With the Chicago Seminars happening October 11 through 13, we thought for this week we might show you how to get there. But then we started researching it—checking award availabilities, hotel redemption prices, etc—and we realized something…this is a terrible use of points and miles.
We’ve got some good travel tips, tricks, and thoughts.
THE APS – No cards
Round Trip from the USA to Chicago
Method: Out of Pocket
Explanation: We checked 4 airlines—United, American, Delta, Southwest—and sampled between Los Angeles and Chicago. On United we found a Saver award getting you into Chicago at 4pm for 12,500. But all Saver awards leaving Chicago were for early morning Sunday, so you’d be missing the day at the Seminar. Later flights were 25,000. So the entire trip would cost 37,500 MileagePlus miles. Rick values United miles at 1.8 cents, so 37,500 miles would be $675 worth of travel.
On American, we found Economy MileSAAver seats for 12,500 heading out to Chicago. However, returning the lowest available was 25,000 (unless you extended your trip until Monday, at which point 12,500 was again available). So on American, the total trip would again cost 37,500. Rick also values AA miles at 1.8 cents, so this would also be worth $675 of travel.
On Delta, we found economy outbound for 40,000 miles. And economy return for 40,000 miles. Delta’s award chart lists 40,000 miles as the price of a business-class medium availability award ticket. So, of all the award availabilities, Delta is by far the worst. Rick values Delta at between 1 and 1.1 cents. So 80,000 miles would be worth between $800 and $880.
Southwest handles miles differently and charges a certain number of points per dollar depending on the tier. The lowest tier is Wanna Get Away at 60 points per dollar. The cheapest outbound Wanna Get Away price on Southwest for our dates is $184 and the cheapest returning is $184, for a total of $368 or 22,080 Rapid Rewards points. This looks to be the best option, however…
Using the ITA Travel Matrix, we found a round-trip United flight that costs all of $300. Plus it leaves late Sunday, so you can attend the entire Seminar.
Out of Pocket Cost: $300
A Chicago Hotel
Cost: ~$100 (~$50 per night)
Method: Out of Pocket
Explanation: The Seminars are at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove, and unfortunately, as of this time, it’s sold out. We checked on three other hotels nearby: Holiday Inn Express Arlington Heights (3 miles away from the Seminars), the Sheraton Suites Chicago Elk Grove (3.2 miles away), and the Hilton Doubletree Chicago Wood Dale (3.5 miles away).
The Holiday Inn Express Arlington Heights is available for 15,000 Priority Club points per night, or $99 per night. Everyone values points differently, but you would need to value Priority Clubs points at 0.66 cents to make this a break-even redemption. Rick values them at about 0.7 cents.
The Sheraton Suites Chicago Elk Grove is available for 3,000 Starpoints per night, or $84 per night. Starpoints are arguably the most valuable of the hotel points. At $84 per night, this gives the points a value of 2.8 cents. For some people, that’s not a terrible redemption (Rick values Starpoints at about 2.5 cents). However, do you really want to spend valuable and (relatively difficult to earn) Starpoints at a Category 2 hotel while you’re at a seminar (albeit an awesome one)? Or would you rather use them for a fantastic vacation?
Lastly, the Hilton Doubletree Chicago Wood Dale is available for 10,000 HHonors points per night, or (if doing advance payment) for $69. This gives these points a value of 0.69 cents. Given the recent devaluation, Rick values HHonors points at 0.4 cents, so theoretically this isn’t a bad redemption. But, again, is this how you want to spend your points?
The best advice we can give right now is to name your own price on Priceline. Try getting a room for $50 or $40. Or even $30. Or less. Check out BiddingForTravel.com–the forum lists which hotels fall into which star categories. Plus, there are posts where people reveal which bid rate was accepted. One post shows the Sheraton Suites Elk Grove going for $33.
Out of Pocket Cost: ~$100
Bottom line, you can go places you’ve always wanted to visit, see things you never thought you could see, and all for prices you can afford. And sometimes it’s just better to pay cash. Use your miles earning credit card to buy the airline ticket and collect the miles. If you use Priceline, you may not collect hotel points for the stay, but don’t ever spend more money than you need to just to get points and miles.
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Annual Fee: $49 fee waived for the first year
- Foreign Fees: No
- Card Type: Hotel
The IHG Rewards Club Visa is often cited as one of the most underrated hotel credit cards, with good reason. The official offer is for 70,000 points after $1,000 spent within three months, with the first year’s fee waived. The card comes with an annual free night certificate that can be used at any IHG property, including Intercontinental hotels - making this certificate worth upwards of 50,000 points. This is far more generous than some other hotel cards, which limit the categories in which free night certificates can be redeemed.
Cardholders earn 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels; 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants; 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Moreover, you’ll get a 10% rebate on award redemptions, up to 100,000 points per year. The card also comes with Platinum status, though that doesn’t get you much with IHG. Still, this is a fantastic card to have in your wallet, with benefits that far outweigh the already low $49 annual fee.
- Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening
- Enjoy a free night of card membership at over 4,700 hotels worldwide
- Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at our hotels
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
- Bonus points redeemable at hotels such as Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn®
- Automatic platinum elite status, as long as you remain a cardmember
- $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49