Florida and Nashville for under $600

My wife and I recently decided to use President’s Weekend to visit Florida again and – since I have a mid-Winter break as a teacher – I am continuing on to Nashville for the rest of the week. We used a variety of different mileage deals as well as knowledge of where to get discounts in order to book these tickets.

Flights to Florida
I searched a variety of methods including using British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines flight for 7,500 Avios per person but unfortunately the availability was just not there. There were a few business/first class flights but since their devaluation last year, it was no longer worth it (15K for the one way, not it’s 30K). In the end, I found availability using American Airlines miles themselves under their “Economy AAnytime” category which was only 20K per person. I had 32K available personally but my wife had 7K available to transfer. The cost was about $80 (annoying) and I had to buy the last 1K at a cost of $50. Baggage is free since this is an award ticket. Total cost: $130 (for miles) + $11.20 (Sept. 11th fees) = $142.50

Rental car in Florida
I don’t often use these deals, but I received a notice in my email from American Airlines that we could earn 6 times the normal mileage for renting through Hertz using certain codes sent to me via email. That’s exactly what we did, so for total cost of under $200, we got our three day rental. Total cost: $197.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 10.53.58 AM

Housing in Florida
This is the cheapest part. My parents have a condo in Delray Beach. If you have family members who have places to stay in Florida, take advantage of it. Instead of spending any hotel points or money to stay in an AirBnB or something like that, it was free. Total cost: $0.

Return flights
My wife is returning to New York on February 16 and I am continuing on to Nashville to explore a city and state I’ve never been to! I found a return ticket for her using United because we received travel vouchers for $150 due to our complaint a few weeks ago on our last trip to Toronto. I found a deal for $211.10 (pretty good) on her return fare. We have the MileagePlus Explorer card, so baggage is free for the first two travelers. Total for her flight: $211.10 – $150 = $61.10.

As I mentioned, I am continuing travel to Nashville for three more days of relaxing break. I found a deal with Southwest Airlines for a direct flight using a ridiculously small amount of points: 6,699 for the one-way. Since we have more than enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points right now, I transferred 5,000 (I already had about 1,900 in my account) and booked the ticket. Total cost: $5.60 (Sept. 11th fee again).

Housing in Nashville
I did some searching using the various hotel points we have and found a good deal with Hilton Hotels for a Hampton Inn at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. For only 30,000 points/night I could book my three nights for free! The only snag was that I only had 80K. I researched the cost of the extra 10K points and found out it would have been another $100 to buy the points necessary.

Instead, I looked at some of the transferable options that I have access to. I shied away from using our Chase Ultimate Rewards point as we want to use that for a return flight for our honeymoon. Instead, I realized that I have had a few thousand Citibank ThankYou points lying around a checking account for years. I looked at their list of transfer partners and – low and behold – Hilton is one of them! At a ratio of 1.5:1, I transferred 7K for a redemption of 10.5K – exactly what I needed. Total cost for my hotel: $0. 

Rental car in Nashville
This purchase was deceptively simple. I usually use a website called RentalCarPerks for specific codes that have offers for Hertz, Avis, Budget, and more. Instead, Enterprise had the best offer – an intermediate SUV for $120. Yes, that was the cheapest option (not the compact or economy – those were more expensive). Total cost of car rental: $120.47

Return flight from Nashville
I used my own United voucher on a flight I found for $175.10. Again, having the United credit card allows for free baggage. Total cost for flight: $175.10 – $150 = $25.10

OVERALL TOTAL COST: $557.77

How we booked a Winter Break excursion for less than $500

My wife and I want to get some sun this Winter Break and since my parents recently bought a condo in Florida, we thought it would be a good idea to spend some time down there. Obviously, saving on housing is a big plus, but even without that expense, plane tickets for the December 23-31 timespan were ranging from $400 each for the least desirable times (departing a 5:45am? no thanks) to $850 each for the best times. Instead, we opted to use our miles and get as cheap deals as possible for whatever else we could.

For the flight down, we opted for using our United Mileage Plus account to the tune of 25,000 miles each for the one-way trip. The only time we could leave on December 23 was after 6:30pm because I teach until 3:05pm, which would have cost us $397 each:

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.14.44 AM

Since we used 25K miles + $5.60 each for the September 11th fee, the price per mile is calculated the following way:

$397 – $5.60 = $391.40
$391.40/25,000 = 0.0156 (or 1.56 cents per mile)
The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents each so we were just above that value.

Total dollar cost for these flights was $11.20 for our tickets.

