How We Booked Five Nights, Flights, and a Premium Car Rental for Under $300

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Credit card rewards and benefits can enhance the way you travel, providing travel experiences and opportunities you otherwise may not be able to afford. With the right combination of cards, it's easy to save a significant amount of money on travel, plus you can enjoy luxury perks and benefits typically reserved for elite status holders.

In this post, we're pulling apart a recent trip I took with my wife and kids over the busy New Years' holiday period, paid for almost entirely with points, miles, and travel credits. The outlay for our core travel expenses totaled less than $300, included flights for a family of four to Tampa, five nights at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach, and a premium car rental. The retail value of these expenses was substantial, but our out-of-pocket cost was just $296.

Five Nights at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach

We visit Clearwater Beach two to three times a year but never stay in hotels. We typically rent an Airbnb, earning 3X Ultimate Rewards points when booking with the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Clearwater Beach at Sunset
Clearwater Beach, Florida

However, we were trying to keep our out-of-pocket expenses low, so we chose to book the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa on points rather than pay cash for an Airbnb. Listed as a Category 6 property, the stay wasn't cheap at 25,000 points per night for a standard 2 Queen room. That's 125,000 points for a five-night stay.

Not a great value at first glance
Not a great value at first glance

We chose Hyatt as it's a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards. Unlike Marriott, Hyatt doesn't charge resort fees when booking on points; however, other fees may apply. In this case, the Hyatt Regency Clearwater charges $25+ tax daily for self-parking or $29+ tax for valet.

Cash Rate Hyatt Regency Clearwater Resort and Spa
Cash Rate Hyatt Regency Clearwater Resort and Spa

Suite Upgrade Courtesy of Hyatt Guest Of Honor Booking (More Perks and Benefits)

While I hold Hyatt Explorist status thanks to status matches detailed in our Ultimate Status Match Guide to Atlantic City, I had an ace up my sleeve. Many of my friends are top-tier Globalist Elites with Hyatt.

One of the interesting perks of Globalist Elite Status includes the ability to place a Guest Of Honor (GOH) booking on behalf of friends or family. Globalist benefits then apply to the guest for the duration of the stay. Perks and benefits include suite upgrades (if available), free parking, and free breakfasts.

A friend and a fellow Award Travel 101 community member was generous enough to book a GOH reservation on my behalf, which secured us an upgrade to a 2 Queen Suite Partial Gulf View. This provided us an extra 300ft2 of space, an additional bathroom, and a balcony complete with views out to the Gulf to sit and enjoy the sunset.

It's worth noting that GOH reservations need to be booked with points from the Globalist member's account. While Chase only allows you to transfer points to your own accounts and those belonging to members of your household, Hyatt lets you combine points with other members. (We've covered the rules for combining points here.) To pull off the GOH booking, I transferred Ultimate Rewards to my own Hyatt account, and then I authorized Hyatt to move them to my friend's account by filling out this form.

The view from our Hyatt Regency Clearwater Suite
The view from our Hyatt Regency Clearwater Suite

While we would not have paid to upgrade, we enjoyed a complimentary move that would have cost an additional $1,554 after tax ($275+tax per night).

Globalist Benefits Include Free Breakfast & Parking

Not only that, but our parking and breakfasts were comped too! And breakfast at the resort was pretty expensive. Charges for adults ran $22.95 per person, while children 12 & under were charged $1 per year of age.

Hyatt Regency Clearwater breakfast buffet
Hyatt Regency Clearwater breakfast buffet

Our daily breakfast charges amounted to $84.58 with tax and tip. When combined with the $155.15 in valet parking fees, we received almost $600 additional value using Globalist perks and benefits. Adding up all of the Globalist benefits, we received $2,132 in added value. If you appraise those services at their cash value, 125,000 points provided $3,892 in return. This raises the value of our points to just over 3¢ each. With very low out-of-pocket costs, we were able to enjoy the New Year's holiday on one of the highest-ranked beaches in the U.S.

Another benefit of staying at the property is you have access to free beach towels from the little hut across the street. While the city of Clearwater charges for chairs and cabanas, you can bill those fees back to your room. This could help you earn 6X Hyatt points if you hold the The World Of Hyatt Credit Card. Watch out for your wallet though, the cost of a beach umbrella is steep in Florida!

