Ah Christmas, a time of reflection and gratitude. I, for one and eternally grateful for the airlines of OneWorld and Star Alliance, and the hotel chains of Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood. This post will reflect on the points burned in 2013, which is a little more than I expected, and really was so much fun.
We started saving our photo’s by year, then the individual trips within them, and when we opened up the folder today it looked pretty cool, so I thought to share our trips for the year and see if we can breakdown the actual cost of the ‘free’ travel. This is the first year I have really pushed the value of the ‘free one way’ and stopovers to stretch those miles even further. You can read more about how to do this on American Airlines here: Getting the Magic Dashes on An Award TicketThe year of travel started out in sweet little Nashville, one of my favorite towns, and continued on to cross the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.
Trip 1 Nashville 3 Nights
- Flight 30K Avios plus $10
- Hotel 3650 SPG (5600 cost -750-450-250-500 earned on the cash parts) $240 Cash
- Car rental $50
We took the SPG Gold Amenity of 250 points, plus the green option on housekeeping for another 500 SPG points, making the net cost of the hotel 3,650 SPG for the 2 nights of my stay! We changed rooms after the second night in order to log a reservation under the ‘Better Beginnings’ Bonus, which earned us a certificate for a Category 6 hotel, we used this in Zurich a week ago, allowing us to stay there for free.
Total spending money, $100 per day on food plus one more expensive dinner, $50 on Bourbon. Total $650
Trip 2 Maldives, Sri Lanka, Tokyo (with a layover in Istanbul) 14 nights
- Total Mileage used 100,000 (United MileagePlus) per person (with $90 fees each) , we flew outbound in Coach and back from Japan- New York in Business Class. We paid 2x $75 fees for changing from Coach to Business mid trip for our return.
- Additional Paid flight leg from MLE-CMB cost $80 per person
- Conrad Maldives Rangali Island 4 Nights 145K Hilton Honors
- Colombo, Sri Lanka Hilton 1 Night 25K Hilton Honors
- Kandy, Sri Lanka Boutique Hotel 3 Nights cost $200
- Conrad Tokyo 4 Nights 145K Hilton Honors
- We went out an about and got a lot done in our layover in Istanbul, visiting the Blue Mosque and eating a ton of Kebab meat, total cost $100.
- Conrad Maldives is a resort, shopping around isn’t an option, so it was the most expensive, our final bill was approximately $3,500 in the 4 nights there, include the sea plane transfers that we a little under $1,000. Everything went on the room, so no other charges.
- Colombo we spent around $100 per day on food, another $200 on transport from Colombo to Kandy (RT) and some other trips, such as to Marissa for Whale Watching ($50 pp) total cost around $700.
- Tokyo Dinner averaged about $40 pp, other than a client meeting which was a lot more but covered by them. Transport was about $15 per day on the subway, and incidentals for meetings added up to another $25. Total personal cost $500, total business costs $100.
Total cost for 14 night vacation (for two people)
- 200,000 United Miles
- 250,000 Hilton Honors (we earned back around 40,000 Hilton Honors and triggered the two free nights certs from the Citi Visa from the Maldives stay)
- $5,500 Cash
- $100 Business Expenses that are deductible
Trip 3 Italy 5 Nights
- One Day in Milan
- Rome Day 1 – The Waldorf Cavalieri, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican Museum
- Rome Day 2 – Walking the City, The Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Bocca di Verita and 5 dinners!
- Rome Day 3 – The Borghese Mueseum, The Capuchin Crypts, and more food!
- Rome Day 4 Our Final Day, a trip to the town of Orvieto
I actually flew on to Dubai after Rome, but it gets a little complicated to explain the pricing of the flights if I bundle the trip into this one..
- Total Mileage used 82,500 (United MileagePlus) per person (with $90 fees each) , we flew outbound to Milan in Coach and back from Rome- New York in Business Class. We tacked on a flight to Panama using the free one ways (also in Business Class) for later in the year. Late change to business class fee $75 per person.