For our rental car we found a deal with Budget for only $470 for the week. The method to keep this cost down while maintaining coverage is twofold:

1) Knowing that if you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, you get primary auto insurance. Therefore, you can decline their Liability Damage Waiver that can get excessively expensive.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.18.56 AM

2) Knowing that according to Budget’s terms of service, spouses and domestic partners can be added as additional drivers for no extra fee. You do need to show up and display a driver’s license but you would not have to pay the $14/day extra.Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.22.29 AM

Total dollar cost for rental car was $470.

Finally, since we are visiting Providence, RI for the day following this trip, I knew we would need to find a connecting flight from Fort Lauderdale up north. I turned to Southwest Airlines, as they are a transfer partner of Chase. I found a flight that would cost $217 each on their “Wanna Get Away” fair that comes with free checked bags.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.25.00 AM

Since I was trying to minimize cost, however, I opted for the points amount of 13,381 miles + $5.60 fee. Price per mile calculation:

$217 – $5.60 = $211.40
$211.40/13,381 = 0.0157 (or 1.57 cents per mile)
The Points Guy values Southwest airlines miles at 1.3 cents per mile, so we had ourselves a pretty good deal.

Total cost for return flights: $11.20

Final total cost for entire trip: $492.40.

(Amount saved: $397 @ 2 = $794; $217 * 2 = $434; $28 * 7 days = $196; Total saved: $1,424).

We look forward to our time on the beach!

Using Virgin Atlantic miles to book a Delta award flight

My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco in October for a wedding of some good friends but had an issue where our miles seemed not to work as well as we would have liked them to. Originally I tried to book United flights but all the saver availability (25,000 miles roundtrip) seemed to be out for the flights that we wanted. Since I have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card (contact me for a referral) we are still able to purchase the standard award level (50,000 miles roundtrip) for these flights, however. That would have been our best option.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.07.38 PM

With this reservation, our cost/mile usage would be 1.05 cents/miles. The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents/mile so this would not be the best use of our miles.

Then I remembered a critical component of travel with miles and points: booking awards with partner airlines. I’ve written previously about using British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights because it’s so easy to do – simply use their website tool to find availability. There is something to be said, however, for simply “phoning it in.” Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.14.25 PM

I remembered that Virgin Atlantic has partner airlines in Virgin American and Delta and that roundtrip flights within the Continental US are only 25,000 miles roundtrip (plus the $5.60 September 11th fee). I called them up and found that while there was no availability for Virgin America, the Delta option was wide open. I put a hold on the flights that we wanted that will stay in place for 48 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.22.32 PMIn the meantime I transferred 50,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account into my Virgin Atlantic account and just waited. In theory it should be instantaneous and in reality it took about three minutes for the miles to show up. So, in the end I am able to book the following Delta flight with only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for my wife and me:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.56.20 PM

In this new scenario, our points/mile ratio is 1.87 cents/mile. The Points Guy values these miles at between 1.5-2.3 cents/mile so we are right on the money.

All in all, not bad for a day’s work of savings.

 

How to get to Southeast Asia in style

This summer I am feeling a bit antsy since for the first time in 11 years I am not doing an enormous amount of travel. I usually travel internationally (to Israel and beyond, more or less) and this time am sticking close to home with small trips on the east coast and Chicago.

That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to dream! I’ve been eyeing some tickets to Southeast Asia just to find out how many miles they would cost and what kind of planes they would be. I reviewed some of the first-class options two days ago that was mainly using Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Here, though, I’m going to talk about using American Airlines miles, which can often be a better use of your points.

The two important things you must know are:

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.46.44 AM1) American Airlines has a great partner award travel chart. As a member of the oneworld alliance, you have access to amazing airlines like Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and more. Their chart shows that you can get from the US to Southeast Asia (known as Asia Regions 1 and 2 in this chart) for at most 67,500 miles one-way (in first class, no less). Sometimes you can even do it for 25,000 in economy.

2) You can’t easily search these flights on the American Airlines website. To better your search capacity, using British Airways Avios search tool (it sounds weird, but it’s true).

First, you must make sure you are a member of the British Airways Executive Club (sometimes there are sign-up bonuses but don’t let that make you hesitate).

Then, you can use their search tool to ostensibly find British Airways flights, when in fact you will find all the partner flights as well. For example, here is a search from New York to Singapore on February 26:Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.56.24 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.56.31 AM

Or you could try using another airline on February 23:

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.58.25 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.58.31 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.58.37 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.58.49 AM

All these flights would be available for American Airlines mile-users. The one caveat to note, however, is that American Airlines only allows the fares listed above if traveling directly to that region. In the case of the British Airways and Qatar Airways flights, they are technically flying through an extra region to get to Singapore, so your flights would be broken up into two segments and priced accordingly.

In any case, it is important to note this method when you want to find these flights. It is hard to find them otherwise.