Redeeming My Barclay Arrival Miles

Once my signup bonus posted, I had enough miles to redeem for travel in the Barclaycard website. With $3,653 in spending + the signup bonus, I actually had 47,306 miles, worth $473.06 in rewards, just more than the exact amount I needed (46,900 miles) to redeem for that flight.

There are two things to note about redeeming Barclay Arrival Miles:

  1. You have to redeem for a travel purchase of at least $100. That means that a $20 Lyft ride wouldn’t count, but my United purchase for $469 definitely met that requirement
  2. Barclay gives you 5% of your redeemed rewards back as a bonus when you redeem for travel. When I redeemed my 46,900 miles, I actually got 2,345 miles posted back to my account, worth $23.45. That makes my total value of this bonus $492.45.

After everything, I had 2,751 miles left in my account. Over the next several months I was able to spend at least $3,624 (some of that coming during my NYC trip), reaching 10,000 miles worth an additional $100.00 in rewards. Not bad!

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re new to credit card rewards or have cards but looking for a way to save some money on your next trip, the Barclay Arrival Plus is a fantastic card to add to your wallet. It earns really solid rewards, with no restrictions and a ton of flexibility unlike other cards that require you to jump through hoops.

I personally saved $500 just by signing up and strategically booking flights during one of the busiest times of the year.

This $450 trip should have costed me over $900 for 4 days, but between using these rewards and bumming a couch from family, I now have another $500 that I can put towards my next holiday.

About the Author

Emily Lounsbury

Emily leads product and design at Birch, making things pretty and easy to use for thousands of people. She lives in San Jose, CA, with her doggo, Sir Charles

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