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As the 2016 American presidential election edges ever closer, many politically minded travelers are turning their attention to the upcoming national conventions. Today, TPG Contributor Whitney Magnuson examines how to maximize travel redemptions for the upcoming Republican National Convention.
The Republican National Convention will take over the city of Cleveland, Ohio from July 18–21, 2016. With more than 50,000 attendees expected, available flights and hotel space are already at a premium. Below, I’ll look at what options are still open, and how to get the most bang for your points and miles buck.
Cleveland’s main airport is the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), which is serviced by all the major domestic airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.
United offers by far the most direct routes, and also has a good number of saver-level awards still available arriving the Sunday before the Convention begins. Currently, travelers from New York can nab one-way, nonstop flights for just 10,000 United miles in economy, or 25,000 miles in first. D.C.-based politicos can also score a 10,000-mile economy saver award, however, only standard awards are still available in business/first classes. Most other cities show availability, regardless of cabin, only at the standard award level, requiring 25,000 miles for economy or 50,000 miles for first.
Travelers willing to fly in a day earlier — on Saturday, July 16th — can find good availability on American. AA currently shows MileSAAver award availability for that date at 12,500 miles one-way in economy or 25,000 miles for business/first available from a wealth of US cities, including Chicago, D.C., Houston, L.A., Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle. With the current 50,000-mile sign-up offer available from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard after $3,000 in spending in the first three months, a round-trip award is within reach with a single credit card bonus.
While we frequently recommend redeeming British Airways’ Avios for short-distance domestic flights, the airline’s peak vs. off peak award structure means it’s not a good reward option for traveling to major events, which will usually be designated “peak.” An off-peak award flight from New York to Cleveland, for example, would normally cost only 4,500 miles if you book before February 6, 2016. However, at present, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Avios awards on peak dates at the lowest rates.
Delta bases the cost of its award tickets in part on the cash price of the ticket. As such, you’re likely to see dramatic increases in the price of these awards as the Convention gets closer. Currently, however, Delta has good availability from many US cities, with economy awards available for 12,500 miles and business/first awards available for 25,000 miles from Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.
As for the economy carriers, neither Southwest nor JetBlue has yet released its schedule for that far in the future. Spirit Airlines serves Cleveland with daily nonstops out of eight cities. The super-budget carrier’s “Bare Fares” include a minimum of perks, but start as low as $103 on July 17, and $63 on July 16.
Regardless of which carrier you choose, you should book as soon as possible. Prices will only go up and availability down. Once the Cleveland flights begin to disappear, interested attendees should try booking to Akron (about 45 minutes away) or to Toledo or Pittsburgh (both about two hours away).
Where To Stay
If you thought the flight availability was already limited, prepare for a far more dire situation with regard to hotels. According to recent reports, more than 90% of all Cleveland-area hotels were included in the city’s bid to host the Convention — meaning they’re already completely blocked for traveling delegations, politicians and staff. This includes all Cleveland-area Carlson Club, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Starwood properties, not to mention most privately owned hotels in the city.
That being said, this wouldn’t be TPG if we just told you that you were out of luck, so we’ll analyze the remaining options. If you’re dead set on staying downtown within walking distance of the Convention, you’ve got just a couple options left. The 2-star, independently owned University Inn & Suites is located 1.5 miles from the Convention and has a few rooms still available (as of press time) for $420 a night. While you can’t book this hotel through a traditional loyalty program, it’s bookable via bank-affiliated travel portals like Chase Ultimate Rewards. A free night using this method will cost you 37,500 Ultimate Rewards points.
Alternately, Airbnb and HomeAway are both littered with short-term rental options in downtown Cleveland. Prices range from $90 per night for a 1 bed/1 bath condo in the warehouse district to $2,000 a night for a 2-bed, 2-bath loft with included parking. While Airbnb doesn’t offer its own loyalty program, American Express cardholders can redeem Membership Rewards points for Airbnb gift cards to offset the cost of their stay.
Moving into the Cleveland suburbs, Wyndham currently shows six area hotels with rooms available, including the Travelodge Brook Park/Cleveland Airport (20 minutes from the Convention, starting at $79 a night), the Super 8 Beachwood/Cleveland Area (22 minutes from the Convention, starting at $69 a night) and the Super 8 Strongsville (23 minutes from the Convention, starting at an excruciating $799/night).
All of the available Wyndham options also still have “Go Free” availability, where any room in any property runs just 15,000 Wyndham points per night. With the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card offering a bonus of up to 30,000 points after your first purchase and spending $1,000 within the first 90 days, you could easily get two days of your Convention stay for free.
Marriott also has a suburban option. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Cleveland Avon is roughly 25 minutes from Convention HQ, and is available starting at $329 or 15,000 points per night. Considering that Chase Ultimate Reward points transfer 1:1 to Marriott, the 40,000-point bonus currently being offered for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (for spending $4,000 within the first three months of card opening) could get you two free nights at this property — and more based on how many points you earn through spending.
Convention-goers willing to drive an hour to the arena each day will find significantly more options. The Hyatt Place Canton, for example, is located 54 miles south of Cleveland on I-77. Rooms there are available from $164 (no award nights were available as of press time).
Moving farther still to Akron, Ohio, RNC attendees will find availability at the Radisson Hotel Akron/Fairlawn for $399 or 28,000 Club Carlson points per night. Marriott’s Courtyard Akron Fairlawn is available for $325 or 20,000 points per night. Finally, Hilton has one property with availability in Akron: The Homewood Suites by Hilton Akron Fairlawn is all available for $399 or 40,000 points per night.
Still, even these limited options are likely to disappear in the coming weeks and months, so you’ll want to book now if you’re planning on attending.
Luckily, if you’re forced to stay outside of downtown, there are decent public transit options. Rails, buses and trolleys combine to make up the service map of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. Rates range from free (for downtown trolley service) to $3.50 (for an out-of-county one-way trip). A 7-Day Bus/Rapid/BRT/Paratransit pass can get you everywhere you need to go for the entirety of the Convention for $22.50. Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft supplement the mass transit.
And if the political commentary starts to be too much for you at any time during the Convention, those same transit options can also take you to either of the Cleveland area’s biggest tourist attractions: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum in downtown or the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the Democratic National Convention and provide similar guidance to your best options for flights and hotels award redemptions in the fair city of Philadelphia.
Have you ever attended the DNC or RNC? Share your travel experience in the comments below!
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