I'm headed to Seattle for the Easter long weekend! Jessica and I visited the Emerald City for the first time in February of last year and loved every bit of our trip. We had spent three caffeine-rich days sifting through the stalls at Pike Place Market and doing the right thing by our intense seafood cravings (in other words, consuming a bad amount of seafood). We realized that we were free over Easter this year, and thought that it was the perfect time to go back for another round.
When I checked, round-trip fares between Toronto and Seattle were in the mid-$500 range, which wasn't too expensive for a holiday weekend. However, as I'm sure any points enthusiast can appreciate, I'm never in the mood to shell out $500 without asking some questions as to whether we could do any better with miles and points.
While availability was scarce with Aeroplan, I did happen to have a big pile of CIBC Aventura points lying around, from back when I didn't know any better than to collect a big pile of CIBC Aventura points. So I took a look at the flight redemption chart for the Aventura program:
You can redeem a certain number of points towards any available round-trip flights, but only up to a certain maximum ticket price, which varies depending on the region you're travelling to. If you do the math, you'll see that the only "sweet spot" in the chart where you can get a higher than 2 cpp (cents per point) value is by redeeming for a North American long-haul flight.
That's because one such flight costs 35,000 Aventura points, but you can use that towards a ticket worth $800. That gives you a return on your points of 80000 / 35000 = 2.29 cpp. If you did the same calculations with all the other redemption options, in most cases you'd get lower than 2 cpp. That means that you would have been better off putting your spending on a 2% cash back card.
But here's the thing: at the time, fares to Seattle only cost about $550, which means that I wasn't "using up" anywhere close to the full $800 fare cost I was entitled to.
So I called up CIBC Aventura's travel agents and asked them to book me into a higher, more expensive fare class (Air Canada's V class) that would allow me to earn more miles (100% of miles flown, rather than 50%). After all, I'm currently chasing renewal of my Star Alliance Gold status with Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus (a program that I'll discuss in more detail later on the blog). Booking into a higher fare class allows me to "use up" that $800 allowance and earn more miles towards retaining my status, at no additional cost – still 35,000 Aventura points.
The V-class fare ended up being just a shade over $800, so I topped up the extra few dollars out-of-pocket. I also had to pay for the taxes and fees on the tickets as well, since bookings with Aventura points only cover the base fare.
Now, one can certainly argue (and I'd agree) that it might be a little contrived to say that I received a value of 2.29 cpp, since I could've easily purchased a ticket for $550 rather than $800. However, I do believe that redeeming Aventura points for long-haul travel within North America is the single best way to make the most out of an otherwise very limited program.
Our final itinerary was as below, all in economy:
- YYZ-SEA on Air Canada, departing 7:10pm and arriving 9:33pm
- SEA-YVR on Air Canada, departing 8:50pm and arriving 9:39pm
- YVR-YYZ on Air Canada, departing 11:00pm and arriving 6:20am the next day
Our total out-of-pocket cost per person was only the $165 in taxes and fees.
Having shopped around for Seattle hotels for quite some time, I have to say that it's not an easy place to get free hotel nights for good value. Pretty much wherever I looked, when comparing the points required per night to the cash rate, the value proposition was about equal.
My attention was mainly focused on Marriott and Starwood's presence in the city. Starwood has three hotels in Downtown Seattle, all pretty close to each other: the W Seattle, the Sheraton, and the Westin. All three were Category 5 properties, meaning that a free night would cost 12,000 Starpoints over Easter weekend, or 36,000 Starpoints in total. On the Marriott side, we had a fantastic one-night stay at the Renaissance Seattle last year, and we were open to returning for longer this time. It does, however, cost slightly more than the Starwood options, with a free night going for 40,000 Marriott Rewards points (equivalent to 13,333 Starpoints).
Cash rates across the board were pretty uniform in the US$250 (~C$330) range. This meant that I'd be getting roughly 2.75 cpp in value for redeeming Starpoints, which, to be perfectly honest, was neither good nor bad. I knew I could easily get more value on another stay, perhaps sometime in the future. But since I already had enough Starpoints to cover my short-term hotel needs and could always earn more to satisfy my longer-term travel plans, I decided to splash the points.
Of course, I still had to decide on a hotel. I crossed off the slightly more expensive option at the Renaissance, since even 12,000 Starpoints per night was already such a mediocre value proposition that I couldn't justify those extra 1,333 Starpoints per night.
That left the W, the Westin, and the Sheraton. While in theory the former two brands are supposed to be a touch more luxurious and distinctive than the latter, many online reviewers expressed disappointment that these particular properties in Seattle don't live up to the standard of their respective brands.
In the end, I booked a three-night stay at the Sheraton Seattle, with the kicker being that holders of the US-issued American Express Business SPG Card are granted free access to the club lounge at Sheraton hotels. I'll write about US credit cards on the blog soon enough, so definitely stay tuned for that.
A quick weekend getaway to the West Coast is just what we needed to make the most of having Good Friday off. I'm looking forward to a relaxing for a few days in a lovely city, enjoying the views over the Puget Sound, and of course, drowning my stomach in coffee and clam chowder.