New York Waldorf Astoria For Free?  Don’t Mind If I Do

The lovely Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan

This is another one of those posts I love sharing with people who aspire to see more of the world or country. Hope you enjoy it.
Let’s start with a very quick summary of the trip itself, and then I’ll tell you exactly how I got it for almost zero dollars.
Marci and I needed a break from our routine, so we decided to fly up on Saturday morning, stay for a couple of nights, see some old friends, have some nice meals, and of course see a show.  Incidentally, Kinky Boots is an awesome show, and if my male readers feel that their masculinity is threatened by this show…get over it.  It’s a show for everyone!

One of my dearest friends

Now, the flights part of our trip was already taken care of since Marci and I have been a) leveraging the stash of Southwest points I got through three different Southwest card signups and b) using the Southwest Companion Pass since July of 2014.  Each of my three Southwest card applications garnered me 50,000 Southwest points, so when you multiply that by 3 and add 6,000 points (each of the three cards required $2,000 in spend), that’s a whopping 156,000 points.  The New York trip?  It cost me 12,164 points for my ticket (that’s round trip guys), and of course Marci flies for free since she is my companion…in many ways, of course, but here I am specifically speaking of the Southwest variety.  So, doing some basic division, that’s almost 13 trips (round trip for two people mind you) to New York if we had wanted to use our points that way.  So, real simple: the points pay for me, and the pass pays for Marci.
Now, what is the point in flying to New York for free if you do not enjoy where you stay?  Enter the Citi Hilton Reserve card.  Wait, what does Hilton have to do with the Waldorf?  I would have been asking the same question before I got into this hobby, but part of learning to maximize your travel is learning about partnerships, whether they be airline, hotel, or combinations (e.g. Delta/Starwood).  It turns out that Hilton and Waldorf are partners, much as Marriott and Ritz-Carlton are.  Some of these partnerships are easier to leverage than others in terms of freebies, but fortunately, Hilton and Waldorf make it pretty easy.  Here is what I meant for this specific trip.
While most credit card signups offer a specific number of points or miles when you meet the minimum spend, the Citi Hilton Reserve offers 2 free weekend nights after meeting the minimum spend requirement of $2,500 in 4 months.  This means that while the number of nights is fixed, the range of value from these two nights can vary wildly.  Want to use them at a Hampton Inn?  Go ahead.  You’ll get about $200 in value that way.  Want to use them for the Waldorf in New York?  Go ahead.  Marci and I got $880 in value from those two nights (yes, I priced it before calling them).  There is no right or wrong on how you use those nights, but clearly there are better values to be had when redeeming them the right way.

The bonus from this card can be phenomenal

Now, in the interest of telling the whole story, understand that points are often more forgiving than nights in terms of expiration.  Certificates usually expire after one year, though you can often call to have them extended for a few months.  My advice?  Apply for this card when you are pretty certain that you will have a purpose for it within the next year.  In my case, I knew we’d take a weekend getaway, but I wasn’t sure exactly when or where.  In the end, we get tremendous value from these two free nights.  All we had to do was call Hilton and tell them we wanted to use our two certificates at the Waldorf.  That is a pretty ridiculously easy way to score such an amazing award. When you put it together, we saved about $400 in airfare and $880 in hotel for a two night stay.  And we had a great time.  One of the things I try to convey in these posts is that it’s not about being cheap.  Getting to New York for free and staying there for free is pointless to me if I don’t live while I am there.  So when I spend more than usual on dinner or a show, I do so with the peace of mind that the travel itself was free.
Before I go, let me just throw out a few more thoughts on the Citi Hilton Reserve card:
  • As long as you own the card, you receive Hilton Gold status, which is no small consideration.  With Gold Status comes free wifi, free breakfast (at Hiltons but not at Waldorfs), better chances at free upgrades, and much higher points earning potential on paid stays.
  • The card is a $95 annual fee card, and the fee is not waived the first year.  So, technically, we paid $95 for those two free nights, but I am certainly not feeling mistreated.
  • In any year in which you spend $10,000 on the card, you earn a free weekend night.  Now, this may or may not appeal to you long term, but here is one scenario to consider.  To receive the two free nights from the initial signup, you must spend $2,500 in 4 months.  If you direct all of your credit card spend toward that card after meeting the $2,500 requirement, then another $7,500 gets you a third night certificate that can be combined with the original two for a three night stay somewhere.  BUT, it would have to be a Friday night – Sunday night stay since the certificates are for weekend nights only.
  • If you are married, remember that you can each apply for it separately.  Marci applied for this one, and in another year or two, I’ll apply for it.
  • Keep in mind that the two free nights are weekend nights, which means they can be used for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday stays.
  • While the two certificates are issued together (after meeting the minimum spend requirement), they can be used for two separate one night stays.
  • If you decide after the first year that you do not want to continue paying the ongoing annual fee, there is a no annual fee card to which you can downgrade.  Of course, you will lose the gold status and free weekend night after $10,000 spend, but it also allows you to keep the card (good for your credit) with no fee.
So, I’ve started this with a “Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan” entry.  Now you can tell me…where would you use your two free weekend nights?  Just answer in the comments below.  Who knows?  You may just give someone else a great idea…or they may give you one!  Thanks as always for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please retweet it or Share it on Facebook with your friends (Facebook likes are rarely seen).  I’d love to help as many people as we can.
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