Flights for Four to Tampa

Read any of the comments on budget Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs), and you'll find plenty of disdain. This isn't an area where complimentary perks and benefits abound. Domestic LCCs include Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit. I'm not here to say that they are always great. In fact, the irony of this trip is that it would not have been possible without the travel vouchers awarded following two previous canceled LLC flights. Another point, our return flight for this trip was actually in jeopardy, and we didn't arrive home until 4 am after all delays. However, in certain situations, LCCs can be a reasonable choice if you are:

  • Short on points
  • Want/need a non-stop flight
  • Aren't on a strict schedule
  • Looking for the cheapest fare possible

Basic Policies for Low-Cost Carriers

Passengers should educate themselves about LCCs because knowledge of how they work can help alleviate many of the problems. Credit card perks and benefits can also help improve the quality of the situation. Here are a few things you should know in advance:

  1. Purchasing a ticket is just that. When you buy a ticket on an LCC, there are no seat assignments. Seat assignments cost extra.
  2. Baggage is not included. Checked and carry-on luggage are extras you need to purchase. Some carriers will provide preferential boarding when you are buying carry-on.
  3. Have a backup plan if you are on a strict schedule. Cancellations aren't uncommon, and they can derail a trip. While not ideal, purchasing your ticket with a credit card featuring travel protection benefits can help you get reimbursed for non-weather related cancellations.

Take Advantage of Compensation From Flight Delays and Cancellations

Our first flight cancellation (Frontier Airlines) was in June 2018 at the beginning of a two week Florida vacation. We re-booked on Delta and received compensation 45 days later. Other benefits included $800 of complimentary Frontier vouchers.

Forty-eight hours before our re-booked November departure, we received notice that there was an equipment swap—which means the airline is changing the aircraft operating your flight. They swapped out a 240 passenger Airbus A321 for one carrying 176 passengers (Airbus A320), but they had sold 195 tickets. Now they needed to off-load 19 passengers. We accepted an offer of our original $800 refunded, plus an additional $1,600 in Frontier vouchers, to be ‘bumped' off our flight and rescheduled our vacation rental.

Vouchers on Frontier are only good for 90 days, and we already had our trips booked through the summer of 2019. With a politely worded email, I was able to get the vouchers extended for another 12 months. That gave us through January 2020 to make use of them. Due to future travel plans already extending through Summer 2020, we had to fit the trip into the Christmas/Winter break. Of course, peak pricing travel!

Booking Flights for Four on Frontier

Believe it or not, this was the least expensive flight for the dates that worked for our schedule. Our travel dates were 12/30/2019 – 01/04/2020.

Cheapest flight was $1,156
The cheapest flight was $1,156

Unlike some other airline vouchers, Frontier's are one and done. We had (4) $400 vouchers, so I wasn't going to leave money on the table. I've long used part of my American Express® Gold Card $100 airline fee credit to cover the Discount Den membership fee of $59.99. That saved us $65 for these flights. However, we still wanted seat selection and baggage, so we opted for the fully refundable bundle.

$712 for seat selection and baggage
$712 for seat selection and baggage
$1,868 all-in!
$1,868 all-in!

If we had $1,600 in vouchers, you might be wondering how we only spent $12.80 for airfare. Given the loss of Priority Pass restaurant benefits from Amex, we'd recently signed up for the Sapphire Reserve. We still had $255.20 remaining from the $300 Travel Credit, so we used that to bring our total out-of-pocket expenses down.

Chase Sapphire Reserve fee credit
Chase Sapphire Reserve fee credit

Autoslash and Credit Card Perks and Benefits

We recently shared a guide to booking car rentals with AutoSlash. Our trip was booked on little more than a month's notice because we wanted to take advantage of the flight vouchers. However, due to the peak holiday pricing, many of the avenues I would ordinarily pursue were displaying rental car prices starting at almost $100 per day with taxes and fees. As regular travelers to the area, I'm typically accustomed to paying $175-200 per week for a Premium rental. However, the least expensive standard rental was coming up $468.

Premium Rental
Premium Rental

After a quick search with Autoslash, we had a Premium vehicle for $283 through Thrifty! That was an easy $185 savings!

Fee Credits

Many people ask, “Is it really worth paying such high annual credit card fees?” The answer depends on how you'll use them. My wife picked up the Sapphire Reserve in September last year, and she added me as an authorized user (AU). That means we pay $625 annually for that card because the fee is $550, and each additional AU is another $75.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Annual Fee$550
Welcome Bonus Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Chase's flagship Ultimate Rewards card. You get a $300 travel credit, airport lounge access courtesy of a Priority Pass membership and industry-leading travel insurance benefits. New cardholders earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit
  • 3X points on dining at restaurants
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

However, the ability to save on meals using the Priority Pass restaurant benefits has saved us a lot. Since each AU is eligible for their own Priority Pass card, we were able to purchase $28 per person (X4), which meant we could order some items to go! This saved us $112 on this trip alone. In addition to the Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit, we've also received over $320 in Priority Pass restaurant benefits since September.

Some Credit Card Perks and Benefits include a Priority Pass Membership
Some Credit Card Perks and Benefits include a Priority Pass Membership

While this wasn't free (you still have to tip), I'd say we received a decent value. Some might argue that many of these items are overpriced. I certainly would not have spent $112 for breakfast, but we still received a much higher value than the $30 tip we left. That wasn't the only credit I had either. We purchased $31 worth of snacks using up the remainder of my $100 incidental fee credits from the Amex Gold.

