I just ran across a piece on ABC News that says a whopping $197 Billion a year is spent on “Oblications”: trips we HAVE to take to cross off an obligation as opposed to taking that dream vacation we WANT to take.
Are you heading to your In-laws’ family reunion, Nephew’s Wedding or In-Laws’ Nephew’s graduation this summer? Welcome to the Oblication! While I can’t attend the event for you, I can help take some of the sting out of the price tag…which can be SHOCKINGLY high, especially if the event is in a small town.
An enduring mystery in travel is the crazy-high cost of traveling to small towns in the United States. As I have learned over the past fifteen years booking travel into and out of Mid-Western burgs for various Oblications of my own, the fewer flight and lodging options into a destination, the higher the cost of the few that do exist. I spent over 50% less on tickets from Washington Dulles to Guatemala City two summers ago than United wanted for tickets to Cedar Rapids, Iowa! With that in mind, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned to maximize value on those trips you’ve just gotta take.
It may be worth parting with your hotel points to stay in Toledo…Ohio, not Spain. Smaller markets have fewer hotels: it’s that simple. Due to being big fish in very small ponds, prices rarely fluctuate and are often higher than your average tourist destination. However, because people rarely think of using points for such destinations, bargains abound and you can get terrific value out of your hotel points. These markets also tend to have the lower ends of the various brands so redemption requirements are lower: Fairfield for Marriott, Park Inn for Carlson, etc. In Toledo, the options range from Park Inn to Holiday Inn to a Days Inn that frankly looks scary, but if you have to be there, you might as well save!
For example, on March 24 (picked at random) the Park Inn in downtown Toledo is showing up on hotels.com at $128.84 including tax. Compare that to 15,000 Club Carlson points, which can be purchased for $105 (1,000 for $7), a 23% premium on your points value. Or you could choose the Holiday Inn in nearby Perrysburg with an indoor pool, at $212(!) including tax. Compare that to 20,000 Priority Club points, which are valued at $140, a 51% premium.
Consider using your miles, especially Avios, for regional airport trips. Say you need to get from Dallas to Colorado Springs. Using the dates 4/11-18 (picked at random), I found a non-stop flight on AA for $270. That same flight using Avios is 9000 points (plus $5 tax) roundtrip! That’s a value of 3 cents per mile, which no expert would sneeze at. You can get Avios transferred from AMEX or Chase.
Even if you have to use 25,000 miles on Delta or United, there are many routes where you can see 1.5 to 2 cents a point versus cash prices. The math gets even better if you used one of the many Delta transfer promotions that come up with American Express. No need to pay more for business class on these regional jets (in my experience) as chances are high you’ll get upgraded if you have even the lowliest level of status. And let’s face it…business class on a regional jet amounts to a 2nd serving of pretzels if you’re lucky.
If you have to pay cash, can you get to a hub? Sometimes and with some destinations it just won’t be possible, but you can save a bundle if you can tack on a day on either end for a car trip. Using the Cedar Rapids example, it’s a five hour drive to Chicago…not easy, but do-able. Last fall, tickets from Cedar Rapids to DC were pricing out at $430RT, and I needed two. Tickets from Chicago were $140RT. We booked a night at the O’Hare Intercontinental costing $109 (a park and fly rate so the car was taken care of as well), and $100 and gas and tolls, so the total cost was $489: a savings of $371. I’d say $371 was well worth the drive and the stay at a 4 star hotel with a private art gallery.
Hope these tips help you save some money on those “must do” trips so you can get back to what we all love most: dreaming big! (And I should confess…last summer, on miles, I sent my husband and the kids to see his parents in Iowa and boarded my own flight to Tenerife, ditching the Oblication.)