I apologize in advance, this is a long post, so get a snack ready. Since it’s the beginning of the year, I think it’s only appropriate to share my tentative travel plans and how this hobby helped us turn them into reality. The point of this post is not to brag but rather show what an average Joe can accomplish with just a little bit of planning (OK, maybe more than a little).
If you just found this blog, let me state my mission, so to speak. My target audience is a regular family for whom Not going to Maldives is Not a deal-breaker, but who believe that with considerable effort it’s something they can pull off. Of course, I hope that singles and childless couples can benefit from my posts as well. But at its core, this blog is about my family’s (at times) dysfunctional journey through the maze of miles and points. I hope you join me on this glorious ride! Without further ado:
1) January (few weeks from now)
Going to Holiday Inn Express Lantana for two nights. This hotel was on PointBreaks list (costs 5,000 points per night) and as I predicted, was gone within two days. Is it correlation and not causation? We’ll never know. I burned a bunch of points for some relatives who will be joining us there. They have six in the family, so I redeemed points for two rooms. One of the Trip Advisor reviews said this hotel is “relaxful.” Is it a new word the cool kids are using these days?
How you can get IHG points: participate in various promos like “Accelerate” and “Priceless surprises.” I’m thinking about doing some mattress runs because my husband’s offer is quite lucrative. The goal is to acquire IHG points for 0.25-0.35 cents each. I know for a fact that I’ll get at least that much value out of them at redemption time. If you have planned hotel stays, it could be worth it to swap them in order to hit a promotion (read my post on how I decide when to pay cash and when to use points).
You may also consider getting Chase IHG MasterCard. Right now, the bonus is down to 60,000 points but many, including my relatives, were able to get it matched to 80,000 points. Read about this card and other hotel sign-up bonuses here
My parents’ visit to US. I wrote about my award airfare booking woes not too long ago. Funny thing is, I ended up getting that $157 refund from United after all, so I lost nothing in the end.
We will be staying in Radisson Melbourne Oceanfront for five days. The cost is 44,000 points per night, but I got it while BOGO was still alive. Some nights were booked via free e-certificates given out by US Bank as a gesture of goodwill once Club Carlson unceremoniously shafted them by gutting the program. After selling them a bunch of points, of course.
Ways you can get Club Carlson points: Don’t! I’m kidding. While I don’t consider these points particularly valuable, there are sweet spots, like Category 1 and 2. Burning 44,000 points on Radisson Melbourne in high season and during holidays could also be a good deal. This is a nice place for a big family. You can redeem points for their regular suite (fits four) and pay around $35 per day extra to upgrade to one with bunk beds that fits six. Watch for various promos and consider getting US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature.
We will also be spending 3 nights in Clearwater Beach, Fl. in Wyndham Garden Clearwater Originally, we were supposed to stay at a beachfront property in Fort Myers. However, due to change in schedule, my parents are now flying out from Tampa airport, which is located 30 minutes away from Clearwater. The cost is 15,000 points per night, and there is a resort fee of $25 per room.
Ways you can get Wyndham points: Wyndham Signature Visa. You might want to hold off applying for now since the bonus is reduced to 30,000 points. It has been as high as 45,000 points in the past, and I actually got 60,000 points deposited, for whatever reason. There is a working zombie link for 45,000 points according to Lazytravelers.net, though it may be dead by the time you read this post.
Cruise to Alaska!!! This is a big one in terms of cost. I wrote about it in detail, so won’t repeat myself.
We’ll be spending 2 nights at Hyatt Regency Clearwater. It’s a beachfront resort with lots of amenities for kids. The rates at this hotel hover around $400 per night, less during hurricane season. I’m using 2 free nights I got via signing up for Chase Hyatt Signature Visa. Hopefully, we will get upgraded to a suite due to my husband’s Diamond status (which he received via match).
