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So I got into the miles / points “game” (again) about 4 years ago.  We have a bi-annual family reunion, and when it was decided that the 2014 version was going to be in Lake Tahoe, I knew that 8 cross-country plane tickets were going to be fairly expensive, and it was time to finally get serious about miles and points collecting.

But before I took that trip out to Reno (READ: Finally putting all those miles and points to good use: 2014 family vacation), Carolyn and I took a getaway trip down to Miami.  My parents came down to watch the kids, and it was really the first time in 15 years of marriage that we had been able to get away for more than a day or so.

Where to go?

It was October of 2013, so we definitely wanted to go somewhere warm.  Where’s warmer than Miami!?!?  Well, okay, maybe Dubai… but that might be a bit TOO warm for us (not to mention Carolyn didn’t have her passport at that point 😀 ).

My first credit card churn had left me with a bunch of Hilton points, as well as some Club Carlson points and 40,000 US Airways miles.  Since the US Airways Mastercard (in addition to giving 40,000 miles after first purchase) gives 5,000 miles off of redemptions, I was able to get 2 domestic tickets CVG-CLT-FLL for those 40,000 miles.

Now, the (smarter?) 2016 PWaC would have used Chase Ultimate Rewards to transfer to British Airways and used 30,000 Avios for 2 roundtrip tickets CVG-MIA.  Less points, AND I’d have gotten a direct flight, AND I probably wouldn’t have had to take a super-early flight because it was the only one available…  But you live and learn…

Country Inn and Suites Miami

We were staying 3 nights, so we decided to stay the first 2 nights at the Country Inn and Suites Miami, which is just about the only Club Carlson hotel in South Florida.  Why did we only stay 2 nights there?  Well as Miles to Memories likes to say, staying a non-even number of nights at a Club Carlson hotel is a mortal sin!!! The reason is that (at least before they devalued ityou got your last night free, so if you stay 2 nights it was like Buy 1 Get 1.  If you stay more than 2, you’re “wasting” points that you could have used for a free night.


Hard at “work” in our suite

Since I’m Gold status (for having the Credit Card), I called ahead and asked if there were any upgrades available.  They ended up putting us in a “suite” which was just a little room outside the bedroom (pictured below)

Breakfast was good and we didn’t stay much in the hotel as we had a few fun trips to plan.

South Florida fun

Even though we had to take a connecting flight, since we left so early, by the time we got to Miami it was still around noon and plenty of time to have some fun!

We decided our first trip would be to do some people-watching on South Beach.  And boy was there some people-watching to be had!  It was actually Halloween so as we walked the main strip there, we saw tons of people out in costume, and there were even some families trick or treating!!


Top – the Fort Lauderdale LDS temple: Bottom left – me with my “serious” pose. Bottom right – South Beach folks in costume for Halloween

I’m originally from Cleveland so I’m a Browns fan (unfortunately…) but having lived in Cincinnati as long as I have, there is some interest in the Bengals as well.  So when we found out that the Bengals would be playing the Dolphins, IN MIAMI, THE SAME WEEK WE WOULD BE THERE, we figured we’d check it out.

Dolphins Bengals 2013

Cuz we’re the…. Miami Dolphins. Miami Dolphins. Miami Dolphins #1…

In hindsight, I probably would have skipped that – with 2 tickets and parking, we were in over $100, and the game really wasn’t that exciting.  Still, it was a fun experience, though we ended up leaving in the 3rd quarter (the Bengals ended up losing, in overtime, on a safety of all things…).

We also got the catchy Miami Dolphins song stuck in our head for the next year or so….

Don’t play that video, or you’ll have it stuck in YOUR head too… 😀

The Everglades

Another great place to visit in South Florida is the Everglades, and that’s where we went on Friday.  First we went to Everglades National Park to walk around there.


Everglades National Park

Then we went to the Everglades Alligator farm, where Carolyn got chosen to take part as the live “volunteer” for the snake show.

Snake Show Collage

Carolyn as the snake volunteer

For one part of the snake show, he asked which person was the most afraid of snakes.  Then of course that person got called up and “surprised” with a giant snake.


Top: This lady was SO freaked out. Bottom left: The alligator show. Bottom right: Us at the Everglades

While the host was putting on the snake / alligator show, there was a foreign tourist family that kept going off of the bleachers and getting close to one of the alligators that was nearby.  The alligator was off in kind of a wooded area, but wasn’t separated by any type of fence or anything.

The host kept telling them OVER and OVER to get back, that it wasn’t safe, but I don’t think that they understood very well.  I was SO nervous that the alligator was just going to snap and something REALLY bad was going to happen.  Luckily the show as able to finish without incident, though it was very distracting.

While in Everglades National Park in Florida, one of our activities was an alligator show. While trying to take pictures, a German tourist family with kids was nearly eaten by an alligator because they weren't listening to the host and getting too close!

Another thing at the Everglades Alligator Farm is the speedboat rides, which we did.  That was a lot of fun as well.


Speedboat ride, me at the Everglades, and another alligator

My dramatic surprise

Like I said, we only stayed Thursday and Friday night at the Country Inn and Suites, and then Saturday morning, it was time to pull off the big switcheroo.

When we got our receipt under the door on Saturday morning, I played it up like it was a mistake.

“I’m so sorry honey – it looks like I ‘screwed up’ the hotel reservation!  It says that we’re supposed to check out today.  I went to the front desk but they said that there wasn’t anything they could do – they’re all full.  We need to leave this morning”

“I’m sorry – I really wanted to make this a special trip for us.  I’m sorry that I screwed this up.  We’ll have to just go find another hotel”

In hindsight, I’m surprised I was able to get away with this, but it was great!

We drove up from Miami up towards Fort Lauderdale, and we’re traveling up the A1A beach highway.  The whole time, I pretend to be “looking for” different hotels.

Eventually we pull up to the Fort Lauderdale Hilton, which is a super-snazzy hotel right on the beach.

 Fort Lauderdale Hilton

I had called ahead to try and get an upgrade (since I’m also a Gold HHonors member) but they were sold out due to a car show that was there that same weekend.  I was able to get a room that was Ocean “view” on the 19th floor.  It was a really nice room with a balcony with a great view of the ocean.


Me chilling on the beach out in front of our hotel. Plus a stash of coins we found down at South Beach (left them there)

It was great to just chill out on the beach for a bit without having to keep an eye on kids.  Later we went back and they had given us free dinner vouchers to use in the restaurant (to make up for the fact that they couldn’t upgrade us as well as we would be missing out on breakfast due to an early flight the next morning).  Dinner was “okay” but there weren’t really any vegetarian options on the menu (my wife is vegetarian) – definitely not worth paying for, but worth “free”.


Some views from our room at night

Sunday morning we were up bright and early to catch our flight back.  Let me tell you, after a week of 92 degree temperatures, stepping off that airplane into the 40 degree weather of Cincinnati was a SHOCK to the system!

This was a great getaway trip, and one more reminder of how fortunate we are in this hobby!

#TBT - My very first trip paid for with miles and points

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