My girlfriend recently graduated and is now looking at potential grad schools, including one in Philadelphia. The school recently announced an open house for the grad program she’s looking at and she thought it would be a good idea to check it out. Little did she know I already was working on secret plans to visit Washington for a few days, since she’s yet to see the nation’s capital and I figured we could catch the tail end of some beautiful weather before the swampy summer air settles in across the Potomac.
Now, I had a new challenge: how to weave together the trip I planned with the trip she needs to create a weeklong adventure! I found a solution that saved an incredible amount of money while almost entirely relying on Ultimate Rewards, transferring points out to four different partners of this points program.
From Jacksonville to…
The first thing I had to figure out was whether we should start the trip in Philadelphia just before the open house or begin in Washington and make our way to Philadelphia when the time was right.
I knew that flying to Washington on US Airways using Avios would be hard to beat; as I mentioned in our recent feature on using Avios with US Air, Jacksonville is just a few miles within the distance threshold for 4,500 Avios flights to Washington.
If we started in Philadelphia, either using Southwest miles to fly there via Atlanta or Nashville, the number of miles needed would vary based on the current cash price of the ticket. If we flew to Philadelphia – also a US Airways hub – using Avios, we’d need 7,500 Avios a piece, since it’s farther away from Jacksonville than Washington.
Availability on US Air to Washington was better than from Washington, which was a vote in favor of hitting DC first. The deciding factor was actually hotel availability: I wanted us to stay at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill but the hotel was completely booked on the dates we’d be coming through town if we went to Philadelphia first.
So, Washington first, then Philadelphia!
Making Our Way To Washington
The first step was to book our flight to Washington. I transferred 9,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my British Airways account and booked the two one-way seats from JAX to DCA for 4,500 Avios + $2.50 each.
I could hardly believe the cash price for this flight, which I didn’t even check until after booking:
I wouldn’t be insistent on a nonstop flight if I were paying cash, so a connecting flight for $191 is a better analog than this astounding $528 fare. I just feel bad for anyone paying that Full Fare rate instead of using Avios!
Staying in Washington
As I mentioned above, I wanted to stay at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. Finding it available for the two nights we could stay in Washington before heading on to Philadelphia was key to the order of the trip. The hotel is incredibly central to everywhere we’d like to see in Washington, as you can see from this map:
It’s especially convenient given the staff-led tour of the Capitol I arranged through our congressman‘s office.
Pro-Tip: Booking US Capitol Tours
Tours are typically easy to arrange, even if the public tours you can book online are already at capacity, and most congressional offices are happy to help out their constituents! Just give them a call and let them know when you’ll be visiting. Try to give at least a few weeks’ notice so they can have a staffer available to personally tour you around.
Here’s a Congressional directory that might be useful.
As a Category 5 property, the Hyatt on Capitol Hill costs 15,000 points per night. The very last standard room available can be booked at this rate, making it a good deal when nightly rates are high. Points + Cash nights are also possible for 7,500 points + $100, but these are capacity controlled and can only be booked by calling Hyatt at 800.228.3360.
In this case, I went with an all-points booking, transferring over 30,000 of my Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account. The points arrived in seconds, as they always do; by simply logging out and back in, I saw them in my account and was able to immediately make the booking.
When redeeming for free nights at Hyatt, almost always the cost works out to $0. There are a few odd cases overseas where a mandatory tax of a few dollars is due, and award nights used at MGM properties in Las Vegas are still subject to resort fees. In Washington, though, no such fees will apply, making the stay truly free. At a sky-high $429.49 cash rate during our stay, this meant saving big on a hotel that would have been well out of reach without using points:
Riding The Rails To Philly
Rather than catching a very, very short flight to Philadelphia, we chose to take Amtrak, which offers almost hourly service between the cities and a transit time under two hours. Amtrak is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, which is a big reason why the PointsAway book dedicates a chapter to Amtrak’s program. Some of the deals on Amtrak’s award chart are exemplary, and chief among them is the rate for coach seats for travel within their Northeast Zone.
Travel from as far south as Virginia Beach to as far north as Montréal is covered under this zone’s definition, and only 4,000 points are required per person.
