Walking Across America with Points: Week 3

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It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Mike Hammari, the man who is walking across the United States using travel rewards to minimize accommodation costs and therefore nights slept outdoors. He’s vlogging his experience on YouTube and blogging about it here on MileValue.

A Quick Catch Up

These recounts of his journey are being written in retrospect. Mike took a break in the middle of his walk to return to work, travel some (not on foot), and is now back on the steaming late summer road of central Texas. Last I heard, his shoes had recently melted. Hats off to you, dude. Stay safe out there.

During said break one of his travel destinations was Argentina to see the total solar eclipse that happened on July 2. Mike flew into Buenos Aires. As BA is my home for a large portion of the year and I was in town at the time, we managed to cross paths for a coffee. It’s these kind of meetings that make me very grateful to have MileValue as a platform for connection!

Mike Hammari and I in Buenos Aires, early July 2019

Walking Across America Series Index

  • An Introduction – Mike explains how he planned his trip and some credit cards he acquired in preparation.
  • Week 1 – Mike discusses how and why he chooses hotels, and his redemption adventures throughout his first week on the road.
  • Week 2 — Mike shares his original spreadsheet of planned accommodations, split between award stays, paid stays, camping, and couch surfing, as well as week two’s trials on the road.

Walking Across America with Points: Week 3, By Mike Hammari

I’ve actually had to pay for some hotels, but they were still free.  Almost. 

I had been tenting in the dessert for the last 5 nights–Day 12 to 17–in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness. One night I layered all my clothes and an extra tarp beneath my sleeping pad to provide a fraction of padding between me and the rocks. I was ready for a hotel. 

Booking Accommodation in Parker, AZ

In Parker, AZ I had a few options. There was the Hampton Inn by Hilton; however, I thought 36,000 Hilton points was a little pricey and that they might be better saved for later. There were about a half dozen unaffiliated hotels and I decided I should book one of them using Ultimate Reward Points earned through my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. I vetoed the least expensive hotel based on the size of the door. Not a typical concern but I doubted if I could fit my cart inside without taking off one of the wheels. 

Take Two

I tried booking my second choice, but the Chase Travel Portal would never let me complete the transaction. I tried early in the day crossing the Colorado River. No luck. I tried logging in at the Pizza Hut with the all you can eat buffet lunch.  No luck. I tried on the sidewalk right outside my chosen hotel. After another 20 minutes of frustration with a glitchy website, I realized I would actually have to pay for a room. This means I need to stop thinking about how to spend points and consider how to earn points. 

Thinking About Earning

I had so much fun making a chart in my last post I thought I’d do it again. This is a breakdown of the general earning potential of various methods of payment.

Payment MethodEarn hotel pointsEarn bank pointsHotel nights for earning tier statusEligible for promotions
Redeeming hotel pointsNoN/AYesDepends
Redeeming Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards through Chase travel portalNoNoNoNo
Travel credit on Sapphire ReserveYesNoYesProbably
Credit card through an Online Travel Agency (OTA)NoYesNoNo
Credit card directly with hotelYesYesYesProbably
CashYesNoYesProbably

We could spend pages breaking down the above, but the intent is just to demonstrate that there is more than one way to find value in hotel stays.  For example, I might get a good rate for a Marriott hotel through an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia.com but technically I would be a customer of Expedia and not Marriott. So I wouldn’t qualify to earn any Marriott points, nights, or promotions. However, I could collect the points offered from my credit card spend, as well as earning Expedia points that can be redeemed for future spending on their site. 

This takes us back to…

Day 18 | 6 miles to Parker, AZ

Quality Inn & Suites | $88.82

That next option was the Quality Inn and Suites from Choice Hotels. I had no intention of focusing on the Choice brand, but when the Chase Travel Portal failed me, I used my Sapphire Reserve to purchase the room instead. That $88.82 went against $300 annual travel credit so it was still free as long as you forget about that $450 annual fee.

Day 19 | 0 miles to Parker, AZ

Hampton Inn & Suites |  32,000 Hilton Points (0.49 cents/point)

The plan was to go 10 miles after hanging out at the local library for the afternoon. However, the library was closed and I was more exhausted than I thought. I was done. I wanted to take a nap followed by a 10 hour slumber as soon as possible. 

Reverse

So I backtracked to the Hampton Inn and Suites and took a glorious nap. The day before I decided that 36,000 points was too much.  Today it was only 34,000 points. Still pricey but in this moment my desire to sleep trumped my frugality. (Actual cost 32,000 / Earned 2,000 points with 2019 Points Unlimited promotion.)

I thought about going back to the Quality Inn & Suites but I really wasn’t enamored with that location. It was great for an overnight sleep but not the most exciting place to hang around for an extra day. The Hampton Inn and Suites let me check in early and the room felt luxurious compared to the previous week. 

Day 20 | 29 miles to just past Bouse, AZ

Camping | Free

Well rested, I made an effort to make up any miles I had planned to walk the day before. I found a nice spot to camp behind some trees along the highway.

Day 21 | 27 miles to Salome, AZ

Sheffler’s Motel | $46.50

Sheffler’s motel sign + palm tree = Instagram post waiting to happen.

I had two choices for hotels in this small town. I decided the first one I passed would be the right choice as I’d walked 56 miles in the past two days. This unaffiliated hotel had a lot of old school charm. It probably hadn’t been updated in decades but it didn’t really need one either. 

My first choice of payment would have been using points on the Chase Travel Portal since there weren’t loyalty points to be earned at this unaffiliated hotel. They were not listed there though so I paid for the room on my Sapphire Reserve with the intent for it to be covered with a travel credit.  

Day 22 – 25 | 73.3 miles to Buckeye, AZ

Camping | Free

These four nights were spent camping along my route. On the 24th night I caught the attention of a concerned citizen with a flashlight who had stopped to figure out what/who was hiding out by the power lines. On the 25th night I decided I didn’t like any of my hotel options. Too many points and too far out of the way. I used a shower at any AnyTime Fitness before camping in a vacant lot behind a supermarket. 

Day 26 | 20.6 miles to Tolleson, AZ

Victory Inn | 5,730 Chase Sapphire Rewards Points (1.5 cents/point)

I really didn’t plan out my stays in the Phoenix area thinking it would be easy enough to couch surf in the area. When those options weren’t manifesting I did a slight reroute to Tolleson where I found an inexpensive hotel through the Chase Travel Portal. Had I been willing to walk another 5 miles I would have had several other options but this unaffiliated hotel was the cheapest option in walking distance (which is a very relative term). There was nothing truly awful about this hotel but it wasn’t good either. 

Days 27-29 | 23.7 to Scottsdale, AZ

Couchsurfing | Free

Walking into the area I messaged a friend of a friend and the conversation led to me having a place to crash for a few days while her VRBO rental was available. It was the first time on this trip I stayed in the same place for consecutive nights, allowing me to avoid a brief heat wave and take a day to edit some video. 

Day 30 | 15.2 miles to Mesa, AZ

Quality Inn & Suites | 66.03

When I booked that Choice Hotel in Parker, AZ it also expanded my hotel strategy for the rest of my trip. I think Choice Hotels are hit or miss, but they are consistently on my route. They also have a reoccurring promotion where two stays will earn enough points for a free night. Already having completed one qualifying stay, I was now chasing a second. 

I noticed an inexpensive location in Mesa, AZ and started walking. The $66.03 was covered with my CSR annual travel credit, and I earned 7,770 Choice points bringing me up to 8,000+ points between the two stays.

I got to my hotel room and found that somebody else was still inside. That was the first of three times that has happened to me this year. Back to the front desk to get another room and the next day I was back on the road again.


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