Give a warm welcome to Mike Hammari, who is writing a series of guest posts about a trip across the US on foot that he is currently in the middle of…very much in the middle of. He just wrote me today thanking me for finishing up a detail for this post that he couldn’t because he was caught in a storm and had to store his computer. That’s life literally on the road!
Mike is covering some of his hotel stays on this journey with points and wants to share his strategy with you guys. Impressed by his creative use of rewards, I am excited to give Mike the platform to do so! If you haven’t read the first installment, check out Walking Across America with Points: An Introduction that explains how he planned his trip and some credit cards he acquired in preparation. Today he discusses how and why he chooses hotels, and his redemption adventures throughout his first week on the road.
Anything below in italics is a comment from me. All the videos are his.
Walking Across America with Points, By Mike Hammari: Week 1
My mother will always choose a Fairfield Inn and Suites over a Courtyard because of the free breakfast offered in the morning. I find that one of my top considerations is frequently the parking situation. Now parking won’t be an issue as I walk across the United States on foot, but before I highlight the hotels of my first week, I thought I should mention some considerations that go into finding a hotel each night.
- Money – Points have value but actual money has more value to me. So if I can spend a reasonable amount of any points to avoid pulling from my bank account I will. I love the point Mike is making here as it’s easy to lose sight of. Depending on my cash flow, and the price of the award, I often feel the same way about rewards having less value than money when choosing between spending the two. Of course, like Mike, I wouldn’t spend TONS of rewards for a cheap hotel room or flight. The redemption value needs to be reasonable. But if the award doesn’t quite meet my estimated mile or point value, I will often book it anyways for this very reason… I’d rather save my cash.
- Rest – Occasionally I will value sleep more than points and my redemptions are going to be fairly mediocre. As much as I want to extract as much value as I can out of my points, sometimes I will just want to go sleep.
- Location – There might be a less expensive hotel but if I have to detour too far off my route it will start costing more time and energy. I value the location being efficient with my route more than efficiency with my points.
- Budget – I’ve also got to budget my finite number of points over 6 months of walking. I might be in situations where I will forgo the best value on a particular night in order to preserve those points for a future night down the road.
There are other things that I consider. In fact, I have a tendency to overthink things. These were the primary concerns as I planned out my route though. Unfortunately, the first week didn’t go as planned.
Day 1: 8 Miles to Mar Vista, CA
My apartment | Free
For the past 15 years I’ve lived in Los Angeles about 3 miles from the ocean, yet somehow it took me 8 miles on day 1. I started at the Santa Monica Pier, ran some errands, and ended up back at my own apartment. Didn’t cost any points but rent in L.A. is kinda pricey.
Day 2: 21 Miles to Rosemead, CA
Travelodge | 5,984 Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards (1.5 cents/point)
I should mention it took me about 2 months to actually get out the door. The logistics of moving and some unexpected work pushed my departure until mid-March. So even after months of careful planning, a lot of plans for accommodations where up in the air. My intent was to couchsurf with a friend in Alhambra, CA but I hadn’t rescheduled with him once I was finally on my way. About 7 miles down the road that day I found out he was not available and that I needed to find another option for the night. With my smartphone I accessed the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal and landed at a Travelodge in Rosemead, CA for 5,984 points. (Worth $89.76 getting 1.5 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card).
I chose this hotel out of several options because it actually shortened the distance I had to walk that week and it was relatively inexpensive. I thought about just paying for the night but had decided to not chase after Wyndham points on this trek. They have great coverage along my route but I currently don’t have any points or status with them and figured it would be better to focus on other brands.
Day 3: 17 miles to San Dimas, CA
Couchsurfing | Free
A few weeks ago, on a whim, I asked a group of friends if they knew anybody in San Dimas I could stay with. One of them unexpectedly volunteered her aunt. Her aunt was in the perfect location for my route and the bed was quite comfortable.
Day 4: 18 miles to Ontario, CA
Hyatt Place | 8,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (3.74 cents/point)
For years I have accumulated Radisson points with the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card from US Bank.
A few years ago it became my card for all recurring payments, and with the 40,000 point renewal bonus, it earns me 100,000+ points each year and an additional free night certificate. Each year I would use these points at a Country Inn and Suites in New Orleans. The hotel was great and by using points I avoided paying the inflated rates during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
However, that hotel was renovated and is now The Eliza Jane, in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt. I’ll probably stay there in the future but since it is now a different brand I have a lot of Radisson points I’m no longer saving for New Orleans.
Most hotels in the greater Los Angeles area fall into the mid level tiers on reward charts. Often even basic hotels cost 25,000 to 40,000 points a night. So when all you are looking for is a bed for eight hours it is often a relatively poor use of points. Since I had Radisson points to burn I was willing to spend 84,000 points across three nights in Riverside County, but that was more difficult that I was expecting. From what I overheard there was a NASCAR and a bike race happening in the area driving up demand. Had I realized this I would have booked these rooms well in advance. However, with my undefined start date I had not made any reservations before I left. Both the Country Inn and Suites in Ontario and in Redlands were sold out. Once again I had to see what other options I had.
I noticed that among the options searching the Chase travel portal was a Hyatt Place in Ontario for about 20,000 Chase Sapphire Reserve Points (redeeming for 1.5 cents towards the cash price). I had not been considering Hyatt as my route was largely void of Hyatt options. Instead of using the portal I (wisely) transferred 8,000 Sapphire Reserve points to Hyatt and booked a room for the night. Transferring to Hyatt is regarded as one of the better values with Ultimate Rewards and in this instance I got a value of 3.74 cents per CSR point (based on the listed room rate of $299). Go Mike!
Day 5: 16 miles to San Bernardino, CA
DoubleTree | 27,000 Hilton Points (0.74 cents/point)
Plan A was to go 20 miles to the Country Inn and Suites in Redlands and stay both Saturday and Sunday night, but just like the day before there was no vacancy for me. With the 150,000 point bonus I received upgrading to the Amex Hilton Ascend Card I decided that I had the most flexibility with my Hilton points and found a room at the Doubletree in San Bernardino. I was not expecting to benefit from it but my Hilton Gold Status, granted by my Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express, resulted in a free breakfast the next morning. (Actual cost to stay was 30,000 points but I earned 2,000 points as a result of the 2019 Points Unlimited promotion and an additional 1,000 points from the MyWay Preferences bonus.)
Day 6: 4.5 miles to Redlands, CA
Country Inn and Suites | 28,000 (0.71 cents/point)
When I noticed there was availability on Sunday I decided to push forward a few miles and get a room where I had originally intended. Another factor was to preserve my Hilton points that I hadn’t planned on spending that week. Every once in a while I get upgraded at Radisson properties due to my Gold Status from my US Bank card. An upgrade wasn’t mentioned but my room was very spacious.
I had been planning my route out for years and yet half of the week I was scrambling to find a spot to stay each night. Overall, I benefited from the flexibility to switch between loyalty programs as needed. (THIS IS WHY I RECOMMEND COLLECTING A VARIETY OF POINTS OF MILES! Flexibility is so valuable.) The week didn’t go as planned but everything worked out based on the factors I listed above.
What are the factors you value when selecting hotels? I’m curious to see how much my preference change as I start living out of hotels and campgrounds for the rest of the year.
You can help Mike get free hotels along his journey by signing up for Hilton credit cards through his referral links. Until next time, Mike! Wishing you clear skies and high value redemptions 🙂