- Park Hyatt Milan 1 Night 22,000 Hyatt points
- Rome Cavalieri Rome 4 Nights 145,000 Hilton Honors points
- We did a two city trip, and needed a train ticket from Milan to Rome, we took another train from Rome for a day trip to Orvieto – total cost about $120 in transport. Museums in Rome, $100. Food, $200 per day (we ate a lot, it’s Italy!) Total cost $1,500
Trip 4 Dubai 4 nights
Trip Report – One Day in Dubai (trust me this is the way to spend a day there!)
A business trip to the Middle East was required, so I went onto Dubai when Allison went home. I used another award ticket for the flight, and paid for the hotel since it was a deductible business expense.
- Total Mileage used 77,500 (United MileagePlus) per person (with $120 fees) , I flew outbound to Dubai in Coach and back to Zurich in Business Class I made a stopover in Zurich for 5 months. I flew back to NYC from Zurich on Business Class and had a one way ticket from Zurich to NYC in Business Class waiting to be used in December (complicated I know!)
- Paid $450 (business deductible)
- Daily food $50, one final day of must do things, $700, Total with Taxis and incidentals $1,200
Trip 5 NCL Breakaway Cruise from NYC- Bermuda 7 Nights
Trip Report – 7 Days from New York on the Norwegian Breakaway
- Cruise – Complimentary, but with Fees and Upgrades $750
- Specialty Dining, and Drinks onboard $500 Spending money in Bermuda $200
- Total cost $1500
Trip 6 Panama and San Juan 3 nights
Trip Report – Panama and San Juan
- Outbound to Panama Business Class (Free from our Milan trip)
- Panama to San Juan 10K miles plus $25 per person
- San Juan to New York to Zurich (in December) 20K American Airlines miles per person plus $25
- Waldorf Astoria Panama 1 Night 50K Hilton Honors (Penthouse Suite!)
- Radisson San Juan 2 Nights 38K Club Carlson Points (using the BOGO from the Club Carlson Visa)
- Daily Food $100 plus a nice dinner for $200 for a total food cost of $500
Trip 7 Switzerland 4 Nights
Trip Report – Switzerland 3 cities in 4 days
- Outbound Free (Paid for our return from SJU-JFK) Coach
- Return Free for me, (paid for from my return from Dubai) Business Class paid for Allison 20K Coach (includes a free leg to Toronto in May 2014)
- Zurich Sheraton – Free from SPG Bonus we earned in Nashville
- Basel Radisson Blu – 2 Nights for 50K Club Carlson points (BOGO)
- Lucerne Radisson Blu 1 Night for 50K Club Carlson points (we didn’t take the final free night due to travel restraints)
Trains from Zurich to Basel to Lucerne and back to Zurich cost around $200. Food isn’t cheap in Switzerland, average dinner $150 (when going cheap!) total spend on meals and incidentals $1,000.
The travel listed here are the ‘bigger ones’ we have also taken a number of small getaway trips, such as heading down to Atlantic City for some spa weekends, and probably did about 8 of these in 2013, we get complimentary rooms, and whilst there are some transportation costs these are offset by dining credits and other perks.
Trips for Others
We covered the hotel in New York for my Mother to visit, that cost 225,000 Hilton Points for 6 nights at the Waldorf Astoria New York, and later used my Avios to fly two of them to meet us in Switzerland (18000 total Avios for 2 people RT!)
In total we burned about 1.5 Million Miles and Points this year (we actually went over by booking some trips for spring 2014 this month) I thought it interesting to include cash amounts to show that whilst travel is subsidized it still isn’t free, there is no point in going to Milan and not eat Truffles and drink a glass or two of great red wine (well OK you can skip the booze if you must) by the canal.
I thought it important to show the days used too, 42 days of travel is beyond many people, so it is a consideration when embarking on this ‘travel is almost free’ game, and perhaps is something to factor into your earning and burning strategy. The cash spending of around $11,000 this year could theoretically be offset by the BarclayCard Arrival and some aggressive manufactured spending, but in reality when you are spending this much it’s likely you need to dip your hand into your own pocket.
I’m incredibly grateful for the things we have seen and done this year, at a fraction of the cost they should be, and I’m looking forward to a great 2014, I hope you also did really well this year and are raring to go for more!
EDIT – This post was called out on the Mr Money Moustache Forum for my shameful spending, here’s my reply to that: Reply to the Moustachians