Cheaper and Better: The Big Differences Between Traveling With And Without Awards

Last month, I took a spontaneous trip to New York. Well, it wasn’t entirely spontaneous — I was supposed to go the week after for the New York Times Travel Show. When my plans fell through, I decided to go the week before. That way, I got my New York fix in and there was better award availability. Around that same time, two of my co-workers were also going to New York. While I mostly redeemed points, they paid for the trip out of pocket. Needless, to say my experience ended up cheaper and better than theirs.

First, Airfare

I don’t mean for this post to sound patronizing or arrogant, but I think we sometimes take this hobby for granted. This trip really emphasized how much value there is in collecting points and miles – and the disparity in travel experience. For starters, my co-workers paid $250 – $450 each for their airfare. They each traveled with a spouse, so the cost doubled. I traveled with my siblings and we redeemed a total of 37,500 Alaska miles and ~40,000 Discover It Miles. My co-workers paid $25 each to check their bags. I got mine checked free thanks to the free checked bag benefit from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Card.

For a list of credit cards that offer bonus airline miles to new cardmembers, head here.

Hotel Rewards

When it comes to hotels, that’s where the difference was most jarring. One of my co-workers booked an apartment near Grand Central station. He got a pretty good deal – just around $400 for three nights. My other co-worker stayed near Times Square and I believe her hotel was $180 per night. I paid $876 for three nights at the Andaz 5th Avenue (AAA rate). I redeemed 87,000 Discover Miles for the stay. Because my friend booked the stay, I got Globalist elite benefits, which entitled me to free breakfast. My friend also applied a suite upgrade to my stay, so we had a Loft Suite that consisted of a separate living room with a pull-out couch.

While the breakfast benefit at the Andaz 5th Avenue is limited to two people and capped at $75, our bill normally came out to $85 per night. The hotel ended up charging us for just an additional $12 for all three nights. Did I mention breakfast was insanely delicious and delivered via room service every morning? Sure, we could have grabbed a cheap breakfast outside somewhere, but I do that on a daily basis. When I’m on vacation, I like a hot breakfast and if the hotel will comp it and save me $5 on a bagel, I’m in!

For hotel cards that offer elite status, an opportunity to earn points quickly or a nice bonus to get you started, head here.

Getting Around

Transportation was a breeze. Thanks to various NYC rideshare apps I took advantage of, I was able to save substantially on ground transportation. I able to score free VIA rides by referring both of my siblings to the service (referral code ariana212). Aside from that, VIA cost the same as the subway for three people and it was way more convenient. In the end, my co-workers spent more than I did – on food, transportation and lodging.

While everyone enjoyed their trip to New York overall, I saved more money and got more value than they did. Again, it’s not their faults and to a degree, I just got lucky stumbling across this stuff seven years ago. But sometimes you take points and miles for granted. It’s not until you compare it to how others around you travel that it hits you how much better (and cheaper) your experience is as a result.

Ariana Arghandewal
Ariana Arghandewal is a travel hacker and travel rewards expert who earns over 1.5 million miles every year. When she’s not contributing to Frugal Travel Guy, she publishes her own points and miles blog, PointChaser.com. You can connect…
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The JetBlue Plus Card

  • Annual Fee: $99 fee waived for the first year
  • Foreign Fees: 0%
  • Card Type: Travel

Apply Now
Add to Favorites

  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 6 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don’t expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food & the primary cardmember’s first checked bag is free on JetBlue-operated flights
  • Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
  • Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card
  • Your first checked bag is free.

Breakdown

Earn (pt.)

Spend


3 months

30,000

$1,000


JetBlue Purchases

6.00

$1


Restaurants Purchases

2.00

$1


Groceries Purchases

2.00

$1


All Purchases

1.00

$1


The JetBlue Plus Card

  • Annual Fee: $99 fee waived for the first year
  • Foreign Fees: 0%
  • Card Type: Travel
FTG Review Reward Breakdown Points Breakdown
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 6 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don’t expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food & the primary cardmember’s first checked bag is free on JetBlue-operated flights
  • Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
  • Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card
  • Your first checked bag is free.

Breakdown

Earn (pt.)

Spend


3 months

30,000

$1,000


JetBlue Purchases

6.00

$1


Restaurants Purchases

2.00

$1


Groceries Purchases

2.00

$1


All Purchases

1.00

$1


Apply Now

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