Two Weeks in New Zealand: Extremely Far, Cheaper Than You Think

Two Weeks in New Zealand: Extremely Far, Cheaper Than You Think

Last week I was telling my coworker all about my New Zealand trip. Then, just for fun, I asked her how much she thought it cost.

“I don’t know…$10,000?” she answered.

I almost spit out my tea.

I like nice things as much as the next person, but I’m also majorly frugal in lots of other ways. For example, I’m pretty sure that even if I was making $500k, I’d still be trying to hustle up deals.

So when I told my coworker that the entire trip cost the same as two roundtrip economy class tickets to New Zealand, it was her turn to spit out her drink.

I think a lot of times people assume travel is just “expensive,” and there’s no way around it. For those living paycheck to paycheck, travel will always be hard, but for the rest of us, lots of times travel is only as expensive as you make it.

In addition to understanding costs for a mid-range two-week trip, I want everybody to want to go to New Zealand! Guys, it’s such an overlooked destination. You don’t know how many people have no idea what to do there, or only think it’s for bungee jumping or The Lord of the Rings tours. Spoiler: we did neither of those things.

Mount Cook's Hooker Valley Track
The view after hiking Mount Cook’s Hooker Valley Track.
Franz Josef Glacier
Lush foliage around Franz Josef glacier.
New Zealand Alpacas
Our friends stayed in an Airbnb that had alpacas in the back yard!

It’s a country that’s blessed with landscapes that are not only naturally stunning, but amazingly diverse. You can drive the whole length of New Zealand’s South Island in about nine hours and see turquoise beaches, lush forests, glaciers, rolling hills, mountains, lakes, fjords, and the prettiest roadside weeds I’ve ever seen.

New Zealand Lupin Flowers
The famous lupin flowers.

So, here’s your 3000-word PSA for why you need to go to New Zealand. Since this is a money blog, I’m going to focus on the costs and value of the trip, and not a blow-by-blow account of everything we did. Because that’s what Instagram stories is for, y’all. 🙂

Want to just see how much we spent? Click to jump to the TLDR version.

Pre-Trip Planning

Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki. Is this blue color real?

This is where a lot of the money-saving stuff happens.

I knew I wanted to cut costs without staying in hostels or camping, so I turned to my old standby tactic: credit cards. PS: did you know that the perfect time to sign up for a new credit card is when you know you’re going to be spending a lot of money, anyway? Think big trips, weddings, furniture, paying taxes, etc.

Earlier in the year, I had my husband sign up for the Capital One Venture card, which was offering 50,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months. All in all we’d earn about 56,000 points, which meant we could shave off about $560 from our travel expenses.

Re: credit cards, I just want to reiterate that we have no problems meeting the minimum spends with our everyday spending because as I’ve recently discovered, to my dismay, we spend over $1000 per month on food alone.

But was one credit card the best I could do?

I also had hoarded $450 in cashback rewards from my Discover It card (referral) by strategically buying things like a Canada Goose jacket. At the time, Discover was offering 5% cash back on Amazon, so I bought $500 worth of Hotels.com gift cards and $500 in Airbnb gift cards. The gift cards would be used for the lodging, plus that spending earned another $80 in cashback, boosting total rewards from $450 to $530.

Using these two cards I could potentially “erase” over $1,000 in travel costs. Ka-ching!

Itinerary

New Zealand Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki.

Deciding when to go was easy: December in New Zealand is their summer time and lined up with when my husband and I both have a week off from work. But next was the hardest task: picking where to go. It’s not like there’s one major sight to see. There are like, 30.

To make logistics more complicated, New Zealand is made up of two islands: The North Island and the South Island. Ever the optimizer, my first thought was, How can we do both? But most of what we wanted to see–epic landscapes–was on the South Island, so we sadly skipped the North Island entirely.

Our day-by-day South Island itinerary:

  • Day 1+2: Nelson
  • Day 3: Punakaiki, but decided to make a pitstop at Abel Tasman/Kaiteriteri Beach first.
  • Day 4+5: Franz Josef
  • Day 6+7: Wanaka
  • Day 8+9: Te Anau/Milford Sound
  • Day 10+11: Queenstown
  • Day 12+13: Mount Cook/Lake Tekapo
  • Day 14: Christchurch
  • Day 15: Fly home

New Zealand South Island Two Week Itinerary

Flights: The Most Complicated Flights I’ve Ever Had to Book

The flights. There were so many, it seemed.

To New Zealand:
JFK → SFO → AKL → NSN

And back to New York:
CHC → AKL → SFO → JFK

Just typing that out I got exhausted.

I’ll admit: I griped at first about how far away New Zealand was from New York City, and how there were no direct flights. The best-case scenario from the East Coast is 18 hours of flying–6 hours to the West Coast, and then 12 hours from the West Coast to New Zealand.

