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.