Does anyone want to know what I did for New Year’s?
Let me tell you anyway!
A couple months ago, I planned a nice three day trip with my grandparents (and PJ) out to Lake Tahoe for New Year’s Eve, to thank them for watching my dogs while I gallivanted about and subsequently studied in Scotland.
They are now the most spoiled dogs in the world. No really, she buys them deli meat by the pound. By the pound!
But I digress.
Tahoe is known as a really excellent place to spend New Year’s, and prices for hotels raise accordingly. Luckily, I had some Hyatt points stashed away from a return on a trip earlier in the year (do you guys remember the Miraval?), so I splurged on the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, spending a total of 60,000 points and avoiding the crazy holiday pricing.
Unfortunately, both my grandparents were unable to come, buuut PJ did, so we spent the three days hanging out in Tahoe, eating, drinking, and skiing.
Well, PJ skied. I rode the bunny hill once and then almost fell out of the chair lift so I had a beer and called it a day. End it on a positive note, right?
We had a blast. And I most definitely did not throw snowballs at PJ’s head. I swear.
Ok, final post on the Miraval, and then we’ll get to explore a whole new country. Which one? You’ll find out! *Ooh mystery*
Remember how I mentioned Miraval was an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, this meant that all the food was included. Here’s the thing, though. This place is super focused on wellness, which meant that while you could order an alcoholic beverage, it was discouraged, but there were free unlimited smoothies available. Obviously I had to try every single type.
And the food. Oh man, the food. Like, I always gave celebrities serious props for being thin and beautiful because they have to eat lettuce all the time, but the food here was amazing and healthy. I’m pretty sure this is how famous people eat and don’t end up starving to death.
We did floating mediation while we were there too, which meant we literally wrapped ourselves up in silk hammocks and swung suspended in the air while a woman rang bells at us.
I’m not the best at meditation, so I was like “….prayer….gratitude…inner peace…bacon…”
It was a pretty neat experience.
We also pampered ourselves with 80 minute massages at the spa. I don’t know about you guys, but if I’m not getting beat up in a massage then I don’t feel like it’s worth it. Put some elbow grease into it, man! This was definitely one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The poor masseur was sweating by the time he finished, which equals A+ in my book.
We spent time at the pool, me in the sun and Jill in the shade because her delicate flower skin hates sunlight.
We got up at an ungodly hour and went for a hike through the mountains, which we didn’t want to do and tried to cancel but it cost money so we went. And it was awesome.
Finally, we did what was called “a swing and a prayer,” which is where you get hoisted up thirty five feet in the air and voluntarily drop yourself, swinging through the air as you scream like a maniac. (Ok, I was the only one who screamed).
To my credit, I also hung upside down like a Cirque-Du-Soleil performer because I’m fancy.
I’ve got to tell you guys, I wish we had so much more time here. The Miraval Resort is like a little slice of heaven in the middle of the scorching hell desert of Arizona, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I could afford it again (lol), I would totally go back. One day?
I promise I haven’t died- I’ve just been really busy. (As per the usual).
So, where did we leave off? I’m pretty sure I had just told you guys all about traveling to the Miraval Resort with my sister, Jill. Like I said, redeeming the points was a no-brainer, and we had an absolutely awesome time.
In addition to all sorts of wellness classes, (like yoga, meditation, and spiritual healing), the resort also had challenge courses. Of course Jill and I signed up to go ziplining.
Now, I’ve ziplined once before. I was on a cruise and one of the shore excursions in Dominica was this crazy rope walk through the trees with ziplining. The issue there was that, well, it was Dominica, which meant there were zero safety codes. Which is how I found myself zooming towards a tree on a duct-taped cable with no brakes and a mattress at the other end.
Suffice to say that my first time was a little scary. However, since this was in the good old US of A, I had high hopes as to the safety standards of our course.
And yes, it was safe, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
Like I said, this was considered a ‘challenge course,’ which meant apparently that in order to get to the zipline, you had to scale a fifty foot telephone pole.
Like, with your hands. And your feet. There was no nifty basket to haul my carcass up there.
I’m not that bad with heights, really, but the last time I tried crawling up a sheer surface with my bare hands I got so scared that I straight fell off.
Jill, also, has a horrific time with this concept.
So it was with no little amount of trepidation that we watched the first couple people scale this pole, looking like monkeys as they hopped from rung to rung. I told Jill I’d go first, so I wouldn’t have time to psyche myself out, and began climbing as soon as I was told.
It wasn’t so bad, at first. Really. But right at about twenty feet, I realized the ground was really far away, and the rungs were super tiny, and also ohmygod what am I doing.
Ohgod ohgod ohgod
I didn’t fall, at least, but I panicked and raced the entire rest of the way up to the platform, arriving and nearly collapsing with relief.
Just kidding. I was hanging onto the pole for dear life. The employee eventually had to pry me off, assuring me that I was securely connected to the cables hanging around the platform.
Then it was Jill’s turn.
It started simply enough. Here comes Jill, crawling up this pole, with all the rest of us shouting encouragement and urging her to come up. I stood at the top and berated her, as any good older sister does.
