Miami Trip Planning

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A few weeks ago, we went to Miami to celebrate Emily’s birthday.  Here’s how I planned the trip.

Breakwater Miami

Art Deco In Miami

  Trip Report Index:

Destination

I started thinking about a surprise getaway for Emily’s birthday in April or May.  I had sneakily asked Emily some time back for a list of the top ten places in the US which she wanted to visit, and used that as a starting point.

Since we only had a weekend, it would be hard to get to the West Coast and back because of the time change and the length of the flights.  Emily likes warm weather, so I narrowed down the list to Atlanta, Dallas, or Miami.

But I was sold on Miami when I learned that South Beach in Miami has one of the most concentrated collections of Art Deco architecture and is right on the beach.

Hotel

I like staying in hotels which, while part of hotel chains, have a certain uniqueness and charm to them.   For example, we stayed at The Willard in Washington, DC in May because it is quaint and filled with history.

I had Priority Club, Starwood, Hyatt, and Hilton points to use for this redemption, and Gold Elite status with Starwood and Hilton, and Platinum Ambassador elite status with Priority Club.

As I researched hotels, I found that South Beach in Miami had some terrific hotels.  For Example, Priority Club’s Z Ocean Hotel, Hyatt’s Hotel Victor (this is no longer a Hyatt property), and Starwood’s W South Beach.

Rooms at the W South Beach, a SPG category 6 hotel, were ~$440 a night, rooms at the Hotel Victor were about ~$380 a night and rooms at the Z Ocean Hotel were ~$370 a night.

Paying 20,000 SPG points a night or 8,000 SPG points and $150 using the Cash & Points option for the W South Beach wasn’t a good value to me.

I wanted to save my Hyatt points for stays in Europe, so I was left with the Z Ocean Hotel through Priority Club.  The Z Ocean Hotel is part of the Crowne Plaza brand, so it would cost 25,000 Priority Club points per night or 50,000 points for 2 nights.

However, it was very hard to find reward night availability for the weekend of August 5th.  There was no availability when I searched for both the 5th and the 6th.  I then searched for other weekends in August and other months to see if there was availability for 2 weekend days.  But no luck.

So I searched for only August 5th and found award availability which I booked!  But there was no availability for the 6th.

I extended my search to 3 nights and then 4 nights over the August 5th weekend (Friday to Tuesday, and found that most weekends were showing availability.

Very strange that a 2 night stay was showing no availability, but extending the stay to 4 nights magically showed availability!

Anyway, I kept on checking back for an award night on August 6th, and finally found 1 night available in June or about 2 months before we left

Using 50,000 Priority Club points to book the Z Ocean Hotel saved us $740 + taxes!

Flights

We have miles in most of the major US Frequent Flyer programs – American, United, Continental, Delta, Southwest, US Air, Alaska, etc.

But I couldn’t piece together an itinery using American, United, Delta, or US Air at the low level that left on the evening of the 5th and returned on the evening of the 7th.  Since we had only 2 days in Miami, leaving early on Sunday morning wasn’t an option.

However, fares on Southwest were ~$310, and Emily had scored $1,000 in gift Southwest gift cards by applying for a Chase Southwest Personal and Business credit card earlier this year.

It was time to use those gift cards and save $620!  We each had to pay $10 in taxes, but that’s sure better than paying $310 each.

Having miles in different airline accounts gave us lots of flexibility in planning our trip.  If you only earn miles by flying, it makes sense to collect your miles in only 1 or 2 programs so that you can earn enough for an award.

But if you earn miles by credit card sign up bonuses, it is best to diversify your mileage portfolio, and increase your options.

Car

I used Priceline’s name your own price to book a car for 2 days for $51

Bottom Line:

Collecting miles and points let us have lots of Big Travel with Small Money and saved us at least $1,360!

Stay tuned for the Southwest and Z Ocean Hotel trip report!

How do you go about planning your trip using miles and points?

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17 responses to “Miami Trip Planning

  1. Nice collection of deals!

    Just curious, when there wasn’t any shown availability for two consecutive hotel nights, but they showed up for 3 and 4 day itineraries, would there have been any better luck by calling either the hotel direct or Priority Club to see if they could book it?

    Also, would it have been a possibility to book the back-to-back reward nights separately to see if there was availability?

  2. Do you know how much the rooms would have been using hotwire? Given your flexibility and willingness to book your car on priceline, that seems like a better benchmark for comparison than a hotel branded (i.e. points-producing) website if you are looking to estimate your savings.

  3. I have 2 trips coming up DC in October and Miami in December. When I checked the reward stays were available. When I checked again a different day they were gone. Is this common for the reward stays to come and go? Is it better to book a few months in advanced for bigger cities if I’m trying to use my points?

    • @Krys – It is very common for award nights to change. Since there is generally no cost to cancel a booking (provided you do it before the cancellation deadline), I usually book rooms when I see space available and try to tweak the booking later. I always feel it is better to book hotel award nights in advance.

      Dave – I actually used 25,000 points for each night at the Z, so no cash & points. The rooftop suite was nice. I initially was upgraded to the spa suite, but emailed the GM indicating that it was a special occasion and got upgraded to the rooftop suite. I do have Platinum Ambassador status with PC.

      @Krys – I was upgraded at both the Z and Willard. The Willard was likely because I was an Ambassador.

      @EricT – I don’t have a lot of paid travel, and if a credit card sign up will give me enough miles for a few trips, I will take it and diversify my miles. But if I were only earning miles by flying it would make sense to concentrate earning miles in 1 program.

  4. Aren’t you going cash+points for the Z Ocean hotel? That hotel looks very nice, especially the rooftop suite. I’ll go there as well if I am ever down there again. I assume you got status at Priority Club. Have you checked if you can get upgrade to the rooftop suites?

  5. @Dave- I was trying to do the cash+points for the Z Ocean Hotel but the offer disappered. I will need to buy some points to maintain status at PC to inquire about an upgrade.
    @Million were you upgraded for your Mimai stay or the IC in DC?

  6. I find this statement interesting “Having miles in different airline accounts gave us lots of flexibility in planning our trip. If you only earn miles by flying, it makes sense to collect your miles in only 1 or 2 programs so that you can earn enough for an award.” So, many bloggers say to “focus in on one or two programs” and I never understood that unless you think you can better hit elite status in those programs and/or you are in a HUB city for one of those airlines. But what you said makes sense for someone like me (whom only travels for business 2 or 3 times a year). Thanks for clarifying why I shouldn’t just focus in on two airlines.

  7. Hi Daraius, are there ways to earn Platinum status with PC without staying 50 or more nights at their hotels?

    • @Jenny – You can also get it by earning 60,000 points, so if you sign up for the 60K or 80K Priority club credit card you will get Platinum status. If you apply in for the card in Jan 2012, your status will last until the end of 2013. All points earned, so by staying a few nights and taking advantage of the bonus offers or taking part in pomotions will get you there.

  8. Thanks Daraius. Does the cash & points trick count toward Platinum status as well? I have earned over 60K points using this method, but have not received Platinum status.

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