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How Much For a Family Trip To San Francisco?

Cheap vacation to Big Sur


As you read this, we are packing our bags for spring break. Many of our friends and family roll their eyes when we tell them we are headed off for another trip, thinking we spend thousands of dollars and that travel is beyond their reach. In reality, we pay a fraction of retail price for just about all of our vacations. Plus, we trim the fat from other areas in our budget so we can afford the amount we do spend. Cutting cable, buying used cars, and avoiding stores that might tempt us to spend money are some ways we save for the things we value with travel being very high on the list. For those of you who are curious, this is how much we will spend for a family trip to San Francisco.

Flights To San Francisco

We love to use credit card points and miles for air fare, but that usually means having to drive several hours to a major airport. Since we only have five nights for this trip, there wasn’t time for an extra day in the car. If we wanted to get to San Francisco, we needed to fly from closer to home.

We took advantage of the US Airways companion certificates before US Air merged with American Airlines. With the certificate that came with the US Airways credit card, we were able to buy one full price ticket out of Durango and get the other two for $99 each plus taxes and fees. That made the total airfare cost from our little, bitty regional airport only $708. That’s not cheap, but $236 per ticket is as good a deal as you’ll find without driving at least four hours, and we felt it was certainly worth it.

Hotels and Transportation

We will be renting a car once we land in San Francisco and driving south to Monterey. Then we’ll  stay two nights in Monterey and one night in Santa Cruz. After that we have two nights in San Francisco. This is how much sleeping will cost us.

  • Embassy Suites Monterey Bay, 2 nights-  80,000 Hilton Honors Points
  • Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley, 1 night- 30,000 Hilton Honors Points
  • Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 1 night in a club room- 21,000 Hyatt Points
  • Embassy Suites San Francisco Airport, 1 night-$149 plus tax. Paid for with $250 Hilton gift card won in a blog giveaway!

We earned the Hilton points from a 75,000 point offer on the Hilton American Express Surpass card. This card gives us 6x points on grocery purchases. By putting all of our grocery spending on the card, we rack up tons of Hilton points. They aren’t the best redemption value, but Hiltons are everywhere, and we love the Embassy Suites chain for their family features of free breakfast and snacks and the fact that every room is a suite.

The cost of the rental car will be $169.82 that we will pay out of pocket. We plan to return the rental car once we are back in San Francisco (valet parking at $60 a night, no thanks!) and either walk or take public transportation in the city and back to the airport. I’m not ruling out a cab if the weather is bad and we get tired. I’m not sure on the total cost, but I’m budgeting $75, also out of pocket. I’m not sure how much gas costs in the Bay area, but it’s probably not cheap, so we’ll set aside $40 for fuel.

Total out of pocket cost for hotels and transportation=$284.82

The beauty of this amount is that we have $302 in our “Party Money” fund from selling stuff, taking surveys, really any type of unexpected money that wasn’t earned from normal or side income. We sock it away in our little jar (it used to be in a box but one of our tenants left a nifty container behind) and pull it out for spring break.


We love to eat out on vacation, but we have rules. Breakfast comes from the hotel if at all possible. Luckily, we have free breakfast at all of our hotels and free evening snacks at all but the one in Santa Cruz. Lunch will also be on the cheap by making sandwiches from grocery store food or going to Subway in a pinch.

saving money for travel

Who would leave this gem behind?

Dinner will probably be our expensive meal, but we are not looking for Michelin quality. The eating budget is $80 per day or $480 for the week. Also in our “Party Money” jar, we have $500 in American Express or Visa gift card that were either given to us as gifts or earned in some strange way. One $200 gift card is for sharing a vacation story on a travel blog! Whenever any fairly easy opportunity to earn money or gift cards pops up, I’m all over it. Sometimes I feel it’s not worth my time, but it certainly adds up and seems worthwhile whenever we want to take a trip.


For sure we are going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and to Alcatraz. Besides that, we don’t have any activities planned. Hopefully we can do some hikes around Big Sur, and we’ll probably go to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

The aquarium costs $104.85 and Alcatraz will be $78.25 for the three of us. We’ll maybe throw in another $50 for entertainment just in case.

Total for entertainment on this trip=$203.10- a $50 statement credit from an offer from the Chase Hyatt credit card makes our out of pocket total. $153.10.

Basically once you subtract all of our party money and gift cards, the trip is only costing us the $708 in airfare. Considering this would be a $3200 trip, I’m OK with that!