And there she was, a mere two rungs from arriving at the platform. Her head was even peeking over- all she needed to do was grab this rung.
It was at this point that she looked down. And oh, the panic was real.
It was like a movie. She hung there, hyperventilating, convincing herself she couldn’t do it.
There we all were, calling, calling, encouraging her to reach, just one more, and there she went- one arm outstretched- grasping for the rung.
She caught it with the tips of her fingers, and in slow-motion they slipped, her petrified face dropping out of view as she fell.
The air stopped moving but for her terrified yelp as- thwack- with a stretch, her rope caught her and she swung back around to the pole, clinging to the rungs and sobbing.
She was back several feet down and as red as a tomato, (she’s a ginger, you know), trying to gain control of herself and overcome her panic.
And she did. Scarcely a minute later, she began climbing again, this time her face filled with resolve as rose up.
Finally, she crawled up over the platform, and we all cheered wildly, congratulating her on making it.
I’m writing to you from the gorgeous Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona. My sister, Jill, and I have been staying here for the last few days, doing all kinds of awesome things. I’ll write about those later (ziplining!), but first I want to tell you how we managed to stay here, because this property is absolutely incredible, and you all need to come here.
The Miraval Resort is very unique- it’s one of few all-inclusive resorts in the United States, and its rooms can go for as much as $2000/night. However, as of June 29th, Miraval has teamed up with Hyatt in order to allow points earning and redemptions at the resort.
The Miraval exceeds the normal category 1-7 chart, costing 45,000 points/night for the first person, and 20,000 points/ night for the second person. That’s an awful lot, and speaks volumes about the quality of this resort. The Ellen Degeneres show even came here, and did a segment about it:
However, in order to celebrate their new partnership, Hyatt is offering 50% of your points back if you stay here between June 29th-September 15th. As soon as I saw this place, I knew I wanted to come here. And with 50% off, why not?
So I went ahead and booked two nights for Jill and I here, costing a total of 65,000 points (after the 50% back). Now, I had that amount already in my Hyatt account, but the rub here is that you’ll need the full amount of points in your account when you book, totaling 130,000, and they refund the points back to you after you complete your stay.
This kind of sucks, but is definitely worth it. Chase is a transfer partner of Hyatt, so I went ahead and transferred 65,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points into my Hyatt account. (You can earn Ultimate Reward points with many different Chase cards) I’ll have that many left over when they refund me, so I’ll have to use them somewhere else (the Park Hyatt Maldives, perhaps?)
This trip has truly been once in a lifetime. Jill and I don’t get to spend much time together, so getting some sister time has been really awesome.
The Miraval is a wellness resort, so it’s full of classes offering all kinds of different things to do. We’ve been super busy, what with all the meditation, hiking, and spa treatments. When you book with points, your package also includes a $175/ per person/ day credit that you can use at the spa, or on different, extra classes, like horseback riding and ziplining.
I’ll write about that next! Until then, I’m going to go meditate and ponder chakras.
It’s time for another installment of weekly inspiration! Now, I know my travel style is probably a little bit different than a lot of you- that is, I have apparently unlimited free time and go wherever whenever (not totally true, to be fair). However, I realize most of you have productive, working, lives, and some fairly limited time off. Thus, I’m working on making real, sensible, recommendations for you all.
How thoughtful of me! (Sorry, I’ll try to be less sarcastic.) Anyway, this week’s focus is Paris, the city of love. Voted the most romantic city in Europe, Paris is jam-packed with famous landmarks and tons of things to do. I know Paris tops the list for many of us, so let’s figure out how to get there for free- or at least really cheap, eh?
Now, there are tons of ways to get to Europe. In case you guys haven’t been keeping up this last year, airlines are going full-warfare on flight prices, which means we’re seeing some incredibly low prices:
A quick look at November shows us that several different carriers are willing to sell us tickets from New York-Paris for a total of $511 per person. That’s ridiculously cheap all by itself, but we want it free.
So! The American Express Business Platinum is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points. One of its perks is a 50% refund on points you spend for airfare on an airline of your choosing. That means, looking above, that you can choose Delta, Air France, Iberia, Finnair, or British Airways, and pay a total of 25,600 points per ticket. That means you’ll be able to enjoy three roundtrip tickets to Paris with just one sign-up bonus!
Now, the American Express Business Platinum spend threshold is pretty high (10k for 50,000 points, and 10k for and additional 25k), so if you’re not looking for a heavy investment, that could be problematic.
In that case, I would recommend the British Airways Visa Signature from Chase, which will give you 50,000 points after spending just 3k in the first three months. (Or even up to 100,000 points if you put enough spend on it).
Using British Airways Avios, you can then fly New York-Dublin for a mere 26,000 points + fuel surcharges roundtrip. (After meeting your spend goal, you’ll have 53k points).
From Dublin, flights to Paris are cheap. Airlines such as Ryanair can get you there for around $20 bucks, or, flying a nicer carrier will cost you around $100 roundtrip. Not bad, not bad at all.
