Let’s talk about budgeting your credit card points, hotel rewards, & airline miles!
We set our vacation budgets very early in the year, even when our trip is in September, we’ve likely had a budget in mind for several months. That way, we can take a look at what specials our credit cards are running, keep an eye on flights, and plan accordingly. We also try to reserve any rewards redemption travel for our annual vacay, by saving a significant amount of money on hotels and flights, we are able to do more experiences and take advantage of more fine dining opportunities at our destination.
We’re fortunate enough that we both travel significantly for work and are able to earn points on our personal accounts for business travel. For this trip, we were able to pay for all of our flights on miles, four hotel nights on points, and we are planning on camping one night. So for our 9 nights, we are only actually paying for 4 nights at hotels, and only needed to pay for the associated taxes for our flights.
When budgeting your points, it’s fantastic to have brand loyalty, but it’s more important to take advantage of the best deals available. For example, I have both a Delta and United Airlines credit card because I fly both for work and get rewarded. Additionally, you can use Dlta Skymiles to redeem rewards and travel with SkyTeam partners (like Alitalia and KLM), or you can use United Airlines miles on redemption travel with Star Alliance members (like Jet Blue and Hawaiian Airlines).
Here’s our rewards redemption breakdown for this trip:
For our flights:
- 75,000 miles each to fly Delta direct for roundtrip Atlanta to Honolulu for a total of 150,000 Delta miles.
- 7,000 United Airlines miles each to fly Hawaiian Airlines on 3 one-ways from Honolulu to Kaua’i, Kaua’i to Maui, and Maui back to Honolulu)- for a total of 42,000 Untited miles.
- These flights combined would have cost us $2,516.00.
*note: we spent $56 on taxes and fees, $5.60 per flight.
A note on luggage:
- We both maintain Silver Medallion status on Delta, which grants us one 70 lbs checked bag each. Additionally, with my Delta Reserve Amex, I get one 50 lbs checked bag for myself and for each person traveling on my ticket. So, if needed, we can each check up to 2 bags, totaling 120 lbs for free!
- Typically, the first checked bag is $25, so if we needed to pay for our checked bags, we would have spent at least $25 each way for a minimum total of $50.
- With my United Explorer card by Chase, I get a free checked back on flights, however, this benefit does not transfer to Hawaiian Airlines. Your first checked bag will cost $25 and be strictly limited to 50 lbs.
- Pro Tip: If you register for a free HawaiianMiles account, your first checked bag will only cost you $15!
In total, including luggage, taxes, and fees, we spent $146 for the pair of us, we would have spent $2,641.00.
For a total flight savings of: $2,460.00
For our Hotels:
Hilton Honors Stays
- I use my Hilton American Express to get 7x points on every Hilton purchase. There are Hilton AmEx cards which afford more rewards earnings, but I chose the card with no annual fee. With this card, I’m granted automatic Silver Status. In all honesty, Silver Status doesn’t grant you that much; but, it is definitely better than no status.
- One of the most hidden, but definitely awesome benefits of Reward Redemption Stays with Hilton is that the resort fee is waived on reward stays. This is beneficial in Hawaii where literally every hotel has a resort fee of $20-$40 per night.
On Friday night, we stayed in Honolulu at the Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach for 50,000 Hilton Honors Points.
- The Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach would have cost us:
- Room charge $179.55
- Resort Fees $29
- Total Taxes $31.20
- Total Saved: $239.75.
We’ll spend our last two nights in Hawaii in luxury at The Grand Wailea- A Waldorf Astoria Resort on Maui for 186,000 Hilton Honors Points.
- The Grand Wailea on Maui would have cost us:
- Room Charge $709.00 x 2 = $1418.00
- *note: there is a small discount of around $40 offered to Hilton Honors members, however, for this purposes, I have not included the member rate.
- Resort Fee $40.00 x 2 = $80.00
- Valet Parking $40.00 x 2 = $80.00
- *we will still pay this
- Taxes $216.01
- Total Cost: $1794.01.
- Total Saved: $1714.01.
- Room Charge $709.00 x 2 = $1418.00
Marriott Bonvoy Stays
We do not have a Marriott Bonvoy or SPG credit card, however, Kyle used his Gold American Express member points to transfer them to our Marriott Bonvoy account.
On Saturday, we spent one night at the Courtyard Kaua’i at Coconut Beach (currently being renovated into the Sheraton Kaua’i) for 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points.
- The Courtyard Kaua’i at Coconut Beach would have cost us:
- Room Charge $151.00
- Destination and Amenity fee $20.00
- *we will still pay this, but it includes valet parking for the night
- Taxes $22.50
- Total Cost: $193.60
- Total Saved: $173.60.
Total Saved on Hotels: $2154.36
Total Value of Reward Travel: $4614.36
I don’t like to say that we saved over $4500, because we honestly wouldn’t have done all of these things if we didn’t have points. We would have found a way to take the Southwest flights to Hawaii, we wouldn’t have island hopped, and we wouldn’t have stayed as long, and we wouldn’t have been able to do all of the other excursions that we have planned. We are so grateful that our jobs let us keep the points that we earn by traveling for them, and that we have these opportunities.
In the past, we’ve been able to find fantastic deals for vacation packages in Hawaii by booking through Expedia, however, because we were using so many points this trip, we opted to book direct. We also have friends who were able to book an affordable stay at The Grand Wailea by booking through Costco Vacation Packages. Rest assured, there are ways to save even if you don’t have rewards available, but if you do, make sure you’re spending them wisely!
What’s the best value that you’ve gotten for your rewards?