My wife's birthday is coming up on the 19th of this month. Back in June, she texted me one day yelling (yes, through the phone) something to the effect of, "Van Morrison is going to be NYC! Can we go can we go can we go? Ok, I know we can't afford it, but I wish we could!" She is a huge Van Morrison fan, and seeing him live, in concert, would be a monumental check off of her bucket list!
I'm the kind of guy who likes to make big gestures. I think we had only been dating for 3 months, when I bought her plane tickets to NYC so that she could have a weekend reunion with her college best friends. Birthdays are also a big deal, and I particularly wanted her to feel special and loved, so I set about planning an early surprise birthday weekend for her!
Van Morrison Tickets
I first had to secure some tickets. While NYC would still be a nice visit even without the concert, being able to get us into the concert was my top priority. I found some upper bowl seats, at the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, for $90 a piece. But being the cheap-ass that I am, I proposed my birthday-surprise-weekend-trip to my brother and sister and asked if they would chip in to help minimize my out-of-pocket costs. They obliged, haha. The cost breakdown is as follows:
- Tickets: 2 x $90 + $26.52 Service Fee = $206.52
- Brother & Sister chipping in: 2 x $50 = $100
Out-Of-Pocket Costs: $106.52
We are still riding that Southwest Companion Pass train! Our pass will expire at the end of this December, so we are trying our best to maximize it as best as possible. So this WAS supposed to be a birthday surprise, but I blew it. My wife allows me access into her email (yes, we have that kind of relationship), and I was doing a good job (or so I thought) monitoring to make sure none of the flight info arrived and/or sat in her inbox for her to see. I made sure that all flight confirmations were sent to my email, but the one email I overlooked, was that one automatic email that states "You've redeemed some of your Southwest Points!". UGH. She saw that, La Guardia/same time as Van Morrison concert... and the surprise was blown. :( OH well, she was still super ecstatic that her husband is so unbelievably AWESUM. The cost breakdown is as follows:
- Our Costs: 19,944 points, $22.40 for taxes & fees
- If we had paid in cash, it would've been a minimum of 2 x $338.45 = $676.90
- Benefits: BOGO, and 3/4 of the flights weren't completely full, allowing us to have more room to ourselves.
- Downside: No direct itinerary, thereby requiring a connection into ATL, with a 2 hour layover. Even though we left at 7am from GSP, we didn't arrive to our hotel until ~3:30pm. UGH, half of our Saturday - GONE.
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $22.40
When you go to New York, you want to be in a central location, and you want some nice digs, you know what I'm sayin'? The Park Hyatt, was the choice that immediately jumped out to me. A Park Hyatt hotel, which is the Hyatt group's highest category of hotels, obviously has the most expensive award night redemptions. A night at any category 7 hotel will cost you 30,000 points/night. I had some trouble finding availability for our weekend, so I my second choice was the Andaz 5th Avenue, which is a category 6 hotel, costing 25,000 points/night. However, I was diligent in checking on the website, and even at times calling for availability, when whaa-lah! One day the availability magically appeared! Right after I booked it, it immediately went away. So thankful I snagged it!
I currently don't have top-tiered status with Hyatt and am only a Platinum member due to holding the Chase Hyatt card. There was a matching promotion earlier in the year that matched you to top-tiered Diamond, but I was just a step too late. As a Diamond member, you have a better chance of getting an upgraded room, but also breakfast -- either room-service or down at the restaurant -- is comped. The room upgrade would have been gravy, but the main thing I wanted was the breakfast. Recently, I've been meeting and getting to know some awesome people through the internet and various travel communities. Two kind individuals, Brandon and Justin, were willing to help me out. Hyatt has this "Guest of Honor" program, where a Diamond member is able to book a room for someone they designate as GOH, and this GOH would have all the usual Diamond member perks even if they are not Diamond themselves. However, I didn't want to risk canceling my reservation, transferring points to one of these guys, in hopes of them being able to book me as their GOH, but then the Park Hyatt no longer having award space availability.
