My fiance and I recently returned from an 8 day trip to New York City which is why you haven’t heard from me in a while. This trip was special for two reasons, the first being that it was each of our first times in New York so we spent most of the trip exploring the city and hitting a lot of the tourist attractions. Secondly, it was our first big miles and points trip! We’ve redeeming several flights previously to visit family or similar, but this is the first time we took an actual vacation where the flights and hotels were entirely covered by miles, points, and free nights! In addition, we made use of numerous credit card benefits along the way to make the trip even better than if we never would have gotten involved in the miles game. Below I’ll cover exactly which credit cards and promotions we signed up for and how we utilized them to turn a potentially multi-thousand dollar trip into an even better multi-hundred dollar trip.
Earning and Booking The Flight
With 55k miles in hand and a plan to visit NYC, I started looking for award availability around 10 months before we wanted to fly. Ideally, you would look a little closer to 11 months when most award seats first open up, but fortunately there were still several available dates that worked with our schedule. We ended up booking a round-trip flight at the Saver level of 25k miles + $11.20 per person.
The rule of thumb is to book the flight when it’s available and figure out the hotels afterwards and that’s exactly what we went ahead with for this trip. Depending on your exact timing and destination, that might not always be a good idea, but for a city like NYC with tons of hotels and a week in September with no major events planned (the whole Pope thing happened long after we finished booking everything!) I wasn’t too concerned with finding something that would work for us.
At the end of the day, a single credit card signup bonus allowed us to book two round-trip flights with a retail value of $1,152.70 for only $22.40! Plus we have over 7k United miles to spare for a future flight. That’s a effective return of OVER 50% for the $2k spending required to earn the signup bonus.
Earning the Hotel Nights
What triggered most of the hotel night earning was the IHG Into the Nights Promotion that took place in the last quarter of 2014. I did a larger write-up of the promotion and how I completed it here: IHG’s “Into the Nights” Promotion Recap and A Look at IHG’s Next Promo, “Set Your Sights”
During that promotion I also signed up for the IHG Rewards credit card which provided 80,000 points after spending $1,000. 80k IHG points doesn’t go very far in New York, but would be good for at least 2 nights at a nice property.
Lastly, we also signed up for the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card which comes with 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton property after spending $2,500. Unlike the other credit cards, this particular one did NOT waive the $95 annual fee, so I’ll be counting that against our cost for this trip.
To cover all 8 nights, we used the 4 free nights from the IHG promotion, 2 award nights with IHG points earned from the IHG credit card, and 2 free weekend nights earned from the Hilton credit card. The total out of pocket cost for earning all of these nights was $231.24, but the actual hotel rooms we booked retail for $3,212!
Looking at retail value of the rooms isn’t a great was to measure real value because we would never pay retail for them, but even a modest hotel on Manhattan island would cost over $1,300 for 8 nights.
Redeeming the Award Nights
First we booked the Hilton free weekend nights because those were restricted to only be used on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Our first two nights were a Friday and Saturday, so we decided to start out our trip with the Hilton nights. After deciding between the many different Hilton hotel options, we settled on the Conrad New York located near the Financial District and had to call Hilton customer service to book the free nights. The call itself went smoothly and we were a quarter of the way complete on booking our hotel nights.
Second, we chose to use the IHG points for the Staybridge Suites located near Times Square and booked two nights online for 35,000 points per night. After the 10% rebate on redemptions offered with the IHG credit card, the two nights will only end up costing us 63,000 of the 80,000 earned from the signup bonus.
Third, we chose to redeem the 4 free IHG nights from the promotion for the Intercontinental, also in the Times Square area of Manhattan. Once again, I was able to book all 4 nights at once online and the whole process went very smoothly.
Overall, redeeming the free nights was extremely simple and we didn’t run into any availability problems.
I would call this trip a huge success for our first big miles and points trip. While it wasn’t a crazy international trip to far off lands, we were able to save a TON of money on a trip we probably would have paid close to full price for before we discovered churning! Those are the best kinds of redemptions for your finances because they help you save money on trips you would take anyway, rather than add expenses for additional trips you may not have taken anyway. No reason you can’t do both though! Let’s break down this trip by the numbers:
- 2 Roundtrip United Economy Tickets from SEA->NYC (EWR & LGA in this case)
- 2 Nights at the Conrad New York
- 2 Nights at the Staybridge Suites Times Square
- 4 Nights at the Intercontinental Times Square
Retail Cost – $4,364.70 (I used the cost of booking the exact flights/rooms at the time we booked the awards)
- 2 United tickets – $1,152.70
- 2 Nights at the Conrad – $658
- 2 Nights at the Staybridge Suites – $758
- 4 Nights at the Intercontinental – $1,796
Actual Cost – $253.64
- Flight Award Taxes and Fees – $22.40
- Annual Fee on Hilton Reserve – $95
- Cost of IHG Into the Nights Promo – $136.24
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of different ways to earn miles and points, but it’s actually redeeming them for trips like this that make it all worth it. I’m still amazed that the whole thing is even possible, but I hope it remains possible into the future because I’ll certainly continue to take advantage of it. If you like to travel and are responsible with credit, there’s no better time to start than now! In addition to getting the flights and hotels for ~6% of their retail cost, we also managed to use numerous different credit card benefits along the way to make the trip even better. Look out for a future post with all the details on that.
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