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I am in planning to head out west for a few days later this month, and I thought that it might be interesting to see how I approach a trip like this.  I know “everyone else” always posts about their fancy 5-star hotels, but that’s just not how I roll (nor is it how most families that I know travel). I’m on record saying that so-called “budget” hotels DESTROY the fancy ones, and I even presented about that at the recent Family Travel for Real Life conference.

I stayed at an 80,000 Hilton point hotel (and it was nice), but I’d rather use those points for 8 nights at a Category 2 Hilton (like this one)

Now, I’m not ACTUALLY going to stay in only 1-star hotels (though I have stayed at a $36 / night Rodeway Inn before, and lived to tell the tale), but I am focusing on low category hotels with the goal of minimizing out-of-pocket costs.

Trip details

Let’s put some parameters on the trip.  I will be there 4 days and 3 nights with my son (so just one room / night).  Sunday night in Las Vegas, Tuesday night in Phoenix and Monday night somewhere in between.

Somewhere in between Las Vegas and Phoenix you say?  But Dan, those cities are only 5 hours apart?!!?!

Well, that’s if you take the “boring” way – that’s no fun!

The shortest distance between 2 points is no fun

The shortest distance between 2 points is no fun

Ahhhh that’s more like it 🙂  (it’s for counties)

Picking out hotel #1

I have a variety of hotel points, and on this trip I am looking to minimize my out of pocket costs.  My plan going in was to use points for 2 nights, and then my 3rd night needs to be a paid stay at a Holiday Inn to meet the terms of my IHG Accelerate promotion.  I only need 2 Holiday Inn stays, and after staying at the Holiday Inn Washington Dulles Intl Airport, I just need one more.

(SEE ALSO: My last IHG Accelerate promotion stay – what would you do?)

(SEE ALSO: Trouble with IHG Accelerate stays not showing up?)

Since I knew I needed a paid Holiday Inn stay, that was my first investigation.  There actually aren’t any Holiday Inns in Las Vegas (one Vacation Club and a few Expresses), so I zeroed in on the Holiday Inn: North Phoenix, and picked that up for $78.00 ($90.56 out the door with tax).  Kayak lists the Holiday Inn North Phoenix as 3 stars (it’s a Category 2 and would cost 15,000 points as an award stay)

Hotel #2: Las Vegas

Next I set my sights on Las Vegas.  I have been in Las Vegas once before, and I stayed one night on a Best Rate Guarantee on the Best Western McCarran Inn and 2 nights at the Luxor

(SEE ALSO: An airport shuttle should not take an hour to show up – Best Western McCarran Inn)

(SEE ALSO: 5th time’s a charm – Best Western Best Rate Guarantee FINALLY approved!!)

Since one of our top attractions is the Hoover Dam (and we’re on a tight timeline), I wanted to pick a hotel nearby.  I’m not really a gambler or nightlife kind of person anyways, and especially given that I’ll have my son with me, so staying on the Strip wasn’t super attractive.

I ended up looking at the Hampton Inn Henderson, which is a Category 3 for 20,000 Hilton points.  The Hilton Garden Inn is right next door and is a Category 4 (also 20,000 points).  Normally I don’t like Garden Inns because they’re “too” nice and don’t offer complimentary breakfast, though as a Hilton Gold, I should get breakfast vouchers.

Ahh the sweet sound of immediately second-guessing myself… I guess that’s why I often wait to actually book things (even though that usually totally screws me over)

Hotel #3: On the road

I have a ~25 hour drive from Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon, spread across 2 days.  I can stop really anywhere on the route, but would prefer to make a longer travel day on the first so that I am closer to the Grand Canyon and have more time

I am no stranger to long drives on county trips with kids (17 hours, 3 kids, no electronics), so that’s not the deal.  The issue I am dealing with is that we’re kind of driving in the middle of nowhere.  Originally I looked at stopping over in Yuma, Arizona, but then decided to stay an hour further west in El Centro, California.  I used Award Mapper and Hotel Hustle (2 of my top 10 miles and points tools)


My first thought was the TownePlace or Fairfield Inn, but Marriott points are actually ones that I don’t have.  I could transfer over from Chase, but 7500 Chase points are actually pretty valuable, and when I checked the Ultimate Rewards mall (always a good idea!), the cash rates are pushing $180 / night!

I’ve had good success with Choice Hotels, but ended up booking at the Holiday Inn Express.  It’s a Category 1 (10,000 IHG points), but TripAdvisor does rank it #1 of 18 El Centro hotels!


“A little high on the price”?!?!?  Not when you know the tricks of miles and points! (it actually is now sold out for the night I am going to be there and other similar nights are near $180). I hope you’ve enjoyed walking through how I pick out hotels and I will report back after the trip to see how these low category hotels hold up!

Nevada / California / Arizona Trip Report

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