Are you planning a spring break trip? How much do you spend on a five night vacation?

Big Sur image credit: Flickr


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Kim, have a safe trip to San Francisco. I am excited to read your post on your budget and expenses, as well as your travel destinations! I haven’t actually made a plan where to go this year. But, I can’t afford to have a five-day vacation because of work. Have fun, Kim!

    • I had many years when I didn’t take much vacation either. Hopefully down the road, you’ll be able to have more time off.

  2. We are getting ready to leave on Spring break tomorrow, but we’re going all-inclusive this time. Hopefully I don’t come back fat like I did last time!

    When we aren’t doing all-inclusive, we usually eat a cheap breakfast and lunch and go out for dinner. It’s too expensive to eat out for three meals and too big of a pain too.

    • It is so hard not to eat when it’s all included! I get tired of eating out and by day two or three we are looking to cook something if possible.

  3. Very impressive! Have fun on your trip!

  4. Hey Kim it’s a huge coincidence but Victoria and I are planning on going to San Francisco this Summer! We will use her $800 credit from United Airlines to pay for most of the two flights (she only had to wait an hour and a half for the next flight and got to ride first class….got paid $800. Can’t beat that!). I’m curious what the hotel expenses would cost you WITHOUT your points? We only have airline miles so we will be paying the hotel fees. We may only go for ~4 days, though, and head to Vegas for a long weekend some other time this year.

    Please also share what you guys end up doing and if you find any good restaurants – looking forward to hearing about your trip!

    • I will do a full trip report when we get back to see how close I was. Hotels in the city seem to be around $200-$300 per night. Santa Cruz and Monterey were around $150. We only looked at Hiltons and Hyatts mostly but I’m sure there are some cheaper places. A good deal would be if you could get an IHG (Holiday Inn) card. I believe they are doing 70k miles after $1000 spend over 3 months. The annual fee is $49, but you get a free night at any of their hotels every year. There are quite a few Holiday Inns in San Francisco that can be redeemed with points. We didn’t use that program because most were two double beds or a queen, and we wanted a little more room. For two people, it would be great.

  5. Nice work Kim! Have fun in San Fran! We get the same goofy looks from our family when we tell them we’re not spending much for our traveling. We’re taking the kids to Minneapolis for the weekend next week and then the two of us are going to San Diego for 4 days at the end of April – all on points.

    • I’m not sure I could ever pay retail price for a trip again. It would be like having to pay full price for a pair of glasses!

  6. This sounds SO fun Kim!!! I love San Francisco and would love to take my son there sooner than later. We did not plan a spring break trip this year because my hubby and son had separate spring breaks but we are planning to travel next year and we are putting our credit hacking into place to make it happen.

    • Next year our daughter’s school and Jim’s school are on different breaks, so we’re trying to blow it out this year.

  7. Love this breakdown! San Fran is on our list, and hotels are the hardest to figure out, so I appreciate your sharing how you earned the points.

    My husbands family is from Alamosa, so I know all about having to drive 4 hours to a major airport. No fun!

    Happy Spring Break. Can’t wait to read your trip report 🙂

    • I am really happy to be going out of Durango. It’s usually Albuquerque. The drive to the airport is never that bad, but it seems to take forever to get home.

  8. I love San Francisco and Northern California. It’s beautiful and you’ll have a great time! Gas is still over $3 in LA, so depending on how much gas you expect to use (and what kind of vehicle you rented) you may need to slightly bump up your gas amount. We’re still a couple weeks away from our Spring Break, and the girls are already counting down. 🙂 Have fun!

    • I’m hoping not to drive that much, but we will still probably use more gas than I expect. Maybe we’ll get a Prius! I think spring break is my favorite school holiday. It comes just at the right time.

  9. Have fun! I hope you have nice weather! You know what Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

  10. I love it when we can use rewards points! We paid for a hotel in Vegas for free (other than a $15 “resort fee”) with them. My husband took a trip up to Washington for a week. Airfare and rental car were covered by points. He couch-surfed to make it really cheap.

    This year, since his back is getting worse, we may have to pay for a hotel. Still… not bad.

  11. Jon @ Money Smart Guides

    It all depends on where we go that determines the amount we spend. In most cases, we try to find the best deals so we pay the least out of pocket. But then there are vacations we take that we will spend a little more on just to enjoy a really nice villa.

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