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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)

award-mapper-el-centro

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!

el-centro-trip-advisor

“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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