Weekly Inspiration: Hawaii on Points and Miles

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d start posting different examples for vacations that you can take using points and miles, so I thought I’d finally make good on the offer. Now in the past I’ve posted up my own trips, but since I’m only one person and I can’t possibly take every trip in the world, let’s start working on some hypothetical ones.

First up: Hawaii!

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I know for a lot of people Hawaii is a bucket list item (I still haven’t been…yet), and unfortunately, it always seems to cost a ton of money. Now, there are loads of options for using points and miles to get to Hawaii, but I’m just going to highlight one really easy one, for people who are just getting started. Ready?

How to Get There: Airfare

While round-trip flights from the mainland can usually cost more than $400/person, snagging flights on award availability isn’t all that hard. British Airways, which offers a co-branded Chase credit card, will give you 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Thanks to British Airways’ award chart (it’s distance based, rather than based on the cost of the ticket) this means that you can score a round-trip flight to Hawaii for just 25,000 points. (This is using its award partner, American Airlines) That means that you and someone you really like can fly to Hawaii for free!

Where to Stay: Hotels

There are tons of hotels in Hawaii. For the most part, they’re all ridiculously overpriced. While there are again many hotels that can be redeemed for award points, here we’re going for longevity. What’s the use of spending 50,000 points to stay one night at the fanciest hotel, when you can spend the same for 4 nights elsewhere?

To that end, I recommend the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach. It’s a category three Hyatt hotel, which means it will cost you just 12,000 points/ night to stay there. In July, the cost to stay there is $270/night, plus taxes and resort fees.

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Chase has both the Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred cards, which each offer a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points. (After 4k in spend in the first 3 months). You can transfer Chase reward points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you can spend a whopping 8 nights in Hawaii for free if you get both cards. That same stay would cost you almost $2500 out of pocket. (The Chase Sapphire Reserve even has a 100k sign up bonus available until March 12th if you apply in-branch)

What About the Rest of It?

I know that airfare and hotels are often the two most costly portions of a vacation. But what if you wanted a truly free vacation?

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after 3k spend in 3 months, and you can use its redemptions to erase travel charges at a rate of 1 cent/mile. That’s another $500 worth of stuff you can have for free. What’s not to like about that?

All in all, the travel game isn’t too difficult. Once you get your head wrapped around the different points and their possibilities, almost nowhere is off limits.

Now here’s a solicitation: does anyone have any requests for places to go? Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do some research and come up with a point plan for you.

Cheers!

-Carissa

Florence, Dog Pee, and a Vacation from a Vacation

Hello All,

I’m writing to you from my hotel in Florence, where I am taking a vacation from my vacation. God, how spoiled do I sound? The truth is, it’s pretty tiring getting up and getting out all day, every day. Combined with the care of a tiny needy dog who sometimes pees on things like your bed, it can be downright exhausting!

So! Like I mentioned previously, I’m completing a status challenge in order to get Hilton Diamond status for the next few years. That meant canceling a few of my Airbnbs and switching to hotels.

And boy, is it worth it. I took off yesterday from Nice, where it had kindly decided to start storming exactly as I ran for the train station. Soggy and freezing, Nala and I climbed onto the train, where we sat, delayed, for two hours. Like, I mean, we hadn’t even left the station yet.

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But look at that tongue.

Anyway, I had a connection in Milan, which I ended up missing. Knowing this, I went down to customer service, where I waited for an hour for help and ended up missing another train. Oh! And someone tried to pickpocket me! Never underestimate the excitement of travel, guys.

Long story short, I ended up in Florence 4 hours late and tired of hauling all my (Nala’s) stuff through train stations. Luckily, upon arrival at the Hilton, (almost) everything got immediately better. Seeing as how I’m currently a top-tier elite, my room was upgraded, and, of course, I got executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks all day long. The point I’m making here is: get status! It makes everything 1000% nicer.

I’m now freshly showered, fed, and watered, and spent a lovely morning in a whirlpool spa area doing absolutely nothing. It was glorious.

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From the rooftop terrace at the executive lounge.

Now, a final story to send you guys off before I spend some more time relaxing and chilling out.

