This past July, we traveled to Washington, D.C. for a 6 day and 5 night trip. It was one of many times to our nation's capitol for my wife Rachel, my first time in D.C., and my daughter Malin's first airplane ride -- she did great, except for the part where we forgot to give her a pacifier during descent and she shrieked for what seemed like forever! The trip was two-fold -- both vacation and send-off -- as Rachel's sister was flying out of D.C. to start a year long Peace Corps stint in Tanzania, and as I mentioned, I had never been to D.C. before.
What a perfect time to visit! The weather was in the mid-80's throughout the week, complemented by a perfectly acceptable breeze. We got to see the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall, peruse the National Gallery of Art, walk along the Potomac River at the National Harbor, and eat our bellies silly.
I initially had us flying into Reagan International Airport (DCA), on Southwest Airlines. This would have cost us 21,150 points, as we would only be paying for one person, due to our SW Companion Pass -- where one person always flies for free. Malin, being under the age of 2, flew for free as a lap-child. However, with SW, there is always a connection... somewhere. When flying with a 3.5 month old, the less time you're not in control of the situation, the better. So instead, I found us 2 direct U.S. Airways tickets for 18,000 miles. AHHHHH, the benefit of points diversification! I am writing this post-travel, otherwise I would've priced out what the actual costs would've been had we paid out-of-pocket. So what I did was search SW and U.S. Airways for the same week in November (16-21), mirroring our trip, leaving on a Monday and returning on Saturday.
- Our Costs: 21,150 points, $22.40 for taxes & fees
- If we had paid in cash, it would've been a minimum of 2 x $195.50 = $391 (and this is the cheapest available flight with current SW sale pricing)
- Benefits: 2 free checked bags/person
- Downside: 3+ hours of combined flight and connection time
- Our Costs: 18,000 points, and $22.40 for taxes & fees
- If we had paid in cash, it would've been a minimum of 2 x $288 = $576 (cheapest available flight)
- Benefits: 1 free checked bag/person (due to status through Barclay Advantage Aviator Cards) and 1 hour 15 minutes of flight time
- Downside: U.S. Airways reliability vs. SW - the 1 hour 15 supposed flight time turned into 3+ hours heading to D.C. due to delayed flights
We didn't necessarily select the flight that would have cost more out-of-pocket, or the flight that would cost less points, it was the direct flight that sold us, especially with an infant. But we definitely got more value (points & time-wise) for flying U.S. Airways over Southwest!
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $22.40
Whenever I plan for any sort of travel, TripAdvisor is my go-to source! When searching for our hotel, I knew that it would either be a Hyatt or Starwood Preferred branded hotel. TripAdvisor is great in that you can select filters by brand, which only makes the search easier! Not only are both brands our preferred hotel chains of choice, but we also have the highest point balances within both their Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Hyatt Gold Passport membership programs. After reading the reviews for several properties, I narrowed it down to two - the Park Hyatt Washington and The Westin Georgetown. The Park Hyatt would have been a luxurious over-the-top property to stay at, but the stay would have cost us 100,000 Gold Passport points! *yikes* The Westin, on the other hand, due to their awesome "5th Night Free" benefit, would only cost 48,000 points. So from a points stand point, it was a no-brainer, I would much prefer to spend that amount of Hyatt points on a property at a much more exotic location -- overseas or by the sea. :) However, it was only when writing this post that I priced out how much each room would have cost if we had paid in cash (I mean, who does that? Use your credit cards for points!), and thereby was able to calculate how much value we got out of our points, had we gone one way or the other. (SPG currently has a 25,000 point credit card offer! click HERE)
The Westin Georgetown*
- Our Cost: Originally 60,000 points (5 x 12,000 points/night), but due to "5th Night Free", came out to 48,000 points (5 x 9,600 points/night)
- Deluxe King Room (5 x $486/night) + Taxes & Fees = $2,428.55
The Park Hyatt Washington
- Our Cost: 100,000 points (5 x 20,000 points/night)
- Deluxe King Room (5 x $559/night) + Taxes & Fees = $3,200.27
So looking at this comparison, we not only used less points, but those points also gave us more value for staying at the Westin than if we had redeemed at the Park Hyatt! Sometimes it is definitely worth looking at how much value and how much of your points stash you are depleting, but other times, when you simply want to stay at the Park Hyatt, who cares?! Right? That's the beauty of having airline miles and points, you have options.
Because I hold both SPG and Hyatt branded credit cards, I have status with both hotel programs. I am Gold Preferred Guest with SPG and Platinum with Hyatt. And because of my status at SPG, we were upgraded to a deluxe room. With Platinum status at Hyatt, I may have been upgraded to a better room, and thus increasing my $/point value, but there is no certainty that that would have happened.
Regardless, we were more than satisfied with our room at The Westin! The staff was super friendly, many of them stopping us in the hallways to say hello to Malin. They also accommodated us very well, first with the upgraded room (which provided us extra space for all things baby), and even bringing up a mini-fridge so that we had a place to keep Malin's formula and bottles. The location was spot-on -- only a 10-15 minute walk to the main part of Georgetown and down to the waterfront. See our TripAdvisor review here.
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $0
We used Uber for our transportation both from DCA to/from The Westin. Georgetown and it's surrounding areas are super walkable, so we only used Uber one other time -- to get from the Lincoln Memorial back to Georgetown, as Malin was getting fussy with the midday heat. (If you've never tried Uber before, why not sign-up and get a free ride up to $20? Click HERE)
DCA -> Westin Georgetown:
- We had some leftover Uber credits, so it was free, but would have cost $9.90
Lincoln Memorial -> Georgetown
Westin Georgetown -> DCA
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $18.22
Rachel and I are self-proclaimed foodies, so as you will see, the bulk of our week's spending came from this category. Of course, if we had bought our own groceries, ate out less, or ate at cheaper/sub-par (to our foodie standards, anyway) establishments, this post could very well have been named "6 Days In Washington D.C. for under $200" or something like that. However, carpe diem and YOLO.
We ate at some pretty tasty joints:
- Farmers Fishers Bakers
- Pret A Manger
- District Taco
- Shake Shack
- Luke's Lobster
- Baked and Wired
- Founding Farmers
Our total food costs for the week came out to $354.33. However, I was using a "4% cash back" card, which means that I have somehow gotten a card that allows me to get 4% cash back on any and all of my spending, not dependent on a category (i.e. - groceries, gas, airfare, dining out, etc.)! So our actual food expenses come out to be $354.33 x 96% = $340.16!
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $340.16
We spent 6 days and 5 nights in Washington, D.C., spending a total out-of-pocket cost -- including airfare, ground transportation, and food -- of $380.78. If we had not had our hotel points, our total out-of-pocket costs would have amounted to $3,210.23! Crazy! That's more than 3.5 months of rent that we could have paid for, in that week alone! See (#chiusdoDC2015) for more pictures!
If you're interested in learning about the "4% cash back" card, how to earn tons of points, maximize your redemptions, and how to travel for free, click HERE!