The past week has had several days that are dark, gray and rainy at my house. So, it’s the perfect time to think about our upcoming Spring Break beach trip!
Traveling over Spring Break is a relatively new thing for my family. We used to mostly stay home during that week and travel during the off-season. But, since my oldest started middle school, we have had to adjust our vacation schedules.
Last year, we went on a short, local trip over Spring Break. We had decent weather during our trip, but it rained the rest of the week. The kids and I were bored, stuck inside all day.
I decided that very same week that next year would be different. I was determined to get us to sunnier skies for Spring Break, using miles and points! Of course, I had to spend as little as possible out-of-pocket because we are still saving for our big summer trip to Alaska.
Hotel Part 1
Normally, I plan a trip by first securing flights with miles, followed by the hotel reservation. However, for Spring Break I did the opposite. The exact location on the beach was my priority, and then we could (hopefully) use Southwest points to get us there.
My first thought was to use Ultimate Rewards points/Hyatt points to stay for a few days at Hyatt Place Daytona Beach. My family of five stayed there back in July 2015, and my kids are still asking to return! The sand and the waves are perfect at Daytona Beach.
But as I was planning this trip in my head, the SPG Amex card came out with a higher 35k points bonus. I had no intention of signing up for this offer, but Leana convinced me to get it. Both my husband and I applied and got approved for the cards.
I was skeptical of this card as first, but it won me over quickly. My husband got the 35k bonus and referred me to apply, giving him another 5k points. We could turn that 40k points into 50k airline miles (since SPG has a transfer bonus when you convert to airline miles). Or, we could use those points for a hotel stay in the SPG brand.
As I perused SPG hotels located on or near a beach, the Sheraton Sand Key caught my eye. It’s located just across a bridge from Clearwater Beach and right next to Sand Key Park. The hotel has a pool and is right on a white sandy beach.
Rooms fit five people with a rollaway and cost 10k SPG points per night. However, if we book 4 nights on points, we get the 5th night free. So, five nights cost 40k points. Perfect!
The cost of a room at this hotel during Spring Break season is high at over $300 a night. With taxes, five nights on cash would have cost us almost $1700. We would not have taken this trip if we would have had to pay that in cash.
Hotel Part 2
Originally, we planned to just fly into Tampa, stay five nights at the Sheraton Sand Key, and fly back home. However, over the past year I have developed an affinity for Hyatt resorts. And, there just happened to be a Hyatt resort a few hours away from Tampa that I had been dying to visit.
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point is located near Fort Myers. It has a pool complex with a lazy river and water slides. In addition, it has its own private island beach accessible by boat. Leana has stayed here a few times, and the resort gets great reviews.
I have tried to put together a trip to this resort, but the price of airline tickets and lack of award availability have prevented me from making it happen. Not this time! Since we would be just a few hours away, we decided to drive from Sand Key to Fort Myers and stay for two nights at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point.
This resort costs 15,000 Hyatt points per night, but the cash price with taxes is almost $1000 for a two-night stay. I had some Hyatt points available from previous stays, and I converted some Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to have 30k points for two nights.
Hyatt is revamping its loyalty program in March, changing from Hyatt Gold Passport to World of Hyatt. Under this new system, I will have Explorist status, which will give me four free lounge passes per year. I won’t get the passes until March 1, which is just days before our trip. However, if space is still available, I hope to have access to the club lounge for this two-night stay. Lounge access gives us free breakfast, drinks and light appetizers every day. Can’t beat that!
I can’t wait to stay at this resort! We may even utilize the Camp Hyatt kids club one night for a date. Woohoo!
Getting flights with airline miles was trickier than I anticipated during this high-season of Spring Break. I had some leftover Southwest Rapid Rewards points from a credit sign-up two years ago, so I secured flights from Dallas to Tampa. The cost was 8029 points per person + $5.60 tax, so 40,145 points + $28. I had hoped the price would go down before our trip so that I could get some points refunded, but so far it has only gone up.
For our flights home, we could either fly back from Ft. Myers or drive back to Tampa. The drive will probably take us around 3 hours with a stop, and I’d rather not add that on top of a 2 ½ hour flight. Since the prices were comparable, we decided to book flights back from Ft. Myers.
In this case, using Southwest points was more expensive than using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book flights on American Airlines. Through my husband’s Chase Sapphire Reserve card points, we booked AA flights for 12,206 points per person or 61,030 total. By using the UR portal, we booked tickets based on the cost of the flights, and we didn’t have to search for award availability or pay extra taxes on top of the points.
Crunching the numbers
The cash price for our trip would have been $1314.50 for flights plus ~$2700 for 7 nights of hotels on the beach during Spring Break, for a total of $4014.50. However, we spent a total of 171,175 hotel and airline points + $28 out-of-pocket for taxes. Not too shabby!
In reality, our trip will cost us more than $28 out-of-pocket. We have the cost of a rental car, meals, excursions, pet sitting and airport transportation at home (since we are flying in and out of two different Dallas airports). Still, using miles and points saved us almost $4000. And if we didn’t have the miles and points to cover our airfare and hotels, we just wouldn’t be taking this trip.
To save money, I plan on bringing along some food for breakfast that we can easily have in our room, especially for our stay at Sheraton Sand Key where we won’t have access to free breakfast. We also plan on saving money on entertainment by just enjoying the beach and pools! We may do one or two excursions, but that’s it.
Cards to make a trip like this happen
We used the bonus (back when the offer was 35k points last year) from Starwood Preferred Guest American Express in order to stay in Sheraton Sand Key. Currently, the bonus is 25k points, annual fee is waived. Business version of the Starwood card has complimentary Sheraton Club access which will save you money on food.
Not enough points for your desired length of stay? You can also transfer Marriott points to SPG at a 3:1 ratio. The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa (personal version is subject to 5/24 rule) currently offers an 80k points bonus after spending $3000 in the first three months, with an additional 7500 points for adding an authorized user. The card has an $85 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. Read about both cards here.
If you are interested in staying at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, your best card choices are: Chase Sapphire Reserve (apply in branch in order to get 100K points if you are under 5/24), Chase Ink Business Preferred or Chase Sapphire Preferred. These offers are subject to 5/24 rule. You can use Ultimate Rewards points from the sign-up bonus to transfer to Hyatt program on 1:1 basis.
For flights, Southwest Airlines is the easiest and cheapest option on points from many cities. Chase has two Southwest Rapid Rewards cards that currently have 50k bonus points after spending $2000 in the first three months (and a business version that offers 60K points). The Plus version of the card (pays us commission) has a $69 annual fee, and the Premier version has a $99 annual fee. You can use Leana’s personal referral link if you want to apply for the latter.
Florida or bust!
I’m very excited for this Spring Break beach trip. Since we are staying in traditional hotel rooms instead of a condo or suite, I just hope that we can keep the squabbling to a minimum! Also, I just realized that this will be our first trip to Florida that we don’t do anything Disney-related at all. How will we survive?!?!
Are you earning/saving points for a Spring Break beach trip? What is your strategy?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.