So, last night, like I mentioned, I was pretty tired. Nala too, since she had been traveling with me all day. Well, she had already pooped in the train terminal, but luckily the Italians love dogs so everyone just chuckled and shook their heads.

After arriving to the hotel, I spent a few minutes in my room before heading to the club lounge to grab a few drinks and snacks. When I came back, Nala was waiting for me at the door, frantically greeting me and jumping around. Well…I soon found out why, when I encountered my plush, amazing, king-size bed covered in pee. This means my dog, who I had just left, (and who was just outside!) found herself alone, jumped up onto the bed (because the floor wasn’t good enough?) and decided to relieve herself. All. Over. It.

I mean come on! Shamefully, I called down to the front desk and asked them for a new bedspread, because my dog has no manners. They were very kind and sent up housekeeping with a new one, who remade my bed while I awkwardly watched and tried to ignore the wet pile of dog pee bedding right next to us.

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I am a shameful pee dog.

Good times.

Ciao!

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Selfie Queens

-Carissa “Under the Tuscan Sun” Rawson

Free Alcohol and Food! No, But Really.

Hello Dear Readers!

Do you know where I’m writing this from? No? You don’t? Well let me inform you. I am currently plopped in the dead middle of the Hilton Barcelona’s executive lounge.

“How does this happen?!?” you may ask, confounded, as you recall that I have been staying with some Argentinians in an Airbnb.

Ok, enough teasing (bragging) and let me tell you guys why I’m here. Do you remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about earning Hilton Diamond status with the increased sign up bonus? There’s actually another route you can take to earn Diamond and keep it through 2019. Hilton currently has a promotion going on where they will match your status with another chain’s (in an effort to poach you). Then, once your status is matched, you can complete 8 stays within 90 days in order to hold your status through 2019. It’s a pretty awesome deal if you can take advantage of it.

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Actually through 2019, not 2018.

However, I’m assuming most of you don’t have elite status with other hotels. Or, at least, you don’t have one high enough to match you to Diamond with Hilton. Well, luckily for us, there is one credit card that does offer such a benefit.

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IHG’s (Intercontinental Hotel Group) credit card offers 60,000 bonus points after 1k in spend, as well as automatic Platinum Status with the chain. Now, I’ve stayed at an IHG hotel a bare minimum of times, so don’t think I earned my status or anything.

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I deserve none of this

This is just something they give you when you get the card. Anyway, Hilton will match your IHG Platinum Status with their Diamond status and give you the option to complete the 8 stays in order to keep it.

So that’s what I’m doing! I’ve rebooked a few of my stays throughout the next few months in order to meet the challenge (any Hilton hotel within the portfolio will work), and then I’m good to go.

Why is Diamond so great? Well, it gives you a number of benefits, such as room upgrades, late check-out, early check-in, and free premium internet access. However, most importantly (to me) is executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks (including alcohol!) for the entirety of your stay.

For someone professionally unemployed, like me, this is a huge deal. Now please excuse me while I go stuff my pockets with free apples.

-Carissa “Elite AF” Rawson

Skiing With the Rich and Famous: A How-To Guide for the Poor (and Unemployed) Among Us

Hey guys!

Ok, so I’ve been sitting on this one for a while because I reaaally wanted to do it justice.

What is “it,” exactly?

Well, let me tell you!

It was our Valentine’s Day celebration that we celebrated in a totally planned and not-at-all last minute fashion! Ok, you caught me, it was like a week in advance and maybe I forced David to cancel all his plans. But trust me, it was worth it. So what did we do?

We went to Beaver Creek, Colorado! (It’s for skiing). More specifically, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and skied our tails off on Beaver Creek’s many many ski runs.

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The view from our hotel room

Now, in case many of you guys don’t know, Beaver Creek is full of rich people. I mean like, “Oh I guess I’ll just spend ten thousands dollars this week and go to Beaver Creek” rich. Way above the likes of us. Luckily, and you guys guessed it, Carissa-the-Points-Queen was here to save the day. So how did I manage this?

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Yes. I live here.

