How I Traveled for Free: Snagging the Presidential Suite With Points for a Colorado Ski Trip

Jan 4, 2019

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Tim Smith was hoping for an upgrade when he booked the Westin in Snowmass Village using points, but he didn’t expect to get the Presidential Suite. His elite status and upgrade certificates helped, but a call to the reservation department is how he scored the best room in the hotel.

The cardholder

Name: Tim Smith Age: 43 Occupation: Videography and photography company owner Home: New York

The stay

Hotel name: The Westin Snowmass Resort in Snowmass, Colorado Dates of stay: March 13 - 18, 2018 Room: Presidential Suite

Q: What amenities did you take advantage of?

A: I have 10 suite upgrades a year as a Starwood Platinum member. My wife and I enjoy skiing, so I thought I would use five of those upgrades for this five-night stay. Typically the hotel will upgrade you to a basic suite or something nicer if available, and I usually find out about a week before the trip if the upgrade has been approved.

This time, I found out four days before we were leaving that it had not been approved. The reservation manager said that due to spring break there were no suites available. I checked the website and saw that all the regular suites were indeed sold out, but the presidential suite, which goes for $1,500 or more per night, was still available. I asked her why this was not an option. The reservation manager said she thought it was booked for one of the nights, but realized it was not and gave us the suite!

It was huge with a giant balcony overlooking the slopes, two entrances, a dining table for 10, a living room, two bathrooms, a separate bedroom with a hot tub and a kitchen.

Q: Did you travel alone or with someone?

A: I was with my wife and 2-year-old son. We put his crib in the kitchen so we still had full use of the bedroom and living area.

We hadn't skied in three years, and Snowmass is a place that my wife loves and has come to with her family as a kid. Her parents joined us and had a separate room on our floor.

While my wife flew to Snowmass from a work trip, I booked a last-minute business-class flight to Aspen using 30,000 British Avios points, and my son came free as he was under two. While on the trip, I booked us two tickets home on United from Aspen for 12,500 United MileagePlus miles each, plus $110 in fees so we could avoid the 5-hour drive to the Denver airport.

The card and loyalty program

Q: What card or loyalty program did you use to get a free stay?

A: I used the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and I [was] a Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum Premier Elite rewards member. [Note that the Marriott-SPG Merger happened in August of 2018.]

Q: How long were you a cardholder/member at that time?

A: I have had the card for about two to three years and used it quite often.

Q: How long were you planning/saving for this stay?

A: I booked the trip about four or five months in advance for 40,000 SPG points. The rate was 10,000 per night, but Starwood had a fifth-night free option, so we stayed for five nights and paid only 40,000 points in total. We had a delicious hot buffet breakfast every morning as a Platinum perk.

Q: What's your favorite perk of this card/program?

A: The SPG cards offer great point bonuses for staying at their hotels.

Redemption and booking

Q: Did you take advantage of promotions while earning points for this trip?

A: I had accumulated a lot of Starwood points through a sign-up bonus and stays. For the ski trip, I used the fifth-night free option and a suite upgrade certificate to get an extra night and an upgrade. I also earned a welcome bonus on check-in as a Platinum member as well as free breakfast every morning.

Q: Where and how did you book?

A: I booked through the Starwood app using SPG points.

Q: How many points did this cost?

A: 40,000 SPG points.

Q: Did you book in conjunction with a promotion or deal?

A: The fifth-night free was huge, and of course the suite upgrade. The rate for five nights for a regular room was about $3,500, but the suite was more like $7,500. I made a “green choice" and earned an additional 2,000 points plus 350 points for spending while there, so that offset some more of the points redeemed. I also received the welcome bonus at check-in.

Q: Any surprises, hassles or upgrades?

A: I thought it was pretty cool to be in the nicest room in the place for five days. The only hassle was when we called for trash pick up or fresh towels, they forgot to come a couple of times. They upgraded our breakfast most days to the hot buffet. Only the cold breakfast was supposed to be included.

What’s next?

Q: What's your next travel rewards goal? What are you saving for?

A: I just finished booking a February trip to Hawaii, which will be my seventh trip there. I guess you can say it's my happy place, and I enjoy booking the trip almost as much as going. We have nine nights of hotels booked all on points, and business-class flights round trip, also on points.

I'm looking at taking my wife to Montreal for our anniversary in the fall, and somewhere over the holidays to get out of the cold. The big thing I've done this year is travel to see 23 major league ballparks since May — almost all trips were booked exclusively on points and miles.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: NerdWallet's top travel credit cards Travel loyalty program reviews Here's how much your points and miles are worth

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