My last post was all about how we booked an 8 night trip to New York City for a fraction of the retail cost. Our final out of pocket cost for the flight and hotels was a mere $254! Not only did we save a TON of money on the flights and hotels, we also took advantage of several of the benefits on our credit cards to make the trip much more luxurious than it would have been otherwise. From free wifi to lounge access, many credit cards can still provide value long after you’ve earned the signup bonus. To top it all off, we even redeemed a small amount of SPG points to pay for part of our Broadway tickets! I’ll break it all down below.
Redeeming SPG Points for Broadway
As we planned out all the different things we wanted to do in NYC, one item near the top of the list was a Broadway show. Wicked was the show of choice for Becky and I didn’t have a strong opinion either way, so the search for tickets began. I was shocked (sort of, NYC is expensive) to find out that even the cheap seats cost $147 each! I’m fine paying a premium for great experiences when we travel, but will always try to find a way to save money if possible.
The original plan was to visit the TKTS booth in Times Square the morning of to hopefully get discount tickets after waiting in line. As Wicked has been on Broadway for quite some time and the Gershwin Theatre seats a lot of people, I was optimistic that we would be able to score some tickets at a discount.
Lucky for us, we didn’t actually book anything ahead of time because one of the churning blogs I follow, Million Mile Secrets, posted about the SPG and Audience Rewards partnership a mere two weeks before we would be on a plane to New York. The timing couldn’t have been better and the post (Get Big Broadway Travel Experiences With Starwood Points) did an excellent job explaining the potential of the partnership for using SPG points towards Broadway (and other theater) tickets!
I signed up for the SPG Personal card a few months ago, so I had several points available in my account and decided to check out the availability for Wicked. Two different nights that worked with our schedule were available for the best redemption category of 500 SPG points plus $48 per ticket! Comparing that to the cheap seat cost of $147 makes the redemption worth ~20 cents per point, but these were really good seats so the value ends up even higher! We ended up in the stadium seating of the Orchestra section just off center and next to an aisle which made for an amazing view of the performance.
I definitely recommend checking out the SPG Audience Rewards page if you plan on attending a Broadway show in the future. The value you get might just go way beyond what you would expect from a traditional hotel or flight redemption!
Using All the Credit Card Benefits!
In addition to using signup bonuses to pay for our NYC flights and hotels, several of the credit cards also have additional benefits that we were able to take advantage of on our trip.
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer – Free Checked Bags
In addition to the 50k miles after spending $2k that we used to book the flights, the United card also comes with a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to 4 other companions on the same reservation. This benefit even works on award bookings, so I made sure to pay the $22.40 in taxes in fees with the United card and the free checked bag was automatically added to our reservation. No extra effort required and we took advantage by each checking a bag both ways on the flight.
Citi Hilton Reserve Card – Free Breakfast
In addition to the two free weekend nights that we earned by spending $2,500 on the card, one of the additional benefits is Hilton Gold status for as long as you have the card. Hilton Gold is one of the best “easy to get” hotel statuses because in addition to the standard benefits of late checkout, space-available upgrades, and free wifi, Hilton Gold also comes with free breakfast at many of its properties. The Conrad New York was no exception and while they didn’t have any availability for the free upgrades, we did take advantage of the free breakfast both of the nights we stayed.
My only complaint was that they didn’t explain beforehand that the free breakfast voucher was only good for $20 worth of food despite several of the breakfast entrees costing above that. Luckily, we only went over by a few dollars the first morning, so I didn’t feel like complaining. They should have at least printed it on the voucher though…
Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Card – Room Upgrade and Extra Points
Much like the Hilton Reserve, the IHG card offers status just for having the card and moves you straight up to Platinum with the brand. Unfortunately, despite Platinum being “top-tier” (I’m excluding Spire), it’s still not quite as good as Hilton Gold because it lacks the breakfast benefit. Despite that, we were able to get upgraded to a nicer room in the Staybridge Suites and ended up on a high floor with a pretty good view. There were no available upgrades in the Intercontinental unfortunately.
