Anatomy of an Award Trip: Spring Break in San Francisco

If you follow me on Twitter (as you should!) you know I spent last week in San Francisco. It was only upon returning that I realized I hadn't posted an anatomy of the award trip. Better late then never!

Getting there: Amtrak's California Zephyr

This was my last long-haul Amtrak sleeper cabin redemption before the December 8, 2015, revenue-based Amtrak Guest Rewards devaluation. I transferred 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak Guest Rewards points for a 2-zone bedroom reservation between Chicago and San Francisco on the California Zephyr.

Total cost: 40,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points, transferred from Ultimate Rewards. Total value: $1,246. Value per point: 3.12 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.

Staying there: Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf

As a newly minted Hyatt Diamond, I was eager to see what all the fuss was about and booked a 5-night Points + Cash reservation at the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf, and applied one of my 2015 Suite Upgrade Awards.

Total cost: 37,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points and $582.25. Total value: $1,769.96. Value per point: 3.17 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.

I then earned 3,250 of those points back, bringing my final value per point to 3.47 cents per Ultimate Rewards point. Note that this value is based on an ordinary room reservation, not a suite reservation, since I could have applied a Suite Upgrade Award to either type of reservation.

Getting back: Delta first class tickets

To get back, I employed a strategy I use increasingly often: I booked my partner on an award ticket and myself on a paid ticket using a Delta voluntary denied boarding voucher. My partner doesn't play the game at all (besides traveling with me) so I don't make any attempt to get her elite status or earn bonus miles in her accounts.

Total cost: 37,500 Delta SkyMiles and $5.60, plus $729.10 in voluntary denied boarding compensation. Total value: $1,458.20. Value per point: 1.93 cents per SkyMile.


From my point of view, this award trip was quite close to ideal: I redeemed points I earned extremely cheaply for relatively expensive reservations.

In the case of Ultimate Rewards points redeemed at 3 cents or more per point, I earned close to 15% back on spend I manufactured with Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards in their 5-points-per-dollar bonus categories.

In the case of Delta SkyMiles earned at 1.4 SkyMiles per dollar spent with my American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum credit card, I earned roughly 2.7% back when redeeming those miles for my partner's first class ticket, which is quite strong for unbonused manufactured spend.

And of course when redeeming Delta voluntary denied boarding vouchers for my own travel, I came out ahead simply by being able to redeem it at face value.

Tune in tomorrow for some reflections on the train ride, hotel stay, and my impressions of a 5-day visit to the bay area!