Maximizing Points Personal Example: All Inclusive Denver – Seattle on Planes and Trains = $259.85

Several weeks ago when I asked if you wanted me to publish trip reports, there was a consistent theme in your responses:

  1. You would like to read about how much it cost and where I got the points more than reading about the actual experience on flights and hotels.
  2. If there is a unique experience that I think is valuable, then you’d like to read about that, but not things you can read on Trip Advisor.

Personally, I like writing ‘proof is in the pudding’ posts where I can show you how valuable your points can be.  I’m not making up the stuff on this blog.  You really can do some amazing things for next to nothing!

Trip Details:

In May, our family of five flew up to Seattle, spent two nights in Seattle, the took a three day train ride back to Denver.

Night 1: Aloft Denver Airport

Since we had an early morning flight (7:30 a.m.) and we live an hour and a half from the airport, we drove down to Denver to spend the night before our trip.

We paid 4,000 Starwood points for the night.  The hotel is listed as a category 3 (should be 7,000 points), but after calling and telling them that they had published that the hotel was going to drop a category, they gave it to me for the 4,000 point rate.  The hotel said they were also going to charge $5 per day to park there, but we actually we’re charged for parking.

Flight Denver – Seattle on Southwest

Our family of five flew a direct flight from Denver to Seattle.

March 1st 2013, we booked our flights from Denver to Seattle for a cost of 4,080 points per person.  Since both my wife and I each have a companion pass (only buy 3 tickets for our family of five), the total was 12,240 Southwest points and $12.50.  However, due to some snow storms here in the Spring, our kids’ soccer season was extended and the kids would miss two soccer games when we planned to be in Seattle.  Fortunately, Southwest allows free changes, so we booked our flights for a week later and ended up paying a total of 4,680 per person for a total of 14,040 Southwest points plus $12.50.  That’s still a fantastic rate, so we were happy to pay a few more points and travel when it fit our schedule better.

Car Rental Seattle with Advantage Rent a Car

We only needed a car for two days while we were in Seattle.  I used the strategy outlined in this post and ended up getting a rental from through the Capital One rental portal.  It was going to be a total of $60 for the two days.  However, a couple of days before our trip I decided to double check the options and actually found a cheaper rental directly with Advantage Rent a car.  The base rate was $7.41 per day for a full size.  With taxes and fees, the rental total came to $34.81.  I was able to cancel my rental through Capital One.  Remember, you only get one change so if you’re going to make a change, be sure it’s to cancel the reservation.

By the way, I don’t like to use points for car rentals because I’d rather pay for it with my United Credit Card which gives primary insurance coverage on car rentals.

Hotel Seattle: Country Inn and Suites Bothell

As a Club Carson credit card holder, you can get two nights for the points required for one night.  As such, we were able to get two nights for 38,000 Club Carlson points.

Meals and Activities in Seattle

While traveling, we’ve started to use the Yelp app to decide where we want to eat.  We look for locations that are less expensive with great reviews.  We ate at a few really good places while in Seattle.  We have some friends in Seattle who we used to know when we lived in Papua New Guinea. We spent our first afternoon visiting with them. We even went down to the main market area and got to see the folks tossing around fish.  The second day we went to Discovery Park (free) and had a great time.

Amtrak Train: Seattle – Sacramento – Denver

We transferred 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book two first class sleeper cars on the train.  We didn’t pay any taxes or fees to make the train booking, just the 50,000 points.  On the train (three days and two nights) all our meals were provided.  The only thing that wasn’t included was tips.  We ended up spending $80 on tips over the three days.

Here’s the total cost for 3 nights hotel, 3 day train trip, 2 day car rental, all meals and activities: (By the way, I plan to do two separate posts on the train portion.  The first to analyze the value and the second to share the train experience.)

  • 4,000 Starwood Starpoints
  • 14,040 Southwest points
  • 38,000 Club Carlson points
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • $259.85 out of pocket

Trip Value: $3,795.  Estimated value per point = 3.57 cents per point.

How to quickly earn those points:

  1. The best way to earn Starwood points is with the Starwood American Express.  You can earn 10,000 points after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first six months.
  2. I wouldn’t currently apply for Southwest since the sign up bonus is 25,000 points.  However, sometime this summer they’ll have a 50,000 point sign up bonus so I’d definitely suggest jumping on that.
  3. The Club Carlson Visa offers 50,000 points after your first purchase and an additional 38,000 points afters spending $2,500 in the first 3 months.
  4. If you have a business, then you can get 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points as a bonus with the Ink Bold card (after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months).  The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 40,0000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months.  Compare your best  credit card options here.


  1. says

    Great overview of everything you need to know when travelling to Seattle. I think anyone planning a trip will find it very helpful! I’ll be sure to save the article incase I get to visit some day.

  2. Lynn says

    Thanks for sharing! I forget about transferring points for train. The 50000 Southwest is back. They have it on their front page at

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