Summer Travel Hacking: How We Travel Cheaply Using Points and Miles

Our family is very lucky in that we get to split our time between Buenos Aires and the United States. This summer, due to work and personal commitments, we’ll be back in the States for almost 3 months, which means skipping most of the gray Buenos Aires winter.

While these trips are great, traveling with a family of four can be quite expensive. This is why I’ve become quite adept at playing the miles and points game as well as doing what I can to manufacture spend and earn as many points as possible. (If you’re not familiar with this, check out some of my other posts.)

This month, we’ll fly from Buenos Aires to Boston and then borrow a car from a friend. Over the rest of the summer, we’ve got road trips planned to Burlington, Montreal, Boston (twice), Lake George, the Berkshires and Mohegan Sun. We return in September from Boston to Buenos Aires.

Here’s the quick summary of how we’ve used miles and points to accomplish this without spending very much money:

Flight

We’re flying American Airlines from Buenos Aires to New York where we’ll spend three nights before flying to Boston. On the way back, we’re flying Boston to New York where we’ll spend one night before flying to Buenos Aires. (Unfortunately AA has since eliminated stopovers, so this routing will not work anymore.)

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American Express Centurion Lounge

We’ll also get to relax in the American Express Centurion Lounge at Ezeiza before our flight by having the American Express Platinum Card. They offer free food, drinks and even Freddo ice cream!

For our family of three plus an infant, this would have cost over U$S4300 if we had to pay for it. Instead, we’re using 50,000 miles per person plus $360 in taxes and fees. We obtained these AA miles from credit card signup bonuses as well as having a Bank Direct AA checking account that earns miles. (If you want me to refer you, let me know and we’ll both get 1,000 bonus miles.)

Hotels

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50,000 points per night

We’re spending three nights at the Intercontinental Times Square in NYC which would cost us U$S 1548.66 and be completely out of our budget. Instead, we’re spending $140 in cash and 80,000 IHG points which we earned most of from our mattress run in Buenos Aires. We also used a free night certificate that we get simply for having the IHG Reward Club credit card and paying the $49 annual fee. A pretty great deal!

On our first trip to Boston, we’re staying at the Best Western for $167.78 in cash – but, of course there’s a deal there too… We booked the hotel on Rocketmiles, which awards airline points for hotel bookings. We got in on a promotion they ran which will give us 6,000 AA miles for this stay. As I value AA miles at about $.02 each, this means a $120 rebate. Not bad. (If you use my link to signup for Rocketmiles, we’ll both get a 1,000 point bonus with your first stay.)

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12,000 SPG Points per Night

For our second trip to Boston, we’re staying at The Liberty Hotel. This would have cost us $913.31, but we’re using 24,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points instead. We earned these by spending on the SPG Amex card. These are some of the most valuable points around as they not only work for SPG hotels but also transfer to many airline programs. (They currently have a promotion for 30,000 bonus points if you sign up for the SPG card with my link. You have to spend $5,000 in 6 months, but that is easily done for free just by using Amazon payments.)

For our Montreal road trip and our Berkshire stop, we took advantage of the IHG Priority Club Points Break. This quarterly offer from IHG is one of the best deals in the travel world. They offer discounted 5,000 point per night rates at a select number of hotels. Since you can “buy” IHG points for $.007 each, this works out to only $35/night! The deals sell out fast, but we managed to snag two nights at the Holiday Inn Express Montreal ($373.09) and one night at the Holiday Inn Berkshires ($167.54). So, for 15,000 points ($105) we managed to get $540.63 in travel.

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Great deal at the Park Hyatt nearby.

Next on the road trip list is a surprise concert for my wife at Mohegan Sun (she never reads the blog, so no worries about her finding out). We needed two rooms for the night so that her mother can watch the kids, and unfortunately the Mohegan Sun Hotel is independent and ridiculously pricey at $599/night! Luckily, there is a Hyatt Place nearby with a free shuttle to Mohegan Sun and a more affordable price of $488.40 for both rooms. Of course, what makes this even better is that it’s only 8,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points! That’s $.03 per point which is a great redemption value! We simply transferred the points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt and booked the rooms.

A weekend trip to Lake George means two rooms at Country Inn and Suites. This would have cost $1,061.16 during the peak summer season, but I had won two free night certificates from a travel blog and used that for one room. For the other room, I used 38,000 Club Carlson points for one night and got one night free as a beneift for having the Club Carlson branded credit card.

