How I Put together an 8 night trip for 3 to New York and Washington D.C. for less than $1,000.
My cousin is graduating from Columbia University with her PhD this May. She has worked diligently for years, as student, as a graduate instructor, and as a researcher. She studies brains, how they function and how they behave. Suffice to say she has created an impressive resume for herself. She plans to do postdoctoral work, and eventually teach at the university level. Look at her go.
Her graduation in May is an amazing accomplishment. One I want to help her celebrate. And one that I’d love to share with my son who is a junior in high school, already in the thick of college preparations. The sky’s the limit for him and what he can do academically as well. What better inspiration than to attend a PhD graduation at Columbia?
So our plans are underway to visit New York and celebrate with our family. My partner and older daughter are staying home, so it will be me and my son and my baby daughter. Here’s how I have organized the airfare and accommodations for 3 of us for 8 days for less than $1,000 and some of my miles.
AIRFARE: Delta Boise to NYC 46,000 miles plus $44 taxes.
A couple of years ago I applied for an American Express Delta Card with a 40,000 mile sign-on bonus if I spent $3,000 over 3 months. At that time I was only dabbling in earning free travel so I only had the single card. I can easily spend $1,000 a month on expenses like food (yes, use your credit card), cell phone bill and other utilities, occasional dining out, our YMCA membership, and the like, so it was pretty easy to meet the spending requirement. I spent what was necessary and earned a quick 40,000 Delta miles.
Earning it was easy. Turns out it’s been harder to use. 40,000 miles can get you one flight anywhere in the country easily, but there were 3 of us (plus baby). Almost any destination we could get to with those miles I probably would have preferred to drive to so we had the car available.
My Delta miles sat for quite a while waiting for the right use. I had cancelled the credit card to avoid annual fees, but luckily Delta miles never expire. And they will not close your account due to lack of activity (confirmed with a Delta representative by phone). I had been scoping out the reward ticket prices for several months and knew that I could get flights on Delta from Boise to New York City for about 25,000 miles each. Hmmm. I didn’t quite have 50,000 yet.
I had also recently applied for and received a Delta Platinum card, but as of early February I was still trying to earn my bonus miles. However, after I got my Delta Platinum card I received an offer that allowed my partner to apply for and earn the same bonus miles that I was working towards, and I would receive 10,000 miles for referring him. He was onboard, and easily approved. My miles were quickly deposited. And I jumped on using my now 53 something thousand points to reserve our Delta flights. The timing was good and I was able to secure a flight to JFK-NYC, returning home from Newark-NYC, for 23,000 for each of us (plus lap baby) for a total of 46,000 miles and $44 in taxes. Done! I will be earning 70,000 Delta miles with my new platinum card and have a remainder of 7,000 left in my account.
ACCOMMODATIONS: $600 for 5 nights at VRBO in Brooklyn. 24,000 points for 2 nights at Washington, DC Hyatt. $230 for one night in Manhattan.
Sharing a VRBO Rental
One of the best ways to save money in your travel planning is to share the cost. My parents are also going to the graduation and we have decided to share a 2-bedroom rental in Brooklyn Heights, just on the other side of the Brooklyn bridge from Manhattan. The rental costs $200 per night plus $200 cleaning and fees, which works out to $600 for my portion of our 5 night stay. If we were to get a rental for just me, my son and baby, or even a hotel, it would cost significantly more. This way, the baby and I will have a room, my parents will have a room, and my son will have a hide-a-bed couch, or can even stay a night or two with our cousin who also lives in Brooklyn. With rental services like VRBO and Airbnb, each stay is unique and you can’t always be 100% sure what the place will be like. That can go either way for sure! But the location seems great, pictures were good, and we’ll take our chances. We’ve had good luck in the past.
Using Miles & Points
We’ll be taking the train to Washington, DC right after the graduation around day 6 of our trip, and staying two nights at the Hyatt Place on the National Mall. The reviews are great! And I’ll be using 12,000 Hyatt points for each night. 2 queen beds, living room area, and free breakfast. A similar property in New York City was 20,000 points a night, so I feel like I’m saving by visiting DC. Also, the cash rate for the same two nights was $359. I am getting nearly 3 cents per point, which is a pretty good use of points and miles. My points came from my Hyatt card spending (annual fee waived the first year) and Chase Preferred card spending and bonus (annual fee also waived first year). Read how and why I applied for these cards here. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred at a 1:1 rate into my Hyatt account and it couldn’t have been easier. I opened both of these cards in September when I decided that I was going to make 2017 my year of travel and I’m already reaping the rewards.
