These are really fun emails for me, when I learn something completely new and can pass it on to all of you.
Take note in particular about the Continental Airlines frequent flier miles to Amtrak redemption and the trip Chris and his fiance got out of it. I did not know it took so few points for a roomette.
I’ve been reading your blog since December, so I’m relatively new on the scene. But between your blog and some outside research (mainly FlyerTalk and Randy Petersen’s blog), I feel like I’ve got a pretty good understanding of how this game is played. Feel free to share any of this email (in its entirety or per your editing) with anyone you like.
I’m getting married June 18, and with wedding expenses to consider, we obviously don’t want to spend a fortune (not that we have one) on traveling. My fiancee and I immediately decided that we’d use the 75k AAdvantage offer to finance our honeymoon, but weren’t certain how fast we’d be able to meet that spending requirement. But as a faithful reader of your blog, I knew that the miles from the Continental checking account would post almost instantly, so we each signed up and got a total of 50K frequent flier miles. We’ve financed a mini-moon — a precursor to our honeymoon — almost exclusively with those frequent flier miles. Here’s how:
As you’re probably aware, the Continental OnePass miles are interchangeable with Amtrak Guest Rewards points. We spent 20,000 points (total, not each) to purchase a one-way ticket in a roomette from LA to Chicago. A direct trip (via Amtrak’s Southwest Chief) would have been a two-night trip through some pretty mundane terrain. For the same number of points, we were able to book a three-night trip on Coast Starlight and Empire Builder — arguably the most scenic routes Amtrak has to offer. We essentially got three nights of lodging, transportation to Chicago with all en route meals included, plenty of quality time together, and a tour of America’s finest back country for 20,000 points. We’ll bring a suitcase full of wine. The retail value of this trip was over $1,500 and we got it for 4/5 of the miles we earned by signing up for a $25 debit card. By the way, if you’ve got interested readers, they should know that they could add an additional night to this itinerary by routing Albuquerque-LA-Portland-Chicago. We opted not to.
We’ll use Priceline to pick up a few hotel rooms while we’re in Chicago. I’d use the free nights from the Hyatt card if there were any Hyatts in Chicago that would be worth it (and if we weren’t planning on redeeming them in Hawaii, Paris, or Tokyo). Otherwise, money spent on lodging aside, this trip is costing us $60.
I just wanted to add one more piece of information. I signed up for the Chase Hyatt credit card, and was billed the $75 membership fee the day I received the card, but didn’t pay the fee immediately because I didn’t know it existed. I was charged $2.62 interest on that $75 fee. I emailed Chase through the secure message center, asking them to reconsider that $2.62 since I had never actually made a purchase. They replied that not only would they be waiving that $2.62, they’d waive the $75 membership fee. Of course, YMMV, right?
I wrote Chris back asking about the redemption of 20K for two and how was he sure that meals were included? Seemed too good to be true. Here was his reply:
I’d first like to correct a mistake. I confused Gary Leff with Randy Petersen.
On to your questions:
1. I initially made that assumption as well. A roomette is 20,000 points regardless of whether it’s for one or two passengers. You’ll find the same thing if you try to book a roomette with cash; a roomette/room/family bedroom is the same price regardless of the number of passengers. The base rail fare is different, of course, but the price of the room is static. In my mind, that’s what makes this use of points particularly efficient: it’s essentially buy-one-get-one-free. But train travel isn’t for everyone…the roomettes aren’t nearly as luxurious as some of the trans-Pacific business seats. The price is right, though.
2. Bedrooms/Roomettes/Family bedrooms are Amtrak’s first class. For information regarding the roomette in particular, you can visit: http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/
I’ve also attached the menus from Coast Starlight. The dining car is available to the coach passengers as space permits, hence the presence of listed prices. The Parlour Car is open only to first class passengers (who don’t pay for meals), hence the absence of pricing information.
We are revamping the Sunday blog post to include your Success Stories and removing the Funnies. If you have a successful frugal trip story you’d like to share, be a Sunday guest blogger and send me your story at
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