Well, the Hyatt brand happens to be a transfer partner of Chase. If you guys remember, I’ve got a few different Chase cards, which have earned me almost 200k Chase points. However, I also happen to have the Hyatt Chase card, which has a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights anywhere.

Now, I had originally planned to use those free nights at the Maldives, but a quick search showed me that I could save myself some points and swap those free nights over to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.

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Why? Because the Park Hyatt Maldives is only a Category 6 hotel, which costs 25,000 points/night, and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is a Category 7, costing 30,000 points/night. So, by using my two nights at Beaver Creek, I could save myself 10,000 points over a 2 night stay. Well worth it, in my opinion.

For reference, the Park Hyatt is currently going for almost $1000/night, so this was a pretty big deal.

With the hotel taken care of, all we had to do was get there. Starting from Washington D.C., roundtrip flights were around $700/person. Ew. Too much for me.

However, after a stupidly long amount of time, I found some Southwest flights from Philly that were $180 roundtrip. And you know what flying Southwest means, right? David comes for free! (I also redeemed points for our flight) So we drove our happy butts two hours up to Philly, spent a night in Denver, then rented a car and drove the additional two hours to Beaver Creek.

Pause for a moment here. At the request of David, I need to enthusiastically tell you guys how great our rental car company was. I rented from Silvercar, which gives a 30% discount to Visa signature card holders (Chase Sapphire Preferred/ Reserve) They only rent out Audis, which is the coolest thing ever, so we cruised to Beaver Creek in style. It’s also worth noting that the cost of our Audi was $269 for the entire weekend, while a shuttle roundtrip would have cost us $349. I’ll take the leather seats, please.

Let me just say, our hotel was awesome. It was located at the bottom of the ski slopes, so you literally left the hotel and got onto the chair lift up. Super cool.

Now, if you guys happen to know me, you happen to know that I had tried skiing exactly once in my life before this. Suffice to say, it went badly. (So so badly). So I was fairly concerned about attempting to ski again. David had been before, so he was all set, but I opted for ski school. And I mean like “how do I put boots on?” ski school.

Of course I was obviously the best at it (why? I’m normally so clumsy). In fact, I was so good that my instructor had me go it alone on the ski lift. He called me athletic and sent me on my way, which meant that I immediately fell over and ate shit as soon as I tried to get off. Very encouraging.

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Look how perfect I am.

Overall the day was fantastic and made huge ski fans out of both David and I. Unfortunately, since the skiing up there is so bleeding expensive, we only managed to make it out for one day. The other day we spent wandering around Beaver Creek village (they hand out free chocolate chip cookies!) and watching a concert with Glen Morrison, who is some guy from Glee and also other famous things.

Did I mention that David opted for no ski school? He says he had a great time, but he also had a GoPro strapped to his and oh my God you guys need to see the videos of him wiping out. He promises he’s uploading them to YouTube soon so I’ll link you guys as soon as they’re up.

Otherwise, we had an amazing weekend which we could have in no way afforded without points. True, ski rentals and ski school cost us out of pocket, but a free hotel and free flights meant we could afford this awesome opportunity without breaking the bank. Totally worth it!

Carissa “Snowbunny” Rawson

Dipping in a Toe: The First Steps for Starting Reward Travel

Hey there everyone,
How are you guys liking the new format? I figured since I finally had enough content, it was time for a refresh on the website. I think the new look is pretty cool, and helps to highlight a lot of the awesome pictures that we have. (Not that I’m biased). Anyway, today I’d like to talk to you guys about the actual steps, in order, that you should take if you’re looking to start into the rewards travel game. Credit for this idea goes to my aunt, whom I am attempting to corrupt at this very moment. (Hi Angie!) Anyway, I realize that a lot of these posts probably come off as complicated for someone just looking to start in the game. Hence, this post.

a2a54309-e28c-421e-beb5-df594fcbea62The first question you always want to answer when looking to start points hacking is what do I want to do with these points? I know that may sound simple, but there are so many different options available to you that knowing what you want to do first gives you a really good direction from which to start.

