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The Noisy Nerd: Wedding Plans and Perks

The bar at Mi Tierra in San Antonio from the Flying Nerd's recent trip -- only relevant given the love and toastedness in the Noisy Nerd's post.

Although I have always had grand dreams of travel, my wallet has usually prevented me from taking flight. But with my wedding approaching this summer (just like the Neurotic Nerd’s), and a honeymoon to follow, I quickly began researching how to get us where we wanted to go by spending as little money as possible. We have decided on, and paid for, our 7 day cruise to Alaska, which leaves out of Seattle. Because my cousin is a member of RCI, when booking the cruise, we got a voucher for a 7 day stay at any of the resorts in their directory (literally hundreds all over the world)! This means that next year, when we are planning our next vacation, we will not have to pay anything for the lodging.

Getting back to the cruise, though. We booked the cruise on our regular credit card (Citibank Thank You card) which earns us Thank You points. These points we use throughout the year to buy the clothes, shoes and other items we desire but usually can’t afford on a grad school income. Because the cruise leaves from Seattle, though, we decided we would extend the honeymoon with a 4 night stay in Seattle before the cruise embarks. The hotel where we are getting married is a member of the Marriott branch of hotels, so upon placing a deposit for the big day, we racked up 100,000 bonus points as a perk. The Waterfront Marriott Hotel in Seattle, however, charges 30,000 points a night. Knowing we needed at least 20,000 more points, I signed up for the Marriott Rewards Premier card, and we automatically earned 50,000 points after our first purchase (a dinner at a nice restaurant) which earned us double points as well. We added about 52,000 points to our already existing 100,000, which now means we will stay in Seattle at a category 6 hotel (the highest level) for free!

Getting to and from Seattle from NJ (where the wedding is) was also looking like it would be pretty pricey so I began to think of ways to earn and cash in miles. Over the 2011 holiday season, I knew we would be traveling to both NJ and CO from Chicago to visit both sets of families for our first Christmas as an engaged couple with both of them. I saw the opportunity to earn some miles, and I also had $400 worth of Continental vouchers gifted to me that I had to use before the end of 2011. So I looked into opening a Continental credit card, which gave 50,000 bonus miles after the first use (Flying Nerd note: this is now the United Explorer card, with different terms. I got this card back in August and this past week, Chase has automatically switched it to United, due to the United-Continental merger). We booked the holiday travel on these cards, and with the bonus miles, we have been able to pay for almost all of the flights to and from Seattle with miles. Only 1 one way ticket back, totaling around $300, will be left to us to pay. Seattle, here we come!

Only cashing in 120,000 of the 150,000 Marriott points also means that we still have enough for a one night stay somewhere else along the way, which could prove useful for the bachelor/bachelorette parties or for one of our upcoming nerdy conferences. The Marriott Rewards card also includes a voucher for a free night at any category 1-4 hotel good for up to 6 months after opening the account. Oh, the possibilities!

Because we have also reached the age where many of our friends are also getting married, planning is required to attend these festivities without going broke or showing up looking like grad students. One of my dear friends will be getting married in October in Georgia, so as soon as she gave me details about the hotel options, I began searching for ways to reduce the costs of travel and/or lodging. I discovered the Priority Club Rewards Card, which gave me 30,000 bonus points after the first use. However, having miscalculated the number of points necessary for staying at the hotel for 2 nights, I soon realized we would need 60,000 points. Before the panic set in, I went back to the web. I found another link for the same card, but this time, with a 60,000 point offer. I got my fiance to sign on up, and after using it one time, for a small purchase, we will now be staying at the hotel for free, and I still have 30,000 on my card as well. This leaves us with the cost of getting to Atlanta, but hopefully, we will find a good deal on Southwest, for which we will most certainly earn reward points.

As we look forward to toasting and being toasted, we can do so with some ease knowing that we are saving money and being savvy little graduate students with big dreams.

~The Noisy Nerd

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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