These were all items that saved us time until we could make a run to the grocery store. Yes, we used the kitchen!

Final Thoughts

While everyone values many of these benefits differently, we still were able to do something that we ordinarily would not have done. This was all due to travel award perks and benefits. Since we'd kept the trip expenses so low, we treated ourselves to a few things we usually wouldn't. We ordered food and beverages by the pool. Another evening, we didn't feel like leaving and ordered room service.

Under $215 per day
Under $215 per day

There are people out there who can afford to spend thousands of dollars per day on traveling/vacations. I'm not one of them, and you don't have to be either. Maximizing the benefits available to you right now can make trips like this possible because no one wants to pay full-price! Would you have done it differently?

AwardWallet Tip of The Day
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Comments

  • Very interesting all the way. I just remain in doubt, why use a Priority Pass entry in a restaurant instead of using it to enter a VIP lounge?

  • Transfers and partners are where I keep getting lost when I read real-life example posts like this. I’m assuming you have to have signed up or have some kind of membership with the partner company you want to transfer the points to? So do you pretty much have an account with just about every flight/hotel carrier? Or do you acquire the memberships as you go?

  • Lots of hoops to jump thru but by doing them you did save a lot. The traditional trade-off of time versus money. Plus having to accept the realities of LCC.

  • Diego Guigou says:

    Gran artículo. Lleva más tiempo planificar un viaje así para poder coordinar los canjes, tener justo las tarjetas de crédito de la promociones pero se puede.
    Nosotros hicimos un viaje a Brasil con mi esposa y 2 hijos y solo gastamos el costo del canje de millas de AA. Sacamos luego el hotel y el auto con millas volar de itau.

  • Great value if it makes sense for you

  • Great breakdown, and well written.

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      Thank you, Steve! We have a great team of writers and editors at Awardwallet. I enjoy breaking things down that wouldn’t have made sense to me in the past, and I hope to convey that with a little effort it’s possible to improve the quality of your travels without “breaking the bank.”

  • I just love stories like this one. You don’t have to be rich to live the good life! Thank you for making my day.

  • Excelente información, ojala tuviera la suerte de tener amigos que me den esos beneficios. La playa de clearwater es realmente hermosa!

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      Martina, busca personas en la comunidad que tengan intereses similares. Asistir a las reuniones. Eventualmente, encontrarás amigos que también pueden ayudarte.

  • Thank you for the interesting perspective on how you used your points and miles.

  • Great value, indeed!

  • The CSR is a great card, still my go to, but I’ve always been on the fence about how exactly to look at the CSR travel credit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great benefit, but I’ve always preferred to view the travel credit purely as a rebate on the AF, rather than as a mechanism to save money on a trip, as the scenario above does.

    • Actually, that’s a very good point. I too view it as a rebate on the annual fee. Thankfully it is so broad that anyone can find value in it, but I agree it serves more as a rebate.

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      Good point Thomas! It’s always tough figuring out the best way to describe this. I have multiple “Premium” level credit cards, but not all of them offer credits. For our family, the CSR would be worth its annual fee even if there were $0 in travel credits, because we receive so much value from the PP restaurant benefit, but that doesn’t work out for everyone. I’ll keep this in mind for future posts.

    • Same. It’s either a $150 AF or a $300 savings on a trip but it is not both. I view the credit as making the card a $150 AF.

  • Great post. Thanks!

  • Really hope to see more examples like this. Sometimes “real world examples” give great insight into the possibilities the rest of us may be missing.

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      Thanks Jamie. We’re working on more real-life examples to help others see how to obtain value from their reward points.

  • Great value. However since I don’t have any Hyatt globalist friends I won’t be able to replicate the same value ;(

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      One section of the article that had to be cut discussed how I obtained those Globalist friends. I’ve been attending travel meetups and conferences for over two years now, and eventually you meet people with similar interests. If you have a chance to attend a meetup, those provide many opportunities and may even produce a few unexpected friendships along the way.

      • Joe, thanks for sharing how you made the Globalist friends, since that was a route to meaningful savings here that will appear to be out of reach for most. Most would just assume by default that they were random relationships developed over time in life. They wouldn’t have expected that how you met these folks might actually be reproducible.

  • That is a great redemption, too bad flights from my hometown dont usually work well with points.

  • Very useful information!

  • This is a great value. However you have to consider that the points you used could have been used for other trips. Overall though, very good value.

    • Agreed. Joe did emphasize “out of pocket” costs but that was definitely not the cost of the trip. Using Chase points and vouchers from previous flights certainly have monetary value even though they are not officially cash.

    • Joe Petrovic says:

      I absolutely agree. The purpose of my post though was to show that points can be used in combination with credit card benefits to improve the value of your trip. Could we have saved the points for another trip, yes. But we did something that we ordinarily would not have because of travel awards and points.