Using Points & Miles to Travel to Wine Spectator Grand Tour Events

Friday, January 16, 2015

Yesterday I posted about Wine Spectator's Grand Tour events coming up in 2015 in Chicago, Las Vegas and Dallas. I immediately started thinking about which of the locations would be most convenient to attend. If the idea of flying in to a city just to attend a wine tasting sounds crazy and expensive bear with me for a moment. It might be easier and more affordable than you think.

Why?


First, the reason I'd be willing to fly for one of these tastings is because they're so good. Yes, $225 per person is a lot of money for a wine tasting. But the quality of wine poured at these events and the editorial sort Wine Spectator applies when selecting the wineries pouring make these events special.

It is truly an embarrassment of riches and if you quickly want to develop a relatable frame of reference for what some of the world's benchmark wines taste like I've not seen a better way to do it.

How?


So how can we make it happen? How much would it cost?

Let's take the Dallas event as an example and suppose we live in Boston.
  • $250 per person round-trip airfare
  • $200/nt hotel
  • $100 rental car/ground transportation
  • $225 event ticket
  • $100 per person meals
  • $50 airport parking
  • Total: $925
If we did it as a couple, airfare and meal costs would go up a bit but there would be some shared expenses. Call it $1,500 all-in for a party of 2?

Okay - that's a fairly good chunk of change.

But here's how I'd play it, using credit card signup bonuses to make the trip more affordable and more pleasant.

Three Credit Cards


First, airfare. I'd check for the best paid fares out of Boston to get a feel for the going rates for direct flights at good times. Then, I'd check for saver level award availability for those flights. If award availability looked good at flight times that worked for me use AA miles to book the flight. Currently I see 25K AA miles round-trip in Economy or 50K AA miles per person round-trip in First.
50K AA miles is enough for round-trip
in First Class at saver levels
Since I've got plenty of AA miles already I'd probably go for a couple First Class tickets at saver levels if my wife can join. If not I'd just go for Economy. If I needed some AA miles I'd sign up for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard with a 50K signup bonus after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. If I wanted to fly both me and my wife in First and I didn't have enough miles I'd sign her up for a card as well.
45K Chase Ultimte Rewards would
cover hotel, event tickets and more
The next card I'd go for is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I think this is the best all around travel credit card. It comes with a 40K point signup bonus plus an additional 5K bonus after adding an authorized user. The best thing about the card is its flexibility. You can cash out the points at a penny a piece (so $400 to spend on whatever you want), or book for travel at 1.2 cents a piece through their portal, or (most optimally) transfer the points 1:1 to travel partners like United and Hyatt. The event is at a Hyatt. It costs just $159/nt which isn't bad in itself but if you use Hyatt points it's just 8,000 points per night. Transfer 8,000 of your 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and your hotel room is paid for.

After that you'd still have Chase Ultimate Rewards points remaining. If you really wanted to do this whole thing "for free" you could use those points for the event admission, meals or parking. But since that's only a penny a point I'd probably pay for them out of pocket and save my valuable Ultimate Rewards points or something higher leverage like premium cabin international flights.
40K Barclay points are easy to redeem towards travel
and 2+% cashback every is good for ongoing spend
A third card I'd get, depending on my current point balances and the flights available to me, is the Barclay Arrival+. It also comes with a 40K point signup bonus but the points work differently than with Chase. To use Barclay Arrival points you just charge travel (air, hotel, rental car) to your card and erase the charges at a rate of a penny a point. There's no award availability you need to search for and no loyalty programs to figure out. You just charge travel and erase it, up to $400 to start. The card is also nice for ongoing spend because it pays 2% on all purchases when the points are redeemed towards travel.

Bottom Line


So how much would the event cost if we signed up for these three cards and used the points towards the trip?
  • $250 per person round-trip airfare (Citi AA 50K)
  • $200/nt hotel (use 8K Hyatt points, transferred from Chase Sapphire Preferred)
  • $100 rental car/ground transportation (10,000 Barclay Arrival points)
  • $225 event ticket (out of pocket or use cashback from Chase Sapphire Preferred)
  • $100 per person meals (you kind of have to eat no matter where you are, and the event serves food, but use Chase Sapphire cashback if you want)
  • $50 airport parking (I'd pay out of pocket with the Chase Sapphire and earn 2X on this)
  • Total: $925 (nearly FREE?)
So there you have it. Three credit card signups and a little minimum spend and you're on your way to an amazing time at the event for hardly any out of pocket expense.

I hope this was a helpful diversion from straight wine content. I think points & miles can be a great way to make trips to wine events and wine regions more attainable. If you're interested in discussing points, miles & cashback further drop me an email (wellesleywinepress@gmail.com)or ping me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer).

Cheers!

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