Spring Break … Without Going Broke

The Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, FL

See that very nice looking resort in Clearwater Beach, FL?  My family and I just stayed there for 5 nights over Spring Break.  Our cost?  Nada, zilch, zippo, and any other obnoxious synonyms people use for the number 0.  Taxes?  Resort fees?  Parking?  $0, $0, and $0.  Now admittedly, those last three zeroes surprised me, especially the parking and resort fees.  I fully expected to have to pay those, but was delighted to discover otherwise. How did we get there?  We flew, because driving means having two kids in the back seat for 7-8 hours.  Um, I’ll pass on that if you don’t mind.  We flew Southwest, and our cost?  About $40 in fees ($5 apiece each way) that are tacked onto any Southwest award flight. So, by my calculation, we saved almost $1700 on our hotel stay.  The room was $300 per night (though admittedly that was inflated since we were there on Spring Break), and if you consider the additional 11-12% in ordinary hotel taxes (for which we were exempt because we paid with points), that’s over $150 more that we saved.

My best friend in the travel ecosphere…other than my wife.

​As for the airfare, …  As I have mentioned more than once on this site, the Southwest Companion Pass entitles Marci to fly for free with me whenever I fly on Southwest through 2015, whether I pay with cash or points.  I am still sitting on lots of Southwest points from the three signups I have done with them (each giving 50,000 in bonus points for signing up), so I paid for myself, my son, and my daughter using points.  Marci’s flight cost me nothing.  The number of points for those four round trip flights?  About 34,000.  By comparison, just one round trip flight on Delta (my only other nonstop option to Tampa) would have cost me 25,000 miles.  That’s a staggering difference.  Now, why is this possible?  Simple.  Southwest bases the number of points required for a flight on the actual fare, so the cheaper the fare, the fewer points required.  Our flights to Tampa were going for about $200 apiece round trip, the number of miles required was quite low.  So, that’s $800 saved on airfare. Okay, so we saved about $2500 on this trip.  Holy cow, right?  Had we not had miles and hotel points, we may still have gone on this trip, but everything about it would have been done differently, especially the lodging.  The Sheraton Sand Key was certainly a nice resort, but there are nicer places to stay, perhaps for even less. I chose it because a) I had the Starwood points to do it, b) Starwood offers a 5th night free when using points (thus taking my required points from 50,000 to 40,000), c) it’s right on the beach, and d) it had two queen (not double) size beds (you have to know my kids to understand that).  How did I get those Starwood points?  I signed up for their credit card.  30,000 points for meeting the spend requirement, and 10,000 more from spending on the card (as always, for things I needed anyway!)

Now, are there trade offs?  Absolutely, and I believe in telling the whole truth when I write these articles.  We had to rent a car, which was not cheap over Spring Break.  I paid about $250 for 5 days, and that was a bargain compared to what I saw elsewhere.  We still had to pay $95 in airport parking.  So, while I flew for “free”, we still paid $250 (car rental) + $95 (airport parking) + $40 (airline ticket fees), or $385, compared to the $100 (gas to/from Tampa) had we driven.  Was the extra $285 worth it to us?  Absolutely!  I value my time and sanity very highly, and not being in a car with my kids for 7-8 hours in each direction is priceless!  You, however, may disagree, especially on shorter flights like this one.

In the end, we saved over $2,000 no matter how you look at it, and that averages out to over $400 a day.  Did we turn into misers with those savings?  No.  We ate very well (okay, a little too well), and we spent money on some entertainment options, but when I total up our trip, it is a spectacular deal, and that’s what I try to tell people about the points/miles hobby.  It is not something I do so that I can take modest vacations for free; it is something I do so I can take incredible vacations for less than a modest vacation would cost without those points. What do you think?  Want to use points and miles for Spring Break 2016 but are unsure where to begin?  Here is a teaser…the Swan and Dolphin hotels in Orlando go for the same number of points as this one in Clearwater….10,000 Starwood points per night. Post a comment, email me, whatever.  I’d love to hear from you.  And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends via Facebook,  Twitter, or email!
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