A Florida Trip on the Cheap Thanks to Miles and Points

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My wife and I recently returned from a quick, 4-night jaunt to Palm Beach.

This was my second time staying in that area, and my wife’s first. Overall, we really enjoyed the location and would definitely consider returning in the future.

Why did we make Palm Beach our destination? The availability of award flights with decent departure/arrival times and hotel award availability at hotels that met our desires, of course.

Here’s a quick breakdown of our travel costs in points/miles and what it would have cost should we have paid cash.

Hotels 

Hyatt

Our first two nights were spent inland at the Hyatt Place West Palm Beach/Downtown.

  • Nightly rates were running approximately $300.
  • Award nights were 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night.
  • We spent 24,000 Gold Passport points for the two-night stay and saved roughly $600.

Hilton

On our final two nights, we made our way oceanside for some long awaited beach time at the Hilton Singer Island Oceanfront/Palm Beaches Resort.

  • Nightly rates for a standard room with taxes and fees were in the neighborhood of $250.
  • Award nights were 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
  • We spent 120,000 Hilton Honors points for the two-night stay and saved roughly $500.

An added bonus came from my wife’s Hilton top tier Diamond status, which gave us a free upgrade to an oceanfront room. We also benefited from free breakfast buffets each morning for both of us thanks to her Diamond status – a $40 per day savings.

Best of all, her Diamond status came as a result of a status match of her Hyatt Platinum status last year.

Occasionally, hotels will match status levels of other hotel brands in an attempt to win over your loyalty. Which is what Hilton did for a brief period last year.

How did my wife earn her Hyatt Platinum status that ultimately translated to Hilton Diamond and free breakfasts and oceanfront upgrades for us? By simply being a holder of the Hyatt credit card.

Ahhh, the benefits that come from credit cards when you know how to play the game.

Airfare

We split our flights between Southwest and Delta solely for me – as an aviation geek – to use our American Express Platinum credit card’s free Delta airport lounge access benefit prior to canceling the card.

We returned through Atlanta, and being a Delta Airlines hub, it houses a number of very nice Delta lounges, one of which boasts an outdoor seating area where people like me can enjoy the comings and goings of all types of aircraft.

If you’re not an aviation buff, this is likely meaningless to you. To me, however, it was a big deal, and a perk I had been looking forward to for a while.

Southwest

We flew Southwest Airlines to West Palm Beach.

  • Southwest’s airfare was about $170 each for the one-way fare.
  • Award tickets priced at roughly 9,500 Southwest Rapid Rewards points each for the one-way flight.
  • We spent approximately 19,000 Southwest points – and $11.20 in government-imposed September 11th Security Fees – for our flight to Florida and saved $340.

Delta

We flew Delta Airlines back home via Atlanta.

  • Delta’s airfare was priced at $140 per person for the one-way fare.
  • Delta award pricing for the specific flights we selected was 17,500 miles per person.
  • We spent 35,000 Delta SkyMiles – plus the associated government fees – so I could experience the Delta lounge skydeck and saved $280.

Not only did we get free drinks and food during our time in the Delta lounge, but I got this wonderful view to boot.

For me, it was well worth the extended Atlanta layover. For my wife, probably not so much, but she’s a good sport.

Car

After checking Expedia, Costco and the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel site (which can only be accessed if you hold an Ultimate Rewards points earning credit card) I found the best rental car rate through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

For a rate of $116, we got a full-sized car for the duration of our trip.

A nice benefit of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is you can pay with cash (credit card), Ultimate Rewards points, or a combination of the two.

For this trip, we decided to pay for the rental solely with points.

So, for approximately 9,000 Ultimate Rewards points, we saved $116 on our car rental.

Total Trip Savings

Adding up the cash cost of the hotel rooms, airfares and rental car expenses for this trip, we saved a total of $1,836.

What’s not included in that amount is the added costs/savings associated with the upgraded oceanfront room, free breakfasts, airport lounge club access fees, etc.

Which, when considered, would definitely boost that amount well over the $2,000 mark.

All thanks to the Miles and Points hobby.

A Few Travel Thoughts/Experiences from This Trip

Hilton does not charge resort fees on award stays. While I knew Hyatt didn’t charge resort fees on award stays, I wasn’t sure about Hilton. These fees can easily add $25 or more per night to your hotel costs. I was glad to find Hilton – like Hyatt – waives these ridiculous fees for nights on which points are used to pay.


On our return flight, I took the window seat on an MD-88 while my wife sat in the middle. Simply getting into the seat was an exercise worthy of the best contortionists. And once settled, my one shoulder was firmly pressed against the aircraft’s interior wall, my other shoulder encroached into my wife’s space while my knees were solidly planted against the seatback in front of me. Ugh. Now, I’m not overly claustrophobic, but I did have to take a few deep breaths to prepare myself for the next hour and a half, scrunched into this tiny space.

It was this experience that reinforced why I play the Miles and Points game.

While I can withstand the cramped quarters of a typical passenger plane for a limited time – some aircraft/airline interior configurations are better than others, making longer flights more tolerable – the thought of enduring such limited personal space for more than 5 hours at a time is simply not appealing.

But with Miles and Points, business or first class seats, with their significantly greater leg room and seating area, are within reach for those flights that will keep you seated for 8, 12 or even 15 hours straight. Making what would have been an experience somewhat akin to torture, a much more pleasant, and dare I say, enjoyable, event.

I completed this trip with a renewed vigor for accumulating Miles to ensure I’d never have to endure such a cramped experience on future long-haul flights.


And, as a final thought, many high-level Miles and Points practitioners may scoff at some of this trip’s miles/points redemptions. They’d likely say I did not even come close to receiving maximum value for the points I redeemed.

To which I’d likely agree. Using Ultimate Rewards points to offset the $116 car rental charge was not the best use of UR points.

But, for me, at the time, it was.

Which is where I differ somewhat from many in the Miles and Points community.

Yes, the absolute best value for using airline miles is for long-haul, international flights in business or first class.

And Ultimate Rewards points achieve the best value when transferred to airline partners to book those aforementioned award flights, or to hotel partners to book hotel rooms that otherwise would cost $500 or more per night.

But, there are times when a simple, quick trip to the beach is what you really need.

And if Miles and Points can make that happen in an economical way, then that is truly the best use of your hard-earned airline miles and hotel points.

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