Justin was also kind enough to call in on my behalf and inquire how to still get Diamond benefits without going the GOH route. We found out that not only does the Diamond member need to be on the reservation, but they needed to be physically present during check-in! Good thing Brandon resides in New York, so he went out of his way to come check us in and make sure we received those benefits! We definitely got breakfast, but then we got upgraded to a Park Suite King as well! Hooray for friends! The cost breakdown is as follows:
Park Hyatt New York
Park King Room
- Our Cost: 60,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points
- If we had paid cash, for this original award night room, it would have been: 2 x $1,075 = $2,150 + taxes/fees = $2,474.12!
Park Suite King Room
- If we had paid cash, for this upgraded room, it would have been: 2 x $1,525 = $3050 + taxes/fees = $3506.88!
The suite was MAGICAL. I will be writing a review on our Park Hyatt NY experience and with more pictures, soon!
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $0
Having heard that recent traffic out of La Guardia has gotten worse, secondary to construction, I asked Brandon for recommendations on the best way to get into the city. He suggested the M60 bus, which is a special bus line that services from LGA directly into the city and drops you off right in front of a subway station. The great thing is, the bus ride costs $2.75, and you can connect directly onto the subway without any extra costs! He told us to get off at the 116th Street subway, near Frederick Douglas Blvd., but we got off waaaay early, and ended up walking the rest of the way. Whoops. In the rain too! But we finally got on the express A train going downtown to 59th St. - Columbus Circle station, where Brandon met us and walked us to the hotel! Talk about service! :P
For all of our other transportation needs around the city, we either hooved it on foot, or used Uber. I had a bunch of Uber credits saved up especially for this trip, and they came in handy as the wifey brought footwear that ended up not being conducive to walking! We did, however, end up taking the subway to Queens for the Van Morrison concert. Lastly, we parked our car at the GSP airport for $5/day. The cost breakdown is as follows:
- NY MTA - $17
- Uber - $11.95 (would have paid total of $74.48 if not for credits)
- Airport parking - $15
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $43.95
As always, food was our greatest expense. We got Chick-Fil-A on our layover in ATL. We ordered food via UberEATS when we arrived into the city, as we had not eaten anything since ATL. I timed it just right, as the food arrived but 10 minutes after we checked into our room! That first night, we also met up with Brandon for ramen at Ippudo and gelato for dessert. Sunday morning was room service breakfast, and then we got Laduree to bring home to the babe, got a couple slices of pizza, then ordered more UberEats prior to leaving for the concert. The cost breakdown is as follows:
- Chick-Fil-A - $14.54
- Ippudo Ramen - $88
- Grom Gelato - $13
- Room Service Breakfast - ($126)
- Pizza Park - $12
- Ladurée - $57
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $184.54
What We Did
This was mostly a weekend of downtime for us -- time to ourselves and each other -- especially since we were without our little girl! My brother flew in on Thursday, and graciously watched her while we were gone. First trip without her was both a little anxiety-inducing, but it was good for us to have time to focus on one another.
Although the weather wasn't the greatest (it rained both days), we made the most of it! We walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral Saturday night, took a bathroom break in Saks Fifth, and had dinner with Brandon. Sunday morning was a lazy one, where we ordered room service, lazed around in bed, and we didn't get out of the hotel room until about 1:30pm. We went to Ladurée, walked around the Upper East End, got pizza, and explored Central Park a bit. The Van Morrison concert was at 7:30pm, so we got back to the hotel around 4:30ish, soaked in the jacuzzi tub, ordered and ate our food, then set out for the concert! We had set our expectations low for the concert, as online reviews had been mostly poor, stating that he didn't really sing his "hits", but we were pleasantly surprised! The ones I knew were, "Someone Like You" & "Brown Eyed Girl". The unfortunate thing was that though the weather had cleared, it was windy and about 50 degrees! We definitely did not come prepared!
We spent 3 days and 2 nights in New York City, spending a total out-of-pocket cost -- including airfare, hotel, ground transportation, and food -- of $357.41! If we had not had our airline/hotel points and travel credits, our total out-of-pocket costs would have amounted to $4,681.32! Dang! New York is expensive!
We were marveling on how big our suite was, and the wifey said, "This room is bigger than most Manhattan studio bedrooms!" So true! If not for these miles and points, we wouldn't have been able to have such an enjoyable, babe-free, time together!
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