I, for example, wanted to fly to Europe for free. I had read a few blogs stating that the British Airways signup bonus (50,000 British Airways Avios) was enough to get you to Europe and back, twice, if you flew from Boston. So that’s where I started. In August of 2015 (believe it or not) I got my first card, and from there everything has built upwards.

But what if you wanted to do something else? What if you wanted to go to Hawaii? Or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas? Each option requires different rewards, and figuring out all the information can be tough.

First things first, though. You can’t get into the reward travel game with bad credit. Banks are giving out these offers in the hopes that you’ll continue to be a loyal customer, and they aren’t willing to risk this kind of money on people who don’t have good credit. So:

  1. Check your credit. There are numerous websites that will offer you a free credit score, even as often as 1x a week. I personally use Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Credit Journey, and Nerd Wallet to check my different scores. Credit Karma will offer you both your Experian and Transunion score, which banks pull most frequently from, so I’d go with them first.
  2. Look up credit card specials. The Points Guy has a top 10 list of credit card offers that they maintain, along with different and excellent ways to maximize your points. If you’re worried that your score isn’t good enough, nerdwallet.com will tell you your approval odds for each card.
  3. Decide where you want to go. Bali? Argentina? Hawaii?
  4. Get your first card. For people whose scores hover in the 700’s-720’s, or for someone who doesn’t have much credit built up (not many loans, past credit cards, etc) I would recommend going with mid-level credit cards rather than top-tier right away. Let the banks build their trust in you. Some of these cards include:
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred– the little brother of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card still offers 50,000 points to sign up and a minimal fee of $95/year (waived the first year)
  • Hilton Honors American Express, either the Surpass, which is $95/year, or its little brother, the no fee version. The no fee card currently has an increased signup bonus of 75,000 Honors points.
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which is $95/year and offers 40,000 points after your first purchase.

5. Follow different blogging sites, which will tell you awesome deals as they occur and keep you up to date on specials. Often, it can be worth your while to purchase airfare on sale and save your points for lodging. I follow View From the Wing, Secret Flying, Travel Pirates, The Points GuyDeals We Like, Running With Miles, Flyer Talk, Award Wallet, and many more. For the most part, I keep up to date on Facebook, which is a constant feed of the best specials out there.

6. Google is your friend. Want to know the best way to spend 100,000 American Express points? Google will give you a hundred top ten lists, and you can peruse at your leisure.

7. Read my blog! I know, I know, shameless plug, but I’m going to start highlighting different ways to spend points for vacations, because I realize that just deciding where to go and how to do it can be a little…overwhelming.

Was this even helpful? It seems like a primer guide is a little difficult to write. Anyway, the most important takeaways are these: know your credit score. Know it like the back of your hand. Have an idea in mind and apply with purpose- don’t start off just hoarding points. If United miles get you there faster, get a United card. If Southwest does the trick, get Southwest. Never carry a balance. It will tank your score and leave you unable to peruse further points accumulation. And finally, remember to have fun! These are points with a purpose, and using them correctly can give you amazing, unbelievable adventures that you would have never thought possible.

-Carissa.

P.S. I’ll be back later with vacation ideas because who doesn’t like to dream?

Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend: Hilton Honors for the Rest of Us

Hey Guys!

So, my family and I have just spent the last few days in Chicago. We had a really awesome time and got to see the Hamilton musical (thanks to the American Express Concierge). Trust me, it’s worth the hype. So good!

Anyway, today I’d like to talk about the Hilton Surpass American Express card. Now, I’m personally a big fan of the Hilton Honors program, because owning the American Express Platinum gives you automatic gold status with Hilton, and because I find that a lot of the Hiltons around the world offer great mixes of points + cash rewards. This card will actually give you Gold status, so even if you don’t have the Platinum card, you can enjoy these benefits. On top of this, Hilton also often offers cool bonus promotions. Currently, you can earn 2000 bonus points/ night, for every night you stay, no matter where or how much it costs. On top of that, they’re also offering 500 more bonus points if you book through the app.