So you’ve managed to make your way all the way to Paris, now what?
Or, you can transfer points from one of your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (such as the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which each have a 50,000 point sign up bonus after 4k spend in 3 months), and snag 3 nights at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile, which costs a mere 15,000 points a night, or over 1,000 Euros for your three night stint.
If you get both cards, you’ll have enough points for a full week at the Hyatt Regency, saving yourself 2,200 Euros.
But Carissa, you say, this all seems like a lot of work. And you’re right, Paris is a notoriously expensive city, and hotels there cost more than almost any else in the world. So what if you don’t want to sign up for a couple different cards just for your hotels?
Well, my friends, I give you Airbnb. No, Airbnb is not free. And you won’t even use points for it. (Or at least not most traditional points). But it is dirt cheap, and cards that give you bonuses based on travel purchases (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, and a whole host of others) will give you the reward bonus for booking with Airbnb. Check out some of these rates for a stay in November:
So if you ever wanted to stay in a chic Parisian apartment for really cheap, Airbnb is going to be your best friend. In fact, it’s what I used during my trip to Paris last year, and I find that it really has outsized value in such an outrageously expensive city.
Now, if you really don’t want to pay for the Airbnb, you can get yourself the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which gives you a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (after 3k spend in 3 months). These points can be used to erase charges off your card, so your stay above there would cost 39,200 points, and you’d still have some left over for other fun stuff. (Souvenirs!)
Ok! I know this has been a lot of information in a short post, but I’m hoping I got it all out there pretty clearly. Paris doesn’t have to be unaffordable if you know how to play your cards right, and saving money on airfare and hotels leaves room in the budget for other fun stuff, like shows and ridiculously fancy dinners.
I hope you liked this post! Let me know if there’s somewhere you guys would like me to write about!
So I realize I started a new series of posts called weekly inspiration, and then never followed up on that. Now, a few weeks later, I finally have time to write some more about awesome things you can do with points.
Today’s topic is Cancun! This comes partly as a result of my own impending trip to Cancun (with my friend Chrissy! Hi Chrissy!) and as a result of a conversation with Joni, where I asked a billion questions about what types of vacations people like to go on.
Now, without further ado, I give you Cancun on points and miles:
Now, everyone knows there are a billion all-inclusive hotels throughout Cancun, and a lot of them are good. Great, even. But if you’re going for the experience of a lifetime, the Hyatt Zilara (adults only) and Hyatt Ziva (family-friendly) are the gold standard of all-inclusive luxury. They have tons of reviews talking about how amazing they are, and, even better, can be booked using reward points! (That’s very uncommon, by the way).
The Zilara costs more, since it’s adults only, and a four night stay there in July will run you $4300. Yes, that is mind-bogglingly expensive.
However, the Chase Hyatt rewards card, which I have mentioned previously, comes with 2 free nights at any hotel in the Hyatt portfolio. (After 2k spend in the first 3 months). If you and your other half (or friend, or literally anyone else you wouldn’t mind sharing room with) each get this card, you’ll both be basking in the Cancun sunshine before you even know it.
Alternatively, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred currently come with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after 4k spend each in the first 3 months. These points can be transferred over to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you can use them to pay for your entire stay at the hotels.The Hyatt Zilara Cancun will run you 25,000 points/night, and the Hyatt Ziva will cost 20,000points/night.
And it’s all free!
Now, flights to Cancun can be relatively inexpensive, if you keep an eye out and book quickly when good rates appear. I just snagged a flight going from Orlando-Cancun-Los Angeles for $260 total. I paid using points from my American Express Business OPEN, and since it was on Delta (my preferred airline), I received a 50% rebate on points, meaning I spent only 13,000 points total for my flight. (Which is the equivalent of paying $130).
However, if you’re going at peak season, or if you don’t feel like scouring the web for stuff, tons of options abound for reward flights to Cancun.
Southwest usually has really good (and cheap) options for flights to Cancun. To that end, I recommend one of Southwest’s Chase credit cards. There are three, currently offering sign-up bonuses ranging from 50,000-60,000 points.
A quick search on Southwest shows me that they have roundtrip flights to Cancun in July (flying from Los Angeles) starting from 11,108 points roundtrip per/person. This means you and your new best friend can both fly (twice!) roundtrip to Cancun on points. Of course, if you live on the east coast things tend to be a bit more costly, but you should still have more than enough points to cover the cost.
Since these are all-inclusive resorts, of course, flights and hotel are the entirety of your cost. This whole vacation is free!
To put this into perspective, the dollar cost of your stay would go like this:
$4352 on hotel
$520/flights ($260/person on Southwest)
$4,872 for four nights at one of the best all-inclusive hotels in the world. Or, using points, it’ll cost you nothing at all.
So there you have it! A really easy way to get the vacation of a lifetime using a few different cards. Let me know if you guys have any other recommendations for vacations, or if there’s something specific you’re dying to see. Until then, I’ll be dreaming about the beach! Adios!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Beaver Creek Village
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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
Park Hyatt Sydney
Park Hyatt Milan
Park Hyatt Zurich
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.