My 2015 Travel Review! And A Giveaway to Celebrate!

My 2015 Travel Review, adventures took me to Costa Rica, El Salvador, San Diego, and more!

This past year was another banner year for my travels! I had the opportunity to explore many new cities and destinations that I had never seen. Thanks to my miles and points hobby I was able to travel relatively cheaply even during peak travel times. Let me preface and say that I am just an average Joe (or Ben) constrained by the standard working world. I have a standard 9 to 5 job and I do not even travel for work right now. With that in mind I wanted to show that you can travel a lot and cheaply! With miles and points I was able to save a significant amount of money while even traveling during holidays.  Now I didn’t have the chance to travel internationally too many times this year but I have a lot of that in store for 2016! More on that later…

In addition, I will be giving away 20 coupon codes for a great travel app to explore cities! To enter the giveaway scroll to the bottom of this post or actually read it! Follow the instructions and a total of 20 winners will be announced on New Years Day to celebrate the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016!

My 2015 Travels!

red 2014 travels, blue 2015 travels, green 2016 travels

Colorado Snowboarding

Colorado Ski Trip

I am an avid snowboarder who happens to live in Indiana so I had to get my powder fix so I met up with some of friends out in Frisco, Colorado. We ended up shredding Keystone and Copper Mountain (one of my favorite ski resorts I have been too). Nothing better than doing 2000+ vertical off the Superbee lift. Was able to save some serious cash over Martin Luther King weekend by using 50k IHG points in Frisco.

Las Vegas

One of The Palazzo pool areas

With winter in full blast back home my friend convinced me to meet up with him in Las Vegas. He is also a miles and point junkie and really helped me start this crazy game. It was my first time in Vegas and can’t say I really enjoyed gambling but it was still a fun experience. Was also able to use a Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) for an extremely cheap stay at the amazing The Palazzo.

Costa Rica

Prieta Beach Club Sunset

Me and my now fiance’s big trip for the year! Costa Rica has always been on my travel goal list. We had an amazing time staying in the mountains for a couple nights to enjoy mud baths, ziplining, and horseback riding at the Borniquen. From there we drove back down the crazy roads to the beautiful Andaz Papagayo resort. It seriously did not disappoint. My favorite part was the complimentary access to the Prieta Beach Club; a breathtaking beach and also where a monkey took a crap on my head… Was able to use 70k United miles for the flights and 60k Hyatt points to save money during the expensive spring break time.

El Salvador

View of the Izalco Volcano the Lighthouse of the Pacific

When I booked the Costa Rica trip I also managed to add a 2 night stopover in El Salvador. Now you may think why the heck would you want to do that?? Well that was the only option for the award flights and El Salvador was surprisingly the highlight of all my travels for 2015. We booked a tour to hike the Santa Ana Volcano and wow it was an amazing experience. At the top you could see into a volcano, the side of another volcano, the Pacific Ocean, and all the way to Honduras. Truly remarkable, and I did it with my 150 closest Salvadorian friends the day before Easter!

Clearwater Beach

DSC05510

Over Memorial Day weekend I broke in my newly minted Southwest Companion pass to fly down to visit Clearwater Beach. Beth and I met up with a couple of friends and enjoyed the beach. I am usually not a big Florida fan but I really liked the Clearwater and Tampa area. Was also able to mitigate the costs by using 35k IHG points for a night and 16k Southwest points for flights (Beth flew for free because of the Companion Pass!).

Rocky Mountain National Park

Jewel Lake

Every two years my mom’s side of the family has huge reunion and it was at the YMCA of Rocky Mountain National Park this year! Both Beth and I love to hike so we got in some pretty amazing hikes despite some dreary weather. Emerald Lake is not to be missed especially on a sunny day. Once again the Southwest Companion Pass and points saved us a pretty penny.

Lake Cumberland

Lake Cumberland Waterfall

A short weekend trip to close out the summer to Lake Cumberland. It was my first time down this far in Kentucky and the lake was quite different from what I grew up with. The way the man made lake snakes through the many canyons makes it huge and beautiful. Managed to get up on water skis for the first time in years!

Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge hike for Engagement

This was a very special weekend for us. I proposed to Beth while hiking to the Courthouse Rock!! No… we didn’t get married at the end of the hike but it was a fitting name. Red River Gorge is one of our favorite hiking spots and is a special place for us (even for before the proposal). Tons of great hikes and the best part is not too many people outside of Kentucky know about it.

