Washington locals and visitors alike can celebrate President’s Day in style by visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
This year marks the 285th birthday of the first President, and lots of festivities are planned at George Washington’s historic home and estate on the Potomac River.
You can enjoy period music, character performances, story-time, tours of the mansion and birthday cake with General Washington.
Regular admission to Mount Vernon is $20 for persons age 12 and older but admission will be free on President’s Day — February 20, 2016 — and on George Washington’s actual birthday — February 22, 2016.
There is lots to see including the historic mansion, many outbuildings where trades were practiced, the slave memorial, gardens, a pioneer farm, and George and Martha Washington’s tomb. The setting is on the Potomac River is quite spectacular, making for a pleasant family outing.
A room at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place is going for $259 per night plus tax. That is way more than I want to pay.
The Trouble With Orbitz Rewards
It occurs to me that I just earned over $100 in Orbitz Rewards via a recent series of contests. In my mind, that should be worth one free night.
Orbitz is showing room availability at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place at the same rate as the Hyatt website, $259. I’m thinking, after crediting my $100 in Orbitz Rewards, that $159 a night might be the best I can do.
However, it turns out that Orbitz calculates tax on the full room rate, and only then subtracts the Orbitz credits.
With tax, the room rate is $289. One night at the Hyatt Place in Charlottesville would be $184, after factoring in $105 in Orbitz Rewards. That’s still quite pricey for my budget.
A Night at Hyatt Place Charlottesville is 8,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points
The Hyatt Place Charlottesville is a Category 2hotel, which costs 8,000 points per night; or at the points plus cash rate, 4,000 points plus $55. You have to call in to request the points plus cash rate.
The hotel was sold out of points plus cash rooms. But there was still availability showing for 8,000 points per room.
Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer to Hyatt Immediately
Fortunately, I have a small stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points can be cashed in as statement credits at the rate of one cent per point. 8,000 points are worth $80 in cash.
I chose to transfer 8,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account. The good thing about the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is that the transfers go through immediately.
I was able to reserve reserve a room — before the hotel sold out completely — for 8,000 points. That’s a pretty good deal in my book.
The hotel business is all about supply and demand.
Rooms in Charlottesville were very expensive on our chosen date, but the price in points of the Hyatt hotel remained static. 8,000 points might not be such a good deal on a low demand night, but in this instance we made out okay.
The best thing about the Amtrak Guest Rewards program is that the points redemptions have a fixed cost. That is, the cost of a trip paid with points does not vary in accordance with demand.
There are blackout dates on popular travel days when you cannot redeem your points for travel. But if you can work around those dates, you can find great value.
We recently returned from a spring break trip to Florida on the Amtrak Auto Train. This was a great adventure and a lot of fun, because we were able to use our points to reserve sleeper compartments.
Travel Free on the Amtrak Auto Train with Miles and Points
The auto train departs from the Lorton, Virginia station south of Washington, DC every day at 4 p.m. It arrives in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, the next morning by 10 a.m. Your car travels with you. If you pay $50 extra for priority off-loading of your vehicle, you can be on your way within minutes of arrival.
I traveled to Florida in style with my daughter, her friend, and our Honda Civic Hybrid for 45,000 points. The car transport costs 15,000 points one way, and a “roomette” sleeping compartment, which sleeps two, costs 15,000 points. Since there were three of us traveling, we required two compartments.
I was able to instantly transfer 45,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak, to get the trip for free. The points were earned by opening a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. The cash value of the points was $450.
Because we were traveling in “high season,” we received three times that value for our points. The cost of the one-way trip paid in cash would have been $1,435. The cost is less at other times of the year — but if you have kids in school — your vacation times are dictated by the school schedule.
I do believe I have discovered the best value in the world of miles and points for budget domestic travel. It’s not exotic or foreign, but it is a whole lot of fun.
What’s It Like Traveling in a Roomette on the Auto Train?
If you are traveling in a sleeping car, you have the services of a porter to make up your bed at night, and to assist you with you bags. You can eat in the dining car, or they will bring your meal to your room, complete with a white tablecloth.
The roomettes are very well designed. Each compartment has a closet to hang your coat, some storage shelves, curtains for full privacy, clean towels, an electrical outlet, and a night light. The porter makes up the lower bunk with fresh sheets, a futon like mattress pad, two pillows, and a blanket. The bed is quite comfy, and the lower bunk offers a view of the scenery whizzing by. I didn’t try the upper bunk, but it is fairly spacious, and certainly comfortable enough for kids.
There is a drink station in each car for free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. The sleeping cars are double decker. If you are on the upper deck, you will likely have to go downstairs to use the bathroom, though some sleeping cars have a bathroom on the upper level. There is a small shower with an adjacent dressing room on the lower level, if you are so inclined.
There are several dining cars to accommodate guests, and a lounge car with limited WiFi passwords.
A full dinner is served in the dining car. The dinner service offered bread, salad, ice tea, a choice of five entrees, dessert and coffee. The food was quite decent. There is also a continental breakfast of orange juice, coffee, cold cereal, warm muffins, and bagels.
Both meals are included in your fare.
The auto train features Disney movies in the lounge car in the evenings.
The negatives: no WiFi in the sleeping cars; small bathrooms with tiny sinks, loud announcements in the morning calling you to breakfast.
It was great to arrive in Florida refreshed and ready to start our vacation!
Do you have any questions about the Auto Train? Ask away in the comments!
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The club rents out over 30 rustic, but well-maintained cabins within a couple of hours drive from Washington, DC. With rental costs averaging $30 to $50 a night, these cabins are a well kept secret for family getaways.
Many of the cabins are rented to the public, but some of the properties with more amenities, including those discussed here, are only available to Club members.
With membership costs of just $35 a year, it may be a good investment for you if you live in the mid-Atlantic states.
It’s kind of like owning a vacation home or a time share that you can escape to for hiking, or just relaxing, without the expense and hassle of ownership.
I have visited many PATC cabins, but one that I always return to is Glass House, in the Massanutten Mountains of Northern Virginia.