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I Booked $6000 Worth of Luxury Hotel Stays—for just 4635

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When I used to think about my honeymoon, I wanted just one thing: luxury. I’d always envisioned a once-in-a-lifetime experience—gorgeous accommodations, beautiful beaches and elegant cocktails—which is how my fiancé and I landed on Hawaii.

The problem? We don’t have a luxury-sized budget, and Hawaii isn’t a cheap destination . So to make it work, without breaking the bank, I tried my hand at “travel hacking.”

What’s travel hacking?

It’s the process of collecting and redeeming credit card rewards in order to travel for free . Expert travel hackers are known for dedicating a lot of time to their hobby—researching dozens of cards and itineraries until they’ve engineered a trip to some exotic locale for pennies.

But I’m no expert. Until I learned about travel hacking for my honeymoon, I only owned one rewards card that I rarely used. Plus, we had specific travel dates and times in mind—after my post-wedding brunch on a Sunday in August, which happens to be peak travel season. Without much flexibility, we weren’t likely to book free flights, let alone a whole trip.

I zeroed in on one goal: Book as many free nights in luxury hotels as possible.

Many hotel credit cards offer free nights or a large point bonus upon signup. So I set out to apply for the least number of cards for the most complimentary stays. Between October and February, I was approved for four new cards—and a total of 10 free nights.

( It’s worth noting that my credit score has held steady at 720, and I always paid my bill in full. I only signed up for cards with minimum spending requirements I could easily hit—wedding expenses helped a lot with that—and staggered my applications so my score wouldn’t take a hit.)

Some terms and bonus details have changed since, but here are the four cards that helped me get there:

The Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card : With a $450 fee, this card triggered some sticker shock at first. But thanks to a special offer, I snagged three free nights, which I redeemed at the Ritz in Maui, plus a $300 travel credit for airline incidentals.

To hit the $5,000 spending requirement, we charged our wedding venue and food costs—then paid it off with money we’d saved for those expenses.

Cost of Rooms: $2,457