Travel Tuesday: Hawai’i On The Cheap

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We weren’t even supposed to go on vacation this year.  We were supposed to “be good,” save up some money, find enjoyment in everyday things instead of dashing off to Florida or Chicago or, well, Hawai’i.

But, when Lance employs his puppy dog eyes and dimples…well, how could you deny him a vacation?

Still, we had to find to a way to take a vacation cheap.  I’d been slowly building up my reservoir of American Airlines frequent flier miles to redeem for a trip to Europe, but since we’d redeemed our last bulk of miles for a trip to Japan (my choice), I (somewhat begrudgingly) decided to bequeath my miles to Lance, and that’s how we’re flying to Hawaii for free.*

[*plus $5.00 per person transaction fee.]

The Flight(s)

There are lots of ways to build up your frequent flier miles balances, the easiest being signing up for an airline-branded credit card, but this kind of behavior makes me nervous because of the pings to your credit score and trying to manage that many extra cards (my brain just doesn’t work that way.)  Still, one card sign up will probably net you enough sign-up bonus miles to get you to Hawai’i.  Easy peasy macaroni cheesy.

Still, that game makes me a little uncomfortable, so I play a longer one (think Monopoly instead of Connect Four).  There are a lot of little, free ways to collect miles, usually through online promotions or through online survey sites like e-Rewards.  You can also keep up to date with the latest promotions via some useful blogs like Mommy Points, View from the Wing, and One Mile at a Time.  By using e-Rewards, earning miles for hotel stays and car rentals (for both work and personal travel)  and cashing out my hotel loyalty program points for airline miles, I was able to slowly grow my frequent flier mile balance to just what we needed for two roundtrip, off-peak tickets from Philadelphia to Honolulu (35,000 miles each.)

Later, when we decided to split our Hawai’i time between O’ahu and Kaua’i, I redeemed another 5,000 miles a person for one way tickets and had to pay $90 each for a ticket back to O’ahu since there weren’t any award seats available for the day we wanted to travel.

So now we’re at $190, for two roundtrip flights from the mainland to Hawai’i and two roundtrip inter-island flights.

The Hotels

The trouble when we booked our frequent flier mile trip from Philadelphia to Honolulu is that the frequent flyer award availability was limited; there were no flights that allowed us to stay for seven nights, so we’d either have to stay for four or five, or stay for ten or longer.

Of course, since this is Lance and Hawai’i is his ultimate favorite place, we chose to stay for ten.

This then posed a significant challenge to our “budget” trip to Hawai’i.  Waikiki is not cheap, especially when you want to stay in a decent hotel (Waikiki is chock full of crummy, old, run down hotels that can charge an arm and a leg because it’s Waikiki).

Since I got a Hyatt-branded credit card last year (for the no-international service charge), I’ve been accumulating Hyatt points which can be redeemed at one of the two Hyatt properties in Waikiki.  Our “target” hotel was the Hyatt Place Waikiki, since it’s newer and requires fewer points per night to redeem.  Over the past year, through various bonus points promotions (spend $6000 on your card and get an extra 6000 points) and basically putting all of my expenses on the card (and, of course, paying them off immediately), we were able to get three nights for free.

Via the Hyatt Best Rate Guarantee, where Hyatt will match a lower price from a third-party website and give you another 20% off, I was able to get the rest of our nights at the Hyatt Place Waikiki for $437.61 after tax for three paid nights.  I use hotel search aggregator sites like Room77, Kayak, HotelsCombined or Trivago to search for the lowest rates; these search sites pull rates from dozens of other booking websites, including Expedia, Priceline, and others.

Once we knew we were going to Kaua’i, I booked four nights at the Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach, part of the Marriott family of hotels.  Marriott also has a Best Rate Guarantee, so I was able to get our four nights on Kaua’i down to $374.00 after tax.

Our hotel costs for ten nights, then, end up being $811.61, or about $81 a night, a steal on Hawai’i.

The Total

Between the flights and the hotels, we’re just over a thousand bucks for the two of us: $1001.61.  That’s cheaper than the per person cost of our first trip to Hawaii back in 2010, when we only stayed for seven nights and only visited one island.

Granted, this total isn’t including rental cars or food, and we’ll need a little bit of both.  And it doesn’t truly represent how free your trip to Hawaii could be, if you saved your hotel points up longer or played the game a little more intensely to rack up points faster.  But to get a flight and hotel to Hawaii for around $500 a person is a pretty good deal in my book.

 

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Travel Tuesday: I’ve Lost My Mind

travel on the mind“Honey?”

“Yes, my darling?”