Flight #1: New York City to San Francisco
Since we had no choice to but to stop in San Francisco, I thought, why not organize a blogger meetup while I’m there? I’m a maximizer, remember? So I booked us a long layover and had a lovely time lunching with my blogger friends before boarding the next flight.
Cost: 50k American Airlines points + $22.40 in taxes for two roundtrip economy tickets

Flight #2: San Francisco to Auckland
Since the flight from the US to New Zealand was over 12 hours, I was dead-set on booking business class lie-flat seats. Plus, my husband is a very fussy sleeper and I dreaded what kind of cranky gremlin he’d turn into after 12 hours with very little sleep.
Cost: 300k United Airlines points + $143.72 in taxes for two roundtrip business-class tickets

United Polaris Business Class to New Zealand

Flight #3: Auckland to Nelson in the South Island
I couldn’t find any points availability through United so we decided to just pay for the tickets out of pocket. The flight down was on Air New Zealand, and the flight back was with Jetstar.
Cost: $388.69 for two round-trip tickets on Air New Zealand and Jet Star

Pro-tip: Jetstar is a discount airline, and they have a max carry-on weight allowance of only 7kg, which is about 15 pounds. Considering most people’s luggage weighs about 7 pounds empty, make sure you read and understand the extra fees before you book. We paid $28 in baggage fees because our bags exceeded the limit.

Air Travel Total: 350k points and $582.93 in extra flights and taxes

Lodging: Dreaming of Campervans, but Facing Reality Instead

New Zealand Wanaka Airbnb
Found a breakfast tray in our Airbnb.

Ah, campervans. That’s classic New Zealand. When I first researched New Zealand I came across the adorable pictures in this blog post, which sparked visions of Volkswagen Kombi vans dancing in my head. I fantasized about sleeping in the back of the van, gazing up at the stars at night, and my husband making breakfast on the grill.

But then I had to come back down to earth, because there was one small detail we couldn’t ignore.

Campervans weren’t us. My husband and I aren’t big campers and we were scared the campervan life would get old really fast.

So we stayed in a combination of budget hotels and mixed it up with nicer Airbnbs. I’ve never cared much about nice hotels (because I almost never hang out in them, anyway), and prefer the character and the value of Airbnbs. With Airbnbs, you tend to get more amenities for your money, plus, having a kitchen makes it easier to cook and save money on food.

We did end up overspending on lodging a bit, because by the time we finished the itinerary, some of the budget-friendly places had already sold out (in Milford Sound and in Mount Cook), and we then got stuck with paying for pricier places that we didn’t even want.

Lodging Total: $1,908.27

Ground Transportation: An Epic RoadtripRoad Trip in New Zealand

Roadtrip costs were a small price to pay for the adventure we found along the way: from pulling over the car to take pictures of sheep, then running after said sheep who fled the scene once they saw us, to missing the turnoff and finding a town called Paradise, to missing another turnoff and ending up on a Lord of the Rings tour, to listening to Lorde over and over again because when in New Zealand you have to listen to Kiwi music.

Devil's Staircase at Lake Wakatipu
Devil’s Staircase at Lake Wakatipu
Tussocks
Driving from Wanaka to Te Anau.
Sheep in New Zealand
Stopping to take pictures of sheep never got old.

And after 26 hours of driving over 1,400 miles on the opposite side of the road we’re used to, I’m proud to say we were only flipped off once and beeped at twice. And when I say ‘we,’ I really mean my husband. He was a rockstar and drove the entire time since I’m a lazy tater tot and my driver’s license had been expired for months. :/

Our rental car for the two weeks cost $557.40, partly because we slacked off on locking it down for a few weeks (it was a few hundred dollars cheaper when we checked earlier, oops), and also because we picked up and dropped off at two different locations.

We also spent $285.71 on gas, or ‘petrol’ as the Kiwis say, which cost about $2.50 per gallon.

Ground Transportation Total: $843.11

Food: Paying $14 for Frozen Chicken Nuggets

Fiddlesticks in Christchurch

When I was first researching the trip I asked my husband, “Should we look up places to eat?” and I was relieved when he answered, “No. We’re going there for the scenery, not the food.” Thank you husband for reminding me that it’s important to understand your trip priorities so spending doesn’t get derailed.

Like in Hawaii, the food in New Zealand is expensive. I expect food to be expensive in cities, but not in more remote areas. But the remote areas were exactly where the food was the most expensive. Because you don’t have any other choices. Sometimes the nearest grocery store will be 30 miles away, so of course that pub down the street will charge you $14 USD for some frozen chicken nuggets (it happened to me). Some of these restaurants we ate at would have been shoo-ins for that Gordon Ramsey show, “Kitchen Nightmares.” I didn’t even want to think about how the cooks were preparing the food.

Since most restaurants felt like a rip off, whenever we saw a grocery store, we made a point to stop and stock up. Despite the efforts, we still spent a lot of money on food.

On the last night, we spent $100 on a nicer dinner (in the pics above), although looking back, it totally wasn’t necessary.

Groceries: $177.73
Eating Out: $664.16

Food Total: $841.89

Activities: Or Should I Say, the Lack of Activities?

Milford SoundOK, so now it’s time for the most controversial category. Activities–the category that busts most people’s budgets. There’s the $400 helicopter rides over glaciers, $80 cruises through Milford Sound, wine tastings, and not to mention hundreds of dollars on Zorbing and bungee jumping and all kinds of adrenaline-raising activities. It all adds up. And if New Zealand is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, don’t you want to do all the things?

Sure those activities sound exciting, but guess which activities don’t cost any money at all?

Enjoying scenery and hiking. The nature is exactly why we chose to go to New Zealand.

Kaiteriteri Beach in New Zealand
Kaiteriteri Beach
Hiking Along Routeburn Track
Hiking through Routeburn Track
Hooker Valley Track
Mount Cook

When we first told people we were going to New Zealand, the questions were inevitable:
“Are you going to Hobbiton?”
“What about bungee jumping?”
“And the Milford Sound cruise?”

