Luxury travel via Penny Points

On Tuesday evening, my family of three flew Delta business class from Detroit to Los Angeles on an internationally configured aircraft with flat bed seats.  Upon arrival in LA, we drove to Huntington Beach and checked into the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa where we were given room keys to a beautiful suite.  Unlike most luxury travel that we do, we paid for this trip mostly with cash rather than points and miles.

Delta767lieflat
Pictured above: Delta’s 767-300ER business class seats.

 

Hyatt_HuntingtonBeach_suite
Pictured above: Suite at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach resort

 

Penny Points

As I’ve mentioned many times before, when earning points or miles, it is often in place of earning cash back (see “Buying points, unwittingly”).  And, sometimes cash back opportunities are significantly better than equivalent points and miles earning opportunities.  As a result, no matter how much you like earning points and miles, there are times where it may make more sense to earn cash instead.

This is true on the redemption side of things as well.  Even though it is often possible to get terrific value from your points and miles, there are times where you’ll get more value from cash.  I like to think of the cash price of a trip in terms of “penny points”.  For example, a $250 flight costs 25,000 “penny points”.  If your alternative is to spend 25,000 airline miles and if you value your airline miles above 1 cent per point, then penny points are a better redemption value than airline miles.  Similarly, if you can get a great deal on a hotel room, spending cash (or penny points) may be a better value than spending your hotel points.  In fact, with hotels, its worth considering that when you book directly with a hotel and pay for the stay rather than redeem points, you will usually earn points for your stay. 

Another aspect of this to consider is the fact that most deals and discounts are dependent upon paying for travel rather than redeeming points for travel.  When you find an incredible deal for a flight or a stay, its rarely the case that the point or mile price will be great too.  Penny Points are a terrible option for most international first class flights, but for discounted flights, hotels, or anything else, they can be the best way to go.

My Delta flight

We were desperate for a break from what has been the worst winter weather in southeast Michigan since the ice age.  Our available dates of travel were fixed and our options for award travel were severely limited.  Flight prices to warm destinations that met our criteria were at least $400 per person, and usually much more.  While researching flight options, I stumbled upon something interesting.  Delta was running an internationally configured 767-300ER between Detroit and LA.  I decided that it was an opportunity not just to get to somewhere warm, but to enjoy the journey there as well.  However, to enjoy the journey, we had to get into first class.  Coach just wouldn’t do.

Saver level awards on our desired flight simply didn’t exist, even for just one person.  Instead of booking awards with Delta miles, I did the following:

  • I bought a business class ticket for my wife for just over $1000.  I’ve never paid that much for a domestic flight before!  In this case, I was willing to splurge because I had already resigned myself to the idea of spending at least $500 per person and by using a companion pass, this would average out to about that much…
  • I used the companion pass that comes with my Delta Reserve card to put my son in first class.  Additionally, I had to pay $22 in taxes and fees.
  • I used my Citi ThankYou Points to buy an economy ticket for myself.  I still have Platinum status with Detla for the rest of the month and so I hoped to score a free upgrade.  Thanks to my Citi ThankYou Premier card, the $600 flight cost fewer than 50,000 points.

After booking my economy flight, I called Delta to find out about upgrade options.  Incredibly, they were able to upgrade my return flight for only $8!  Done!  The outbound flight would have cost hundreds of dollars to upgrade, so I left that one alone. 

As a Platinum Elite, it is technically possible to receive a free flight upgrade 5 days prior to departure.  That has rarely happened in my experience.  Instead, when I checked in on the morning of the flight, I saw that I was 12th in the upgrade queue with only 5 available seats.  It didn’t look good.  At the gate, after they had processed most of the upgrades, I found myself magically first in the queue, and one person with a reserved first class seat had not yet checked in.  Then, finally, just as boarding began, I was called to the desk and given my first class boarding pass!  Sweet!

It was a terrific flight and only varied from a true international flight experience in a few ways: 1) We weren’t given amenity kits; 2) the blankets and pillows were the usual domestic variety, not the Westin Heavenly bedding that Delta offers on international flights; 3) Instead of nice over-ear headphones we were offered only the cheap in-ear variety (which wasn’t a problem since we had our own headphones); and 4) Food catering matched what you would find on domestic flights in first class, but was pretty good nevertheless. 

In the end, my family of 3 travelled in luxury across the country for approximately 50,000 “penny points” per person.  Saver level first class Delta awards would have also cost 50,000 miles per person, but those awards were not available.  My point isn’t to suggest that I got a great deal on this flight, but rather to show that Penny Points, combined with luck and other opportunities were a good alternative to regular miles for achieving our goals.

My stay

As you may already know, I’m currently enrolled in Hyatt’s Diamond Trial which gives me Diamond status for 60 days.  And, if I complete 12 paid nights during that time, I’ll keep Diamond status through February 2015.  For details, see:

My current stay at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort fulfills two goals: 1) A warm weather vacation; and 2) 5 nights towards my Diamond Trial.

