To celebrate Ashley’s 25th birthday (she’s SO old!) we decided to head to Florida for a long weekend, and met up with another friend there. Using a combination of points and other methods, we were able to keep the travel costs down…some of them so low that even I was impressed by it. Here’s the breakdown:
- Flight - nearly a year ago, when I was still living in San Francisco, there was a short-lived promotion run by Southwest through their shopping portal that paid 30 points/dollar spent on Sears purchases. It turned out that you could earn these points from purchasing giftcards, which you could then resell on websites like PlasticJungle and Cardpool (if you didn’t have things you wanted to buy at Sears of course). In the end, if you purchased $7,600 in giftcards you could earn enough points to get a Southwest Companion Pass for essentially free (turns out I made about $100 on it, but I will say it was a lot of work). But the Companion Pass is really effing cool. I chose Ashley as my companion, knowing she was the most likely person I’d travel with in the coming year (you have to leave from the same airport on the same flight). So essentially, any flight she and I take together on Southwest until December 2013 is half off…since her ticket is free. Southwest ran a sale several months ago on tickets which we jumped on knowing the fares were fully refundable and likely priced as low as we would ever see them. We were able to book a roundtrip, direct flight from Philly to Fort Lauderdale for $140 all in, or $70 per person.
- Hotel – if you remember the chart from one of the first blog posts, I was sitting on a large number of Wyndham Rewards points I’d earned from various promotions. I was able to find a hotel in a great location on South Beach (where we wanted to stay) for 15,000 points per night. Normally these points would take quite a lot of stays at Wyndham hotels to earn, but I was able to purchase them a while ago for just over $300. So all in, for 3 nights at a hotel that would have easily cost us $250 per night…we got for $310 total. And since a friend came for two of the three nights and stayed with us, she threw in some money as well. In the end, Ashley and I each paid $125 for our hotel stay (works out to $40 a night, which is insane for South Beach during peak season). For anyone wondering, the hotel we stayed at was the Wyndham Garden Miami South Beach. By no means the nicest (or newest) hotel in the world, but certainly worked for what we wanted.
- Transportation Costs – parking at the airport was $17 per person and transportation to and from FLL to South Beach cost $65 each (funny how that cost almost as much as our flights); we took a cab on the way to Miami, but since Ashley turned a quarter century while we were there we could rent a one-way car for half the cost of the cab for the way back. We also spent about $10 each in cabs to and from dinners, drinks, etc. The total came to $92 each.
- Meals & Entertainment - this is where we splurged, and completely planned to do so. We had been so budget-friendly in every other aspect of the trip, and it was Ashley’s birthday for crying out loud! In the end, we ate 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches & 4 dinners (as well as many drinks along the way) and spent about $260 each on it all. To be fair, I don’t even think that’s all that bad, considering we were on vacation. Plus, one dinner alone was $100 each…and well worth it. If you’re ever in Miami and looking for a really cool meal experience, check out Barton G. While I don’t normally spend $24 on a cocktail, man was that thing tasty.
4 days and 3 nights in the heart of South Beach for $537 is quite impressive, if you ask me. And honestly, had we been stricter with the budget and eaten lunches and dinners at places like 7-11 and Subway…we could’ve done the trip for around $350 easily.
It may not seem like you can obtain a “free” Companion Pass, or rack up 45,000 hotel points without staying anywhere, but you really can. If I was able to do it, with no special tricks or means unavailable to the public, you can too. I’m currently putting together a guide to getting your very own Companion Pass for free. It’s not for the faint at heart (let’s just say it takes some work), but it can be well worth it.