Washington D.C. Picture: Getty Images

Touring the world can leave weary holiday makers in financial dire straits. So when Lady Lewis capitalised on a moment of weakness by convincing the family a visit to the east coast of America was a good idea, only solid planning was going to prevent a sting in the wallet.

A simple glance at a prospective itinerary became blurred by dollar signs spinning around the eyeballs.

Flights, accommodation, tours, food and souvenirs couldn't be avoided. But the costs quickly added up to the point whereby an unauthorised withdrawal from Fort Knox looked like it might be needed to fund the exercise.

Winning Lotto would have helped. Yet as the odds were stacked against such a windfall other ways had to be found to limit the impact on the bank balance of the Australian Griswolds' excursion to the land of opportunity.

And there were ways of achieving key elements of the trip at a greatly reduced price - or for nothing at all. It took patience, a pledge towards a household spending strategy and a lot of research, with a lot online. But the savings were worth it.

Fortunately, after convincing the clan the trip - which had to include stops in New York, Washington, Orlando (Disney World) and Boston - should happen, a three-year timeline was set. Such a period was necessary to accumulate the Frequent Flyer points needed to cover the airfares to take two adults and two children halfway across the globe.

Covering the journey from the cheque book would have cost, at best, about $11,000. Or you could give up 512,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points. Collecting them required a commitment to spending. But managed correctly, the clan needed to only part with the cash normally forked out for regular day-to-day living.

A plane seat isn't the only way to reach the goal - indeed, flying is only the cream on the points- grabbing cake. By choosing the correct credit cards and keeping an eye on offers, a total can grow quickly.

The Westpac Earth American Express credit card offers 1.5 points for every dollar spent. Unfortunately, its associated Mastercard only offers 0.5 points for a similar outlay - a problem as Amex isn't as widely accepted or can attract higher usage fees.

However, the Woolworths Mastercard provides Qantas points on a one-for-one basis. A careful balance of both cards can keep the tally ticking over. Accepting offers can accelerate earnings. Flashing our free Everyday Rewards loyalty card at Woolworths or Big W provided an additional point for every dollar spent over $30. (Westpac offers its credit cards without yearly fee to selected customers while there is an $89 annual slug for the Worthworths brand.)

Buying groceries at Woolies, refuelling at its petrol stations, occasional purchases at associated department and liquor stores and paying every other household bill via the credit cards generated more than 150,000 points a year.

While the household was required to shop with particular companies, the virtual duopoly between the two major grocery companies meant there was little choice. And it must be remembered only necessary items were bought.

However, even the credit card spend wouldn't realise all the required points. Fortunately some work-related flights and a couple of family holidays allowed points to be assigned to the biggest earner, creating more frequent flyer bonuses. And buying the airfares on the Earth credit cards also generated points.

With the flights covered, albeit with $2500 in fees, it was time to book the accommodation.

Again, it meant committing to a brand. Most hotels operate as chains and have loyalty arrangements. For this exercise IHG, which runs the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Intercontinental hotels, among others, was the preferred choice.

Whenever a hotel had to be picked for work or holiday, an IHG locale was chosen so points could be accumulated through its Rewards Club "frequent stayer" program. Over the three- year span, just over 125,000 points were amassed. A stay at the more-than-comfortable Holiday Inn Express on West 36th Street in the Midtown section of Manhattan would have cost $375 per night. That was reduced to $70 per night when 15,000 points each day were cashed. So a $3000 bill came down to $560.

Activities in New York City can also be expensive. Checking out discount cards such as the New York Pass can help considerably, especially if you're visiting iconic venues such as the Statue of Liberty. A New York Eat and Play card is a must for families. It generally offered us 15 per cent off dinner bills at selected restaurants, most family-friendly, such as Johnny Rockets diner.

With some smart planning of your day's movements you could use the card, which has a 30-day expiry, twice a day. Pre-booking for some events in the Big Apple also took a big bite out of costs. For instance, using our phone to buy tickets to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum resulted in a 20 per cent discount - and avoidance of the queues.

Walt Disney World in Florida presented some challenges when it came to cost cutting. However, choosing the right time of year has distinct advantages. October is hurricane season and one of the least desirable times for US citizens to visit the theme parks - although storms have very rarely forced the most magical place on Earth to shut down.

Traditionally, Walt Disney World has offered free dining plans to those staying in its resorts in early October. This means families can eat in the parks and hotels just by flashing their special accommodation cards. The plans offered us all one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, a snack and a never-ending refillable soft drink/water bottle per day. The free plan saved us $900 over an eight-night stay at the Disney All-Star Sports Resort.

Buying a $140 Disney photo pass also paid off. There are official photographers scattered throughout the parks, but single pictures can cost as much as $15. The Australian Griswolds returned with 129 professional portraits at slightly more than $1 each.

As the flights had to be booked well in advance to get the required journey, the Qantas Frequent Flyer points tally began to build again in the six months prior to take-off - useful, as points can be cashed in for activities in Australia and overseas.

Fulfilling a dream of visiting NASA's Kennedy Space Centre near Orlando, along with a lunch with astronaut Mark Lee, a veteran of four shuttle missions, cost 67,500 points, leaving $500 in the kitty.

The same method obtained a two-day hop-on hop-off bus tour of New York City for four people at $249 - cashing in 27,000 points generated a $200 saving.

And an economy of $75 was made in Washington D.C. during a special offer period when a one-day hop-on hop-off bus tour was valid for 48 hours.

We threw in a Go Boston card offering free entry to a number of attractions for $200, which generated $110 in extra benefits, including a free tour of Fenway Park, the famed home of Boston Red Sox, leaving more money to be spent on other activities.

Once the calculator burnt out, the entire 24-day visit would have cost just over $26,000, including day-to-day spending money. Yet we managed $13,344 in savings using the "cheap chap" methods.

So we had 100 per cent enjoyment at half the cost.

The West Australian

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