This article is part of our Trip Report – Adventures with Edventure in Nashville.
In all of our Trip & Event Reports on Middle Age Miles, we’ll fill you in on How We Got Great Value – that is, how we planned our air travel, hotels, ground transportation and other activities to have a great and memorable travel experience for great value. We use miles and points to reduce out-of-pocket cash costs, whenever we can do so and it makes sense from a value perspective.
This trip to Nashville was a tough one, in that our dates were inflexible and the city was expensive. But we managed to use points and free night certificates so that we didn’t spend a single dollar out of pocket on our airfare or hotel. I’ll take that any day!
Here’s How We Got Great Value for our long weekend in Nashville:
Hotel – Hilton Nashville Downtown
One thing I learned off the bat when planning this trip – hotels in the popular areas of Nashville are expensive! I’m not sure whether this is true all the time, most of the time, or just when there are special events in town. Our weekend was the Columbus Day holiday weekend. There was no football in town, as both Vanderbilt and the Tennessee Titans were on the road, but there was a sold-out Ed Sheeran concert in Nissan Stadium on Saturday night. The stadium is walking distance across the river from downtown.
I made our reservations about 5 months in advance, and I could tell that rooms were in high demand. We knew that we wanted to stay in downtown Nashville, in the thick of the action. Prices were high everywhere. I ended up settling on the Hilton Nashville Downtown because of its great location (more on that in our review of the hotel), because I could use some tricks to get Edventure’s room down a bit in price to a sorta-kinda decent rate, and because Philly and I could use Hilton Honors points and certificates to get some pretty spectacular value given the going rates for the weekend.
Let’s start with the Edventure room. That one was going to have to be paid in cash. And believe it or not, these rates were very much the going rates for downtown Nashville hotels for the weekend. Many of the downtown hotels were sold out weeks ahead of time.
The most important pieces of getting the price of the Edventures room down a bit were two Middle Age Miles classic tricks of the trade:
- One, we were able to use a corporate rate that was available to us. This provided us with a decent discount from other rates, including Hilton Honors rates and AAA/AARP rates.
- Two, I ended up booking each of the three nights separately. Believe it or not, this ended up saving Edventure $200-300 over the course of the weekend. The only minor downside was that they had to stop by the front desk each day to get new keys. (I’ve found this to be consistently true at Hilton properties when I have back-to-back separate reservations; strange, but not too much trouble.)
With these tricks, the cash rates for the Edventure room were:
- Thurs 10/4: $341 base rate; all-in price $395.50
- Fri 10/5: $411 base rate; all-in price $476.18
- Sat 10/6: $559 base rate; all-in price $646.75
I know – it’s hard to call these prices “great value.” But believe me, in the context of what we were dealing with, it wasn’t bad. And using the tricks I mentioned above saved Edventure roughly $400-500 versus what a person booking without our bag of tricks would have paid.
For the Middle Age Miles room, our points-and-miles hobby paid off in spades. For Thursday night, we used 70,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points for our room. For Friday and Saturday nights, we used two Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates that we’d accumulated from our Amex Hilton Ascend cards (dating back to the Citi Hilton Reserve and Amex Hilton Surpass days!).
For Thursday night, it was a close call on whether to use HH points or pay for the room. We consider HH points to have a baseline value of 0.5 cents per point. On the surface, we got 0.565 cents per point ($395.50 / 70,000), so we exceeded our baseline value.
On the other hand, we could have earned a substantial number of HH points by paying for this stay:
- On the base rate of $341, we could have earned 30x HH points, given our Diamond elite status as a result of holding the Amex Hilton Aspire card and Hilton’s Moments Made Bigger promotion. That’s 10,230 HH points.
- On the total bill of $395.50, we could have earned 14x HH points by paying with our Amex Hilton Aspire card. That’s another 5,537 points.
Total points earning would have been 15,767 HH points. Those points are “worth” $78.83 at our baseline value of 0.5 cents per HH point. Thus, the “net” price for the room would have been $316.67. And if we use that “net” price to calculate our cents-per-point redemption value, it’s “only” 0.45 cents per HH point ($316.67 / 70,000).
