Luxury travel via Penny Points


On Tuesday evening, my family of three flew Delta business class from Detroit to Los Angeles on an internationally configured aircraft with flat bed seats.  Upon arrival in LA, we drove to Huntington Beach and checked into the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa where we were given room keys to a beautiful suite.  Unlike most luxury travel that we do, we paid for this trip mostly with cash rather than points and miles.

Pictured above: Delta’s 767-300ER business class seats.


Pictured above: Suite at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach resort


Penny Points

As I’ve mentioned many times before, when earning points or miles, it is often in place of earning cash back (see “Buying points, unwittingly”).  And, sometimes cash back opportunities are significantly better than equivalent points and miles earning opportunities.  As a result, no matter how much you like earning points and miles, there are times where it may make more sense to earn cash instead.

This is true on the redemption side of things as well.  Even though it is often possible to get terrific value from your points and miles, there are times where you’ll get more value from cash.  I like to think of the cash price of a trip in terms of “penny points”.  For example, a $250 flight costs 25,000 “penny points”.  If your alternative is to spend 25,000 airline miles and if you value your airline miles above 1 cent per point, then penny points are a better redemption value than airline miles.  Similarly, if you can get a great deal on a hotel room, spending cash (or penny points) may be a better value than spending your hotel points.  In fact, with hotels, its worth considering that when you book directly with a hotel and pay for the stay rather than redeem points, you will usually earn points for your stay. 

Another aspect of this to consider is the fact that most deals and discounts are dependent upon paying for travel rather than redeeming points for travel.  When you find an incredible deal for a flight or a stay, its rarely the case that the point or mile price will be great too.  Penny Points are a terrible option for most international first class flights, but for discounted flights, hotels, or anything else, they can be the best way to go.

My Delta flight

We were desperate for a break from what has been the worst winter weather in southeast Michigan since the ice age.  Our available dates of travel were fixed and our options for award travel were severely limited.  Flight prices to warm destinations that met our criteria were at least $400 per person, and usually much more.  While researching flight options, I stumbled upon something interesting.  Delta was running an internationally configured 767-300ER between Detroit and LA.  I decided that it was an opportunity not just to get to somewhere warm, but to enjoy the journey there as well.  However, to enjoy the journey, we had to get into first class.  Coach just wouldn’t do.

Saver level awards on our desired flight simply didn’t exist, even for just one person.  Instead of booking awards with Delta miles, I did the following:

  • I bought a business class ticket for my wife for just over $1000.  I’ve never paid that much for a domestic flight before!  In this case, I was willing to splurge because I had already resigned myself to the idea of spending at least $500 per person and by using a companion pass, this would average out to about that much…
  • I used the companion pass that comes with my Delta Reserve card to put my son in first class.  Additionally, I had to pay $22 in taxes and fees.
  • I used my Citi ThankYou Points to buy an economy ticket for myself.  I still have Platinum status with Detla for the rest of the month and so I hoped to score a free upgrade.  Thanks to my Citi ThankYou Premier card, the $600 flight cost fewer than 50,000 points.

After booking my economy flight, I called Delta to find out about upgrade options.  Incredibly, they were able to upgrade my return flight for only $8!  Done!  The outbound flight would have cost hundreds of dollars to upgrade, so I left that one alone. 

As a Platinum Elite, it is technically possible to receive a free flight upgrade 5 days prior to departure.  That has rarely happened in my experience.  Instead, when I checked in on the morning of the flight, I saw that I was 12th in the upgrade queue with only 5 available seats.  It didn’t look good.  At the gate, after they had processed most of the upgrades, I found myself magically first in the queue, and one person with a reserved first class seat had not yet checked in.  Then, finally, just as boarding began, I was called to the desk and given my first class boarding pass!  Sweet!

It was a terrific flight and only varied from a true international flight experience in a few ways: 1) We weren’t given amenity kits; 2) the blankets and pillows were the usual domestic variety, not the Westin Heavenly bedding that Delta offers on international flights; 3) Instead of nice over-ear headphones we were offered only the cheap in-ear variety (which wasn’t a problem since we had our own headphones); and 4) Food catering matched what you would find on domestic flights in first class, but was pretty good nevertheless. 

In the end, my family of 3 travelled in luxury across the country for approximately 50,000 “penny points” per person.  Saver level first class Delta awards would have also cost 50,000 miles per person, but those awards were not available.  My point isn’t to suggest that I got a great deal on this flight, but rather to show that Penny Points, combined with luck and other opportunities were a good alternative to regular miles for achieving our goals.

My stay

As you may already know, I’m currently enrolled in Hyatt’s Diamond Trial which gives me Diamond status for 60 days.  And, if I complete 12 paid nights during that time, I’ll keep Diamond status through February 2015.  For details, see:

My current stay at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort fulfills two goals: 1) A warm weather vacation; and 2) 5 nights towards my Diamond Trial.

The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is a category 5 hotel.  If I had booked the stay entirely with Hyatt points, it would have cost 20,000 points per night.  If I had booked a Points & Cash rate, it would have cost 10,000 points plus $125 per night.  It happened, instead, that I was able to book the stay for an average rate of $177 per night.  The latter was clearly better than the Points & Cash rate to me since I wouldn’t want to spend 10,000 points to save only a bit more than $50.  The full points rate would have offered over a penny a point value (once hotel taxes and fees for the paid rate were taken into account), but I wouldn’t have earned points from the stay, nor would the stay have counted towards my Diamond Trial or towards Hyatt’s Endless Possibilities promotion.  All of those factors, plus the fact that I had previously bought Hyatt gift cards for almost 15% off, made the pay stay option a no-brainer.

So far, the stay here has been terrific.  Our suite is great.  Breakfast and snacks in the lounge have been excellent.  The grounds and pools are beautiful.  And, most importantly, the sun has been shining!  All of this would have been possible with Hyatt points, but for me, in this situation, penny points offered better value.

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