Spending two nights in Holiday Inn Resort Cape Canaveral. The cost is 35,000 points per night. My cousin-in-law and her family are coming as well. I wrote about my struggles to get two rooms at this place. Well, we were able to do it after checking it on a regular basis. It looks like for some unknown reason, they released two award rooms during that particular weekend. Jen, don’t cancel! This could be our only chance to stay here together.
My in-laws plan to take the kids on a 3-night Bahamas cruise. I don’t know the dates yet, but this will be an anniversary trip with my husband. Since we’ll have three nights, I told him I really wanted us to fly somewhere (Montreal maybe?) He wasn’t so keen on the idea and we got in a huge fight. I said all kinds of mean things and even called him an eeyore at one point. Look, I don’t hide the fact that I can be a jerk at times. If I come across as high-maintenance drama queen in my posts, that’s because I am one IRL.
Ironically, my husband was the one who felt bad afterwards and said I could plan anything I wanted and he would come along (and be happy). Well, that made me feel like dirt. I asked him how he puts up with me. His response: “I like feisty women. You are sassy, and that makes life interesting.” That’s a “glass half full” way of looking at it which is… the opposite of eeyore.
A note to single male hobbyists: If you like “feisty,” go East. As in Eastern Europe. You can even save time and order your bride online, plus use your credit card to collect points. Winning! Sure, the upfront cost will be substantial, but think how much you’ll save by not spending money on dates, flowers etc. Think of it as “pajama” bride. “Pajama” points is the latest cool hobby term referring to easy rewards you can earn from the comfort of your own home. You like, you like?
I plan to make a 4-night “cash+points” redemption at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs. Why? Because it’s eligible for a guaranteed suite upgrade we got due to my husband’s Diamond status. I’ll have a separate post on it later.
Originally, I planned to take my mom to Puerto Rico, but she said she would rather relax in Florida after a long flight. Fair enough. This resort has several pools, a slide and a boat that can take you to a private island with a nice beach. My cousin-in-law went there with her family and loved it.
The cost: 30,000 Hyatt points+$400 total, or 7,500+$100 per night. The points will be transferred from Ultimate Rewards program 1:1, received from sign-up bonus on Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Ways to get UR points: sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus. Terrific bonuses if you can actually get approved.
Something, anything over winter school break. My kids started going nuts from boredom over the last two weeks. I tried to take them to the park etc, but next year, I’m hoping to have staycation somewhere in Florida. I’m thinking this Fort Pierce West Holiday Inn Express will fit the bill:
See how huge this suite looks on the photo? It’s a Holiday Inn Express, which means mediocre breakfast is included. A nice beach is only 10 minutes away, and 15,000 points seems like a bargain, to be honest.
And it’s a wrap! Of course, none of it is written in stone but last year, I pretty much stuck to my original outline. As you can see, most of my plans involve local getaways at the beach. And when you live in Florida, why would you need to fly elsewhere? My kids sure don’t have a problem with local beaches and neither do my parents. Read my post on some family-friendly Florida beachfront hotels that can be a good deal on points.
Alaska cruise will cost us a considerable amount of money, so I have to keep the expenses down when it comes to other trips. I plan to do some 1-night local getaways with my husband as well, covered with points. I wrote about it a few times and highly recommend you leave your kids behind now and again. It’s totally worth it even if you have to pay someone to watch them. Trust me.
Also, you can see that we have a hodgepodge of various hotel currencies represented: Hyatt, IHG, Club Carlson and Wyndham. I am a cheater when it comes to brand loyalty and proud of it. I will admit that Hyatt status did sway me towards a stay in their Bonita Springs resort, but I was already thinking about it anyway. I made no other changes and don’t plan to. While complimentary breakfast and suite upgrades are nice, I would rather burn the points I already have rather than dip into valuable UR stash. Plus, as you can see with that HIE property in Fort Pierce, you can have your (mediocre) cake and eat it too.
The other day, my daughter said this to me: “Mom, I know we are not rich. But it sure feels like it sometimes. Here I got my bunkbed and we have all these amazing trips coming up!” Bingo.
Readers, please, share your plans! I would love to know where you are going.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.