In addition to the potential for upgrades, IHG Platinum status also provides a Welcome Bonus for checking into your room and even though our rooms were award nights, we still got 500 and 600 points respectively upon check-in.
An additional benefit that comes with the credit card is a 10% points rebate on any IHG point redemption. That means the 70,000 points we used for the Staybridge would return 7,000 points to our account to make the effective cost of the room only 63,000 for the two nights. Not a major difference, but an extra 7,000 points towards future award night(s) is certainly a nice boost.
Citi Prestige Card – Free Airport Lounge Access
Airport lounges provide free drinks, snacks, wifi, and more comfortable seating than the gate, but the benefits probably aren’t worth the upfront cost of $40+ most of the time. Fortunately, it’s possible to get lounge access for free from various credit cards and the Citi Prestige is one of the better ones with that benefit. The Prestige card actually offers two different lounge programs, Admiral’s Club and Priority Pass, but we were only able to use the Priority Pass access this trip because we weren’t flying American. It’s worth noting that the cardholder for the Prestige can bring up to two guests into the lounges for free!
Luckily our local airport, SEA, has 3 different lounges that are a part of the Priority Pass system and our flight delay made it possible to check out more than one. Somewhere between checking our bags and reaching our gate, our flight got significantly delayed which made our connection impossible. United was able to rebook us onto a later direct flight which actually arrived in NYC around the same time, so it wasn’t a huge inconvenience, but it did mean we would be spending an extra 4 hours or so in the airport.
We first checked out The Club lounge near the United gate and enjoyed a few drinks and snacks while we kept ourselves busy with reading and games. After leaving to eat lunch, we decided to check out the Alaska Boardroom lounge in a different part of the airport and spent the rest of the time before our flight there. While the Alaska lounge was bigger, each one seemed pretty standard from what I’ve seen online. This is actually the first time we’ve been in ANY airport lounge!
Amex Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card – Free Boingo Wifi
For our flight back home out of LGA, there were no lounges we could access because the two Priority Pass lounges in the airport are reserved for international travelers. As we waited for the flight, we decided to download a movie to our iPad to watch on the flight, but found out that LGA doesn’t even have free Wifi! For the download itself, the Amazon Prime Video app recently added a feature where you can download most of the Prime movies and TV shows directly to the device for viewing offline. Perfect for a flight where you don’t have access to Wifi or don’t want to have to worry about the connection speed! The only problem was we didn’t plan far enough ahead and found ourselves without Wifi on the ground.
That’s when I remembered that the SPG business card I recently signed up for came with a Free Boingo Wifi benefit! I probably should have signed up ahead of time in case this exact situation arose, but luckily I was able to use the Data connection on my phone to register for the benefit. A quick google search of something like “SPG Boingo Benefit” led me to the registration page where I was able to put in my credit card number and register on the spot. Less than 5 minutes later, we had logged into the airport’s Boingo Wifi on the tablet and kicked off the movie download, which completed just in time for boarding to start.
Bottom Line – Keep Track Of Your Available Benefits
While none of these benefits drastically changed our trip for the better, they certainly made the trip much more enjoyable and even managed to save us some money along the way. Always remember to check the benefits of the new cards you sign up for and track the ones on your existing cards. You never know when the situation might arise in which you can take full advantage of them!
In addition to the credit card benefits, don’t be shy when exploring all the ins and outs of the various loyalty programs you belong to. If MMS hadn’t tipped me off to the SPG and Audience Rewards partnership, I’d be out up to an extra $200 for the Broadway show we attended! I think I discover a new way to use points on a weekly basis and there’s always more to learn, I recommend at least reading the headlines of lots of different miles and points blogs, you never know when you might learn a new trick to save hundreds of dollars or more on your next trip.