Anatomy of an Award Trip: City of New Orleans

As teased in yesterday's housekeeping post, I'm headed to New Orleans for a week! Here's the scoop:

Getting there: a family bedroom on Amtrak's City of New Orleans

Amtrak operates a daily service between Chicago and New Orleans stopping in, among other places: Champaign-Urbana, IL, Carbondale, IL, Memphis, TN, and Jackson, MS.

Since both Chicago and New Orleans are in Amtrak's "Central Zone," a roomette award costs 15,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points while a bedroom award costs just 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. Importantly, such awards include the fare for up to the maximum occupancy of the room. In other words, up to two people can travel in a roomette on a single, one-zone 15,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards award redemption.

Since my partner and I have already experienced the "roomette" (on the Empire Builder) and "bedroom" (on the Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight) room types, I decided to redeem my points for a "family bedroom." Here are a few key things to know about such redemptions:

  • They cost the same number of Amtrak Guest Rewards points as a regular bedroom award;
  • They include up to two adults and two children;
  • They have windows facing out both sides of the train (roomettes and bedrooms are lined up along each side of the wagon, looking out one direction or the other);
  • They do not have en-suite facilities. My understanding is that the family bedroom is on the same level of the wagon as the public showers, while bedrooms have private showers and toilets directly off the sleeping quarters.

Since the ride is just under 20 hours, my expectation is that the roomier accommodations and better views will make up for the lack of a private toilet and shower, but on a longer, cross-country trip that may become increasingly inconvenient.

Total cost: 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points (transferred instantly from Ultimate Rewards).
Total value: $637. Value per point: 2.55 cents.

Staying there: Club Carlson and Hilton HHonors

Since we'll be in New Orleans for 7 nights, there were a few decent options for hotel redemptions:

  • There's a category 6 Marriott downtown, the AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon/French Quarter Area, where I could have redeemed 230,000 Marriott Rewards points for a 7-night Hotel + Air package and received a rebate of up to 55,000 United Mileage Plus miles or, more realistically, 50,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. That would have involved transferring 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points, worth $1,800 in cash. Since 7 nights at a 4-star hotel downtown cost (very roughly) $1,300, even generously valuing the Alaska miles at 2 cents each I'd only be getting about 1.28 cents per transferred Ultimate Rewards point. I felt I could do better.
  • There's a Club Carlson property downtown in the French Quarter, the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, New Orleans French Quarter, LA. As a Category 5 property costing 44,000 Gold Points per night, I could theoretically book 7 nights for the price of 6, or 264,000 Gold Points. Using the same $1,300 valuation as above, that would yield 0.49 cents per Gold Points. Since the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa earns 5 Gold Points per dollar spent, that would yield a return of 2.46% on the spend I manufacture with the card, which isn't terrible for non-bonused spend.
  • There's also a category 7 Hilton property downtown, the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue. It ordinarily costs 50,000 HHonors points per night, but due to weird Hilton premium award pricing is available for 44,519 HHonors points during our stay in New Orleans. The wrinkle is that as an HHonors elite, I can book 5 nights for the price of 4, or 200,000 HHonors points, but unfortunately that benefit only applies to standard room awards, not premium room awards, which is where "weird" award pricing comes into play! Nonetheless, 280,000 HHonors points for a 7-night stay, $1,300 stay would yield 0.46 cents per HHonors point, or a 2.79% return on gas station and grocery store spend with my American Express HHonors Surpass card.

Ultimately, I split the difference: since the last night is free on all Club Carlson award reservations separated by at least one day, I booked our first two and last two nights in New Orleans at the Country Inn & Suites, and the middle three nights at the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, taking advantage of "weird" premium award pricing. In total, I paid 88,000 Club Carlson Gold Points for four nights (0.84 cents per Gold Point at $185 per night) and 133,557 HHonors points for three nights (0.42 cents per HHonors point at $185 per night).

However, if standard rooms open up for five consecutive nights at the Hilton, I'll cancel the first or last Club Carlson redemption and rebook using 200,000 HHonors points instead, saving the Gold Points for another day.

Getting back: US Bank Flexpoints for Delta first class (credited to Alaska)

For our return, I noticed that Delta was selling first class seats on the perfect itinerary home for just a hair under $400: $392.10, to be precise. Since I'm sitting on a constantly-growing stash of US Bank Flexpoints, it was a no-brainer to book us in paid first class for 20,000 Flexpoints per ticket. I'll credit the flights to Alaska, which will net me 3,922 Mileage Plan miles and get me 2,139 elite-qualifying miles closer to MVP status for next year.

Total cost: 40,000 Flexpoints.
Total value: $784.20. Value per point: 1.96 cents.


We're thrilled to be headed back to New Orleans, and I'm excited to try out a new Amtrak accommodation type on a new route. So until next week, I'll leave you with this:

Have a great weekend!