Off To Austin
This weekend, my Cousin and I are going to Austin, TX!
I have never been to Austin and have heard it is suppose to be pretty cool (and a little batty), so when my Cousin suggested going, I said why not!
Coincidently, there is also an Austin DO going on this weekend. So hopefully we will have time to drop in on that!
My Cousin lives in Seattle and I live in Chicago.
When we started looking for Flights, we noticed a trend for flights going to Austin…..they were all very expensive.
For a flight from Seattle to Austin, the cheapest I could find was on United for $349, which isn’t terrible.
Since Chicago has 2 major Airports, I thought that a ticket to Austin should be fairly cheap. Boy was I wrong…
The absolute cheapest flight I could find was on US Airways for $583, but that flight had a stop in Charlotte.
For a non-stop flight, the cheapest I could find was on American Airlines for a whopping $828!
This is where doing some “long range planning” and actively accruing Frequent Flyer Miles (even if you don’t have a trip coming up), is extremely useful!
The mistake most people make is that they wait until after they have a destination in mind to start earning Frequent Flyer Miles.
The problem with that is you are kind of playing with fire. If your Miles don’t post in time or the lower level Award Tickets get sold out, you are screwed!
In my case, we decided to book this Austin trip on a whim about 30 days ago. As you will see below, I ended up using Southwest Points. When I earned all those Southwest Points last year, I had no idea I would be using them for a trip to Austin. I got them solely on the basis that sometime in the future, I would be going somewhere in the U.S, and I would need some Points.
South By On Southwest
Although I am not a fan of Southwest’s Boarding Policy and lack of TSA Pre-Check, over the last few months I have become a Southwest Evangelical due to their Honey Roasted Peanuts, 2 Free Checked Bags, no Change or Close-In Ticketing Fees, and variable Award Ticket pricing model.
If you don’t have a Southwest Credit Card, I HIGHLY suggest thinking about getting one because the 50,000 Point offer is back again! As you will see below, with Southwest you can really stretch those Points out for a few free flights!
With Southwest, it is always a good idea to book your Flights (Paid or Award), as early as possible because the prices are typically cheaper AND you can always make changes or cancel your flight for FREE!
That being said, we only booked our tickets last month and still got a phenomenal deal.
For my Cousin’s ticket from Seattle, the cost was 11,879 Rapid Rewards Points & $10 in taxes.
For my ticket from Chicago, the cost was 21,839 Rapid Rewards Points & $10 in taxes!
Since my Cousin’s ticket was so cheap (in terms of Points), I just ended up paying for it since he doesn’t have any Southwest Points.
The neat thing about Southwest is that for 2 Tickets, I only spent 33,718 Rapid Rewards Points & $20 in taxes.
That may sound like a lot BUT had I booked the exact same flights on United or American Airlines with Miles, it would have cost 25,000 each (or 50,000 Miles total) PLUS $75 each in nonsense Close-in Ticketing Fees!
So in my mind, paying 33,718 Points & $20 was a steal for 2 tickets, compared to 25,000 Miles & $75 for 1 ticket on AA or United!
Since it is just me and my Cousin going to Austin, we were content with “slumming” it up in a Hostel since they are usually a great place to meet people.
As a point of reference, the last time just me and my Cousin did a trip together, we went to see Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge outside of Seattle and stayed in a Smoking Room at Motel 6. So at a minimum, staying in a Hostel is definetly a step up from last time. Plus at a minimum, even if it sucks we will have some good stories to tell.
Unfortunately there is only 1 good Hostel in Downtown Austin called Firehouse Hostel.
We ended up booking 3 nights there in a Private 2 Person Room for around $80 total a night, which is pretty good deal.
Well last week (or approximately 8 days before Departure), Firehouse Hostel sent us an email saying they had some “unforeseen” renovations so we could only stay there 1 night instead of 3 nights.
Coincidently SXSW (South by Southwest) also starts next week and not surprisingly the prices for Hotels & Hostels coincidently go through the roof. I am not saying there is a correlation but it is EXTREMELY suspicious…
Anyways as “compensation” for having to find a new place to stay for 2 out of the 3 nights we are in Austin, we were offered a $20 credit at the Hostel Bar. And no, that is not a joke…
So with 8 days left to Departure and SXSW pushing Hotel prices thru the roof, I spent last week scrambling to try and find some affordable Hotels.
Originally the plan was to try and unload some Hilton Points in anticipation of the pending devaluation. The only problem is that my 140,000 Hilton Points are currently in the form of 70,000 Hawaiian Miles and it takes 2 weeks to transfer them over to Hilton. I am not sure if Hawaiian Airlines physically walks the Miles over to Hilton or what, but since we only had 8 days, that option was off the table!
For Friday, there were literally no good options.
For example, the W Austin was $449 (pre-tax) with no standard Free Nights Awards or Cash & Point options available!
I ended up burning one of my Radisson Free Night Certificates for a free night at the Radisson Hotel & Suites in Downtown Austin.
To earn the Free Night Certificate, I had done a few $100 Mattress Runs last year at Raddison in anticipation of situations like this.
Redeeming the Certificate turned out to be a pretty value because for my $100 that I spent last year, we got a room that retails for $297.85 this year!
Not a bad return on investment…
For Saturday, we are staying at the Firehouse Hostel in Private 2 Person Room for $80 total.
Although not everyone likes Hostels, I find that if you are young, Hostels are the way to go because you can meet other random travelers who like to go out.
Hostels also typically have walking tours and nightly activities planned, which can be useful if it is your first time visiting a City.
For Sunday, I used the Radisson Friends & Family trick I talked about last week.
Using the Friends & Family rate, for $97 (after-tax) we are getting a room that retails for $274 (after-tax)
Had we been given more than 8 days notice, than we could have just booked all 4 nights here using the Friends & Family rate! However, with such short notice, Sunday was the only day that the discounted rate was still available.
I wasn’t able to find a good deal at any other Downtown Properties during the week because all the rates started going up in anticipation of all the SXSW people.
In the end, I burned 7,000 Starpoints and booked the Austin Sheraton.
That ended up being a pretty good deal since the Austin Sheraton was retailing for a whopping $320 a night!
Recap – Don’t Mess With Texas FFU
Although our original lodging plans ended up falling through, we ended up making the best of a bad situation and found some pretty good deals. This is especially true if you factor in what short notice we were given and how close it is to SXSW!
All in all, our 4 day trip to Austin will cost the following:
- 2 Flights: 33,718 Southwest Points
- 2 Nights At Radisson: 1 Free Night Certificate (Paid $100) + $97 Friends & Family Rate
- 1 Night At Hostel: $80
- 1 Night At Sheraton: 7,000 Starpoints
So around 40,718 Points & $277 out of pocket, which is pretty reasonable.
If we didn’t have Points or Miles, it would have looked more like the following:
- 2 Flights: $349 (Seattle) + $583 (Chicago)
- 4 Nights At A Downtown Austin Hotel: $1,200
So needless to say Miles & Points really came through and saved us quite a bit of cash!
All in all, it should be a really fun weekend and at a minimum, there wont be any snow in Texas!
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