“Do we need a two-day rental car for any reason?” I ask. “I can get it for $5 total, but I’m not sure if we’d actually need it any time soon…”

“Oh, brother,” Lance sighs with an air of defeat.

This is my life lately.  While I’ve been otherwise lazy as shit (no, really…that’s about as apt a simile as I can come up with), I’ll keep myself up at night, my brain doing (probably really poor) arithmetic, calculating percentages off, points transferred, miles gained.

2013 was supposed to be our “good” year.  Be frugal, save some money, pay down some debt, line the coffers and such.  Of course, a huge expense of ours last year was traveling, so when Lance and I sat down to trim our expenses, that was the first to go.  No more spontaneous overnights to Disney World ::sadface::

This also meant no “major” traveling.  We like to do at least a weeklong vacation somewhere–Vegas (ugh), Hawaii, Tokyo.  As I’ve discussed before, we alternate who picks these annual vacations because there’s no way we could ever agree to one place.  2013 was Lance’s year to pick, but by agreeing to punt his vacation into 2014, Lance became frustrated and mighty sad.

Only a few weeks into this new status quo, and it was already driving me nuts.  Though this is the first-worldiest of problems, I couldn’t imagine going a whole year without a vacation.  In fact, I may love piecing together the elements of a vacay more than actually going on vacation.  I love getting the best hotel deal, getting the cheapest flight, arranging an itinerary.

So…I looked at our frequent flyer accounts through American Airlines.  Though neither of us are super-fans of AA (we’ll get to the Cookie Incident another time), we accumulated a nice chunk of miles through our first two trips to Hawaii by flying American, so we are kinda stuck with them.

We were both somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 miles; too little to redeem for a roundtrip to Europe (what I’d been saving the miles for), but just enough for a roundtrip to Hawaii.  Instead of spending $800+ each on plane tickets, we’d pay $5 a piece for taxes and fees.

I heroically offered up the miles I alone had amassed so that Lance could take his vacation.  Please, no applause.

The only problem was the dates available to book flights either allowed too short of a vacation, or one that was 10+ days.  I wasn’t going to spend 11 hours on a plane to only go to Hawaii for four days, but the 10-day vacation scared me.  Hotels in Hawaii ain’t cheap, and eating in Hawaii is like going out to eat all the time in a big city: we’re used to those kind of prices, but doing it for 10 solid days adds up quickly.

But, the thought of going for double-digit days appealed to Lance. “Let’s do it!” he proclaimed, forgetting our whole “financially responsible” charge.

So, we booked the flight; now we needed a hotel.  A nice one.  And a cheap one.

We’d previously stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Beach, and loved it, but it was going for over $200 a night; the goal of this trip was to save money, not spend $2000 on a hotel room.

So I began looking elsewhere.  Thankfully, around the corner from the Hilton is a brand-new Hyatt Place, which was going for $169-$212 a night.

In this case, Hyatt is preferable to me for two reasons:

  1. They offer a better best rate guarantee than Hilton does, where, if you find a cheaper rate elsewhere, Hyatt’ll not only match it but take 20% off.
  2. I have a Hyatt credit card, which I got primarily for the “no international fees” feature, but it also allows me to rack up Hyatt hotel points to redeem for free nights.  Plus, I get a free night dumped into my account on my cardholder anniversary, which will be in July (and we go to Hawaii in August.)

So now I’m in the process of coming up with every possible scenario for using our free nights and paying for nights.  I already have one night booked with points, and I estimate I can earn enough points via my credit card before we go to redeem for a second free night (this only requires, like, $12,000 spent on my card. You know, whatever).  So there’s the scenario for one free night and nine paid nights, two free nights and eight paid nights, etc.

I’m hoping to get it down to where we’re only paying for seven nights out of the ten; I’ve already used Hyatt’s Best Rate Guarantee to bring the hotel cost down to $120 a night (from $169-212  a night).  This required me scouring the internet for a cheaper advertised rate, and then calling up Hyatt and trying to convince them that all the terms and conditions are exactly the same (really, they try to find the tiniest discrepancy so that your “claim” isn’t valid).

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent calling Hyatt trying to get them to match rates; oftentimes, if they find a minuscule difference, I hang up and shout, “It is TOO valid, you sonofabitch!!” and shake my fist in the air all dramatic-like. And then I cry.

But it’s worth it.  I love doing this stuff, and it makes going on vacation financially feasible where it wasn’t otherwise.  Instead of spending $1700+ a person on a flight-hotel package deal through American, we’re aiming to spend about $450 a person on paid nights.

So that’s basically what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts.