Traveling in style on a budget: a weekend trip to LA

Traveling can, for obvious reasons, be a huge pain. Between the occasional trip to run a race, visits to family/friends, and going to weddings I feel like I’m traveling all the time. And that’s often reflected in a painful way in my monthly travel expenses. But, pretty much all of this traveling is worth it. And even though I spend a ridiculous amount of money to do it, I’d argue that my price per unit travel1PPUT? is actually quite low. Case in point: my recent trip to LA.

A trip across (most of) the country

A long time ago, on a sunny spring afternoon, a couple walked outside among the trees and ponds and grass and stuff in oddly business casual attire. Professional photographers lurked in the bushes. The air was light. The breeze was gentle. The time was right.

I have no idea if any of the above actually happened, but one day I heard that my cousin was getting married in southern California so I needed to go there. Here’s how I did it.

Booking a flight

When you use Chase credit cards, a lot of times this part is free. I like to optimize everything, so I’ll quickly compare the options of paying in cash versus using my points (if I have enough) to book a flight. Chase allows you to transfer points to “travel partners” — I do this with Southwest Airlines a lot — or book directly on their travel site where each point is worth 1.5 cents. Sometimes the transfer results in an even higher point value. In this case it didn’t, the cash price was already low, and I might not have had a lot of points at the time, so I paid in real money. A round trip from my home city to LAX was $196.77. Not bad for an almost cross country trip. I booked it.

Lounging

To get to LAX, I had a long layover in Houston at IAH. While most people do not prefer long layovers, I was actually pretty excited about this. In fact, this was one reason (in addition to the low price) that I wanted to book these flights.

One of the many perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve2aka the cornerstone of the Chase trifecta is Priority Pass lounge access. In addition to their network of lounges, priority pass randomly offers significant credit at a few airport restaurant. As it turns out, this was the case at both IAH and LAX.

I arrived at IAH right around lunchtime, and headed over to Landry’s Seafood where a $28 meal could be had for $0. Perfect.

Wanting to take full advantage, I ordered a small gumbo and a fried fish sandwich. The meal was large and excellent. Total cost: $5 tip.

After a nice meal that was way too big. I headed over the the KLM Lounge, also a part of the Priority Pass network, where I washed it all down with some Baileys while I wrote up a blog post.

The KLM Lounge: free drinks, snacks, and some comfortable chairs to blog in.

By the time I got to LAX, it was dinner time! And lucky for me, I had $30 off at PF Chang’s. I took a stroll to over to the international terminal for a free meal of not-really-Chinese food. Plus a smoothie to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Completely stuffed, I went over to pick up my rental car. The Sapphire Reserve also gives you Emerald Status with National, where you can choose almost any car off the lot for the price of an intermediate car. But in this case, Thrifty was the thriftier option. I used 3,784 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to pay the $56.76 cost of the car for two days.

Hotel

Hotels can be expensive, especially in a big city like LA. Which made this a great time to use my anniversary free night from my IHG rewards club credit card. For a $49 annual fee, you can book one free night at almost any IHG hotel worldwide. As a rewards club member, I got to bypass the long check in line, and got my free room upgraded to a top floor “club level” room, just because. Plus two free drink vouchers and some IHG “welcome points”. I felt very welcome indeed. Exhausted and stuffed, I went up to the penthouse to get some rest. My sister arrived later that night, so both of us got free-ish lodging thanks to this perk.

Since we were there for two nights, I actually booked a second night at an oceanfront resort using the other free night I had (it resets in May for me, and there’s a small window each year where you could book both nights at the same time). But, my aunt offered for us to stay at her family’s condo which is near the wedding reception, so I cancelled that and got my free night back.

As a quick note, this exact credit card is no longer available. You might think that makes this part of the story kind of irrelevant to you since you can no longer take advantage of this specific benefit. But the point is this: there are many credit cards out there with unique benefits that might help you out and enhance your travel. Including many hotel co-branded cards with a similar annual free night or hotel points equivalent. This story is just meant to illustrate the utility of taking advantage of one of these.

Summing it up

Travel always costs more than you think it will. On this trip, I paid $38 in parking, another $38 in airline fees so I could have a carry-on on the low-cost carrier (Sun Country) that I used to fly back home, $46 in food (not all for me :)) plus $15 in airport food tips, and $39.45 in rental car gas. So all in all, including the IHG card annual fee, this trip cost $422.23. Still not bad for a weekend trip across the country to an expensive area that included lounging in lounges, a rental car, enough food to feed a small family for a week (or, you know, just me over a weekend), and staying in a fancy hotel.

Most importantly, the wedding/seeing family and stuff was pretty good too. And of course, I stopped at PF Chang’s on the way back as well!

This wimpy meal (& cocktail) was all I could handle after a weekend of stuffing my face.

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