Then we met a lady on the plane who’d been traveling to and from New Zealand for years, and surprisingly she asked us the same questions.

Forget all that. Seriously.

When it comes to activities, I urge everyone to reconsider what “must have” means to you. Is a $400 helicopter ride over glaciers really worth it if you aren’t truly passionate about glaciers?

Maybe the more “worth it” activity for you is this: making flower arrangements from the bushes around your Airbnb, while your husband is trying out an outdoor pizza oven for the first time, all while deer are grazing in your front yard and the sky is turning that swirly kind of pink you don’t see that often.

I’m a big believer in not doing things just because it’s what everyone else is doing. I know it’s easier to do the popular stuff; things are popular for a reason, but really questioning whether something is right for you is never a bad thing.

So my husband and I thought about who we were as people, and let those observations drive which activities we did. Time for some new age-y self-reflection:

  • We don’t like feeling “trapped” in enclosed spaces. Especially with big groups of people. You know, because groups of people tend to be loud, and loudness takes us out of our happy places. You should see how my husband gets on a crowded subway in our home city.
  • And more importantly, we’ve never had an amazing time with expensive tours and activities. We did parasailing and stand-up paddle boarding once, and the whole time, we were like, I feel like I should be having WAY more fun than I’m currently having.

You can have just as fun a trip with free activities as you can doing all the paid activities. Both are valid and worth it, but don’t get sucked into paying for stuff if it’s not important to you.

Activities: $0

Shopping: Trying and Failing

I was excited to shop…but I sadly didn’t find much to buy. Most shops we saw were tourist gift shops, and I felt like the merchandise was overpriced for the quality. Those were easy to avoid.

But after being in rural areas for almost two weeks, and then finally being in a city again (Christchurch), I started getting the shopping itch. I don’t know what it was–the familiarity of the big buildings, the graffiti, the ethnic restaurants lining the streets–but the urge to buy was strong. A department store? Why yes, let me dump my things in the hotel and walk there immediately.

I passed by a makeup store–the first one I’d seen in weeks–and was intrigued by the Kiwi skincare line Antipodes. The packaging was elegant but minimal, reminding me of the familiar-to-me brand, Aesop. I even asked friends on Instagram if they had any intel on Antipodes. Most of them said they loved the products and assured me they’d be good buys. But at the end of the day, I hadn’t done enough of my own research to spend $30 on a face cream. I’m glad I let it go.

I generally don’t buy gifts or souvenirs for people, so the only things we bought were a stuffed lamb for my husband’s son and a couple chocolate bars from the grocery store.

Shopping Total: $15.18

The Full Cost Breakdown

Costs for Two Weeks in New Zealand
Category (Highest to Lowest) Raw Cost Cost with Credit Card Rewards
Hotels $1908.27 $1098.53
Eating out $664.16 $664.16
Air travel $582.93 $582.93
Car rental $557.40 $557.40
Groceries $177.73 $177.73
Gifts $15.18 $15.18
Alcohol $11.23 $11.23
Activities $0.00 $0.00
Gas $285.71 $0.00
TOTAL $4202.61 $3107.16

So, all in all, we spent $3,107.16 total, or $1,553.58 each, for two full weeks in New Zealand, which I’m really happy about. From New York City, round-trip economy flights cost about $1,500-$1,600 alone. That’s some people’s budget for an entire trip! Plus, the business-class seats to Auckland were a great redemption and much-appreciated luxury.

OK, So How Do You Get Those Sweet Flight Rewards?

If you want to use points for flights to New Zealand, the first thing you need to do is start planning a year out. I’m serious. The options are few and far between for Americans, so planning ahead is half the battle.

To go to New Zealand for the cheapest way possible, you can get there with about 80,000 reward points for a roundtrip, economy flight. Here’s a chart I made detailing how many points you need and which airlines you can fly, if you’re from the US. I looked up tickets last night and found some availability for all these airlines for December 2018/January 2019.

Four Ways to Use Points to Get to New Zealand
Airline Points Flight One-Way Economy One-Way Business Transferrable Points Pros/Cons
United SFO to AKL 40k 80k Chase Sapphire The easiest to book
Alaska Airlines LAX to AKL 40k 55k via Fiji Starwood Cheap biz class seats but only on Fiji
Japan Airlines NYC to SYD 35k 70k Starwood Difficult to earn JAL points
American Airlines LAX to SYD via Qantas 40k 80k Starwood Need to get from Sydney to NZ

United isn’t the nicest airline, but the flying time was the shortest (instead of routing through Asia), and I found the points the easiest to redeem.

Good to Know

Here are some mistakes we made, so you don’t have to:

  • If you’re cost-conscious, design your itinerary so you’re picking up and dropping off the car in the same place. It cost us a few extra hundred dollars to drop off our car at a different location, but we were willing to pay the premium to get the exact itinerary we wanted. And lock that car down as soon as you have your itinerary set.
  • Don’t assume wifi is free and plentiful. Many cafes and restaurants, especially in remote areas, will charge you for wi-fi with a pitiful amount of data. If you need free-flowing internet where you are, then don’t book an Airbnb that has no wifi, like we did.
  • Lock down lodging for popular places, like Milford Sound and Mount Cook, in advance. Otherwise you’ll get stuck with crappy digs that are expensive and far, which is the worst.
  • Bring a tripod. I never regretted not having a real camera before, but I definitely did on this trip. Because wow, the stars in certain towns were so vibrant.
  • Don’t count on amenities and variety. I didn’t bring shampoo and conditioner because I assumed hotels and Airbnbs would have it. Then I’d go to the pharmacies, and I kid you not, there were only one or two shampoo options.

