This post was written by Nancy, who is a regular contributor. She also runs a blog Savingforadream
My family of five is saving up for our most expensive vacation to date—a Disney Cruise to Alaska in the summer of 2017. Since the cruise itself is so pricey, I’m counting on using miles and points to drastically reduce the price of our flights and pre-cruise hotel stay in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Our plan is to stay three nights in Vancouver before our cruise. Ever since I started researching the city, I knew there was no way I could just fly in and out for the cruise without exploring a little. The city looks amazing! I want to take my family to the top of Grouse Mountain to have breakfast with grizzly bears, walk across the bridges at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and see the sights in Stanley Park.
Even though our trip is over a year away, a few hotel chains are already selling rooms for our trip dates. So it’s time to start looking more seriously at our options.
In a perfect world where money was no object, I would book us two connecting rooms at the Pan Pacific hotel. This hotel is supposed to be the crème de la crème of hotels in Vancouver for Alaska cruises. It is connected to the Canada Place cruise terminal, has fantastic harbor views and the staff brings your luggage to the cruise ship for you. However, the price tag for my family would be about $1200 PER NIGHT. Ouch! I cannot justify the price.
Other hotels in downtown Vancouver near the cruise terminal are expensive as well. And as a family of five, we always face the dilemma of finding a room that comfortably and legally fits all of us. Most hotel chains cater to families of four or less and even state in the room rules that the maximum capacity is four people.
While a few hotels offer rooms that fit five, those are not the rooms available to book on points. I’ve seriously considered having one child sleep on the floor. Families of five or more, don’t tell me that hasn’t crossed your mind!
The points we have to work with include ~40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and ~75,000 SPG points. We also have some AA miles and Amex Membership Rewards points, but I prefer to save those for airline tickets. My husband and I could always apply for new credit cards to help offset our hotel stay (like the IHG cards or the Fairmont cards from Chase), but I’d prefer not to do that so we can save our credit card apps for more valuable cards. I’m also not opposed to renting an apartment on VRBO or Airbnb if it is a good value in a convenient location.
There are several SPG hotels in Vancouver. The most convenient one is the Westin Bayshore. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the cruise terminal (where we could catch a bus to Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park). The rooms have two double beds and no room for rollaways, so we would have to get two rooms. Each room is 10,000 points per night, so we could stay for three nights for 60,000 SPG points. The Westin Grand, located farther away from the cruise terminal, costs the same.
However, SPG has several Category 3 hotels located near the airport that cost less. The Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, Four Points by Sheraton and the Westin Wall Centre each cost 7000 points per room per night, for a total of 42,000 points for two rooms over three nights. The down side to staying at one of these hotels is the distance from downtown Vancouver and the places we want to visit.
We would have a 10-minute walk to the train station plus time on the train and pay $21.50 each day for round-trip SkyTrain tickets on the weekend for my family. The cash price of two rooms at the Westin Wall Centre, with a special family rate of 50% off the second room, is about $1636 USD for three nights. That’s about 3.9 cents per point. The cash price at the Sheraton near the airport is almost identical.
With my 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, it makes the most sense to look at Hyatt for a transfer partner. I could transfer the points to Marriott, but all of Marriott’s hotels in Vancouver start at 35,000 points per night, and we would still need two rooms. IHG is also a transfer partner, but the lowest price I could find on an IHG hotel is 20,000 per night, and we would still need two rooms.
Hyatt has one hotel in Vancouver in a great downtown location near a SkyTrain station and about four blocks from the Canada Place cruise port. It costs 12,000 points per night, or 6000 points + $99 CAD on the Points + Cash rate. I’ve been stalking room availability on points for this hotel for the last year, and I’ve discovered that the Points + Cash rates disappear very quickly for the peak summer months.
And even though the full points rate is supposed to be available any time a standard room is available, this hotel has many rooms not classified as a standard room due to having a balcony or a preferred view. The cash price for two rooms for three nights at this hotel is $2428.57 USD (based on the current conversion rate from CAD to USD). Wowsa!
I wondered if the rate was so high because I was looking out so far ahead, but the rate was almost identical to this summer’s rates. The cost using the Points + Cash rate for two rooms over three nights is a great deal at 36,000 points + $542 USD. That’s a value of 5.2 cents per point.
Other options for us include cheaper hotels further outside the city, or renting an apartment or house from Airbnb or VRBO. I found a suitable rental near the airport for around $400 USD for three nights, but the prices go up the closer we get to the downtown area, and I didn’t find anything super close to the cruise terminal area.
Choices, choices, choices! Spend SPG points for hotels that are farther away and require a 30-minute commute each way to downtown? Or spend fewer points but additional cash for a hotel in the thick of the action? Or save points altogether in lieu of an apartment rental?
For now, I decided to book two rooms at the Hyatt on the Points + Cash rate. It gets higher reviews on Trip Advisor than the SPG hotels, and its location is more convenient for the sightseeing we want to do before our cruise. There are more restaurants nearby, and I feel there will be less “schlepping around” with the kids.
Our vacation will last a total of 10 days, so I figure if I can make part of it easier while still paying a reasonable amount with points, it’s worth it. Even though we still have to pay over $500 out-of-pocket, the price of these rooms is dramatically reduced with the Points + Cash rate. Thankfully, I was able to book two rooms at the Points + Cash rate (but I had to book one under my husband’s Hyatt account since Hyatt won’t let me book two rooms).
If history repeats itself, that rate will disappear shortly and I won’t have the option of booking it later. If I change my mind and decide on a different option, the points will be refunded to our Hyatt accounts.
Readers, have you stayed in Vancouver? Did you find it worthwhile to splurge on a downtown hotel, or did you not mind the commute from a more distant hotel? Any other families of five find a good place in Vancouver?
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Leana is the owner and 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.