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: More Bang For Your Buck

blog 5.3.12
(Yes, I am reusing this doodle since it’s fairly appropriate.)

Sure, sure, this isn’t a travel blog, it’s a relationship/marriage/humor/pet hijinks blog. However, one of the things Lance and I love to do is travel; it’s a core element of our relationship.  We’re also extreme-coupon’ers-in-training, so when it comes to travel, I will search high and low for the best deal, the biggest bonus points offer, etcetera, etcetera.

Since Lance and I have a few trips planned on the horizon, I’d been looking for good deals on hotels for Hawaii and Southern California, our next two destinations.  The goal of this game I play is to get the nicest product for the cheapest price.  At this point in my life, I’m not looking at Days Inns or Holiday Inn Expresses if I can avoid it; my target hotels are Hyatt, Hilton, and, sometimes, Marriott (which tend to be a little older fashioned, decor-wise, than what I like, but they have nice amenities).

Marriott has a pretty solid Best Rate Guarantee, which will match any lower price you find from a third-party website plus an additional 25% off.  I had successful matches at the Courtyard Marriott Kauai at Coconut Beach (bringing a nightly rate of $179 down to $86 a night) and the Anaheim Marriott down the street from Disneyland (original rate: $139/night; updated rate: $72.15/night).

Four nights in Hawaii for under $400 after taxes and four nights in Anaheim for under $350 after taxes, both at pretty decent hotels, are some good deals, right?

Wait; it gets better (™, Dan Savage).

Marriott is currently running three different promotions (one with United Airlines, one with Amtrak, and one with Southwest Airlines, though I’ve only utilized the latter two). on their own gift cards.  You know how these things work: around the holidays, Ruby Tuesday will offer to give you a $10 coupon if you buy $50 worth of Ruby Bucks (or whatever they’re called).  This is something similar.

Marriott’s promotion with Amtrak will get you a 10% bonus on any gift card purchase over $25 using promotion code AMT (more detailed information about this promotion can be found at LoyaltyLobby).  I purchased $310 worth of Marriott gift cards for our trip to Anaheim, and got a $31 bonus, which covers the cost of our stay.  This bring our effective out-of-pocket cost for four nights from $340 down (again, for a room that originally cost $556 before taxes) to $310.

LoyaltyLobby also featured another Marriott gift card deal:  with gift card amount over a certain dollar amount, you’d get bonus Southwest Airlines points, called “Rapid Rewards.”  As I’m pretty close to the amount I need to redeem for a flight to Orlando on Southwest, I took advantage of this deal to pay for our hotel in Hawaii.  I already had some Marriott gift cards from another promotion, so I only needed $250 worth, and was able to get 3000 bonus Southwest Rapid Rewards.  Granted, I could’ve opted to use the above promotion to save myself about $25, but I figured since the 3000 Rapid Rewards will get my Southwest account up to where I can redeem for an airline ticket (which would probably cost $125+ out of pocket otherwise), I figured it was worth it.

I hope y’all who like to travel out there can take advantage of these deals. The gift cards don’t expire, so if you see yourself staying at a Marriott family hotel (Courtyards, Fairfield Inns, Residence Inn, etc.), it might be worth stocking up on some of these if you’ve got the cash lying around.

Then you just need to be careful not to lose them!