Other Itineraries

You may not be the same type of traveler as me: I travel fast, with a DIY mindset, and prefer the off-the-beaten path versus the tried and true.

Here are a few other resources from my blog friends:

  • NZ Muse is actually from New Zealand, and has tons of resources on what to do there. Tapping a local’s perspective is invaluable.
  • For more of a trip report, check out all the wanderlust-worthy pics on The Frugal Hackers’s blog.
  • If you want to see another set of costs, Leigh was in New Zealand for three weeks and detailed how much she spent.

Final Thoughts

For the cost of two roundtrip economy tickets to New Zealand, we got ourselves what I consider to be a bargain trip without sacrificing creature comforts: Business class flights. Lounge access. No hostels. No campervans. No couch-surfing. To summarize, here’s how we did it:

  • Use credit card rewards to offset flight and hotel costs. Have a credit card strategy well in advance of the trip. That way you’re not struggling to earn bonuses under a time crunch. The further ahead you plan, the more choices you’ll have, the more likely you’ll spend less.
  • Remember why you’re there. Set 1-2 priorities when planning the trip so you avoid overspending. If you’re going for the food, maybe you camp to cut back on lodging costs.
  • Don’t give into the hype. Avoid paid activities if it feels like you’re only doing it because you’re “supposed to.”

Have you ever been to New Zealand? If so, what were your highlights? Did you think we missed out by not doing the paid activities?

Images: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Erin @ Reaching for FI

    Well I’m just going to be scrolling through all these pictures for the rest of the day! Thanks for this awesome recap and breakdown of the points needed.

    • Hey, thanks, Erin! It was definitely hard to narrow down which pics to go into the post, so I hope you like them!

  • Gorgeous! I usually share our budget and hackery in our travel recaps but haven’t had anything like this for a while. We haven’t done a long vacation in too long! New Zealand is totally on our list but we’d have to factor in some extra costs (JB is a whole other human to pay for!) and we’d focus as much on food as anything else since I travel on my stomach 😀

    We don’t decide on a travel destination until we have one or two solid big reasons to go, though, so I’m just going on hoarding miles and points until I figure that out.

    • Well, I’m jealous of you because it’s SO MUCH easier to get to NZ from SF! And from Asia, too. If you are into camping, then that’s a great way to cut down on costs for sure. At some spots we had to drive 40 minutes to 2 hours from our hotel to get to the mountains, while the campers just had to camp right outside the parks. But yeah, not sure how it would be with a little kid, though. I hear you on the food–usually we focus on food, too, and you’ll find great food in the bigger towns/cities for sure, but since we were in the rural areas most of the time, there weren’t that many options. Wine is cheap there, of course. Anyway, if you go, I’ll be so excited for you!

  • Dave @ Married with Money

    Sounds (and looks) like you had an awesome time, and not that expensive either! We are planning on taking a Europe trip in 2019 and are starting to plan now. I think I need to get a bit more serious about some of that rewards hacking; those lay-down seats seem awesome.

    • Ohhh, where in Europe? It should be much easier to travel from country to country there, so I think it’s a valuable destination in that regard. Ha, yes to travel rewards. Hell no will I pay $7k for that lie-down seat! We def could have made the trip even cheaper if we had planned a little earlier, but that was my fault, because I couldn’t make up my mind until the very last second 🙂

      • Dave @ Married with Money

        We are thinking of taking it easy in the primarily English-speaking countries: Ireland, England, and Scotland. It’ll be Kristin’s first time to Europe. We may choose different countries, but that is the plan for right now. Unfortunately that means trains are a bit difficult to deal with 🙂

        • I just pinned some pics of Scotland on my Pinterest–it looks very green and beautiful! Anyway, those countries are an awesome pick for a first-timer. If you’re feeling adventurous, Paris is a little over 2 hours from London. I remember last time we took that train, I hadn’t really processed that I’d be in a non-English speaking country so soon, and it was definitely a trip to be hearing French in such a short amount of time.

          • Dave @ Married with Money

            I studied in London 10 years ago and we took the train to Paris for Thanksgiving, haha. It was super fun actually 🙂

  • Millionaire Doc

    Awesome post. New Zealand is on my radar. I’m going to bookmark this for a future trip. Just did a post on Costa Rica for a family of four.

    • Hey MD,

      Thanks! Yes, I think people seem to forget that New Zealand exists, but it’s a total gem. I’ll have to check your posts on Costa Rica. I have friends who have gone there twice, so obviously, it must be pretty awesome!

  • Mrs. Farmhouse Finance

    Wow! I’m really impressed with how little you spent. I would love to visit New Zealand one day. Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous!

    • Thanks! We are super pleased by how much we spent, although we could have done better if I hadn’t hemmed and hawed on the itinerary for so long, though. If you save up the points, it definitely makes the costs a lot more palatable. And I forgot to say I just used my iPhone 6 for pictures. I wished I had a nice camera like everyone else, though! I tried to take a picture of the stars, and it didn’t turn out so hot…

  • Miya Qiu

    Fantastic post. As mentioned before, my husband and I went to NZ’s north island in 2016 and had a blast, with much of the same sentiments as you (i.e. scenery and hiking). We ended up spending approximately the same as you in overall cost. Again, like you, I did all the planning – didn’t stress over getting lowest rates possible, and my husband did all the driving. It was a thoroughly fun adventure and it’s definitely in the our plans to return for South Island so I’ll be bookmarking this post. But for now, we’re looking at places such as South Africa, Morocco, and Oman.

    • Hi Miya,

      Thank you! Yeah, I felt like there is such natural beauty, everything else was just kinda unnecessary. And I like kayaking and all, but I can kayak here in NY, too! Cool, maybe we’ll do reverse trips soon 🙂 Our friends we met up with NZ had just got back from the North Island actually, and they said driving there was a lot more fun than in the South Island. So that’s an interesting tidbit. And Africa sounds amazing! I looked into a safari before this trip, but I wasn’t sure if it was totally right for us. I also looked into Madagascar, because I wanted to see those really cool-looking trees in person.

  • Thanks for sharing such an in-depth look at your trip! I can’t believe how affordable it was! I have much to learn in the travel hacking space. 🙂 I love the idea of eating from grocery stores for breakfast and lunch and eating a nice dinner. That’s what we like to do during travel and you can’t go wrong! 🙂

    • Hi Mrs. PPP,

      Thanks for checking it out! I did try to make it somewhat useful, instead of, ‘Hey, look at mah fancy trip!’ Although those are cool, too, but I’m not a travel blog 🙂 Hopefully, I am spreading the word on the loveliness of travel hacking. There are so many amazing experiences you can have if you redeem the points the right away. And yes–travel spending is all about priorities! We may have eaten simple eggs (and NZ eggs are so good, btw) and toast so that we could spend more in other ways.

  • Adventure Rich

    Hold on a minute while I shake off the amazement… I was following your instagram and the pictures/stories here and there are stunning! What an amazing trip! And for just over $100/person/day (inc. flights?!?), I love it!

    I am with you on the hiking, “real sight” seeing vs activities on vacation. There can be cool activities, but based on your pictures, I think you nailed it 🙂

    Thank you for sharing the wanderlust, Luxe!

    • I think the NZ tourism board should hire me as an ambassador! It honestly felt like every sight just kept getting better and better.

      I hear you on cool activities, but it’s hard to not feel like you’re getting “played” sometimes, you know? Like here in NYC, I’m not sure I can think of any paid activity for tourists that I think is actually worth it. But of course, “worth it” is totally subjective.

  • This trip looks amazing!!! You nailed the planning part too credit cards and all!

    I’m not sure if I can handle that long flight myself. I tend to have a 6 hour limit.

    • Hey, thanks! Oh you know me, when am I NOT scheming about something? I’m trying to scheme the next trip, actually!

      Yeah, not gonna lie, the number of flights was rough. I would do 12 hours to Asia direct, but these flights were broken up so it didn’t feel that bad. However, if I’m ever in Asia again (which is closer to NZ), it will be very tempting to just hop on plane and visit NZ again…

  • That’s a really long trip for only $3k, I’m impressed! A cruise for 2 weeks would be much more expensive than $3k after fees and tips. Activities other than eating doesn’t stir me so I hardly think you guys missed a thing. I hate it when people buy their weight worth of overpriced souvenirs.

    The funny thing with me is if there’s no food place that I’m interested in, I don’t see myself caring or wanting to go period. My priority is food and only specific food. That’s why I don’t really want to go tour France (or any parts of Europe tbh) but I would visit the heck out of any East Asian countries.

    • Birds of a FIRE

      You should really check out France! The restaurants in small towns in the countryside with 3-6 courses are like $30 Euros (and no tip!! tax already included!!) with super fancy meals that rival the $90 you’d pay in NYC for just a lunch prie fix. There is amazing food, and at super super good deals, I promise!

      • Hahaha – hmm, alright I’m convinced!! What about other parts of Europe?

        • Birds of a FIRE

          UK does not have super good food deals. Even burger and lobster (a UK invention which I love!) is cheaper in the US.

          DO NOT GO TO SWITZERLAND FOR FOOD. I think it rivals NZ’s $14 chicken nuggets, but perhaps worse as it topped the MCD’s index. It was cheaper to eat at the donor kebab places than MCD there.

          Germany does more laid-back “soulful” cuisine.

          Italy does really good prie fix meals (15 euros or so at lunch) and gelato/coffee is $1. Be prepared to think “But why is this pasta dish so tiny”.

          Have not been to Spain/Portgual, but hear really good things about the food in those places!

          • All I know about Spain is tapas. Something tells me you’ve been places :p!! What’s your Twitter handle? I can’t find you but I remember seeing you on Twitter.

          • Birds of a FIRE

            Like dim sum, but in a Spanish way. So yum! It would be cool to have a rotating table with tapas! There should be a blogger who compares all the better value EU countries (ie, apparently all the ones I haven’t been to yet). I hear wonderful things about Croatia + GOT! @birdsofafire Halfway through this discussion I realized I accidentally hijacked a thread. Sorry Luxe 🙁

          • Sorry Luxe!! Feel free to delete. 😘

    • I’ve thought about taking my mom on a cruise, but I’ve so many bad things about cruises!

      Prioritizing food is a legit reason to travel! I really, really loved Southeast Asia for food. There was this Banh Canh Cua I had in Vietnam that I can’t get here in NYC. I personally don’t think NZ is the place for food, unless you want meat pies and things, so that’s why we were like, OK, we’ll just eat crappy stuff the entire time. I personally love big flavors and colors.

      • Oh no, what is bad about cruises? They are my FAVORITE way to travel! How else could I see 4+ cities/countries in 1 week plus eat 3 dinners per day for about 1K? Or spend 4 days in the Bahamas eating whatever I want and swimming in crystal clear blue water for $500?

        • Lol, nothing wrong with cruises–just depends on what you prefer. It actually seems like a super easy way to travel, and hence, why I would want to take my mom (so I can keep an eye on her!). I guess whenever I’ve talked to a young-ish person, they said it mostly skewed older and there wasn’t a ton of culture. Plus, I’m around tons of people every day, and not sure being around tons of people on vacation would be relaxing for me! But totally agree that they seem super economical. Depends on what you are looking for!

  • I think it’s so awesome that you guys didn’t do any paid activities- especially in a place like NZ where there is so much you can do for free! I actually can’t believe you spent so little on the trip. A friend and I are looking into doing a tropical trip for like five days and the budget is looking like $1000 each. Compared to your numbers, that just doesn’t look like good value anymore! The only thing I’d have done for sure is Hobbiton. But, I’m a massive LOTR need, so it would have been a non-negotiable.

    • I feel like there’s sooo much pressure to do paid activities to feel like your travel is worth it. And then you get touted with, “Well, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.” The same sentiment is here in NYC, too! You really don’t have to spend any money here at all to have a great time.

      A tropical trip seems awesome, especially to escape the winter. I did a week in Mexico for about $1200, so $1000 seems about right to me. If you can shave off hotel and airfare, though, that makes a big difference.

      Hobbiton actually looks really cute! Although it was on a different island than the one we were on. We did cross paths with some LOTR tour buses and we saw people taking pictures of fields and stuff. But I guess since I’m not a big LOTR fan that the references were kind of lost on me.

  • Birds of a FIRE

    That looks like so much fun! And so pretty to boot! Looks like you travel hacked the crap out of that one! Sounds like a great place to go to escape the cruel winters here!

    I lol’d at the Alpacas thinking, so that’s where the people from Bibble + Sip stayed haha.

    • It was totally a blast–who knew driving around could be so fun? We could have travel hacked it more, TBH, but we were tied to specific timing. Next time, I’ll do a multi-country trip! And yes, the weather was a nice 65-70 degrees–perfect for hiking.

      Haha, I had to look up the alpacas thing. I had no idea alpacas were all over Bibble + Sip!

  • This looks like such a fantastic trip, I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand! I love all your tips and I really need to get better about travel reward credit cards so I can take advantage of some cheap vacations.

    I’m currently in the planning stages for a road trip this summer so now would probably be a perfect time to sign up for a new card before booking accommodations.

    • I’m pretty sure there’s a direct flight from Vancouver for Canadians 🙂 If you just pick one credit card and put all your spend on there, that’s better than doing nothing.

      Yes, NOW would be the perfect time to meet minimum spends, if you’re responsible with credit cards!

  • GYM

    Wow those pictures are stunning- all from an iPhone?? Thanks for so many pictures and for writing this 3000 word NZ post! It was a great read and those detailed charts are great.

    I think you have to take the travel hacking New Zealand award if there ever was one. $1500 per person for all that is a steal of a deal!!

    **I’m not worthy I’m not worthy* (I am bowing down to the master travel hacker, Miss Luxe Strategist)

    • Yeah, I’ve got an iPhone 6 and definitely felt a little lame when everyone else had their “real” cameras. But getting decent pics anyway just goes to show how photogenic NZ really is! And I’m glad you found the detail helpful–as you know, it’s hard for me to not include that stuff.

      Ohhh nawww, I could have made this a lot more epic with like a stopover in Hawaii or in Japan, but it was true to our priorities. But anyway, I’m pleased with how much we spent.

      If I ever go on maternity leave I think I might do a mini-retirement, just like you!

  • I’m totally in awe! We’d love to make it to New Zealand one day but we also live on the east coast and that’s a LOT of travel time. Maybe one day we’ll have three weeks or so and can go. I’m also absolutely terrified of actually calculating our our money spent over a vacation abroad, but we always try to minimize costs at every opportunity.

    You’re inspiring me to seek out another credit card (I currently have only one with my bank and its rewards program is terrible: $50 for every $5,000 you spend with very rare triple points promotions) for the rewards, but I don’t know which one yet. I definitely want one that I’ll have for awhile with no annual fees AND reports to all three bureaus so I can build credit. That’s probably a unicorn card, but we’ll see!

    • Yeah, if we weren’t flying in business on one leg, I probably wouldn’t have gone! There were just too many flights. Although apparently Qantas is creating new nonstop flights from NYC to Sydney soon, so that’s another option, as well. And we are definitely privileged to work for companies where they’re closed for a week, so we were able to save vacation time. I do always try to build vacations around holidays anyway, and was able to go to Japan for 10 days over Thanksgiving break one year (my company at the time only let us take a week off at a time).

