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Apologies for the delay in getting round to the second part of this little series on travel hacking in action. Rather than wasting your time with a full recap, if you haven’t seen it already you can check out Part 1 here.
You may recall that (as a bit of fun!) I decided to give each element of the trip a ‘Travel Hacking Score’. InsideFlyer is all about sharing how to travel better for less (‘better’ can mean convenience, comfort, fun, etc) so that’s the yardstick I’m using. Please feel free to take issue with my scores in the comments!
At the end of Part 1, I had just finished my stay in Chicago and was looking forward to the next stop – Washington DC!
Chicago – Washington DC
I had some British Airways On Business Points due to expire and noticed it was possible to redeem them on American Airlines flights (you can also redeem on Iberia).
The Points were from a free signup bonus that was on when I joined years ago, and I’d almost forgotten about them. The flight wouldn’t have been hugely expensive anyway (£~70), but I’d much rather use expiring Points and just pay ~ $5 in taxes!
There are two things to note here:
- Always sign up for free Points (assuming it only takes a couple of minutes) even if you don’t really have a plan for them yet. You never know when they might come in useful.
- Look after your Points better than I do! I almost let good Points expire and that’s basically sacrilege in this game.
I should also say that I actually quite enjoyed flying American Airlines Economy. Maybe I’m just too conditioned by Ryanair (and BA) these days, but the plane was modern, relatively spacious, not too busy, the cabin crew were very friendly, and there was a free (soft) drink and little snack – what more do you need for a short day-time flight (apart from ice cold champagne, obviously)?
Travel Hacking Score: 6 – It didn’t save me huge amount of money, but the flight was almost free, comfortable. and at a perfect time for my schedule.
I know some people love On Business Points because they open up more BA award availability than Avios do, but I really had no other trips planned where I could use them, so they would have gone to waste if I didn’t use them on this trip.
This was my first time to Washington and I only had 24 hours there (I would love to have stayed longer, but couldn’t fit it into this trip), so staying somewhere with a great location was therefore the top priority.
Donald Trump’s inauguration was the week before (I still can’t believe I just wrote that…) and cash rates anywhere central looked really high. Fortunately, I had plenty of IHG Points that I’d earned very cheaply from the quarterly ‘Accelerate’ promotions and as it was only one night, I decided to splurge on the Intercontinental – The Willard for 55,000 IHG Points.
When searching for hotels in a city I don’t know, the first two sites I turn to are AwardMapper to get a quick overview of options using Hotel Points, and HotelsCombined to get a sense of the cash rates for my dates. Neither site is perfect and I tend to end up doing a lot more searching if I have time, but as a first step I find both very helpful.
The Intercontinental is located just a few minutes walk from the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue. I’d say the location is pretty much unbeatable for a first-time visitor.
I could have stayed at the perfectly decent looking (and also well located) Crowne Plaza for 20,000 fewer Points, and objectively that would probably have been the ‘smart’ option. Indeed, I offer no particular ‘travel hacking’ justification for staying at the Intercontinental, beyond the fact that I wanted to and I could – sometimes that’s enough!
I try not to see Points and Miles as something where you need to slavishly extract the best ‘value’ all the time, but more as a resource that gives you options and allows you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do. So long as you can afford it, splurging sometimes is fun – whether with Points or cash.
The hotel itself is a real grande dame (by American standards), with large, very comfortable, rooms and extravagant public spaces. It’s well worth have a cocktail or two in the bar even if you aren’t staying – particularly if you like the idea of feeling like an extra from The West Wing!
The only bad thing I have to say about the Intercontinental is that the service wasn’t great. Check in was slow (despite not being hugely busy), there was an issue with my key that was poorly handled (wasting 30 minutes), and some of the staff were a little frosty. Not ideal from a top 5* in a capital city.
That said, while I certainly wouldn’t have paid the $450+ cash rate, 55,000 IHG Points was a reasonable investment overall.
Travel Hacking Score: 7 – I earned the 55,000 Points very cheaply (under £100) from stays the previous year that I would have made even if there hadn’t been a bonus Points promotion (mostly at what I consider to be the best value chain hotel in Europe).
In that sense, this was a ‘free’ stay – which is obviously brilliant… But there’s still something at the back of my mind that thinks maybe I should have gone for the Crowne Plaza and saved some Points instead!
Afterall, 55,000 Points can also get you 11 nights at any hotel on the PointBreaks list…
The aim of this series is to share some tips and explain a little more about the process of how I go about ‘travel hacking’ in practice. I hope it is a bit more useful than a traditional review piece.
In the next part, I’ll be looking at where I stayed (+ how and why!) in Boston and New York, as well as how I got home.
Do you think my ‘Travel Hacking Scores’ are fair?