Using the Low Price Guarantee
We will ride the train back to New York and stay 1 night at the Hyatt Place New York Chelsea, a brand new property that was only scheduled to open this winter. It’s near my graduating cousin’s apartment. I could have paid points, but actually got a pretty good deal using the low price guarantee system. Hyatt guarantees they are giving you the best price for their rooms. If you have booked a room and then find the same room, dates, number of people, etc. advertised for less on another website, and then you let them know within 24 hours, they will match the price, less 20%. I had booked for a paid (not points) night. When I did a search of prices on travel websites, I found a pay in advance price $130 less than my reservation. I sent in a claim using the Hyatt form (easily found in a google search), took a screenshot of the better price and provided the link. Hyatt wrote back within 24 hours. I would get the better price, less 20% as is their policy, but I had to pay in advance. I went for it. I am paying $195 plus taxes, so about $230, for 2 queen beds with kitchenette and free breakfast. $195 for a room in Manhattan at that time of year is phenomenal. I would have only gotten 1.1 cents per point if I paid through Hyatt Rewards, so in this case I felt better about using cash.
Many hotels and booking sites offer lowest price guarantees. Most of them require that you have booked a stay and that you contact them with the lower price information within 24 hours. Some offer to match the lower price and take off an additional percentage. Others offer a price match and a free night. There may be exceptions about what types of websites and booking services they will accept to qualify for the price match. Check each hotel and service for their rules.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION: $100-$125 estimated
We will arrive at JFK around midnight. My parents will have already arrived at the rental house, so that timing will be ok for accessing our accommodations, but it will be too late to use public transportation to get there. I am planning to use Uber. It is a little foreign to me so I am planning to let my 16 year old download the app. and arrange it for us. There are coupons out there to save on your first Uber ride, and I hope we can get a ride for $25 or so. A taxi would be $50-$60.
I plan to get a 7-day pass for both of us for the subway. It provides unlimited rides and costs $31 each. There is no discount for children/teens, but it seems very affordable and convenient, easpecially compared to buying several tickets each day. A single ride ticket costs $2.75, so we break even on our weekly pass when we have taken 12 1-way rides. I’m pretty sure we’re going to reach that in just a few days. Our hotel in Washington, DC is right next to the National Mall, so we’ll probably mostly walk. Or buy inexpensive tickets for the Metro as needed.
Finally, everyone chuckled when I got the Bank of America Amtrak card. There’s no train in our city, so what’s the point? Well, this. We are taking the train from New York to Washington, DC and back for free. This is normally a $100 ride for each of us. The Amtrak card I got was free, no annual fee, and I only had to spend $1,000 in 3 months.
I am excited for the train ride and visit to Washington. So many activities there are free- museums, monuments, the centers of government. All children should get to visit our nation’s capital, so I am happy to be able to visit with my son.
Here are our totals:
$ Spent Miles/Points Spent Amt. Saved
Airfare $ 44 46,000 Delta $700 Accommodations $830 24,000 Hyatt/Ultimate Rewards $600 for 2 nights+
Transportation $112 12,500 Amtrak $200
Total $986 72,500 $1,500 at least
There will be other on the ground expenses of course. Food is the biggie. Even with kitchens in most of our accommodations we will probably eat out most meals. To me it is part of the travel experience to a place like New York City. And, I know that one way to make travel fun for my teenage son is to have a few fun and delicious dining experiences. Luckily I don’t think you need high-end dining to eat well where we’re going. Pizza by the slice, bagel shops, ethnic food, good coffee and sweet treats top our list of foods to sample.
There are lots of free things to do in New York, but some attractions can be pricey. A visit to the top of the Empire State Building will be more than $100 for the 3 of us, for example. I am sure we will splurge where we can and enjoy the finer, but cheaper things when that works for us too. And I’m already on the hunt for more ways to save while we’re there.
Can’t wait to go. I’ll let you know how it all goes in May!