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Our family of 8 just got back from a week in California visiting family and seeing the sights.  California (especially the Bay Area!) is a fairly expensive place to stay, so I thought it would be instructive to see what the costs were for our family’s trip.  We were there for 6 1/2 days – flew out Wednesday morning; flew back Tuesday night.  Now we are pretty frugal folks in general, but it’s also awesome to see how using miles and points can make a HUGE difference in helping families to be able to travel.

The big 3 costs (flights, hotel, rental car)

  • Airfare – we used 176,000 Delta Skymiles to fly CVG-LAX-SMF; SFO-CVG (that’s an open jaw) for the 8 of us.  We did have to pay the government taxes of $89.60 roundtrip ($5.60 per person per leg)
  • Hotel – We stayed at 2 different hotels.
  • $197.47 for 6 days of a rental car.  Of course, this is times 2 for our family, so $394.94.  We ended up using Barclay Arrival miles to offset that.  39,494 Arrival miles, but then we got 5% back (1974), so net 37,520 Arrival miles.
  • Gas – we ended up having to fill up each car just once – total of $71.23
  • Tolls – $10 to cross into San Francisco ($5 times 2 cars).  I am totally the type of person that would drive an hour out of my way to avoid tolls but… I got overruled :-).  Though I guess technically my sister paid these tolls so maybe it shouldn’t count.

I didn’t check the cash costs of the hotel and airfare when we booked them, but I’d estimate the plane tickets would be about ~$380 / ticket (especially since we had fairly fixed dates during spring break).  The Sacramento hotel runs about $180 / night and the San Francisco one (for the 2BR room we stayed at) was about $300 / night on the weekends and $400 / night on the weekdays.  The 1BR we had for one weekend night runs about $280.

So the miles we used for airfare, hotel and rental cars saved us cash expenses of nearly $5000!

Food costs

  • $149.29 was our initial grocery store run when we got to California.  This is fairly comparable to our weekly grocery bill at home so you could certainly argue against counting it if you wanted, but I’ll keep it in here for completeness
  • $6.98 for ice cream sandwiches
  • $16.13 at In-n-Out burger (for 3 of us)
  • $9.45 for some fudge in Old Sacramento while on our Urban Adventure Quest
  • $30.74 for snacks (Safeway)
  • $52.00 for lunch at Luigi’s Pizzeria at Pier 39 (ripoff alert!)

We certainly saved quite a bit on food costs by picking hotels that offered full kitchens, free breakfast and also getting 2 nights of free dinner at hotels.  We only ate out once and a half (the half being me taking my sons out to In N Out) out of the 20 or so meals that we were on vacation.  The rest of the time we either had meals at the hotel or cooked lunches / dinners

[The complete beginner’s guide to cooking in a hotel room]

Entertainment and Miscellaneous

We spent a lot of time just hanging out with my sister and her kids, but did do a few things while we were out.  Again, we’re naturally frugal people, so we didn’t spend a ton on entertainment anyways.  The fact that I got comped a ticket to the Urban Adventure Quest helped with our entertainment budget as well.

  • Parking at CVG airport for our flight out – 7 days at $5 / day – total of $35
  • Parking in downtown Sacramento for the Urban Adventure Quest – $8.50
  • Laundry – $0 (we did laundry at my sister’s house) [SEE ALSO: 4 laundry hacks for when you’re traveling]
  • 7 BART tickets from San Bruno to downtown – $60.20.  In hindsight, I should have just driven in and paid for parking as I bet that would have been cheaper.
  • $10 in quarters at Musee Mecanique at Fisherman’s Wharf

Total costs for a week in California

First let’s look at the miles and points that we spent.

  • 176,000 Delta Skymiles
  • 45,000 Marriott points + 1 free night certificate
  • 40,000 IHG points + 2 free night certificates
  • 37,520 Barclay Arrival miles

It’s certainly not “free” since there is a cost and a value to those miles, but this is certainly very instructive on the value of using miles and points.

Our total cash outlay – $583.28.  I was actually a little bummed by this as I was hoping to keep it under $500 but I GUESS this is still pretty good 🙂

Do you have any stories of how miles and points have saved you “real” cash expenses on a family trip? Share them in the comments

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