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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 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!
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Steve, who used points to keep costs down during a recent trip to Florida. Here’s what he had to say:
My success story deviates a bit from the norm: instead of tropical getaways, this one is about domestic travel for a special event. A few months ago, a friend asked if I wanted to go to Wrestlemania in Orlando. Normally, I wouldn’t jump at the chance, but it seemed like one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so I figured, why not? If I’m going somewhere, I’d like it to be a bit interesting, and this seemed pretty wacky. Plus, I’d get to visit Epcot, which is a personal favorite of mine.
The question was whether we could make it work within our budget. WWE sells travel packages (including hotel and tickets to the events) starting at $1,200 per person for four nights, That’s a fair bit of money, so I wanted to see if I could save by using points on budget options rather than luxury ones, and in the process give us the financial flexibility to visit some theme parks.
Southwest and JetBlue both fly to Orlando pretty affordably from my home base of Austin. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio, I ended up booking a round-trip flight to Orlando for about 9,500 points. This felt like a fantastic value, considering the flight was only about 2 hours, and I had some Southwest free drink tickets to use up anyway!
We booked a four-night stay at the Four Points by Sheraton on International Drive for 12,000 Starpoints, which I had accrued by using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It’s a budget hotel so I wasn’t expecting much, but after an issue with my reservation at check-in, we were upgraded to a suite on the top floor with nice views of Orlando. The incredibly nice and apologetic manager also kindly gave me 2,000 Starpoints as an apology for the confusion.
We used Uber to get around, and since I was in the middle of a Starwood stay, I earned 2 points for every dollar we spent on those rides. That added up to a nice SPG kickback on top of the manager’s goodwill gesture and the 250 points I received as a welcome gift.
While the event tickets and Epcot passes had to be paid in cash, the costs for this four-day vacation were pretty low overall. In the end, the trip ran me $350, 9,500 Ultimate Rewards points, and a net cost of about 9,750 Starpoints. While it’s awesome to save up for big vacations, this trip was a good reminder that you can stretch your points pretty far if you redeem them intelligently on less expensive trips.
Also, in case you were wondering, Wrestlemania was pretty fun too!
Hotel points offer great value at high-end properties like the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, but you can also get a solid return at the other end of the award chart. Rooms at the Four Points in Orlando start at $107 per night, so Steve redeemed for over 3.5 cents per point — even higher if you factor in the generous rebate he received from the manager. Check out Nick Ewen’s series on valuable lower-tier properties for more suggestions.
Steve also got a great deal on his flight by booking with Southwest. The Rapid Rewards program prices awards based on the going cash rate rather than a fixed chart. That means when fares are low, you’ll pay much less than the 25,000 points/miles other programs charge for round-trip domestic awards at the saver level. If Southwest doesn’t serve your destination, you can also take advantage of low fares by booking directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Steve 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, 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). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, 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!
Featured image courtesy of Arrangements-Photography via Getty Images.
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