Rewards Points Travel

Big Trip Booked with Points!

December 23, 2015

You might remember from a previous post that Lacey and I have been stacking credit card rewards points for about 8 months with the original end goal being a free trip to Moorea, Tahiti. Well…we changed our minds. I know, I know, changing your mind this late in the points planning process isn’t usually a good idea, but when you hear about the trip we just booked, you may understand.

Before I get into the details of the trip, I want to tell you what caused us to switch the game plan and put Tahiti on hold. After 8 months of strategic reward points earning, we had a total of 160,000 American Airlines points and 250k Hilton Honors points along with 4 weekend night certificates. Pretty solid pile we accumulated right?  We would’ve needed to double that amount before we’d be able to get the trip we wanted to Tahiti.  Kind of a defeating thought at first.

Lacey and I started thinking more about whether or not the Tahiti trip was actually worth all of the points and additional fees it would take to stay at an over-the-water bungalo at the Hilton Moorea.  Yes, this would likely be one of the most beautiful beach vacations you could take, but that’s ALL the trip would be…a beach vacation.  You would check in to your hotel and spend a week lounging/swimming/relaxing.  Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE vacations like that, but we just had a vacation like that in Cabo over Thanksgiving.  We’re kinda jonesing for a more action packed vacation now.

I often break vacations down into 2 categories:

  • Do nothing vacation – lay on your ass all day, eat tons of food, sleep way too much…usually involves a beach.
  • Do stuff vacation – action packed days full of museums, landmarks, concerts, sporting events, and general site seeing.

Last week we definitely booked a “do stuff vacation” …at a HUGE discount with our points.
We’re doing 5 cities in 2 weeks. New York, Florence, Rome, Malta, and Chicago.  There’s definitely enough to keep us busy each and every day of this trip.

So here are the details:
We are flying to New York City for 2 days. We’re staying at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria on Park Ave for free with our Hilton weekend night certificates. The plan is to try and catch either a Broadway show or a Yankee’s game (the Red Sox will be in town!), or hopefully both.  In addition, we have some general walking around/site seeing to do…not to mention some excellent pizza to eat!

From New York, we’ll head to Florence, Italy for 3 days. We’re planning on visiting the Duomo, seeing the David, and likely doing a wine tour in Tuscany. We’re still working on booking a small apartment in downtown Florence (out of pocket) for this trip. Florence is a beautiful, romantic, and mellow city when compared to some of the other major Italian cities. We can’t wait! …not to mention, they’ll be some excellent pizza to eat.

Florence-Duomo | DitchingNormal

After Florence, we’ll hop on a train to Rome where we’re going to spend 2 days.  Most of our time will likely be spent around Vatican City since we didn’t get to see St. Peter’s on our last trip. The Italian Open will be going on and we’re going to do our best to catch a session. Maybe we’ll see the Williams sisters throw down.  We tried to book a free stay at the glamorous Rome Cavellari with 2 more of our weekend certificates, but unfortunately the hotel is fully booked.  We’re going to pay out of pocket for a cool little B&B we’ve stayed at previously.  Rome is by far the most historic place we’ve been lucky enough to visit.  We’re really excited to head back…not to mention, there should be some good pizza to eat.

Trevi Fountain. Rome, Italy | DitchingNormal

Then we’re off to Malta for 5 days. Malta is a beautiful, small, island below Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you have likely seen some imagery of Malta as numerous scenes were shot there. One of the more recognizable landmarks is the Azure Window. We booked (with points) 5 nights at the Hilton in Malta. We’re super excited to explore this island…not to mention, find out what kind of pizza they have there.

Game-of-Thrones-Malta

the famous Azure Window (arch) shown in the background

Finally, we’ll make our way back to Chicago for a couple of days where we’ll be using 2 more weekend night certificates to stay at the historic Palmer House on Monroe St. Chicago is one of my most favorite cities of all time.  I am really excited for Lacey to finally experience this city.  This is going to be a great place to wrap up our vacation with museums and site seeing…not to mention, there will be some great pizza to eat. We’re coming for you Gino’s East!

Gino's East Chicago Style Pizza | DitchingNormal

So now, the main event.

How much would this trip have cost if we paid for everything on our own? $10,284

How much are we paying for this trip? $1390 total ($695 each)

Since we used points to book the majority of the trip, all that was left to pay for was:
1 one-way flight home from Chicago.
2 round trip flights Rome to Malta
5 nights of hotels (Rome/Florence)
Taxes on our free flights

We are getting an 86% discount on this trip by using our rewards points. We saved about $8,900.  You might be in disbelief, and so was I, but I looked up the exact cost of the same flights and same hotels for the dates we were traveling…and that was the exact cost of the trip.  Yikes!

Our 8 months of the points planning and strategizing seems to be paying off!

All this being said, we still had 100k Hilton points left over after booking this trip. We could have used these points to stay for free in Florence, but the Hilton properties there don’t look all that cool.  We opted to pay out of pocket for what should be a better experience at local B&B’s.

*side note, we ended up using those remaining 100k points to book 3 nights at a suite in Houston for our upcoming trip to see the Final Four. This saved us about $950.

To wrap it up, we’re stoked for our upcoming trip! We still hope to make it to Tahiti one day, but are more than fine with putting it on pause for now…especially for a trip like this!

Below are the cards that gave us the bonus rewards to help make this trip happen:
American Airlines – AAdvantage card
Citi – ThankYou Premier Card
Hilton – Reserve Card
Hilton – Signature Card

Let me know if you have any questions!

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8 Comments

  • Laura Tully December 23, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    This is amazing Mat and Lacey!! Shove me in your suitcase!! Cannot wait to see the pics!!

    • ditchingnormal
      ditchingnormal December 23, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks Laura! We’re so excited! Keep us posted on anything fun you get in to as well! Any tips on quality/affordable cameras?? We need an upgrade!

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