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A Personal Challenge: Texas for (almost) no money

Hamachi tacos and tamales at Distrito aka "research"

This month the boyfriend and I are presenting a joint project at a professional food nerd conference in San Antonio and I thought it would be a fun challenge (okay so I have a questionable definition of “fun”) to see how close to free I could make our five-day trip. I added the stipulation that I should avoid using miles that are most valuable to me, but rather, use leftover miles and points. So I didn’t touch our United MileagePlus accounts and I checked award availability with British Airways’ Avios program obsessively for weeks (until I gave up finding flights that fit our schedules and just dealt with the fact that I will have more Avios points than I know what to do with for a while).

So here’s what the line-up looks like:

1. PHL-SAT on American. I had JUST over 25,000 AAdvantage miles in my account. Our one-way tickets cost a measly 12,500 miles and $5 in fees each and fit our schedules almost perfectly — we’d have to fly to Texas a day before the conference or else the tickets would cost 25,000 miles each on the following day.

2. Since we fly in late, one night at the Courtyard Marriott at the San Antonio Airport (category 2) for 10,000 Marriott Rewards points. I had just over 1,000 Marriott points in my account, so I transferred 9,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (from my Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus) to my Marriott account. The transfer took 2 days to be processed. Although I value UR points highly (which transfer 1:1 to United), I can afford to spare 9,000, especially since our tickets cost so few AA miles.

3. Two nights at the Doubletree San Antonio Downtown at the conference rate of $85 per night. As a HHonors Gold member, I’ll earn a 25% bonus on points and more points because of the More Points promotion. 1,000 bonus points per night plus 5,000 bonus points per weekend stay.

4. One night at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel San Antonio (category 3) using a cash and points award: 2,800 Starpoints and $45, which I think is a pretty damn good deal. I’ll earn 2 Starpoints on the dollar for the $45 spent and parting with just 2,800 Starpoints was not at all painful. Given that I have a Starwood Preferred Guest AmEx, I also have Preferred Plus status, the perk I am most interested in being room upgrades upon availability. Thankfully, the Gunter Hotel is near the Amtrak station in San Antonio.

5. San Antonio to Austin on Amtrak. Two ISIC-discounted tickets¬†(normally $13 each for an adult) for a total of $22.10. The flights out of San Antonio back to Philly were too early / we would have missed part of the conference / none of the award options were that “cheap” but I found the perfect flight out of Austin. Also we’ve never been to Austin and have wanted to check it out, even if it is just for a day.

6. AUS-PHL on American. Chase Ultimate Rewards came to my rescue again. I booked directly through the Ultimate Rewards Travel site (accessible with my Chase Sapphire Preferred) in order to save 20% on points. Since UR points are not airline miles (although you can transfer them to mileage programs to turn them irreversibly into airline miles), I still earn frequent flier miles with points booked through UR as if I was booking with cash. Also there are no blackout dates. Two tickets “cost” $271.20 or rather, 21,696 UR points.

Cash total for two travelers: $247.10

For 4 flights, 2 train tickets and 4 nights in hotels and minimal damage to my mileage accounts, that does not suck.

more research: esquites at Distrito in Philly

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8 Comments on “A Personal Challenge: Texas for (almost) no money”

  1. Liza says:

    Are Avios BA’s term used for miles?

  2. Liza says:

    Also, if you had to recommend one card, would it be the Chase Sapphire?

  3. Yes, Avios is British Airway’s new term for their mileage program (introduced Nov of last year) and yes, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I think the SPG AmEx is great, too, but sooo many places, especially in Philly, don’t take AmEx.

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Kiki! Do you have so many Avios from that BA huge promotion last year?

      • Yup! I had actually used up the bulk of them for a Hong Kong trip (before Executive Club switched over to Avios and changed their award chart) that I ended up canceling. I redeposited the miles into my account and now they’re Avios (there will be another post on redepositing miles soon).

  4. Are your MileagePlus check-ins going through at the airport?

    • Liza says:

      Yes, so far as I know. I have been getting the emails, but I know it takes 6-8 weeks for them to post. Unfortunately I don’t even think I have any miles with Continental (that’s who the program is with, right?), so I’m really starting from nothing, but I’ll take anything for having to do so very little.

  5. Great! Yeah, United/Continental — I find it pretty easy to find promotions to rack up those miles and they’re so easy to redeem.


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