San Diego

Beautiful La Jolla Cove view

So after proposing to Beth we had two weddings to attend on back to back weekends across the country… This made logistics quite tricky. Luckily the Southwest Companion Pass and points came in handy once again. The first wedding was in San Diego which is one of my favorite cities. It was a beautiful wedding and I had a great time meeting up with some of my friends. Outside of that we explored Mission Beach and La Jolla.

Jacksonville

Historic Castillo De San Marcus in St Augustine

On to the second wedding and final big trip for 2015 which leads me to a crazy weekend where we somehow went to Jacksonville, Amelia Island, and St Augustine! It was whirlwind of weekend but it was extremely fun while celebrating the wedding and exploring all the destinations. I wish I had more time for all three but I saw enough of each to know that I liked them all!

How Much Did Miles & Points Save Me?

Really the reason I was able to book half of my trips was because of my miles and points hobby. I did not do the best tracking the actual redemption values but I find The Points Guys valuations usually fall in line with my redemptions. Yes, some redemptions will be more and others will be less but it is close enough to give a good estimate. Now I am big numbers guy but I try not to worry too much about getting the best value out of my points. I simply use points to offset costs of trips that I would otherwise not be able to afford. I also guess 2016 would be a good year to start tracking my redemptions better, haha.

Program Amount Redeemed TPG Valuation (CPM) Dollar Valuation Notes
Intercontinental (IHG) 75000 0.7 $525.00  
Hyatt 60000 1.8 $1,080.00  
Hilton 30000 0.5 $150.00  
United Airlines 70000 1.5 $1,050.00  
Southwest 107000 1.3 $1,391.00 Includes 39k of Companion Pass equivalent
Total 342000 1.2 $4,196.00  

From miles and points alone I saved over $4000 in travel expenses! Pretty awesome! Actually I think the Southwest number is particularly low, not sure if I agree with the 1.3 cents per mile valuation. Some other avenues of travel hacking that are not included are Amex offers, best rate guarantees (BRG), and vouchers that I received. Now, just remember the table above is only for flights and hotel savings. You do have to eat and do activities so travel is never really free but miles and points sure help save money.

What Are My 2016 Travel Plans?

So where does that leave my 2016 plans? Well I have even bigger plans! To start I will have a father son trip to Banff and Lake Louise to snowboard down some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. After that Beth and I will take trip to Melbourne, Australia where we will visit some of Beth’s friends she met during study abroad. We will also take a drive on the Great Ocean Road and on the way home stop in Queenstown, New Zealand. Of course bungee jumping and the Milford Sound are on the docket.

After those trips we are all set to get married in the summer! From there we have quite the plan for the honeymoon. It is still in the works but we are debating on the Caribbean, Europe, or both! More on that later! But lots of exciting and crazy times for us in the future!

Giveaway Time!

In celebration of all these travels and what I am considering the 1 year anniversary of my blog I will be giving away a special gift thanks to GPSmycity! To enter use the Rafflecopter below, a comment is required. Please respond with what city you would like your walking tour of. A total of 20 winners will be selected! If you are a winner I will provide the code to the city that you submitted. The app is valued at $4.99!  For a list of the cities available check this link. Some suggestions from my travel experiences would be Chicago or San Diego both are great walking cities. Coupon code is only valid for iPhone or iPad, sorry no Android at this time but feel free to enter and give to a friend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Additional details for contest are below.

  • Comment on the blog post with what city you would like your walking tour ofThe list of cities are here which includes nearly every major city!
  • If the city is not valid or available from the list of GPSmycity I will followup with the winner and ask them to provide a new city
  • Coupon code is only valid for iPhone or iPad
  • Additional entries for the giveaway can be obtained by following me travel_griz on twitter, tweeting about the contest, or visiting the My Travel Tools Facebook page
  • Contest entry period is from 12/13/2015 12:00 AM to 12/31/2015 12:00 AM
  • A total of 20 winners will be selected
  • Entries that are not complete will be deemed invalid
  • Giveaway is hosted by My Travel Tools with the prizes being given away by GPSmycity

Also feel free to share your 2015 travels and where you are heading for 2016!

  • Martin

    Rome

  • Jimmy

    Madrid

  • Laura

    Seattle or Vancouver BC!

  • Lindsay Griscom

    Love your blog! Chicago!