I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about my Hawaii vacation by now, but it really was the highlight of the year for us so far. It also took more than a year of planning to book most of the trip with points and miles for our family of three. We’ve booked smaller, closer trips with points before, but this was the first time we’ve really used our credit card rewards for high end resort stays and expensive flights. Let me say that this is in no way a negative post. Taking a two week vacation is something I used to only dream about, but now that I know the ropes, I think we can do even longer periods of travel in the future. However, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, so here are the pros and CONS of booking a vacation with points.
Cons of Traveling With Points
Again, I am not being negative. Maybe these should be called reminders instead of cons?
Award Rooms Are Small
When you book a standard award with points, it usually isn’t for the nicest room in the place. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have hotel status unless it automatically comes with a credit card you have in your wallet. I’m never going to stay anywhere enough nights to be a “valued guest.” Award rooms might be on the floor with no view or in the least desirable part of the hotel. They also might be small, with two double beds or one king. In non-US locations, they might even have twin beds.
This might be fine for a single or couple, but if you are traveling with kids, putting 4 or 5 people in a room with a one bed could be a challenge. Personally, I could care less about a view or what floor we are on. If we have a view, great. If not, I didn’t come on vacation to see the sights from my bed.
We will sometimes use extra points or pay an upgrade fee to have a bigger room with a pull out couch or rollaway bed. If we are staying briefly, it’s no big deal, but I know our time in Hawaii was much better because we had some extra space. It’s all in what you value, but just be prepared that your room with points might not be the one featured on the website.
Watch Out For The Extra Fees
Many people think travel with points is free, but with flights, you still have taxes and sometimes fees to pay. With our tickets on Hawaiian Airlines, we only had to pay $10 for each reward ticket, which is a smokin’ deal. Some international airlines tack on fuel surcharges that can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a business or first class tickets. Make sure to check the airline you want to fly before planning which points you’ll need to book.
With hotels, when you book a higher end place on points, there won’t be taxes, but some might still make you pay daily resort fees or parking charges. Even if there are no fees, it might be valet only or you might have to use a bellman to carry around your luggage. I guess you could not tip, but that’s pretty rude. All in all, if you pick options with self parking and try to avoid unnecessary services, you should come out ahead, but if your “free” room costs $100 a day in fees and tips, you might have been better off booking a less fancy place, at least from a financial stand point.
Vacation Lifestyle Inflation
I never stayed anywhere nicer than a Ramada or Holiday Inn growing up. Motel 6 used to be my lodging of choice when I was single. Now that I’ve been in a few nice hotels and resorts, my tastes have gone up. Not having groups of motorcycle gangs in the parking lot or weird stains on the carpet is not really a bad thing, but it’s easy to get caught up in vacation lifestyle inflation.
The Grand Hyatt in Kauai really is all that and a bag of chips, but you will pay lots for that extra bag of chips. Standard rooms go for $700 a night. The room we had books for $1200/night. People who actually pay these rates are either really
stupid rich and don’t need to worry or they can’t afford it and are living beyond their means. Regardless, you will feel special if you stay here or somewhere similar. I don’t know how many times Jim and I looked at each other and felt like we had “moved on up” like George and Weezie.
Staying for a reduced rate might make you feel like it’s OK to eat the $31 continental breakfast (yes, actual price!) or pay $150 a day to rent a cabana so you can sit by the pool under a tent. We did spend some money on this trip, but it was pretty much planned ahead of time. Make sure not to get sucked into a $19 room service hamburger if that isn’t what you wanted to spend your vacation money on.
Pros of Traveling With Points
Duh, It’s Cheap or Free!
There is no way on earth we would have gotten to stay in some of the places we stayed on this trip if we hadn’t booked with points. If you’ve never stayed in a nice hotel, it’s a wonderful experience and one I highly recommend.
If we had to pay out of pocket for this trip, even staying in a cheaper place would have been a few thousand dollars. I won’t say it would have stopped us, but it would mean we could only go on vacation every few years instead of taking some sort of trip every month or two.
So far this year, we’ve been to visit family in Kentucky twice, to Phoenix, San Diego, Aspen, Moab, and now Las Vegas and Hawaii. We’ll also be heading to Yellowstone National Park this fall and back to Phoenix and Moab later in the year. I realize most of these are not expensive trips, and we don’t use points on all of them.
By using our points for the bigger trips, we are able to take several smaller ones throughout the year. If that isn’t reason enough to pay off your debts and get your financial life in order, I don’t know what is. I didn’t get to see much of the world growing up. I think I still turned out OK, but I know travel makes me a happier person, and life is just too short not to be happy!