The writers over at Travel Codex recently announced a new miles/points event that will be taking place on November 7th this year and I’m excited to say that I’ll be attending. This will be my first “travel hacking” meetup of any kind, so I’m excited to meet a lot of fellow bloggers that I’ve only interacted with online up until this point. I’ve considered attending some other meetups in the past such as the larger Frequent Travel University and Chicago Seminars or even the smaller ones like Shawn at MtM’s Vegas DO and even the local Seattle group that meets once a month, but there are always conflicts with my schedule. After I read about TravelCon II and looked over the great list of speakers they have lined up, I was thrilled to discover I had nothing planned that weekend! As I’m sure many others do, I instantly started looking for flights and hotels I could book with the miles and points I’d already accumulated.
TravelCon II is a miles and points event taking place in Las Vegas on November 7th, 2016 that comes after a successful TravelCon OC that took place earlier this year in California. A series of experts in everything from credit cards to award booking to manufacturing spend will give presentations throughout the day along with breaks in between for socializing and Q&A. The event is limited to a hundred tickets or so which should lend well to the social aspect of the hobby they are trying to emphasize.
All of the details for the event can be found on the registration page here:
TravelCon II: Las Vegas
How I Booked The Trip for $11.20
My primary goal with any trip is to minimize the cost while still maximizing the experience and the best way to do that usually comes down to miles and points earned from large credit card signup bonuses. While a reasonable chunk of my points portfolio is earmarked for specific trips, there are a lot of points I’ve earned opportunistically with the expectation of finding a use from them later. This event is the perfect use-case for how powerful a flexible set of miles and points can be when booking travel.
Available Miles and Points
First let’s take a brief look at the relevant miles and points I have at the moment. This excludes several accounts and the totals are rounded off to make things simpler:
- 90k Chase UR
- 45k Amex MR
- 80k Citi TYP
- 150k Alaska Miles (110k earmarked for our honeymoon)
- 175k American Miles (125k earmarked for our honeymoon)
- 17k United Miles
- 17k Southwest Points
- 135k Hilton Points
- 25k IHG Points
- 30k SPG Points (all earmarked for our honeymoon)
- 6k Hyatt Points
As Seattle and Las Vegas are only 867 miles apart, there is a great opportunity to use a distance based award program such as British Avios. As opposed to fixed rates based on entire regions, the price of an award ticket on British Avios is entirely based on the distance between the airports. This means a roundtrip flight that normally costs 25k miles on a carrier like American, the price with Avios can be as low at 9k miles! For the particular distance between Seattle and Las Vegas, the price comes out to 7,500 Avios each way or 15k for the roundtrip. Looking at miles on an even playing field, it definitely seems like going out of my way to pay 15k instead of 25k would be worth it.
While I don’t have any British Avios right now, both the Chase UR and the Amex MR flexible points can be instantly transferred over to the program at a 1:1 ratio. British Airways partners with both Alaska and American which both fly the SEA->LAS route, so there should be plenty of options available.
I usually use Alaska’s flight search when finding award availability for Alaska or American because British Airway’s website is a bit clunky, so I decided to do a search for the days I needed. Lucky for me, I found out the current Alaska award sale applies to the SEA->LAS route and the current price is only 15k instead of the usual 25k. That opens up another option for booking!
I found a couple of flights that fit with the timing of the event for the 15k sale price and decided that using 15k of my Alaska miles instead of the Amex MR points would be just fine. The last thing I usually do is compare what I’m paying to the cash price of the flight which comes out to about $240 in this instance. While I prefer to subsidize my travel with miles and points whenever possible, it’s always smart to check out the cash price for comparison. Then I had to decide between 15k AS miles + $11.20 or $240 or a valuation of the miles at just over 1.5 cents each.
Is 1.5 cents per Alaska mile the best redemption in the world? Absolutely not and some people might think I’m crazy for taking it, but I’m a strong believer in earning and burning points rather than waiting for the best possible redemption. As I mentioned in a previous post, my earning and burning sides of the miles/points equation still favor the earning side, so I’m fine taking lower valuations to simply save myself some cash.
Needless to say, I booked the flight for 15k Alaska Miles and $11.20 and then started to look for hotels.
Should I have checked hotels before booking the flight? Maybe, but I know Vegas is full of hotel options and I have a large spread of points to work with.
My primary preference when booking a hotel is location as opposed to the actual quality of the hotel (within reason of course) which means I’ll be looking at hotels close to the Monte Carlo where the event is taking place. One of the things I’ve found with Vegas hotels is that a lot of them don’t belong to the major chains that have credit cards. The main exception to this rule is the Mlife properties which have a very close partnership with Hyatt. This includes many of the big ones like the Bellagio, MGM Grand, the Monte Carlo, and more.
My Hyatt balance is low (only the 5k signup bonus extra plus the 1k spend on the Hyatt card), but the Chase UR balance can be instantly transferred over to top up to whatever I need to book a room. Almost all of the big hotels near the Monte Carlo are Mlife properties and cost 12k-25k Hyatt points per night. As they are all close and I don’t plan on spending much time in the room, I decided to focus on the 12k properties which also happen to have the lowest cash cost. These are the Excalibur and the Luxor which are both very close to the Monte Carlo and will do just fine for my travel purposes.
The Excalibur has the cheaper room rate for November 6th (it was the Luxor last time I booked a Vegas trip) of $144 after taxes and fees. That would make the redemption worth around 1.2 cents per point which is on the lower end of Hyatt/UR points and typically a poor deal because I can book directly through the Chase UR portal and get 1.25 cents per point directly. So what did I do next? Check the Chase UR portal!
Unfortunately, the Chase UR portal for the same nights at the same hotel was quoting ~$175 or ~14k UR points! That makes the Hyatt transfer a better option despite the seemingly low redemption value. That’s when I decided to check the Citi Thank You Point award search to see if they had any better options. I value UR a little higher than TYP based on arbitrary values I’ve seen placed on them online and my own personal view of which transfer partners I see myself using in the future.
Luckily, the Citi TYP search was able to find the Excalibur for the same price that various hotel websites quoted me and the points cost came down to 11,573. Not a major difference, but I’d rather use up TYP at this point than UR so it was an easy decision for me.
Once again, is 1.25 cents per point a great redemption? No, but that’s okay for me. 🙂
All in all, I’m happy with the award redemptions I made even if the value of them is far below what others may expect from their points. At the end of the day, regardless of what value I get out of each individual point it still amazes me that I can book a trip a couple months out for $11 because I spend a couple hours a month signing up for credit cards with big signup bonuses. Not only that, I could book this trip another 10 times over with the miles/points I have lying around!
Anyway, stepping back from booking the travel, what I’m really excited about is the event itself! TravelCon II will be my first miles/points meetup of any kind and I’m excited to finally meet some of my fellow bloggers and points enthusiasts in person. Not to mention all the great tips I’ll probably pick up from the awesome presenters that are lined up to speak. While I think I’ve learned the game pretty fast over the past year, it’d be naive of me to say I don’t have a TON more to learn going forward. Not only that, but the game is always changing and it will be great to hear some new perspectives on all the different aspects involved.
Are any of my readers planning to attend? If so, feel free to come up and introduce yourself at the event. I know I’ll be looking around for some of the bloggers I follow to finally put a face to the name and hopefully strike up an interesting conversation. Cheers!