The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is a category 5 hotel.  If I had booked the stay entirely with Hyatt points, it would have cost 20,000 points per night.  If I had booked a Points & Cash rate, it would have cost 10,000 points plus $125 per night.  It happened, instead, that I was able to book the stay for an average rate of $177 per night.  The latter was clearly better than the Points & Cash rate to me since I wouldn’t want to spend 10,000 points to save only a bit more than $50.  The full points rate would have offered over a penny a point value (once hotel taxes and fees for the paid rate were taken into account), but I wouldn’t have earned points from the stay, nor would the stay have counted towards my Diamond Trial or towards Hyatt’s Endless Possibilities promotion.  All of those factors, plus the fact that I had previously bought Hyatt gift cards for almost 15% off, made the pay stay option a no-brainer.

So far, the stay here has been terrific.  Our suite is great.  Breakfast and snacks in the lounge have been excellent.  The grounds and pools are beautiful.  And, most importantly, the sun has been shining!  All of this would have been possible with Hyatt points, but for me, in this situation, penny points offered better value.

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. And if you had used all points for your hotel stay, you couldn’t have applied one of your confirmed suite upgrades! (Though you could have spent even more points for it.)

    • Do’h! I forgot to mention that! And, if I had redeemed Delta miles for a coach ticket, I would have dropped in upgrade priority compared to other Platinum elites and probably wouldn’t have scored that upgrade

  2. Haha, awesome! Love that you won the last seat in the gate lottery for an internationally configured 767 with flat-bed seats. Especially since your family was already upfront, that makes the upgrade so much sweeter!

  3. Good for you buying the first class tickets! Sometimes we can be so into penny-(point) pinching. Your story reminds me that as a fellow midwesterner, I should plan a trip like that for our family. This winter is brutal. Every time I think that it’s over, really all we get are a few days of less horrible weather… and then back down to frigid.

  4. Enjoy that CA sunshine. Today in Michigan, we’re getting a wintery mix complete with freezing rain. Next week, it’ll be back in the 20s. After this winter, I’ll be planning a warm weather vacation next year for sure!

  5. Great post……..just don’t run the shower too long as we are in a drought and the Governor has asked us to reduce water consumption 25%……….Great logic to your planning and thanks for always moving our cheese………….

  6. TheWeeklyFlyer, Jamie, Suzie: Thanks!
    .
    Shannon: I keep thinking that next winter can’t possibly be as bad as this one. Then I realize that’s what they thought at the dawn of the ice age…
    .
    justSaying: Thanks, and yes I’ll try to conserve water. I should have brought a bunch of snow with me to fill up the reservoirs.
    .
    PointTravelers: I live in Ann Arbor. I also booked a weekend in Florida for a couple of weeks from now (Orlando area: Grand Cypress Hyatt)

  7. Check out Main street in HB!

    Try out Killarney’s there. They have a wonderfully delicious “Finn McCool” which is basically an over easy egg on top of your nice fat burger. Good little bar area too.

  8. Off topic:
    You got a car? You like japs BBQ? Anjin in Costa Mesa is a must try. They have the best japs BBQ in so far in my life (better than the one in honolulu that was highly rated). They are close today tho, can’t make reservation. The trick is go put down your name and number and go shop next door at south coast plaza, then when they call you then head back

    • Thanks for the suggestion. It sounds good, but to be honest, I’m in extreme relax mode here. I can get up the will to walk down the beach to town, but to get into a car to drive… We’ll see 🙂

  9. Chris and NJ: Delta will let you upgrade by paying the difference for each direction of travel between the coach price you paid and the current best price for first class. For whatever reason, the price for first class for my return was just barely more than the price for coach.

    • MilePoint premium (not currently available) offers several benefits one of which is the ability to buy Hyatt gift cards for 10% off. Then, if you pay with an Amex business card, you get a 5% statement credit (if you choose cash back for OPEN savings)

  10. HI, FM. There is a promotion of “Converting the Hotel Points to American Airline Miles and Get a 25% Bonus”. THe link is here http://www.aa.com/viewPromotionDetails.do?fN=aad-convert-hotel-points.xml&_locale=en_US
    This is actually the first time that I know that I can convert my IHG points to AA miles. Do you think it is a good deal? In the promotion, if you consider 1 AA mile is equal to 1.8 cents, IHG points will be 0.45 cent. Do you agree with that?

    Thank you.

    Jesson

  11. that is odd because on JFK-LAX flights on internationally configured aircraft Delta does give out Tumi branded amenity kits… they are actually very nice, especially the eyemask.
    i guess Detroit is not considered east coast? not sure.

    • NYC to LAX is a route in which all the major airlines compete by offering high end seats and service in first class. Detroit to LAX is not like that at all (Delta is the only airline that serves that direct route, I believe)

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