Guest Post #3: How I Took an $8,500 Scottsdale Vacation for $900

Note: The following post is from Little Miss Traveler. She is a civilian spouse who just married an active duty Navy Dental Corps Officer and has just started her churning journey. She has offered to post the following report in exchange for being able to host her referral links.


I recently made a blog post about an Orlando getaway weekend my husband and I took using credit card points we earned by maximizing the MLA benefits available to military members and their families, and after hearing some great feedback I decided to post about another amazing trip we recently took.  I hope these posts about my personal experiences will inspire you to discover and take advantage of these benefits so that you can take the trip you have always dreamed of for as close to free as possible.  I would love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have; feel free to contact me at Cecilia@littlemisstraveler.com

In late February my husband and I escaped the Midwest winter for five days in Scottsdale, AZ.  By using points and benefits from five different credit cards, we were able to do this for only $907.  I realize 5 credit cards sounds like a lot, but by organizing our spending, we were able to acquire these credit cards and hit the minimum spending requirement to receive the welcome bonuses used to pay for this trip.  Normally, these 5 cards would carry a total annual cost of $2450, but due to my husband’s active duty status, we get them for free!!!  It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not; this really works.  

I have written a detailed explanation of how we paid for every aspect of this trip, illustrated with a plethora of pictures to bring it to life, but if you are more of a nuts and bolts person and don’t want to read my whole story scroll to the bottom of the post to get a simplified version of the cost breakdown.

We flew round trip from Chicago to Phoenix on American Airlines for absolutely free thanks to our American Express Platinum charge cards as well as my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.   The Amex Platinum has an annual $200 airline credit, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual $300 travel credit.  Since my husband and I both have an Amex Platinum, that totaled $700 in free airfare.  The $300 CSR benefit was automatically credited back to my account after the travel purchase, but we had to buy two $200 American Airlines gift cards with our Platinum cards. As I mentioned in my previous post, American Airlines no longer allows the $200 airline credit to be used for gift card purchases.  However, Southwest Airlines still allows this, so keep that in mind if you decide to get an Amex Platinum. 

American Airlines allows military members flying with them access to their Admirals Lounge, so we began our trip there, enjoying free food and drinks before boarding our flight.  After arriving in Phoenix we went to the Hertz rental car location where our GMC Terrain was waiting for us with the keys in it.  Since we reserved the rental car with rewards points I earned on my CSR, it was free!!  After spending $4000 in the first 3 months of opening the CSR card, you are awarded 50,000 rewards points, which is worth $750 in travel credit.   We used a portion of these rewards points to pay for the car, and still had quite a bit left over.  Another benefit of the CSR is automatic Hertz Gold Status, which means an automatic vehicle upgrade and no waiting in line at the rental counter to get your car, so we immediately hopped in and headed toward the hotel.  

We drove to the Phoenician Canyon Suites by Marriott and quickly realized it was more of a palace than a hotel.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by name and escorted to our room.  They upgraded us to a King Suite Golf View…we had two bathrooms, two balconies, and a massive living room in addition to a separate bedroom.  By far, it was the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to. Literally, it was insane!

How much did five nights at this insane palace-like hotel cost us you are surely wondering?? You guessed it, nothing!!!!  We booked the room using 240,000 Marriott points we earned from our American Express SPG Luxury cards (Marriott and Amex have since changed the name of this card to the Bonvoy Brilliant).  I suspect the fact that we booked our stay with points is the reason we were upgraded to a suite.  The suite was 60,000 points per night, but whenever using points to pay for a reservation of 4 nights, Marriott gives the 5th night free.  Ok let me break down how we were able to amass so many Marriott points.  First, my husband applied for the Bonvoy Brilliant card, which awards 100,000 points after spending $5000 in the first 3 months of opening it.  Then, he referred me the card, so we got another 100,000 points after I reached the minimum spend, plus he got a 20,000 point bonus for referring me!  So we are at 220,000 points, a little short of the 240,000 required to book our slice of heaven in the Phoenician kingdom.  To get that last 20,000 we converted 20,000 of my 50,000 Amex Platinum to Marriott points (you are awarded 50,000 Amex points after hitting the $5,000 minimum spend in the first 3 months). 

So we were feeling pretty good at this point…free flights, free car, free suite.  But we still had to fill 4 days with activities that would surely be expensive, right?  Not quite. The Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with a $300 credit that is good at any Marriott property, and since my husband and I both have one, we had a grand total of $600 of free money to spend!  There was a daily resort fee of $40, so that ate up $200 of it, but I will still take a free $400 any day 🙂.

We slept in Saturday but woke up in time to hit the free breakfast, which was amazing.  Our plan for the day was to hike up nearby Camelback Mountain, so the concierge provided us with complimentary backpacks containing bottles of water and granola bars and also gave us a golf cart ride to the trailhead.  It was perfect weather, so we had a wonderful hike then relaxed by the pool with drinks and appetizers before going to dinner at J and G Steakhouse.  We booked our dinner reservation via the concierge, which is probably why we got a table right next to the window overlooking the city.  After a delicious dinner, we stopped by the lobby to check out the live band and grab a drink.  We spent a total of $290 at the resort that day, meaning we still had $110 of free money left to play with.

After another free breakfast on Sunday morning, we left the resort to spend the day with family that live in the area.  We spent most of the day with my family, who graciously bought us lunch then went to my husband’s aunt’s house in the evening.  She cooked dinner for us, so we brought a nice bottle of wine.  Overall, Sunday was a day of nearly free entertainment with family, and we were happy to have had the opportunity to catch up with them.

