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My flights and a week in a nice hotel in Orlando cost me $0 out-of-pocket. The only expenses were food and taking Lyfts to and from FinCon, a huge financial media conference I attended a couple of weeks ago.
I saved ~$1,500 on travel by using points I earned from top travel credit cards! And not having to worry about paying to attend allowed me to focus on making new connections, which are invaluable.
Most folks associate Orlando with theme parks and swimming pools. The good news is you can easily scale up my techniques for family travel. Or even pick another destination altogether!
The building blocks of my trip were British Airways Avios points, and Marriott hotel points. That’s it – anyone can do this!
Here’s how I booked it!
A $1,500 Trip to Orlando – How I Got It for Free
One of my favorite airline points to collect are British Airways Avios points. That’s because coach award flights in the US under 1,151 miles on American Airlines only cost 7,500 British Airways Avios points each way. Being based in Dallas, that puts a huge number of destinations within reach for only 15,000 points round-trip – including Orlando.
And for my hotel stay, I easily booked 5 nights using 100,000 Marriott points right on their website. No fancy tricks needed!
Here’s what I look for when I start booking a trip.
1. Booking American Airlines Flights to Orlando
To begin, I run a test search on the American Airlines website to see what’s available. Checking one box here saves me time on the British Airways site.
Always filter for non-stop flights!
That’s because British Airways prices flight awards by segment and distance. So if you make a connection, you have to pay for 2 awards. But it’s easy to see what’s non-stop on the American Airlines site, so you don’t waste time on the much clunkier British Airways site.
The other advantage is that American Airlines shows you a calendar of which days have non-stop award flights, which also saves time.
American Airlines wanted to charge me 25,000 American Airlines miles for these flights. But I’d much rather pay 15,000 British Airways Avios points!
Once you find flights that work, plug the information directly into the British Airways website. I had no trouble finding the same award flights after I searched again.
These example flights cost ~$300 round-trip. So you can save a lot of money using 15,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$11 instead.
When I searched, I noticed 7 seats were available on each flight. So you could fly the family to Orlando. And instead of paying $300 per ticket, save big by using points. That adds up fast if you’re flying more than 1 person!
For the dates I flew, the flights would’ve cost nearly $400 round-trip. Not having to pay for them gave me more flexibility to spend on other things – or to save more cash in savings!
2. Booking a Marriott Hotel Near the Conference
I wanted to use Marriott points for this trip because I had a lot of them to get rid of thanks to the merger with Starwood. Marriott makes it simple to book award nights on their website.
When you search, just click “Use Points.” Couldn’t be easier!
But here’s another tip. If you want to be near a certain location, try “Map View” instead of scrolling through the options.
I wanted to be close to the conference’s host hotel, so I found a Marriott hotel only ~4 minutes down the road for maximum convenience.
Marriott is a huge hotel chain. And I had my choice of reasonably-priced points hotels. I settled on the TownePlace Suites Orlando at SeaWorld because it had the best reviews and free breakfast each morning. That’s a huge value add to start the day with some fresh fruit and coffee at no extra charge.
I paid 100,000 Marriott points for 5 nights. You’ll get the 5th night free on your award stay with Marriott, so I only paid 25,000 points for each of the first 4 nights, and nothing extra for the 5th night!
Paid rates for 5 nights tend to hover around $900, but can be well over $1,000, depending on your exact dates. And for families, this particular hotel allows up to 6 guests per room. And I was able to find rooms with 2 queen beds and a pull-out sofa. That would come in handy if you brought the family to visit Orlando!
Between the flights and 5 hotel nights, I saved close to $1,500 on this trip to attend the conference. That’s amazing!
I Used Other Tricks to Make My Travels Comfier
Booking the trip was easy. It was just flights and a hotel room, and only took me a few minutes once I knew my exact dates. You can use the same tips to find the best flights faster, and stay closer to where you want to be!
Every time I fly, I always look forward to enjoying snacks, drinks, and free Wi-Fi in airport lounges. On this trip, I made sure to stop by the Admirals Club lounge in Terminal A at Dallas-Fort Worth for a while.
Once there, I was able to charge all my devices. And got to try fresh-made guacamole, along with a beer and other snacks, before my flight!
Access to every Admirals Club is included when you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, which has an offer right now to earn 75,000 American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
There’s a $450 annual fee. But when you consider an Admirals Club membership costs $550, it can be worth it if you fly American Airlines often. Here’s our full review of the Citi AAdvantage Executive card.
Also, I told you I paid $0 for my trip. Did you think I was gonna leave that hanging? 😉
I used my U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, which comes with $325 in annual travel credits, to pay for the award flights. They were only ~$11, but I got it credited back to my account.
You can use the travel credit for hotel stays, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, or nearly any other travel-related purchase! I used some of my credits to cover expensive taxi rides around Reykjavik when I was in Iceland this June.
This card comes with 50,000 Altitude points after spending $4,500 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which covers $750 toward travel! I also used this card to renew my $100 Global Entry membership this year for free. Here’s our full review of the US Bank Altitude Reserve.
Want More British Airways Avios Points?
Apply Here: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Apply Here: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to travel partners, including British Airways, when you have certain cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred both have this ability. And they’re our #1 card for beginners and #1 small business card, respectively.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. And with the Chase Ink Business Preferred, you can earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Considering both cards let you transfer points directly and instantly to British Airways, that’s a lot of points for short flights on American Airlines!
Want More Marriott Points?
Apply Here: Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card
When you sign-up for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card, you’ll earn 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
I only used 100,000 Marriott points for 5 nights, so this bonus puts you most of the way toward your own next vacation. And depending where you go, can even cover all of it!
I recently went to Orlando for work and personal development. But many folks go for warm temperatures and family fun. I used British Airways points to book American Airlines flights, and Marriott points to stay for free for 5 nights. Both of these methods scale up easily!
I found 7 award seats on my flights, and the Marriott hotel I stayed at allows up to 6 guests per room. Using points for your own Orlando trip could save you $1,000s! In my case, I saved $400 on flights and over $1,000 for my hotel – with a total savings of nearly $1,500!
These same tricks also work to visit other cities. There’s no reason you can’t save on your next vacation, whether you’re traveling solo or with your family, especially when flights and rooms are expensive.
Not having to worry about paying for my trip gave me more focus to connect while I was there. My only costs were food and timeshare rides, so I was grateful to have an amazing experience for a fraction of the typical cost!