After-school activities like sports, dancing, and a marching band can be expensive enough given the uniforms, team fees, and equipment. When you factor in the often exorbitant travel expenses for meetings and performances, it’s easy to feel that a competition is a massive foul on your bank account.
I definitely feel that way. As a competitive athlete in two different barbell sports – weightlifting and powerlifting – I could easily have spent more than $ 2,100 on a five-day, five-night trip for two to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the USA Weightlifting North American Open Series II.
Instead, I only spent $ 400 in cash and redeemed around $ 570 worth of Southwest Rapid Rewards and World of Hyatt points (with Reviews of NerdWallet). These total costs include the entry fees for my competition (which do not take credit card points) and the total cost of our combined meals, entertainment, carpooling, hotels and airfare.
Spending extra days volunteering athletes could be brutal – especially since the cash price for our stay at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque would have been around $ 1,200 otherwise.
The Hyatt Regency Albuquerque is a Category 1 hotel, the cheapest category for Hyatt point bookings. A stay costs 5,000 points per night during the Standard season. So I converted 25,000 Ultimate Rewards® points into the World of Hyatt program to cover our five day stay.
How much money are 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points worth? It depends on the accountant you speak to. These 25,000 points could be worth:
A meager $ 250 when redeemed for cash.
$ 312.50 when booking travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, given the 1.25x multiplier that Chase offers Chase Sapphire Preferred® card Holder.
For the purposes of this trip, I’ll say I parted ways with points worth $ 312.50 – the amount needed to book the stay through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. (If you book directly through Hyatt, point value may vary from location to location.)
But no matter how you cut it, I parted with a lot less points than the room’s cash value.
Costs: $ 0 cash plus $ 312.50 in Chase Ultimate Rewards® points
Our Southwest flights would have been $ 250 each, but my friend’s was practically free because of mine Southwest companion pass. This pass is essentially a buy-one-get-one flight offer where you only pay taxes and fees (in this case, $ 11.20 round-trip) on the second ticket. One way to get one of these coveted passes is to earn 125,000 qualifying ones Southwest Rapid Rewards Points in a calendar year.
The welcome offer on my Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card took me most of the way to getting a Companion Pass. Additional expenses on the map got me the rest of the way. Here is the current welcome offer: Earn 80,000 points after spending $ 5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
With the Rapid Rewards points I collected, I covered my own share of the flight price, which amounted to 18,299 points. NerdWallet appreciates these Rapid Rewards points at about $ 250.
Costs: $ 11.20 plus Southwest Rapid Rewards points worth $ 256.19
Other means of transport
Driving shares: We skipped the rental car and relied on ridesharing as our hotel was one block from the Albuquerque Convention Center, which is where I would spend most of the time for the weightlifting meet. Plus, parking at our hotel was a whopping $ 18 a night.
Carpooling was surprisingly cheap and we used it for the short 4 mile trip between downtown and the airport, as well as short trips around town.
The compromise: Given the demand, there was far too little carpooling and we often had to wait a long time for a driver to pick us up – sometimes more than 30 minutes. I was never pressed for time on this trip, but if so, having a rental car would probably have been much more reliable.
Train: The best, most reliable, and cheapest means of transportation for this trip was the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, which we took for a day trip to Santa Fe. The trip took about 1.5 hours and was only $ 9 per person for a round trip.
to eat and drink
Here are my best restaurants and money saving tips for any trip.
Pack groceries from home or visit a local grocery store: Weightlifting is one of those sports that a lot of competitive athletes do, so I packed protein bars and unsalted nuts from home for the first few days before my competition. I also bought perishable items like yogurt from a grocery store.
While most travelers don’t try to fit into a weight class in the middle of the trip, planning ahead is not a bad idea. Either pack snacks from home or shop for groceries; You can then avoid the surcharge for an overpriced yogurt parfait in the hotel’s lobby café.
Looking for cheap food: Every city has it. We made our way to the University of New Mexico to explore the area. There we ate at the Frontier for New Mexican-meets-Diner food. Located right across from a college campus, the prices weren’t surprisingly low (but the portions were huge).
Food halls are ideal for groups: Group meals can quickly become expensive. The Sägemühlenmarkt, a huge food hall with long picnic neighbors, turned out to be ideal for team meals so everyone could order their own food but could sit together.
Entry fee for the competition: USA Weightlifting does not accept credit card points. Cashback credit cards can come to cover such expenses, but I chose to just pay the $ 125 session fee in cash.
Entertainment: Most of the time I spent coaching or training, so I didn’t spend a lot of money on other entertainment beyond the $ 125 entry price.
My boyfriend and I enjoyed excellent views on a free afternoon on the Sandia Peak Tramway which was well worth it. I could have hiked up and paid only $ 18 one way down, but most weightlifters are known to avoid cardio. Unfortunately, these two weightlifters combined spent about $ 65 round-trip transportation.
We had another completely free day taking this day trip to Santa Fe. Most art galleries have free entry. Combine this with some craft window shopping, a tour of the farmers market, and a tour of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and there was more than enough to fill our day without paying a dime (other than food).
Credit cards used
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: $ 199 Annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® card: $ 95 Annual fee.
How Much We Spent: A Breakdown
In total, we spent just under $ 1,000 in cash and points on a trip that would otherwise have cost over $ 2,000. Here’s how this breaks down by spending category, for two people in total.
Thanks to the points, I’ve saved about 55% on the actual trip value, mainly thanks to the relatively few points required to fund my hotel room compared to the bar fare, as well as the Southwest Companion Pass which saved about half the cost of our airfare.
How we calculated the expenses
While we only spent $ 400 in cash, it’s not fair to say that’s all travel expenses.
After all, points and miles also have value, because every point that is spent on this journey is a point that could have been spent elsewhere. I parted with points that NerdWallet thinks was worth about $ 570.
Expenses we include or exclude: All costs listed here relate to all times during which we donated money during the trip or for costs that we have expended in advance for this trip. For example, we included the entrance fee to the meeting in our cost, but we did not include the cost of other items that you have to pay to attend a meeting (like the undershirt you have to wear) as I ‘ d use that for other meetings as well.
The bottom line
Traveling to events like reunions, band trips, and weddings brings joy as it brings you together with friends and family to do the things you love. But there is also the pain of paying for a trip that is probably nowhere near on your wish-list.
It can be a lot less painful when you use credit card rewards to cover costs. Better still, the value of the points you give up can still be less than their cash value. Had I financed my trip entirely with cash, it would have cost over $ 2,100. Instead, it “cost” me a total of just over $ 980 in monetary and points value. ($ 420 was actual cash and $ 570 was the approximate point value.)
These savings far exceeded the annual fees I pay for holding the cards that made it possible, and they made a trip that I wasn’t looking forward to much more manageable. At the North American Open Series II, I finished third overall. But if this is a budget contest I feel like I won gold.
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