We decided to take full advantage of the amenities offered by the resort, so after breakfast Monday morning we reserved a tennis court, which was complementary to guests for one hour per day.  The resort had impressive tennis facilities including a pro shop and nearly a dozen courts.  The pro shop provided us with free rackets so all we had to pay was $4 for a sleeve of tennis balls.  We told the tennis pro we were not skilled tennis players and fully expected to be delegated to a court away from any other human beings, but we were shocked when she said “you guys will be on center court.”  As tennis novices, we weren’t sure what “center court” meant, but we quickly discovered that it meant we got to play on the nicest tennis court they had…the closest to Wimbledon we will ever get haha!

After an hour of tennis, we went straight to the pool and spent most of the afternoon lounging in the sun.  We ate lunch and had drinks poolside and were pleasantly surprised when a pool attendant came to us offering complimentary frozen grapes every 30 minutes.  I have no idea how, but the pool attendant also knew our name without us having to introduce ourselves! 

After a spectacular pool day, we decided to check out Old Town Scottsdale, which was only a few miles from the resort.  The concierge arranged a complimentary ride to and from Old Town…the complimentary ride was in a Cadillac Escalade by the way!  We toured some art galleries and met my husband’s aunt and uncle for dinner.  We picked up the check since they had graciously hosted us the previous evening.  After riding back to the resort in style we ordered a nice bottle of wine via room service and watched the sunset and stars from the balcony (ahem, I mean one of the balconies ;)) of our suite.  The poolside lunch, tennis balls, and bottle of wine totaled $189, meaning we had maxed out our resort credit plus another $79. 

Tuesday we decided to give tennis another shot, and we were in luck because the tennis pro gave us center court again!  They must pay a team of people to manicure the court every night because it was pristine. It was another perfect sunny Arizona day so we spent another day relaxing by the pool.  The afternoon at the pool was almost an exact replica of the previous pool day, with the exception of two things.  One, the complementary snacks were mini fruit smoothies instead of frozen grapes and two, we actually had to pay for everything ourselves since we burned through the last of our resort credit the previous day.  After living like royalty for 3 days in a row we toned things down and had a light dinner in the hotel lobby then enjoyed a night cap at the lobby bar.  The day’s activities cost a total of $205.

We woke up the next morning sad to know that our trip was coming to an end and that we didn’t have any more resort credit to have fun with, but it was our last bit of sunshine before heading back to the tundra so we made the most of the day.  My husband is an avid golfer, so he was overly thrilled (in my opinion) to wake up way too early to spend way too much money ($300) to rent clubs and play 18 holes at the resort’s golf course.  After sleeping in and enjoying breakfast, all I wanted to do was spend my few remaining hours in Arizona soaking up more sun, so I got comfy with a book and an iced coffee in my favorite poolside lounge chair.  When I checked out of the room, I was sure to go to the front desk to request a split charge on our Bonvoy Brilliant cards.  I had them put $300 on one card and the remaining balance on the other, that way we only had one card to pay off.  Normally we get to the airport a bit early to take advantage of access to the Admirals Lounge, but we wanted to stay in the Phoenician dream world as long as possible so after checking out we opted to have lunch on the patio at the golf course.  We spent an hour rehashing all the trips we had ever been on together and decided that this trip rivaled our honeymoon as our best yet.

See below for a breakdown of the cost of each part of the trip and a recap of the credit cards that made this trip possible.

Friday

Cost of round trip flight for two from ORD to Phoenix: $700

Cost of 4 drinks and snacks at ORD Admirals Lounge: $75 

Cost of GMC Terrain rental car from Hertz plus: $230

Cost of five nights in King Suite with Balcony Golf View with daily breakfast and valet parking at Phoenician Canyon Suites: $6,335 (* items below included in this rate)

Saturday

Cost of two hiking packs with waters and granola bars: *included in nightly rate

Cost of poolside drinks and snacks: $75

Cost of dinner at J and G Steakhouse: $200

Nightcap drinks at lobby bar: $15

Sunday

Cost of lunch with family: free!

Cost of dinner with family: $25

Monday

Cost of 1 hour of tennis: *included in nightly rate ($4 for tennis balls)

Cost of poolside drinks and snacks: $125

Cost of ride to and from Old Town Scottsdale in Cadillac Escalade: *included in nightly rate

Cost of dinner in Old Town Scottsdale: $120

Cost of bottle of wine from room service: $60

Tuesday

Cost of 1 hour of tennis: *included in nightly rate

Cost of lunch and drinks by the pool: $125

Cost of dinner in lobby restaurant: $60

Wednesday

Cost of 18 holes of golf with rental clubs: $300

Cost of lunch at 18th hole: $40

Cost of tank of gas for rental car: $56

Total cost of trip: $8,505

Total amount actually paid for trip: $907

Recap of Credit Cards Mentioned in this Post

Amex Platinum – $550 annual fee (Referral Link Here)

  • Benefits
    • $200 annual Uber credit
    • $200 annual airline fee credit (meant for incidentals such as bag fees, upgrades, etc, but you can buy a $200 Southwest gift card that is as good as cash)
    • Priority Pass that grants access to hundreds of airport lounges
    • $100 credit toward TSA Pre-Check
    • $100 credit to Saks Fifth Avenue
    • Upgraded status at Hilton and Marriott Hotels

Chase Sapphire Reserve – $450 annual fee

  • Benefits
    • $300 annual credit for any travel related expense
    • $100 credit toward TSA Pre-Check
    • Priority Pass that grants access to hundreds of airport lounges

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant – $450 annual fee (Referral Link Here)

  • Benefits
    • $300 annual credit at Marriott properties
    • Annual free night at Marriott

Thank you to Derp for hosting my guest post! Mark Wednesday April 24 on your calendar and be sure to check out my new blog littlemisstraveler.com to stay up on my newest adventures. Be sure to check out my step by step guide on how to make the trip of your dreams to become reality!

-LMT

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