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My dad has a “bucket list” of places to go and things to see. It’s not exactly a “bucket list” in the morbid sense of the word (or at least I think it isn’t), but more or less his way of mentally organizing trips he wants to take in the next several years. So far on that list he went to Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore in 2009, Notre Dame last year to see a Fighting Irish home game – and now he wants to go again, and this month he went to Washington DC to the US Open – and now he wants to go to DC again. Next year he plans to go to Yosemite and Red Wood National Forest. The following year is The College World Series in Omaha. A return trip to Notre Dame to see them play the Texas Longhorns is on tap for 2015. Needless to say, these are trips that are well planned in advance. This advance planning and relative date flexibility makes for the perfect points and super-good-deal scenario.
Since I am Mommy Points and ubber-obsessed about all things travel and point related, I am usually very (over?) involved in their trip planning in order to help make sure they get the most bang for their bucket buck. Their DC trip started as a Christmas present idea in the summer of 2010. I registered for the US Open ticket lottery and in August of that year was told that we had secured tickets for the event that would take place right outside of Washington DC in June 2011. Well, that left us in a dilemma as the tickets were to be a Christmas present if we got them, but they needed to make arrangements for lodging before the prices shot up due to a large event occurring. So, we had Christmas in August in order to allow for hotel arrangements to be made ASAP. My dad thought we were crazy, but that is pretty much par for the course around here!
Anyway, the very same August day that we celebrated “Christmas”, we hopped on Hotwire and secured a 3-star room very near the golf tournament for $59 per night. This hotel would go on to be rented for many times that price. It turned out not to be the fanciest hotel around, but it was a great price for a decent location. Three nights of hotel near the tournament = $157 (plus taxes and fees). Success!
For the real Christmas Day 2010, we gave my dad two reward tickets on Continental to fly him and my mom direct from Houston to Reagan National Airport. Two round-trip direct flights = $10.00 (taxes)
After the tournament, they had two days in Washington DC to take in some of the sights and sounds. These were a Sunday and Monday night in the summer. Rates for hotels with a good location in the DC area for weekdays proved to be outrageous! Both my dad and I stalked rates for months. I suggested for him to get the Chase Hyatt credit card that would give you two free hotel nights at any Hyatt. He could then use them to stay at a very nice Hyatt right in the heart of the DC attractions for “free”. Rates at those sort of hotels were easily in the $300-$400 range, but he didn’t bite. He kept hoping that he would get a good deal on Hotwire as we had for the tournament days. Alas, that “great” Hotwire deal never came. Had his dates been weekend dates, he would have had much greater success at scoring a good deal.
Anyway, as a “back-up” plan, I booked them two nights at the Days Inn Connecticut Avenue by using some points I had purchased through the awesome Discover America promotion that ran in April and May (look for it again next year). The points cost me $100 and were exactly enough for the two night stay. This hotel wasn’t the fanciest, and it wasn’t exactly in the heart of all the attractions, but it was very near a Metro Station and they were treated very well there. Rates for those nights were easily three times that price if you had paid the regular rate, so they got a great deal even when you consider that the points were purchased. Two nights hotel at a safe and clean hotel near the Metro Station = $100.
They decided to rent a car for the first few days of the trip in order to see some sights a bit outside of the DC area and to get to the golf tournament. My dad got the car about a week before the trip via Hotwire and it cost 25 dollars a day for 3 days = 75 dollars.
All of the government attractions are free. This includes: Smithsonian, White House tour, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Monument, Vietnam Memorial Wall, etc…… They did go to the Newseum which cost about $22 per person (but was provided as Father’s Day gift, so it doesn’t count!) and they did pay to do a couple other things such as a boat ride on the Potomac, but I would say they spent under $100 on entertainment in DC. The US Open tickets were a few hundred, but we went in together to give them as a Christmas gift, so that was not an out of pocket expense either. Naturally, trips requiring eating out, buying souveniers, etc….. but those expenses are primarily variable based on the traveler’s desires and budget and can be adjusted accordingly.
So, if you solely count the mandatory costs of airfare, lodging, and transportation, my parents were able to have five days in the DC area for only $342 due to planning ahead, using points, and searching relentlessly for good deals. Those costs alone for this trip could have quite easily been between $2000 to $3000 for that week had they not done that. That is why I do what I do, and that’s why I share it here, so that you can have the funds to keep marking trips off your bucket list.
These images and experiences are priceless, but that doesn’t mean they have to cost you a fortune!