We’ve got a special treat for you today, MileValue readers! Meet Mike Hammari, who will be writing a series of guest posts about a cross-country trip he is currently in the middle of. Who needs miles when you’ve got feet? Those weary feet still need a decent place to rest. Mike is covering some of his hotel stays with points and is excited to have an audience listening that cares more about rewards than what brand of shoe he’s wearing. Really though, Mike, tell us what shoes you chose…
Anything below in italics is a comment from me. All the photos below are his, with the exception of the Marriott in Texas, which I took from Marriott’s website.
Walking Across America with Points, by Mike Hammari
So… I’m going to walk across the United States. Yes, like Forrest Gump, only slower. When I mention this to people I never know how they will react. Some people have been really impressed. Others just look at me quizzically, wondering how they never previously noticed that I was less-than-sane.
Every time I bring it up it is a completely different conversation that follows. Many people immediately want to talk about shoes (Currently rotating between New Balance 410s and Altra Torin 3.0). Others want to talk about my route (Los Angeles, CA to Jacksonville, FL via Texas).
What I really want to talk about though are all the hotel points I’m going to use to minimize the nights I’m sleeping outside.
I designed my route to cross the country five years ago, did significant updates to it two years ago, and have overhauled it several times in the past few months. With my last update I mapped out all the hotels I might want to stay at based on the distance I thought I could cover each day. I created a tab for all of the Hilton, IHG, Marriott, and Radisson locations along my route and compared what they would cost in points and actual dollars.
Occasionally, I will be staying with other brands or non-affiliated hotels where I intend on using Chase Ultimate Reward points which can be redeemed for travel at 1.5 cents a piece with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. What I’ve found interesting is how to find the most value in point redemption when choosing between multiple programs on any given night. Every night also has to be factored into the entire journey. I’ve “only” got 700,000 loyalty points between the brands I mentioned. So while that is a significant number of points, at some point I’ll have to start paying for hotel rooms.
A Few Recently Acquired Cards
Most of those points have come through credit card bonuses and spending over the past few years but I’m actually only an intermittent churner. I’ve gone years in between picking up a new card but I always consider it when I know I have some increased spending in front of me. Had I actually committed to doing this journey earlier I would have had a different credit card strategy last year, but since deciding to go I’ve picked up a few new ones.
- The American Express SPG business card with a 75,000 sign-up bonus points. (This card is no longer available, but the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card is a very similar offer as Marriott now owns SPG. It also comes with a 75k bonus.)
- The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express at the time came with 150,000 upgrade bonus points. (The current sign-up bonus is 125,000 Hilton points.)
- The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card came and still comes with a $250 bonus in the form of travel statement credits.
Shortly after I picked up the SPG business card Marriott announced their new Bonvoy program. My route includes several Marriott brand hotels as a first choice based on location and required points. There are even a few aspirational stops along the way including the 5 nights I plan on staying in the category 1 hotel in Lufkin, Texas.
Yes, most people consider those fancy, exotic locations aspirational but I’ve always wanted to get a 5th night free on a points redemption.
I’m hoping that I will be eligible to acquire another Bonvoy card later this year but I haven’t deciphered all of the restrictions yet. We shall see. (Hey Mike! I give Free Credit Card Consultations for reasons like this. Leave the heavy lifting to me!)
As I was getting the SPG business card I found an upgrade offer for the Hilton Ascend Card I couldn’t turn down. Due to the acquisition of the Hilton cards from Citibank a few years ago I have two Hilton cards with American Express. These are two of my older cards at this point. Since they don’t have an annual fee I plan on holding on to them, but occasionally there is an offer to upgrade to a card with more benefits and an upgrade bonus. The Ascend card comes with Gold Status at Hilton that will result in an 80% point bonus for every dollar spent and free breakfast. These really won’t come into play on this journey as I think all my Hilton stays will be with points and mostly at Hampton Inns where breakfast is already included. Those 150,000 bonus points will be more than enough to cover the 10+ nights I’m currently planning on staying at Hilton properties though.
The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card. Am I excited about this card? Do I recommend this rewards program? Not necessarily on either count. It’s definitely not a bad card though. No annual fee. Easy $1,000 minimum spending requirement for the sign-up bonus. The $250 bonus in travel rewards will definitely get used. Primarily, I got this card because I know I’m going to be closing several cards later this year where changes in benefits don’t justify the annual fee anymore. I wanted to be holding another no-annual fee card for some stability in my credit score. I’m also going to be staying in some very small towns where my only option will be to stay at unaffiliated hotels or bed and breakfasts. With such an easy spending requirement I figured it would be a good addition.
When I’m Not in Hotels
Even with all my planning and collecting of points, most of my nights for the first leg of this journey will be camping. Some nights will be in established campsites and some will not. There are a few stretches where I’ll have to travel 100+ miles before I get to the next town. I’ll also be couch surfing with friends, family, and internet strangers when available.
If you want to follow along I’ll be providing updates state by state here on Milevalue.com and vlogging my experience at MikeAcrossAmerica.com. The next post will feature all the hotel nights in California from east Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park.
Thanks Mike! The last time I spoke with him, he was approaching the Mexican border. We can’t wait to see what’s up next. You can help Mike get free hotels along his journey by signing up for Hilton credit cards through his referral links.