Bottom line, I think either way would have been a reasonable choice. In general, when it’s a close call like this, I’d say use the points and save the cash – unless you happen to have a higher-value redemption in the wings where you’d need the points.
On the Friday/Saturday night redemptions of Free Weekend Night certificates, I was thrilled. These were stays that we would have made anyway given our plans with Edventure, so we didn’t go out of our way to use them. And we were able to use them for stays that would have cost more than $1,100 in cash. It might not have been quite as glamorous as our previous “certificate” stay at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, but this was outstanding value for these certificates.
Importantly, all of the hotel rooms could be canceled without penalty, just in case.
How You Can Get Great Value Too
There are currently two Amex Hilton cards that offer Free Weekend Night Certificates. The premium Amex Hilton Aspire card comes with an annual Free Weekend Night Certificate and Hilton Diamond elite status, among other benefits. You can also earn an additional Free Weekend Night Certificate with $60,000 in annual spend on your Aspire card. And if you don’t already have the Aspire card, there’s currently a very good sign-up bonus of 150,000 HH points, which would have taken care of 2 nights at the Hilton Nashville Downtown, with a few points left over!
The other Amex card offering a Free Weekend Night Certificate is the mid-level Amex Hilton Ascend card. On the Ascend, you can earn a Free Weekend Night Certificate with $15,000 in spend in a calendar year. If you don’t already have this card, you can also earn a sign-up bonus of 150,000 HH points by signing up through our referral link.
Airfare – First Class on American Using Amex Membership Rewards Points
We paid for our airfare on this trip using Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points.
As with hotels in Nashville, flights to Nashville weren’t cheap. We ended up booking first class tickets on American, for a few reasons:
- One, the price delta between coach and first class was relatively small. As I recall, the return flight was actually a few dollars less in first class than in coach – go figure!
- Two, Philly and I were going to be short on reaching 100,000 EQMs in 2018 to re-qualify for Executive Platinum elite status, so it made sense to spend a little extra to double our EQMs for this trip and close part of the gap.
- Three, booking AA first class through the Amex travel portal using MR points gave us access to Amex “Insider Fares.” These “Insider Fares” are only available when using MR points to cover the entire cost of the flight. They’re available on some domestic coach round-trip tickets and most if not all domestic first class round-trip tickets. In my experience, “Insider Fares” generally save 5-10% off of eligible bookings.
- And four, it’s always nice to have the extra space and comfort of first class!
As you can see, our effective ticket cost was $478.40 each, for a total of $956.80. We were originally charged 95,680 Amex MR points, at 1 cent per point. However, because we have the Amex Business Platinum card, this fare was eligible for the 35% points rebate. About a month after we booked, we received a rebate of 33,488 Amex MR points, bringing our net cost down to 62,192 MR points.
Unfortuantely, I didn’t keep good records of exactly what the fare would have been without the Insider Fare discount. I’m certain the discount was at least 5%. If we conservatively say that the Insider Fare discount was 5%, then the tickets without the Insider Fare discount would have cost $1,007.16 ($956.80 / 0.95). And if we would have had to pay $1,007.16 in cash for the tickets, then our effective value for our MR points was 1.62 cents per point ($1,007.16 / 62,192). In my book, that’s a very solid return on our MR points. Plus, we earned redeemable AAdvantage miles and elite qualifying miles and dollars for our trip, and we didn’t have to fret about award availability. I’m very happy with that redemption.
Once in Nashville, we didn’t rent a car. We simply used Uber to get wherever we needed to go. Rates were generally reasonable. It’s less than 10 miles from the Nashville airport into downtown, and the Uber fare was less than $20 each way before tip.
I hope that this “How We Got Great Value” discussion helps you think through how you can travel for less. In this instance, we were presented with a tough situation – we were going to an expensive location (both flights and hotels), our dates were inflexible, and hotels were in high demand. If we were planning a trip on a blank slate, we wouldn’t have done this one. But I feel like we did a great job using a few tricks of the trade to hold the costs as low as possible under the circumstances. And as I said at the start, we got our airfare and hotel for this entire weekend without a single dollar out of pocket!
What do you think of our strategies on this trip? What would you have done differently? Please tell us what you think in the Comments!
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