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Due to pandemic, my family has decided to avoid staying in traditional hotels until we were vaccinated. My husband has several major health issues and takes immunosuppressants, so we have to be extra careful. Up until recently, we have stayed in cabins and vacation rentals with outside access, but avoided indoor areas with elevators and hallways.
So, as of March, I was sitting on ten certificates in various hotel chains, and they all needed to be used up before the end of the year. This isn’t a problem for those who are constantly on the road, but is definitely a challenge for a family like mine.
Nevertheless, thanks to vaccines, I was relatively confident that we would use most, if not all of the certificates. Challenge accepted! Since my husband and I got vaccinated at the end of April, I finally felt comfortable enough to do hotel stays as a couple, with a a family getaway occasionally thrown in, depending on circumstances. This is my progress so far…
What we’ve done since March
I had two Hilton certificates that were valid at most Hilton properties, so naturally, I wanted to burn those first. I’ve decided to use them at Key Largo, and redeem points for the third night. The trip was fabulous and exceeded my expectations. See related post
The rates for our weekend were $1k per night (no joke), so I would never stay at this resort if it wasn’t for hotel certificates. It was a stress-free trip, with no flights or rental cars involved. We simply got in our car and drove for four hours to this gorgeous slice of paradise.
On to my IHG certificates. I had four of them, so a few days ago my husband and I used two for a weekend at a Holiday Inn Sarasota Lido Beach This is a tired hotel in a prime location, so as such, it commands high rates via cash or points. The IHG certificates are only valid for properties that cost 40k points or less, and it was tough to find a date where we could burn the certs. But I did.
We were upgraded to an oceanview room, so that was a definite highlight of our stay. I was also pleasantly surprised that they didn’t charge us any resort fees, which are normally $28 per night.
Unfortunately, there were downsides, and we most likely won’t return. The furniture looked shabby, the mattress had a big dip in it, and the room never got cool at night. There is an individual A/C unit in each room that constantly goes on and off, making it hard to sleep. The room was OK, but definitely lacking in comparison to Hilton resort in Key Largo.
And the cherry on top: our neighbors had a dog who kept barking all morning. So, my husband looks at me and goes: “Do we have to spend the second night here?” No, we do not. So, we stayed at the hotel until 6 PM so we could enjoy the beach, checked out and drove home. Fortunately, we live only 1 hour away.
If I paid $300 per night like other guests, I would be super disappointed. As it stands, we used two $49 certificates that were going to go to waste. Plus, we happened to have nice weather that weekend, and I got to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. How can I complain?
Four certificates down, six more to go.
My tentative plans for the rest of the year
In a few weeks, we are hoping to take the kids to Holiday Inn Club Vacations Orlando-Orange Lake Resort The rentals there are currently going for $270 per night. A few years ago, I wrote a detailed review of this place, and consider it a terrific value for families, especially when using IHG certificates.
My daughter is vaccinated, but my son isn’t. The reason I feel comfortable enough taking him here is because it’s not a hotel in a traditional sense of the word. There are duplexes with outside entrance, and we plan to be outdoors the whole time. We won’t be going to Disney, but will hang out at the resort’s massive waterpark. My cousin-in-law and her family (also mostly vaccinated) will join us. But don’t tell my kids, since it’s a surprise!
My kids will only interact with their cousins, so I feel comfortable enough with this plan. They play with them at our house, so I don’t consider this arrangement any more risky then our everyday life. In fact, it’s actually safer because they will be outdoors the entire time.
As a parent, it’s certainly a challenge to navigate this new normal. I will definitely breathe easier when my son finally gets his vaccine (hopefully in the fall). Until then, we will have to access each individual trip separately, and weigh risk vs. reward. I think it’s important to have a balance and take a nuanced approach when planning family travel. Of course, safety should always come first.
So, after that weekend, I will hopefully be down to only four Hyatt certificates. My in-laws will have an early morning flight out of Tampa in September, so I offered to book them a night at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay It looks like a nice property, and it’s near Tampa airport. On top of it, I will get closer to Hyatt “5-brand free night award” milestone, so it’s a win-win situation.
That will leave me with three Hyatt certificates, and I’m hoping to use them in Chicago for a fall trip with my husband. I’m intrigued by Chicago Athletic Association property, a category 4. The building is over a 100 years old, and the rooms look funky and unique. The cost for our dates is $300 per night.
My husband and I have never been to Chicago, and it’s a relatively easy destination for us, since Southwest flies there nonstop from Sarasota airport. This will be our first flight in over two years. Of course, everything will depend on the way this pandemic develops over the next few months. Even though me and my husband are vaccinated, I will be leery to fly to Chicago if the local hospitals are overwhelmed. Sure, our risk of hospitalization is relatively low, but it’s certainly not zero.
So, if we have to cancel Chicago, we will simply use the certificates locally. Fortunately, since we live in central Florida, there are all kinds of decent Hyatt options just a short drive away. And if for some reason we can’t go, I will simply gift these nights to a friend.
All in all, I’m quite happy to have access to extremely cheap stays via my hotel certificates. Sure, there is a lack of flexibility, and I certainly didn’t plan to have ten of them to use up in such a limited amount of time. But it gives us an excuse to get out of the house, and at this price you can’t be disappointed, even if things aren’t perfect.
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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.
That Chicago hotel looks neat! I have the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Cape Canaveral booked in October with our free certs.
That’s cool, Nancy! I really think you guys will like it. A solid IHG value, whether you use points or certificates.
I’m having the same issue but don’t have as many certificates about half but have 2 timeshares and trying to decide and squeeze in where to go. Because of the demand on DVC points those get wanted out fast! You’re fortunate to live in FL with lots of beach and nice hotel options. My go-to city is Chicago it’s always been nice to do a birthday or holiday stay to use up certificates and treated friends/family.
Oh I wouldn’t be too worried about the hospitals in Chicago there are great hospitals in the city and surrounding areas if needed. They have been very conservative during the pandemic and just went to the next phase recently. The violence should be of more concern, between the looting and pandemic just trying to get back to a good place. Lollapooloza will be out of control this year, I’m sure. But you will be fine and in a central location to sight-seeing where you are planning to stay.
@Boonie Yeah, we are very fortunate to live in Central Florida when it comes to using hotel certificates. Lots of opportunities for a nice weekend getaway without breaking the bank. For all of its issues, Florida isn’t a bad place to live, especially for a beach lover like me.
I’m really hoping my getaway to Chicago will work out as planned. Thanks for your perspective!