      With credit card rewards, there are certainly no-fee cards to start earning points, but you won’t get anywhere fast with that method. Sometimes you need to spend money to make money! You could start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns 50k points, and then downgrade it to the Chase Freedom to avoid the fee. I also find Nerd Wallet to be helpful for picking a credit card:
      https://www.nerdwallet.com/?trk=nw_gn_4.0
      You’ll want to start with how much you normally spend anyway. Credit card rewards are not worth it if you have to spend more money than you usually do!

  • How much you paid for you trip is just around how much we plan on spending in total for our just a little over a week trip to Italy…yikes. We do want to plan another trip though so maybe we might try out a new strategy as a challenge to see how low we can get our total cost haha it seems really fun.

    Not giving into the hype is literally my sentiment during every trip. I always feel bad and think I’m being a killjoy for other people but I’ve come to accept that I also hate crowds, I hate being on a tight schedule for paid activities, and doing any activity that involves getting on a tour bus. I’m more of a can I walk and explore on my own kinda person when I travel.

    Really enjoyed reading this with my coffee such a nice break from scrolling through Instagram. Also, you might have just convinced me to add New Zealand to my list of places to go 😉

    • My one-week trips to Mexico and also to Paris cost about the same. But in Mexico I was doing lots of activities, and in Paris, we were eating like kings and shopping like crazy 🙂 But yeah, challenging yourself to make your next trip cheaper is totally fun!

      Yeah, call me selfish, but I really don’t like being tied to someone else’s schedule, and around big groups of people. I remember joining a free guided walk in Germany and at a certain point I just ditched the group and went off on my own. I think it’s just my black sheep personality.

      YES, I think you’d love NZ , but maybe add a side trip if you have time. If we had more time, I would have definitely moseyed on over to Australia!

      • Ahh eating like kings and shopping like crazy sounds like my kind of trip. Or laying out at the beach in Mexico. I would not be opposed to either.

        I don’t think it’s selfish at all. I like to do things at my own pace always. I even slow down when I’m rushed by someone haha.

        If I ever make the trip to NZ, I would def have to make multiple stops along the way so I could get the most out of the long distance trip.

        • Uh oh, I’m definitely the one rushing people. My father-in-law still comments on how fast I walked when we went to the grocery store. That happened a year ago…

  • Hey, I think there’s a misunderstanding. We don’t spend a lot on groceries because we’re trying to earn reward points–that’s our natural spending. So in that case, I think it’s smart and strategic to use credit cards. We always hit our savings goals without any problems, so as far as I see it, we can spend our money however we want.

    Also, this blog is all about luxuries for less, so if you have any ideas to contribute on how to achieve that, I’d be happy to hear them 🙂 For example, do you have any thoughts for how to pay for a $7k business class ticket with little damage?

  • I am TOTALLY bookmarking your blog and this post!! As a newly minted personal finance nut and an on-the-cusp full time blogger, I am definitely soaking all your wisdom in!! That gift card purchase to give you the credit card hack I have definitely never thought of. I wonder if Expedia will offer the same perks? We booked our honeymoon hotels from expedia and got 6% cashback from ebates…and I was over the moon. I wish I’d known about the gift card purchase route before hand!! I am totally subscribing to your blog today!!

    Jessica || Cubicle Chic
    http://www.mycubiclechic.com

    • Oh, hey! And wow, thank you for subscribing. Pressure’s on to send out good newsletters now 🙂 I usually don’t see deals on Expedia, but definitely do see deals for Amazon where you can buy travel gift cards, so that’s when you can pick up extra points. But the biggest rewards aren’t even cashback–they’re the credit card signup bonuses. That’s how you get a $7k plane ticket for a couple hundred bucks.

      Anyway, glad you’re here, and have joined the money nerd crew!

  • SLJ

    I too am either traveling or scheming about my next trip, and budget obsessively with this in mind. One of the best frugal things we have ever done is sign up for HomeExchange.com. Basically, you swap homes/apartments with other people – for free. The site costs ~$100 for the year. Every year, we’ve managed to swap homes with people in some pretty amazing places – Dublin, Paris, London, Rome, rural Spain, etc. Typically, we end up in a part of the city where regular people live, so it does mean a bit of travel time to tourist sites, but it also means cheaper, authentic restaurants in the neighborhood. For example, the meals we had in Rome were AMAZING, and they were all about 10 euros per person. We live in a suburban area, so we also swap cars, saving us on car rental fees too. That wouldn’t be an option for you, but given that you guys live in NYC, you would have your PICK of places to visit. It’s not for everyone, but if you are okay with someone staying in your house, then I highly recommend.

    • Now’s the time I say that whenever I hear “home exchange” I automatically think of that rom-com movie “The Holiday” with Kate Winslet. I love the idea of it, and am so glad it works for you, but I’m not sure I’d ever feel comfortable with strangers in my home. Plus, I’m not sure anyone would want to stay in our house! A sexy, Manhattan apartment it is not 🙂 But yes, I’m with you on staying where regular people live. I always tell people to do that in NYC, but they always want to say near Times Square…

  • Great travel hacking as usual Luxe. Booking that flight from NYC to NZ with those stop overs seemed like an adventure itself, you should get some type of reward for making that happen.
    I’m really digging that scenery and the hiking trails you guys check out on the South Island. I remembered seeing your pics on Instrgram during your trip and thinking NZ is an underrated travel destination. Many always mention Australia when traveling to that part of the globe but NZ should be considered as well.
    Great stuff as usual!!

