May 31 2017

Washington, D.C. trip report (and how you can do it, too)

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washington monument with sun
My family recently returned from a 5-night stay in the Washington, D.C. area. We had a great time!

Quick run-down:

  • We stayed at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Virginia. It was 120,000 Marriott points + $10/day for the upgrade to club level. We also paid $25 for a roll-away. Total with tax out of pocket was $84.94. This was 96% off the cash rate, which would have been $2,135.We flew Southwest to Reagan (DCA) and our round-trip was around 30,000 Southwest points total, plus tax ($5.50 per person, per way). Cash fare would have been $59+tax pp one-way. Total tax  for the 5 of us was $55.

 

  • We used the Park Ride Fly lot and my Chase Sapphire Reserve coded it as reimbursable travel, so the $47 was erased on my credit card statement. I will count it here though, since you can make the argument that you pre-paid it via the card’s high annual fee. $47
  • Our Metro fare as paid by my Sapphire Reserve was also erased. I put $40 total on my CSR, $40 on my Chase Freedom (back in January just to get the metro cards; I hadn’t planned on getting the CSR yet so that’s why I didn’t put the whole thing on there). I had to put an extra $8 in cash on our Metro cards for the final day. Let’s call it $88 for Metro.
  • We visited free sites, including the White House, Smithsonian Air & Space museum, Smithsonian Natural History, Smithsonian American History, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, National Archives, and monuments along the National Mall. $0
  • Tips: bag people, housekeeping, shuttle drivers, and when we made a meal out of it in the hotel lounge I left a tip on the value of the meal. $75
  • Food, miscellany, souvenirs: $527

Total: $876

amor robert indiana scuplture gardenOur Southwest points came from my husband’s work trips last year, and two round-trips were from my account which were leftover from when I had a Chase Southwest Visa. We still have enough points for a family round-trip to one or two more locations, possibly more. This is our fourth family round-trip flight, and we have only paid tax for the last three trips! (Our first trip had a huge reimbursement from our Barclaycards, but we booked the cash fare for that flight).

Our Marriott points came from some of my husband’s work trip stays, but the bulk of it came from the sign-up bonus from my AmEx Starwood card. Those points transferred to Marriott at triple the value. When you stay 5 nights at a Marriott on points, the fifth night is free.

I chose the Crystal Gateway hotel because of its fairly inexpensive point redemption value, but also because it was one that could fit our family of 5 (two double beds and a rollaway was the best I could do, but some area hotels didn’t even have a rollaway or pull-out couch option). It also was connected via tunnel to an underground mall and a Metro stop. The yellow and blue lines connected there, which was convenient for our visits to the National Mall.

Further, access to the club lounge was a tremendous value. We had access to the hotel’s breakfast buffet in their restaurant, which included an omelette station, a variety of hot foods (and NOT powdered eggs), fresh fruit, and the usual continental fare. For other hotel guests eating in the restaurant for breakfast, the charge was $15 per person per day. Nope!

Throughout the day, we could pop in the lounge and grab some fresh fruit, yogurt, a cookie, and drinks. In the evenings, they had an assortment of good appetizers and on several evenings I turned it into a mini meal. Other days, we ate at the connecting mall or at a museum food court. We weren’t too concerned with ultra-economizing here.

We had TSA Pre-Check (my husband already purchased his, and I had mine reimbursed by my Sapphire Reserve) and that meant our whole family could go through the pre-check line. No taking off my shoes, no pulling out my toiletries. It was a shorter line and less hassle.

Overall, it was a great trip and I’m glad we did it! I’m even happier that we could do it with substantial savings via points. white house library

Where next?

Our points reserves have a high balance for future trips, thanks to the hefty sign-up bonuses and regular spending on our cards. We haven’t used any of our Chase points yet, and have about 258,000 Ultimate Rewards between our two accounts. It will continue to grow, since we’re putting the majority of our regular spending on those. We have about 18,000 Starwood points (or triple it at a Marriott) and about 130,000 Southwest points. Good grief, that is a lot! I wrote some general ideas for future travel in this post, but we’ve already tweaked it somewhat by doing our D.C. trip in spring 2017.

At this time, I’m planning on keeping our current cards (2 Sapphire Reserves, my Starwood AmEx, a Chase Freedom and a Freedom Unlimited, and a no-fee Disney Visa. The Disney Visa had a promo for 4% back on utility purchases through the end of August, so we’ve shifted those bills there for some Disney dollars.

I don’t have plans in the near future for another credit card sign up, though eventually I will perhaps try and get my own Freedom Unlimited (and have my husband refer me for an extra $100 right now, tempting!). Also considering some hotel cards with annual free (actually let’s call it what it is: discounted) nights.

My credit score has improved from all of this and is in the low 800s, up from the high 700s.amelia earhart red vega

How you can do it:

If you are starting with 0 points, it is possible to accumulate enough points to do this trip yourself through credit card sign-ups and your regular spending. Or, a 5-night stay at some other Marriott and a low-fare Southwest round-trip. Here are a few ideas:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards trifecta
    1. Chase Freedom (15,000 sign-up plus minimum spend in bonus categories = 17,500). No annual fee.
    2. Chase Freedom Unlimited (15,000 sign-up plus 750 on minimum spend = 15,750). No annual fee.
    3. Chase Sapphire Preferred (50,000 sign-up plus at least 4,000 on your minimum spend. More if in bonus categories) = 54,000. Annual fee waived first year.
    4. Total for these 3 with only minimum spending (you can earn way more points by using the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal and of course your regular spending) = 87,250
  • If you have a spouse, refer him or her for those cards and you will get a referral bonus (typically 5,000 to 10,000 points for that referral) and they’ll get the sign-ups, too.
  • Check rates for your hotel and airfare in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You’ll want to pool all of your Ultimate Rewards points into one account, the Sapphire Preferred (or Reserve if you went for that option). Then, book your stay through the portal OR transfer your points 1:1 to a partner, such as Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, Southwest, United, and others. Do the math on which is a better redemption option for your points.

I suggest the Chase combinations because they are the most open-ended cards for a variety of travel redemptions, thanks to their portal and the ability to transfer to partners. Further, both of the Freedom cards are good long-term keeper cards, as they earn a lot of points and have no annual fees. The $500 in 3 months to get the bonus points is also doable. You will need a premium Chase card (in this case, the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve) to have the ability to transfer your points to travel partners.

If traveling on points intrigues you, but it just won’t work out for a few years (maybe you have a family or work situation prohibiting travel right now), then consider doing the two no-fee Chase Freedom cards and just banking up your points for now. You’ll accumulate a chunk through your regular spending, and when you’re ready to travel at some point, you can then add a Sapphire Preferred or Reserve at that time.

Other ideas:

You could do a combination of Chase cards and co-branded cards

  • Marriott Visa (40,000 points + statement credit, or 80,000 points no statement credit. I have seen various offers lately)
  • Southwest Visa (40 – 50,000 points depending on offer). Do two types of the Southwest Visa paired with card spending and travel and you can get the Southwest Companion Pass. Can be a fantastic deal!
  • AmEx Starwood 25,000 points triples to 75,000 at Marriott with annual fee waived in first year

Many of the co-branded cards are also issued by Chase bank. You’ll want to read up on the 5/24 rule to know more about which cards to prioritize and how to space your applications.

Even if you don’t go whole-hog and go for all points on your hotel and airfare,  covering a portion of your trip is decent savings.

Please get in touch if I can help you map out some possibilities.


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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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