In general, I try to stick to content that is more of a “teach a man to fish…” variety. However, I think sometimes it’s helpful to present a real-life example of what’s possible via miles and points. To be clear, if you are relatively new to this hobby, these are probably NOT the offers you should chase after. Still, everyone has different goals and preferences, hence this write-up.
In order to pull off the trip highlighted below, I assume that you are able to apply for two credit cards: Marriott Rewards Premier Visa (pays us commission) and Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa (application link, pays no commission). If you have Marriott Card, you can refer someone and get 20,000 bonus points.
Important note! Marriott card is subject to 5/24 rule. You can instead apply for business version of the card (application link, pays no commission) which is not currently subject to 5/24 restriction. Also, be aware that the bonus on personal Marriott card has been as high as 100k points in the past, though the annual fee of $85 wasn’t waived. You can also apply for Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express card, though it doesn’t come with “free” night certificate upon renewal.
Important details on personal Marriott card:
- Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $85.
- Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 hotel every year after your account anniversary date.
Important details on Club Carlson card:
- Earn 50,000 points after first purchase.
- Earn additional 35,000 points after spending $2,500 in 90 days.
- Annual fee is $75, not waived.
- Get 40,000 renewal points each year.
Order of applications:
Apply for Marriott card first in order to be eligible for renewal certificate next February. After meeting minimum spending requirements, apply for Club Carlson card.
You are a family of four who are fine with less than glamorous lodging options. You are also OK with sharing one room with two queen-size beds. You want to travel along the East coast of USA, starting in Florida and finishing in Niagara Falls. You will fly to Orlando in 2019, rent a car one-way, and fly home from Buffalo.
If you live in Florida or Buffalo area and have a lot of time on your hands, you can simply drive your own vehicle. This trip is best done in early summer, when Florida weather is still relatively pleasant.
Map is provided courtesy of Mapquest
1) Spend two nights in Sheraton Lake Buena Vista resort
The cost is 3,000 SPG points on weekends, 4,000 on weekdays. Marriott points transfer to SPG on 3:1 basis, so we will need 21,000 Marriott points if starting the trip on Saturday, 24,000 points otherwise. Visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom (or not).
2) Spend two nights in Courtyard St. Augustine I-95
It’s a category 5 hotel, so it costs 25,000 points per night. You will use 25,000 points from the bonus and will have to wait for renewal certificate to book the second night. I strongly recommend you tour St. Augustine while you are visiting Florida.
At the end of the day, drive to St. Augustine beach and let the kids play in the sand. Heads up! Courtyard St. Augustine Beach hotel will become a Category 6 on March 6th. Book now while it’s still a Category 5.
On the way to Savannah, swing by Jekyll island (GA) and spend few hours touring fancy mansions.
Weather in Jekyll island was a bit cold in October of 2014
3) Spend two nights in Country Inn and Suites Savannah Gateway
It costs 15,000 Club Carlson points per night, a total of 30,000 points.
4) Spend two nights in Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Washington, D.C. East – Capitol Heights, MD
The property runs at 15,000 Club Carlson points per night, so total cost is 30,000 points. The hotel is located 10 miles from downtown DC.
5) Spend two nights in Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Newark Airport
The cost is 28,000 Club Carlson points, a bit steep. You will have to use Cash+Points rate for the second night or renew Club Carlson credit card and pay $75. Use this hotel as a base to visit NYC by taking Uber or some form of public transportation. We did something similar recently.
6) Spend two nights in Four Points by Sheraton , Niagara Falls (NY)
Note: Originally I was planning to recommend Four Points By Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview Unfortunately, that hotel will become Cat.4 on March 6th.
This property will be Cat. 2 as of March 6th, so it will cost 3,000 SPG points on weekends, 4,000 on weekdays. You will use between 18,000 and 24,000 Marriott points, depending on the day of the week. I love Niagara Falls and feel that every American family should visit this natural wonder at some point
93,000 Club Carlson points if using Cash+Points rate for second night in Newark.
73,000 Marriott points if none of the stays in Orlando and Niagara Falls fall on the weekend. You can add a third night at either destination by buying some SPG points.
Approximately $245 (annual fee on Club Carlson card, renewal fee on Marriott card, and cash portion for second night in Newark)
Using conservative estimate of $100 per night, we have a value of $1,200. Not a bad return on just two credit cards, eh?
Important caveats to consider:
Properties I’ve highlighted may change categories without notice. This happens quite frequently in hotel points world. I did take upcoming Club Carlson, Marriott and SPG changes into account when outlining my strategy, but it doesn’t mean that the program won’t sneak in another adjustment here and there. When dealing with hotel points, I recommend you always have a Plan B and C in mind.
If you follow the above suggestions, your trip won’t be free. However, paying $245 (possibly less) is one heck of a deal for a 12-night road trip vacation, wouldn’t you agree? And I didn’t even take points earned on minimum spending into consideration.
Readers, what would you change in my advice?
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.