Free Admission to Mount Vernon February 20th and 22nd

Visit Mount Vernon for Free on February 20 and 22
Visit Mount Vernon for free on February 20 and 22

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.

 

Charlottesville, Virginia on Miles and Points

Charlottesville, VirginiaWe are making a last minute excursion to Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’ve never been, and am really looking forward to it.  Charlottesville should be very pretty this time of year.

There’s no football game on the calendar, but the town seems to be completely sold out.

I am finding availability however, in a relatively new hotel on the outskirts, a Hyatt Place.  The rooms look pretty nice, just like the Hyatt Place Universal Studios we stayed at in Orlando.

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

I don’t have any points in the Hyatt Gold Passport program, but it is worth checking how much this hotel goes for on points.

Hyatt Points and Points Plus Cash Chart
Hyatt Points and Points Plus Cash Chart

The Hyatt Place Charlottesville is a Category 2 hotel, 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.

Catch the Auto Train to Florida Via Amtrak Guest Rewards

Amtrak Auto Train Station in Lorton, Virginia
Amtrak Auto Train Station in Lorton, Virginia

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.

Cost of the Auto Train: $1,435 or 4,500 ponts?
$1,435 or 4,500 Amtrak Rewards points?

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?

Yeah Florida!
Hurrah Florida! It was great to catch some rays after the long winter.

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.

The dining car on the auto train.
Meals are included in the ticket price. My daughter and her friend enjoyed breaking up the trip with a visit to the dining car.

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!

Save on End of Summer Getaways

Summer Getaways
Get Last Minute Deals on Summer Getaways

I am taking stock of the last weeks of summer and am planning a getaway around DMVthe District, Maryland, and Virginia, that is.

For starters, my daughter and I are heading down to Petersburg, Virginia for a college visit.  I’ve been hoping to snag a room on Priceline.

I’ve updated my Promos page with some opportunities to save on end of summer travel.

If you find the summer has been slipping away without plans for a vacation, check out these deals from some of my favorite discount travel sites:

Groupon

  • 15% off Flash Deals on Getaways with promo code GETAWAY15.  Good 8/15/14 – 8/16/14.  

Priceline

  • Get an extra 5% off Express Deals with code METRO6 when you book in Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Toronto. 2 star hotels and above, min 2 night stay. Travel anytime. Book by Aug 25, 2014.

Living Social

Hotels.com

This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks if you choose to use them!

Two “Free” Tickets to Hershey Park for “Neighbors”

Two Free Tickets to Hershey Park
Two Free Tickets to Hershey Park for Residents of PA, VA, MD, & DE

If you consume any of the beverages pictured above, here’s a nice opportunity to get two free tickets to Hershey Park!

We visited Hershey, Pennsylvania last spring and had a great time, even though we did not go to the amusement park.

“Free” Tickets to Hershey Park

To qualify for the free amusement park tickets, you need to purchase twenty single Pepsi products at Giant or Martin’s grocery stores.

Participating products include:

  • 20 oz. Pepsi-Cola® products (any flavor of Pepsi®, Mtn Dew®, Sierra Mist® and Mug®)
  • 20 oz. Aquafina® products (any variety)
  • 18.5 oz. Pure Leaf® products
  • 11 oz. Starbucks® Iced Coffee drink bottles

But hurry.  Purchases must be made by June 12, 2014, and certificates must be postmarked by June 30, 2014.

The offer is only open to residents of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Discounted Tickets to Hershey Park at Giant Food Stores in VA, WV, PA, & MD
Discounted Tickets to Hershey Park at Giant Food Stores in VA, WV, PA, & MD

You will need to mail in your original receipts along with a certificate to receive a free ticket to Hershey Park.  There is a limit of two tickets per household.

The regular price of tickets to Hershey Park $59.95 for ages 9-54, and $37.95 for kids 3-8, and seniors 55-69.  If you can find a good price on these beverages, this deal can save you a lot of money!

Discounted Tickets to Hershey Park

What if you need more than two tickets, or don’t like Pepsi?

Select Giant Food Stores in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia sell discounted tickets to Hershey Park.

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Glass House: Jewel of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Cabins

Glass House
Glass House
PATC Image

Check out my guest post today in The Girl and Globe about one of the best deals for outdoors lovers in the mid-Atlantic states – the Myron Glaser cabin and the cabin system of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).

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.

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