This trip is by no means random and I've actually done the planning months in advance (a full year actually). Knowing the days I wanted to travel and being flexible with where I wanted to go helped me save a bundle. All in all I'm paying less than $450 for a weekend getaway for 2 (airfare and lodging), earning a bunch of miles and points and discovering a city I've never been to before.
I calculated the amount of airline miles and hotel points I would get after this trip and here's the breakdown
United= 4944 miles x2
British Avios= 750 miles
HHonors= 15475 points
Flight= $119/RT x2
Hotel= $99/night x2
Here's how I did it
First, I need to know when I can travel. I'm only limited to long weekends with my work and school schedule. Before the year even starts I'm already scouring for weekend travel deals.. more importantly the ones that coincide with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
1) Presidents Day- 3rd Monday in Feb
2) Memorial Day- last Monday in May
3) Columbus Day- 2nd Monday in October
4) Veterans Day- 4th Monday in October
Where do I look? I can follow travel blogs and look for advertisements but there's significant delay between when the deal begins and when the deal is published. By the time I find out about the deal it is usually already gone
1) Finding cheap fares on Flyertalk forums- specifically the Mileage Run Deals thread.
These guys on here are professional travelers. They already monitor their favorite routes and find the best bang for the buck. The lingo used most often here is CPM ( cents per mile) or AI (all-in, taxes included). The less you pay per mile, the better the deal you are getting. The trick is not to just get a cheap flight to wherever you need to go but to maximize the miles earned towards your next reward flight or elite status bump. Here is a example on how the forum looks like:
The 3 digit codes they use are Airport codes. The ones I care about is EWR, JFK, LGA or Newark, John F. Kennedy and LaGaurdia airports in NYC. The 2 digit codes they use are referencing airlines, UA/CO= United/Continental, AA= American Airlines, DL= Delta.
On about April of last year, United was running an unpublished fare of $119/RT (2.4CPM) to Portland, OR. I found out first on Flyertalk at 9am and by 11am the same day the deal was gone.
It happened again this past January around 11PM and was done by 4AM.
Timing is essential when these deals pop up. You better have a list of places you want to travel to and dates when you are available so you can pull the trigger (+ur travel buddy!). Time and again I've found killer deals. For instance, I already have a Salt Lake City trip planned for December.. $115 RT!
2) Booking a hotel
There is a little bit of flexibility on when and where to book your hotel. I like to plan out my itineraries before I decide where to stay. These are not just simple lists of where I want to go but detailed day to day, hour by hour itineraries listing where I'm going to eat, where I'm going to play and how I'm going to get there. My hotel is always located near 1) zipcar lot 2) public transportation and 3) close proximity to my points of interests. I'll get more into the transportation later. Once I've found the general location of where I want to stay I then turn to Google Maps.
Google maps is great because of its speed and ease of use. I can click anywhere on the map and "search nearby" for hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. I always build a customized google maps for each trip that corresponds directly to my itinerary. Here's how my Portland Map looks like:
In the case of Portland, I wanted to find a hotel that was in the Free Rail Zone, close to a station that goes to the airport, with a nearby zipcar lot (to drive to Mt Hood). I put a lot of emphasis on public transportation because that's how the locals travel and it is usually the fastest, most economical way of getting around. Had this been in Atlanta, GA or Fort Lauderdale.. all bets would be off and I would just rent the car. I find that the MAX red line is the only train that goes to the airport. Fine, I zoom in closely in the Google Maps to find the Red line route. Clicking on each station and searching nearby for hotels. I write down the ones that interest me and pin them on the map. I do a quick price comparison on the ones that I liked through hotels.com and notice that the prices of the downtown hotels were about 50%-100% more expensive than the hotels in East Portland (which is only a 10 min train ride away).
It came down to the Marriott or the Doubletree in East Portland. Both were closer to the Max rail and under the $100/night budget I set for myself. I could've booked through hotels.com and earned 2 Welcome Reward nights (each night worth about 10% of your paid value or in this case $10/night) but I wanted to earn MORE! I do a quick search for any existing promotions for the two hotel chains through the travel blogs I follow (Frugal Travel Guy, The Point Guy, MilePoint, Boarding Area, to name a few) and found a few stackable Hilton Promos when booked through the Hilton website.
1) Obtaining HHonors Gold VIP status through a Hilton promotion with Visa Infinite cardholders. Hilton doesn't check the credentials when you register so I wasn't afraid to plug in a 6 digit number I found on wikipedia. Check your own cards.. these bank identifier codes are generic and do not differentiate the actual customer. Being Hilton Gold gets me a room on a preferred floor w/ lounge access and free wifi, it also helps me earn an additional 25% on base pts earned on $ paid for stays plus a choice of 1000 bonus pts or complimentary breakfast for two per stay. Yes.
2) HHonors was offering 5000 points if you registered for their Visa Promo and pay with a Visa. Easy.. I was going to pay with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa anyways.
3) HHonors was running a weekend anywhere sale that offered up to 33% off a min 2 night stay at any Hilton property in 2012 with an additional bonus 1000pts per stay. Easy, I was going to stay for the weekend anyways.
4) HHonors was also doing a More points promotion where you earn 1000 pts per night and an additional 5000 pts for the weekend. Yep.. that's another 7000 bonus pts for the weekend.
5) British Airways is also doing a joint promotion with Hilton where you earn Triple Avios points for each $1 spent at Hilton. That's 750 Avios pts for each stay if you choose the fixed mixes option. Sign me up!
So let me do the math for you.
$99/night x 2night= $198
Base Points (10x)= 1980 pts
HHonors Gold Bonus= 495 pts
Visa Promo= 5000 pts
More Points Promo= 7000 pts
Weekend Anywhere Promo= 1000 pts
British Airway Avios Promo= 750 miles.
So for the hotel stay alone I earn= 15475 pts and 750 BA miles. That guys is what you call 7x dipping (8x if you count the CC points). To put things in perspective.. an avg Hilton award stay is 30000 pts worth about $200-300/night. I basically just earned $100-$150 in points for my $200 stay. =)
3) Never rent a car (if you dont have to)
It is much more cost efficient if you take advantage of public transportation. On this trip I was aware that Portland had a robust public transportation system. After I mapped out the things I wanted to do there were only a few restaurants that were inconvenient by mass transit and of course there was the Mt. Hood hike. Renting a car would cost about $80/day + gas + parking. Taking into consideration overnight parking costs and gas, the 2 day rental would cost $160+$50/tank+$50/parking=$260. Ouch. How about the taxi route? Taxi's to/from the airport was going to cost me $35 + tip and take about 25 minutes each way. The daily rail pass was $4/day so that comes out to about $92 for the weekend without considering the cost of cabbing it to the restaurants out of the way.. and the lost opportunity to see Mt. Hood! I decided to choose Public transportation all 3 days. The airport ride takes only 40 minutes.. saving me $30 each way for a 15 min inconvenience. I also added a Zipcar to soothe my eagerness to see Mt. Hood and explore the Lewis and Clark trails. The Zipcar only costs $71/day with gas/insurance included and because it's so close to the hotel I dont even need to worry about over night parking!
Public Transportation + Zipcar= $83
There's more I can get into with dining and making reservations in advance. How to maximize your dines in that city (Did you know every Burger King in Portland is connected to the AAdvantage Dining Network? VIP, in no time!). Get free admission and such. I'll do a follow up post when I get back! Please comment below if you have any questions on what I covered here!
See how my trip went in Part 2 of this Portland Series!