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However! The Hilton Surpass American Express card has an increased signup offer at the moment, at 100,000 Honors points if you spend 3k in the first 3 months (instead of 75k). This card has a number of benefits:

  • Complimentary Gold Status
  • 12 Hilton points per dollar spent at Hilton
  • 6 points per dollar at US restaurants/ gas stations, and supermarkets
  • 3 points per dollar on everything else

So, what can you do with 100k points?

Well, I spent 80,000 Honors points to save tons of money on a hotel in Dubai. Using the points + cash reward, I was able to drop a 1000sq ft suite from $272/ night to $64 and 16,000 points/ night. Over the course of five nights, that totals $1040. Not bad!

Or, if you’re looking to maximize your free nights, Hilton Category 1 hotels start at just 5,000 points/night, meaning you can spend 20 free nights in hotels around the world. Even better, using Hilton’s current promotions, you earn 2500 bonus points for every night you spend, effectively making your redemptions 50% off. This means you can stay 2x as many nights! That’s right, 40 free nights in a Category 1 hotel. And if you’re a Gold member, every one of those nights comes with free breakfast (for 2), early check-in, late check-out, and room upgrades.

And, because you’ve stayed so many nights at Hilton, you’ll be bumped up to Diamond status, which equals even more awesome benefits. Most importantly, this status gives you Club access at Hilton hotels, which means free food and free drinks all day. Awesome!

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This signup bonus is for a limited time only, and is absolutely worth it. Get it before it’s too late!

-Carissa “Goldmember” Rawson

Disneyworld on Point(s)

Hey guys!

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So if you know me, you definitely know I love to spend time at Disneyworld. It’s honestly one of my favorite places to be, and David and I go down as often as possible. However, the cost is prohibitive for many families. A lot of the time, we’ll go and stay at a cheap hotel because they’re everywhere around Disney. But sometimes, we want to stay somewhere nice. Somewhere with a little more…magic.

So how do we do this affordably? Everyone knows that the Disney ecosystem is built to suck every last penny from your wallet, but there’s definitely something special about getting to stay within the resort and revel in the benefits that being on property brings. However, oftentimes, the costs of the hotels can get as high as $800/ night. I don’t know about you guys, but I am totally not rich enough for that.

Fortunately for us, there are two hotels within the Disney resort that are no longer owned by the Disney corporation. Starwood bought them some time ago, which means…you guessed it! You can use points (from the SPG Amex cards) to stay for free at Disneyworld.

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The two hotels, the Dolphin and the Swan, are a little older than the rest of the hotels, and their theming isn’t *quite* as nice as some of the others, but they are walking distance from Epcot, and get their own special entrance. Because they’re part of the Disney resort, guests staying there also receive the cool extra benefits, such as early entrances to the parks and free transportation everywhere. This can save a bundle in parking fees at the resort.

The Dolphin is considered a Category 4 hotel, which means staying there will cost you 10,000 points per night. However, on award stays, Starwood gives you the 5th night free, effectively bringing the cost down to 8,000 points/night. For a hotel that regularly costs over $300/night, this is a fantastic redemption value.

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And did I mention that it’s on Disney property?

So, when David and I are heading down in May, the room rate for the Dolphin is $329/night, not including taxes and fees. All told, the total for five nights would be $2117.59. Instead, we’re spending 40,000 points (5th night free) for the entire stay!

That is a serious chunk of change, and totally worth it for families who are heading down to Disneyworld.

For my Georgia and New England readers, there’s also a special going on right now for a third night free in honor of the Super Bowl. All you have to do is call to book before February 28th, and stay anytime before January 31st, 2018. There might be a way to stack this with the Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer, but I haven’t tried.

Anyway, these are some tips for saving money down there. If you guys are interested in learning more, let me know! I have tons of info, and obviously love talking your guys’ ears off.

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Such grace. Such Beauty.

-Princess Carissa of Arendelle

Some Like It Easy: An Awesome Offer for Us

Since I imagine many of you are new to/ have never really participated in the rewards card game, today I wanted to highlight a new card that just came out at the end of last year.