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50,000 Points per Night

And finally on our way home, we decided to spend one night at The Conrad New York. The cost of this night would have been $486.30, but instead we used 70,000 Hilton HHonors points that we earned through a credit card signup bonus. We’ll also get free Internet and free breakfast as well as late check out for having Hilton Gold status (from our credit card).

For a couple of other trips, we needed more space than a hotel would provide and booked some great accommodations on AirBNB for less than the cost of the local hotels.

Whew! It took a bit of effort, but when you look at what we get:

  • $4300 airfare for $360 and 150,000 AA miles ($.026 per mile)
  • $1548.66 Intercontinental New York stay for $140 and 80,000 IHG points ($.017 per point)
  • $167.78 Boston Best Western stay to earn 6,000 AA points ($.028 paid per point)
  • $913.31 The Liberty Boston stay for $0 and 24,000 SPG points ($.038 per point)
  • $373.09 Holiday Inn Montreal stay for 10,000 IHG points ($.037 per point)
  • $167.54 Holiday Inn Berkshires stay for 5,000 IHG points ($.034 per point)
  • $488.40 Park Hyatt Mohegan Sun stay for 16,000 Hyatt points ($.030 per point)
  • $530.58 Country Inn and Suites Lake George stay for 38,000 Club Carlson points ($.014 per point)
  • $486.30 Conrad New York stay for 70,000 Hilton HHonors points ($.007 per point)

Adding it all up, that’s almost $9,000 in travel for only $547.78 plus points and miles. Not too bad IMHO… And this is why it kills me when I hear from friends who redeem their credit card points for gift cards at $.01 each. There is so much more value in those points!

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Aerolineas Argentinas Business Class Review

Aerolineas Argentinas is a bit of a running joke in Argentina. They are usually late – if they fly at all. There are often work stoppages. They have been hemorrhaging state money for years. People try and find any other airline to fly if they can. Well, things may be looking up…

I had previously written about using Delta SkyMiles to fly Aerolineas Argentinas to Buenos Aires and how there was a ton of award availability with Aerolineas. I finally had the chance to fly business class (Club Condor) on their new(ish) JFK to EZE route  last month and was pleasantly surprised. (I did have to tell my wife it was a Delta flight, as she was worried about me flying Aerolineas Argentinas.)

Both flights were on time, and the one from JFK to EZE even got in at least an hour early. Supposedly they have an excellent on-time record for this route.

The new Airbus A330-200 planes that they’re flying on the EZE to JFK route are really nice. The business class section has soft blue lighting, built-in entertainment centers and lie-flat seats. I can honestly say that these were the most comfortable business seats I have flown in so far (vs Delta, American and AeroMexico). I was able to lie on my side, partially curl up and sleep for a good 5-6 hours, which is pretty impressive for a flight.

The food was good. Nothing to write home about, but perfectly acceptable. Service started a bit slowly as they did not offer drinks at boarding, but the flight attendants were around regularly once the flight was in the air.

A great benefit of flying business class is that you can use the British Airways lounge at JFK as Aerolineas does not have their own. This lounge was spacious with a self-serve bar, including draught beer on tap. If only I had known, I would have gotten there earlier! On the Ezeiza side, I opted to visit the new American Express Centurion Lounge rather than the Aerolineas Lounge which I had been to before. The American Express Lounge is great, but way too crowded. On the two times I have been there, I had to wait to find seats both times.

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Slingbox 350 – Great deal today

Amazon has the Slingbox 350 on sale today for only $99. This is the lowest price it has ever been, and a good time to pick one up.

We’ve previously written about the Slingbox and if you have someone in the US with a cable subscription you can use, it’s a great way to get US television in Argentina to your computer or mobile device. Of course, you’ll also need a shipping address in the US to send it to.

We’ll be upgrading our older model for this price and selling the old one on eBay. Ours sees a lot of use during college football season.

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Greenpeace vs Vitamina Argentina

vitamina greenpeace argentina 300x300 Greenpeace vs Vitamina ArgentinaSeems that Vitamina plans to destroy more than 14,000 acres of forests in Salta, Argentina and Greenpeace is on a mission to stop it. They have posted a viral video stunt that shows how quickly Vitamina can destroy forests.

In addition, they are urging people to write to the owners of Vitamina to protest and also tweet to their spokesperson, Olivia Palermo, letting her know your thoughts on the brand she represents.

Check out the video and links above to learn more.

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