An Affordable Travel Guide for College Football Fans

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If you love college football and one if your teams has made it to the final four, why not plan a fun trip to cheer on your alma mater? Besides purchasing game tickets, there are plenty of options to do it frugally using points and miles.

The Alabama Crimson Tide will face off the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, and the Ohio State Buckeyes will play the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix. Both bowl games will take place Dec. 31. The winners of the two games will play each other in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 9.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Alabama fans can drive from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Atlanta in just three hours. However, Washington fans will have to fly from Seattle. The good news is, it’s possible to fly between two cities using frequent-flyer miles. A round-trip on Delta Air Lines will cost 65,000 SkyMiles per ticket. It’s a bit high, but cash fares go for about $1,200 on the dates around New Year’s. Alaska Airlines is charging 60,000 miles for non-stop round-trip flights, compared with cash fares at about $1,100.

Once in Atlanta, there are many hotels football fans can stay at using points. For example, Aloft Atlanta Downtown and W Atlanta – Midtown, both Category 4 Starwood Preferred Guest properties, require 10,000 Starpoints per night. W Atlanta – Downtown, a Category 5 SPG property, costs 12,000 Starpoints per night, compared with a cash rate of $350. If you rent a car, the Westin Atlanta Airport, SPG Category 2, is just 3,000 Starpoints, compared with a cash rate of $151.

If you have Hilton HHonors points to burn, a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Atlanta Downtown requires 30,000 points per night. In comparison, cash rates start at $409 per night at this property. Embassy Suites by Hilton Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park comes to 50,000 points, compared with $539 per night. A room at the Hampton Inn Atlanta – Airport requires just 20,000 HHonors points, compared with $109 per night.

For those fans who have an abundance of Marriott Rewards points, a room at the Residence Inn Atlanta Downtown comes to 25,000 points, compared with a cash rate of $309 per night. If luxury is your jam, The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead charges 40,000 Marriott Rewards points, or $529 per night. There’s also an option to stay near the airport at the Courtyard Atlanta Airport North/Virginia Avenue for just 10,000 Marriott Rewards points, or $180 per night.

 

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

Because Phoenix is an American Airlines hub, Ohio State fans can fly non-stop from Columbus, Ohio, but the Economy AAnytime redemptions are 50,000 AAdvantage miles per way, which is pretty high. In comparison, the same round-trip comes to about $1,500 in cash. For those willing to fly out of Cincinnati, the cheapest redemption on Delta comes to 72,000 SkyMiles with one layover in each direction. In contrast, Delta charges about $1,300 for the same flights. Unfortunately, flying to a bowl game during one of the biggest holidays means paying premium rates, but if using miles means saving cash, thousands of dollars can be saved.

Clemson fans can fly to Phoenix out of the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (45 minutes from Clemson, S.C.) for the same 50,000 AAdvantage miles each way with a layover in both directions. Revenue flights hover around $1,500. A non-stop flight on Delta requires 65,000 SkyMiles, compared with about $1,100 if paid in cash.

When it comes to award nights, all major chains have properties bookable with points in Phoenix. For example, the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, SPG Category 4, comes to 10,000 Starpoints per night, or $155 in cash. The Westin Phoenix Downtown, a Category 5 Starwood hotel, starts at 16,000 Starpoints per night, compared with a cash rate of $251. For those on the budget, Four Points by Sheraton Phoenix North, SPG Category 2, comes to just 3,000 Starpoints, or $92 per night.

For Hilton members, a room at the Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Downtown starts at 40,000 HHonors points, compared with a cash rate of $170 per night. If you’d like to be closer to the airport, a room at the Hilton Phoenix Airport is 30,000 Hilton points ($167), and a room at the Hampton Inn Phoenix – Airport North is just 20,000 Hilton points ($154) per night.

Marriott Rewards members can redeem 25,000 points per night at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, compared with $180 per night. A room at the Residence Inn Phoenix Airport starts at 20,000 points per night, or $113. For those on the budget, a Residence Inn Phoenix, which is closer to the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., comes to 15,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, compared with a cash rate of $132.

The dates used for looking up flights and hotels have been Dec. 30 through Jan. 1.

 

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2017 College Football Playoff National Championship

The winning teams will play for the national championship title at Raymond James Stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.

Unfortunately, most Starwood hotels in Tampa are sold out for the big weekend and are not available to be booked with cash, let alone using SPG Free Nights. The only hotel bookable with points is the Aloft Sarasota, which is about an hour away from the stadium, at 10,000 Starpoints per night. Renting a car and splitting the cost among friends could be an affordable option.

I didn’t have much luck with Hilton, either. Most hotels in the city center are sold out on the requested dates. Rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa – North, about 20 miles from the stadium, can be booked for 20,000 HHonors points, or $274 in cash. Homewood Suites by Hilton St. Petersburg Clearwater, about 12 miles from the stadium, costs 30,000 points or $399 per night.

Marriott options aren’t much better. A room at the Residence Inn Clearwater Downtown comes to 30,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, or $379, and its about 20 miles away from the stadium. Fans can book a room at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, an hour away, for 50,000 points, or $665 per night.

The dates used for looking up hotels have been Jan. 7 through Jan. 10.

If you waited too long and Tampa hotels cannot be booked with points, Airbnb might be your last resort. I’ve found plenty of options for under $100 per night. If you do not have an Airbnb account, you can sign up using my referral link. If you do, we both will receive a $35 credit toward a stay. And using a Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard can erase your travel charges.

Although traveling for a football game could cost thousands of dollars, it doesn’t have to. Using points and miles lets fans start a year off by celebrating their team’s bowl-game win as well as experience the energy of the National Championship Game. If only credit cards could help you redeem points for game tickets also.

 

Have you used points and miles to attend a sporting event? Where did you go?

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