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A Last-Minute Trip to the Stanley Cup — Reader Success Story

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Danielle, who has been taking advantage of rewards and credit card benefits while traveling the world for the past year. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader John, who booked a last-minute trip to see his favorite team play for the Stanley Cup. Here’s what he had to say:

On a few hours’ notice, John was able to book an award flight to Pittsburgh and a room at the Marriott City Center.

I’ve been using points and miles to travel for years, and I’ve generally aimed at aspirational awards like first-class international flights. However, thanks to the information I’ve picked up from TPG, I was able to score some last-minute economy deals to watch my team play in an historic game.

After my San Jose Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals to play the Pittsburgh Penguins, I started thinking about making the trip from San Francisco to Pittsburgh for the first two games. By necessity, I had to book with little time to spare, and flights were more than $800 round-trip. However, I remembered posts you had written about planning travel at the last minute, and I struck gold.

Using my United MileagePlus miles (earned from work travel and other bonuses), I was able to find saver level inventory less than three hours before departure. I spent just 25,000 miles and $11.20, and I wasn’t even charged a close-in booking fee — I called to make my reservation (to make sure it went through smoothly), and the ticketing agent simply didn’t add it on. With an estimated flight price of $872, I got a redemption value of around 3.4 cents per mile!

Hotel rates near the arena had spiked 30%-50%, but my points came to the rescue once again. I used 120,000 Marriott Rewards points to book three nights at the Marriott City Center, which was going for $250 per night. That’s just under TPG’s valuation of 0.7 cents per point, but I took to heart your advice that the goal is to spend points and not simply accumulate them. After all, a point or mile that never gets used is worth nothing. I’m sure I can earn those points again in the future, especially with the increased sign-up bonuses from the Chase Marriott cards.

With my flight and hotel booked, and with my game tickets purchased (on my Amex Platinum Card for the protection benefits), my nerves were settled. The whole trip went smoothly — thanks in part to my TSA PreCheck, which came courtesy of my Platinum card. I was able to enjoy the first two Stanley Cup Finals games my Sharks have played in team history, and even though they lost, it was an unforgettable experience!

Without using rewards, the flight and hotel costs would have been a hard pill to swallow. The money I saved on travel allowed me to take the plunge and feel okay about spending on the game, where I was able to get seats up against the glass! Your advice definitely helped make this trip possible, so thanks for doing what you do!

Award travel tends to be easier when you plan in advance, but since airfare often skyrockets close to departure, you can also get incredible value by redeeming points and miles late in the game. I’ve booked some great awards less than a week out — sometimes by choice (like on Lufthansa’s 747-8 first class to Europe), and sometimes by necessity (like during a family emergency). Waiting until the last minute is a bit of a gamble, but sometimes it really pays off.

It certainly did for John, as it’s rare to get such a high redemption value on a domestic economy flight. However, he touched on another important lesson, which is that maximizing is about more than just your award redemption value. Perhaps John could have used his Marriott points more efficiently on a cents-per-point basis, but booking his hotel in Pittsburgh helped make his Stanley Cup experience possible. Whether you’re taking a dream vacation or redeeming miles to help a friend, the best way to use your rewards is the way that makes you (and those around you) happy!

John put the money saved on travel toward great seats at the Stanley Cup Finals (where he snapped this photo).

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank John for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course), and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). You’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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