There’s no charge for an award redemption on Amtrak; the 4,000 points each covers it all. Amtrak allows the very last seat on its trains to be booked as an award seat, making this redemption quite valuable when the time you’d like to hit the rails has already run through its allotment of discounted tickets.
The next best idea would’ve probably been to use 4,500 Avios a piece for a US Air shuttle, or to pick up a bus ticket, but we decided a train would be fun since neither of us had been on a proper train ride before. I transferred over the 8,000 points necessary from Ultimate Rewards. Just like with other transfers, this one was instant; simply logging out and back in was enough for the points to show in my account.
The tickets would have gone for $178 a piece had we paid cash; earlier and later departures were available for $76 – or the same number of points – but this is the time that was most efficient for our schedule, with the open house taking place later that evening.
Staying in Philadelphia
Once in Philadelphia, we’d need a place to stay for three nights. I’d saved up enough Welcome Rewards from various cash stays booked through Hotels.com to cover a night somewhere in Philadelphia. The Doubletree Philadelphia City Center quickly stood out as a good choice:
With my HHonors Gold status, we should get free breakfast, a room upgrade and a few other niceties from the stay. We might even earn some HHonors points, since the room is being earned via an unrelated loyalty program!
We’d need somewhere else to stay for our other two nights in town. To keep costs low, we turned back to Hyatt award nights for an answer. The Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing is just 12,000 points per night (6,000 + $75 if booked at the Points + Cash rate), which I covered by transferring 24,000 more Ultimate Rewards points over to Hyatt.
The hotel is right on the city’s waterfront and just a few blocks from both the Hilton – making the transfer simple – and many of Philadelphia’s historical sights. Neither of us have been to Philadelphia before, so there should be plenty to see!
The Hyatt would’ve cost $249 per night during our stay, so using points saved us a cool five hundred bucks:
Flying home on US Airways for 7,500 Avios would be an option here at times, but unfortunately no seats remained to Jacksonville at this discount rate. We found one almost as good through Southwest, though, with an early evening departure time that would allow us to maximize our last day on the ground in Philly before heading out.
At 7,749 Rapid Rewards Points each, these return flights aren’t the best deal I’ve booked, but since Southwest allows for changes and cancellations with no fees, I plan to keep an eye on the rate just in case prices fall.
Once again, I transferred Ultimate Rewards points to make the booking, meaning I’d now taken advantage of four Ultimate Rewards partners on the same trip: British Airways, Hyatt, Amtrak and Southwest.
This flight would’ve cost us $141 each, and instead cost just $5 thanks to the points used.
In a way, it was painful to part with so many Ultimate Rewards points for one trip, but this was precisely because of how versatile and valuable they are, which this trip does an outstanding job of showing. Using just one points program, I was successfully able to book nights at Hyatt, fares on Amtrak and flights on US Air (via British Airways) and Southwest.
By using these points, I was able to not only create the graduation trip I was planning, but also add on another leg that could serve a good purpose! Meanwhile, we’ll get to enjoy two of America’s great cities at a great time of year and stay at centrally located hotels that would be beyond our travel budget otherwise. It’s just another example of how points and miles can help you not only see the world, but also a little more of your own backyard!
|Trip Component||Cheapest Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|British Airways Award On US Air: Jacksonville to Washington, DC, 2 Passengers||$191 Per Person on US Air||4,500 Avios + $2.50 Per Person.||$377.00|
|Award Nights: Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill||$429.49 Per Night, 2 Nights||30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points||$858.98|
|Amtrak Award: Washington to Philadelphia, 2 Passengers||$178 Per Person On Amtrak||4,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards Points Per Passenger.||$356.00|
|Award Night: Hilton Philadelphia City Center||$120 Per Night, 1 Night||Hotels.com Welcome Rewards Redemption (Free)||$120.00|
|Award Nights: Hyatt Regency Penn’s Landing||$249 Per Night, 2 Nights||24,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points||$498.00|
|Southwest Award Flight: Philadelphia to Jacksonville, 2 Passengers||$141 Per Person on Southwest||7,749 Rapid Rewards Points + $5 Per Person||$272.00|
|Total:||$2,994.98||15,498 Rapid Rewards + 9,000 Avios + 8,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards + 42,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points (All Converted From Ultimate Rewards) + $15||$2,979.98(99.5% Off!)|