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The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has a number of benefits, which include:

  • 2x miles on all spending with American Airlines
  • 1x miles on all other spending
  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Group 1 boarding for the primary cardmember on domestic flights operated by American
  • 25% inflight savings on food, beverages, and headsets on American Airlines-operated flights
  • 10% of your redeemed miles back on redemptions (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year)
  • No foreign transaction fees

However, the most lucrative part of this offer is the sign-up bonus, which is 40,000 AAdvantage Miles after your first purchase (and once you pay the $95 annual fee). That’s right! There’s no minimum spend for this card, which means you can buy something as small as a Starbucks and land yourself 40,000 points.

That’s enough for roundtrip tickets from the US-Europe, or (almost) 3 roundtrip flights around the United States.

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Look where you can go!

That’s awesome! I paid for parking with my card and shelved it, since I’m not a huge American Airlines flyer, but I’m definitely looking into the best ways to spend my points.

So you guys know, Barclay’s Bank generally pulls from Transunion rather than Equifax. Most other banks will pull Equifax, so this will give you some breathing room on new card openings.

This is a really easy way to slide into the points earning game, with minimal investment and some pretty major rewards. What would you guys do with 40,000 points?

-Carissa

The Magnificent Maldives

Ok! I’m back! Sorry I’ve been away so long, I’ve just been busy moving around California and spending time with friends and family. I know I promised I would write more on Japan, and I will, but today I’m super stoked to talk to you guys about the things you can do with sign up bonuses.

I know I’ve already talked a bit about my favorite cards, but the world is filled with different credit cards companies just begging for your business. Of course, to entice you into spending with them, they offer some very generous sign up bonuses. One card that I just recently opened is the Chase Hyatt Visa, which comes up with a sign-up bonuses of two free nights at any Hyatt property.

Now, at first glance, the offer may not seem that awesome. I mean, who wants to go anywhere for two nights? However, David and I both are getting the card and stacking our offers, so we’ll be able to stay a total of four nights.

After earning the bonus (with $2,000 in spending in the first three months), you’ve gotta figure out where to stay. Now, what makes this offer so valuable is that it’s for any property, which led me to this:

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The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is possibly the chain’s nicest hotel. Located on its own island, and with room for only 100 people at a time, this hotel starts at $1000/night.

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I mean come on

But that’s for the cheapest season. You know what I’m gonna do? David and I (and some friends who I’ve convinced to join us) are going during the high season, when rooms are $1930. A stay for four nights would otherwise cost us $9,535. Or, y’know, free.

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If the Maldives aren’t your thing (because you’re afraid of sun? Or fabulousness?), there are plenty of other opportunities to use your free nights:

  1. Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris
  2. Park Hyatt Tokyo
  3. Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
  4. Park Hyatt Sydney
  5. Park Hyatt Milan
  6. Park Hyatt Zurich
  7. Park Hyatt New York

These ones aren’t *quite* as expensive as the Maldives, but are definitely more accessible for people not looking to travel to the middle of nowhere.

All in all, the Hyatt Chase Visa gives a pretty awesome sign-up bonus. Using it well can give you almost $5000 worth of free hotel stays! That’s worth my spending any day.

-Carissa “let’s do that!” Rawson

Up to 68% off at any Waldorf Astoria hotel!

Guys! Listen to this!

So today I was strolling across my news feed when I saw that Hilton is offering a new sale- any stay at a Waldorf Astoria will give you $100/night to spend in whatever way you wish.

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But wait! It gets better! This offer will work with Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer. Since David is infinitely tired of all the plans I’ve been making, I decided to keep it local and take a look at the La Quinta Waldorf Astoria  in Palm Springs, CA. This is the same hotel that Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn stayed at, so no big deal, obviously.

Room rates here from August 7th-11th are $174 a night, and a 4 night stay will run you $932.20. Using the Citi concierge will refund you $233.05, bringing your overall total down to $699.15. That’s a pretty good deal for a really nice hotel, but when you use the offer code above, your total out of pocket cost will be $299.15 for 4 nights.

That’s awesome! That equates to 68% off for the 4 night run. On top of this, you’ll be earning points for the full $923.20 that you’ve “spent” on the hotel.

If you guys need me, I’ll be relaxing at the pool.

-Carissa “Waldorf” Ragland