Miles and Points Review of Whistler/Vancouver Weekend Trip

My Wife and I decided to make a long weekend trip to Vancouver, BC and Whistler. We planned to leave on a Friday morning and return on Monday night, so this would just a 3 night 4 day trip. Unfortunately, I have a day job with limited vacation time.
Alaska Airlines recently change the mileage plan to more of a distance based award chart rather than a regional based award chart. What does this mean? Before the change, North America one way economy awards outside of Alaska started at 12,500 miles each way. So a round trip from Anchorage to Vancouver would have costs 25,000 miles round trip. With the new award chart, economy awards start as low as 5,000 miles for trips less than 700 miles.
  • Trip distance Under 700 miles – Awards starting at 5,000 miles
  • Trip distance – 701-1400 miles - Awards starting at 7,500 miles
  • Trip distance – 1401-2100 miles - Awards starting at 10,000 miles
  • Trip distance – Over 2101 miles - Awards starting at 12,500 miles
Just because the award chart says that awards start at 5,000 miles each way doesn’t mean you will find any award tickets available for 5,000 miles each way. In our case the trip length was between 701 – 1400 miles one way.  We were able to find the base 7,500 miles for the departure trip and 12,500 miles for the return trip. So our round trip ticket cost us 20,000 miles each, which is still a really great deal and a 5,000 savings from the old award chart.
Our flights routed us through Seattle which is necessary as there are no direct flights from Anchorage to Vancouver in the winter months (Air Canada offers direct flights in the summer months).  We arrived at the Anchorage airport an hour before our flight departed and had the opportunity to spend 30 minutes in the Alaska Airlines Lounge. We receive complimentary access to lounge as part of our Priority Pass Select Membership which we received by signing up for the American Express Platinum credit card.
The Alaska Airlines Lounge is ok as far as airport lounges go, with free alcoholic beverages, an espresso machine, and a few snacks. It definitely makes waiting in an airport a much more tolerable experience.
Once we arrived in Seattle we had an hour and twenty minute layover. Once again we used our American Express Platinum credit card benefits to visit the American Express Centurion Lounge Studio. American Express Centurion Lounges are considered some of the best airport lounges. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the lounge and some coffee before heading off to our next flight.
Once we arrived in Vancouver we found our rental car, and headed off for downtown Vancouver, but not before a pit stop at a local McDonalds where I had arranged to meet up with someone off of Craigslist who was selling 4 lift tickets to Whistler-Blackcomb for $58 USD each. This was a great savings as lift tickets even at the advanced purchase rate cost $92 USD each day when purchasing 2 day lift tickets.
Our schedule was to stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown on Friday night. Then drive up to Whistler Saturday morning. Ski all day on Saturday. Stay Saturday night at the Westin Resort Whistler, ski all day Sunday then drive back to Vancouver Sunday night and stay again at the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown.
We were able to book the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown for 40,000 Hilton points per night. When I booked the room a paid rate would have gone for about $175 including the taxes. We have accumulated Hilton Points from the American Express Hilton Honors Surpass credit card which came with 100,000 points for signing up (Current offer is only 75,000 points). I haveHilton Diamond Status due to a status match that I received from my Chase IHG credit card which comes with IHG Platinum Status. There was an opportunity by Hilton where they would match your status if you had an elite status with another hotel program.
Hilton Diamond Status can have some valuable benefits including free breakfast and lounge access, but in this case because we were staying at a Hampton Inn we received 2 snacks that we could select at the front counter. I selected a bag of trail mix and a chocolate bar. We also received two welcome drinks which we could redeem at the cafĂ© near the lobby. Hilton Diamond Status also entitles you to a suite upgrade if available. Unfortunately, all of the suites were sold out on our first night so we just got the standard room. The hotel was really nice and in a great location next to Rogers Stadium in downtown Vancouver. The hotel provided complimentary bike rentals. Vancouver is a very bike friendly city. We biked around downtown andStanley Park.  Hampton Inns already come with complimentary free hot breakfast buffet. We at breakfast before heading for Whistler Saturday morning.
On Saturday morning we departed for Whistler (about 1.45 minute drive from downtown Vancouver). We had reservations at the Westin Resort and Spa. We arrived at 8:30 am and were unable to check in immediately when we arrived. We hit the slopes for a while and we were able to check in to our room by 10:30 AM. TheHilton Diamond Status came in handy hear as we were upgraded to a 1 bedroom suite, which included a separate bedroom, and a kitchen. We booked the hotel with 12,000 Starwood points which we accumulated with the American Express Starwood credit card which comes with 30,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. When I booked the room, the Westin was almost completely sold out, and the room I booked with points would have costs over $650 USD. Once again the Hilton Diamond Status got us two free welcome drinks at any of the hotels restaurants/bars. We redeemed to the welcome drink certificates for two fancy cocktails at the Firerock Lounge that normally costs about $15 USD each. Hilton Diamond Status also got us late checkout on Sunday. Normal check out time is 11:00 am, but I was able to get the checkout time extended to 1:00 PM.
We recently signed up for the now discontinued Chase Fairmont Hotel Visa card. This card comes with a signup bonus of two free nights at any Fairmont Hotel worldwide. We plan to use the free nights at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui. The card also provides Premier Status with Fairmont Hotels. One of the benefits of Fairmont Premier Status is $50 in dining certificates each year. These dining certificates expire every year at the end of February. We signed up for the cards in January and we received the dining certificates in January as well. The certificates expired at the end of February then you will get new dining certificates at the beginning of March.
There was a Fairmont Hotel in Whistler and even though we were not staying there we could still redeem or certificates. We enjoyed a $50 breakfast at the Fairmont on Sunday morning.
After another great day of skiing we headed back to Vancouver on Sunday night.  We checked out Steamworks Brewery for dinner and drinks.

On Monday, we ate breakfast again at theHampton Inn and Suites Downtown. We still had another $50 in Fairmont Dining certificates so we checked out theFairmont Waterfront Vancouver for a nice lunch on the house.  Our flight back to Anchorage left at 6:45 PM. We headed back to the airport and dropped off our rental car. We were able to utilize ourPriority Pass Select Membership again and hung out in the Plaza Premium Loungebefore our departure. During our 1 hour layover in Seattle we once again visited theAmerican Express Centurion Lounge Studiofor a quick dinner and a beer, all complimentary of course.
So for the three nights in Canada we had very little expense out of pocket.
  • Two round trip tickets on Alaska Airlines  40,000 miles
  • 1 Night Hampton Inn and Suites                40,000 Hilton Points
  • 1 Night Westin Hotel                                      12,000 SPG Points
  • 2 free breakfasts at the Hampton Inn
  • 1 free breakfast at the Alaska Lounge and Centurion Lounge Seattle
  • 1 free breakfast at the Fairmont Whistler
  • 1 free lunch at the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver
  • 1 free lunch at the Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver Airport
  • 1 free dinner at the Centurion Lounge Seattle
  • 4 free drinks and snacks at the Hampton Inn
  • 2 free drinks at the Westin Resort Whistler
Some of the expense we did have to pay:
  • $75 rental car (normally would pay with points, but the charge had to be greater than $100 on my Barclays Arrival Plus card to redeem
  • Parking  $25/night Total $75. No way around this, there was limited parking even in Whistler.
  • Lift tickets – Got a great deal at $58 each
I hope this gives you an idea of what is possible with miles and points and how you really can get an almost free vacation.

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