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure I tweeted about how dead I was from booking all the flights and hotels. Plus, I had to double check everything to make sure the dates were all correct, since one wrong booking would have a domino effect. Anyway–it was all worth it!

      Yes, NZ is so underrated and I was surprised how lots of people just don’t know much about it. And I think it does get overshadowed by Australia a bit, although it’s a totally different place!

      Thanks for stopping by, Kris!

  • Frugal Asian Finance

    Wow that sounds like an awesome trip! The food sounds expensive. Glad you two had lots of fun and a huge discount thanks to the reward cards and your hard work! 😉

    • Hey FAF, thanks! The food was expensive and not that tasty–at least the places we went to. But that’s OK, because food wasn’t the priority at all. And yes, the rewards definitely helped out a lot. I’m going to FinCon and you bet I’m already figuring out how to make that cheaper with rewards.

  • Mr. Groovy

    “…I’m a lazy tater tot and my driver’s license had been expired for months.”

    I don’t know what I like more. The amazing pictures? Or the pithy comments? Anyway, I hope your happy, LS. I now have a severe case of experience envy. Oh, and thank you for pointing out the points needed to mitigate travel costs. Mrs. G and I are building a house so we’ll be spending a lot of money in the next six months or so. If we play it right, our new house could wrangle a nice vacation. Cheers.

    • You know, when you write 3000 words, you’ve gotta throw in the pithy comments to keep people’s attention spans! And yes, I’m very happy to have triggered experience envy, and if you don’t earn rewards from that house build, then I will effectively block you from my site 🙂

  • Congrats on winning at your NZ budget + getting to see what you really wanted to see!

    This naturally calls for a comparison with my own two-week trip. I spent almost twice the amount per person versus yours but, like you, we did the activities we really wanted to (The cruise was a gamechanger and we loved our second visit to Hobbiton and the glowworm caves, but we were glad to opt out of the helicopter and thrillseeking stuff!), we ate out a bit more, and we rode more domestic flights than you did. Oh, and we didn’t drive, which I feel might have been cheaper overall but majority of us preferred the Intercity buses.

    Thank you for showing people a real-life example of how affordable travel can be!

    • Hey Daisy,

      I was hoping you would comment to compare! I’ve seen 3 or 4 NZ itineraries already (from other bloggers and friends), and I find it so interesting how different ppl’s priorities are. I would have gone to Hobbiton for sure if I was on the North Island (it looks so cute), and I’m still bummed we didn’t get to see Tongariro National Park. But next time! I think if I stop in Asia first, it might be an easier flight? And OMG, the domestic flights kinda killed me–expensive for such short durations.

      Yes, I hope more people talk about how much stuff costs and how much they spend! So much of what we see online just doesn’t seem rooted in reality.

      Thanks for coming by as always, and hope all is well!

      • Yesss, the domestic flight costs were killer over there! I just went on a 9 day trip to Japan with friends last week and we spent $800 per person, so the NZ one was definitely heavier on the wallet. And yes, I believe Asia would be an easier place to stop, unless you prefer going direct of course!

        And I’m well, thanks for asking. Got one blog post typed up but I’m on a work trip and haven’t published that one just yet! Hope you are well too, Luxe!

  • All I can say is WOW! You could totally have a side gig as a travel hacking consultant. Want to plan our next European getaway? 😉 Too bad the food was so expensive, honestly most island countries that is the case. Just a big markup to get anything onto the island. Grocery shopping and eating PBJs or plain meals is totally worth it for the rest of the sights/ experiences. Was sheep (lamb/ribs/roast) cheaper than US, out of curiosity?

    NZ has always been on my top 10, but this post may have nudged it up a few spots now. Hubs is all over the travel hacking game, I must admit I super suck at it. 🙁 All the card opening, and keeping track of spending minimums, and renewal fees, and logging in to pay off the balance each month, just gives me anxiety. I’m so thankful he loves figuring out these math puzzles. I’ll be sharing this post with him for sure!

    • Sure, I’ll plan your next getaway! Just send me the points you have! Yeah, expensive food is to be expected in island countries for sure. Plus, they have a higher minimum wage. Lamb was about on par as it is here in the US, but it tasted really fresh! The eggs there are also more orange-y then yellow, and taste better, too.

      Ha, I only sign up for one card at a time so I don’t have to track too much. It’s kinda like saving money. If you save/earn the points before you actually need it, it’s a lot less stressful. But I’m totally like your husband–for me, it’s like putting together a puzzle, and I won’t rest until I figure it out! Let me know if you/your husband have any questions!

  • All About Balance

    Wow! Well done on keeping costs down. I absolutely love NZ and have been twice. It is just a short 3 hour flight for us though, I can’t imagine a mammoth 4 airports to get somewhere.

    Our latest trip was somewhat similar to yours, although a fair bit more expensive at around $7,200. I’d say the difference was probably the activities and a bit more eating out. I did really enjoy the glacier helicopter and Mr B was ‘dying’ to go Bungy jumping which was the whole reason we went to NZ in the first place.

    Definitely one of our more expensive trips that we won’t be repeating for a while if ever.

    P.s. loved the photos, they brought back so many memories

    • So weird I thought I replied to this already, but I guess this comment snuck past my radar! Well, you’re very lucky to live so close to NZ, and the costs for your trip without expensive flights is definitely interesting! And hey, bungee jumping was invented there, so why not?

      I’d love to go again, but that flight from where I am definitely scares me away!