To Wine or Not to Wine… Is It Even a Question?

Last spring Delta Diva invited Jeanne, myself wInvalid request error occurred.ith our significant others to join them in Dry Creek Valley for their annual “Passport†weekend of wine and food tasting.  We had a wonderful time; the weather was beautiful, the wine and food was fabulous, and with the exception of 3 out of 4 of us having flight changes en route, everything went off without a hitch.  As fun as it was, due to lots of wedding –related weekend trips this spring (ah-hem), we opted not to do it again this year… or so we thought…

I’ve gotten into the habit of constantly entering contests and applying for freebies on Facebook and Twitter.  If I see something come up that doesn’t require too much access to my personal info I’m likely to enter it.  I’ve won a few times over the last year or so, a free book here, $100 there (thank you CatholicMom and FreebieShark 🙂 ) but it’s always a surprise to me when I win despite how often I enter contests.  So, imagine my surprise when I receive the E-mail notifying me that I won two tickets to Dry Creek Valley’s Passport weekend this April (retail value $120 each).  These are only the tickets to the wine and food tasting; this does not include the transportation cost to or hotels in California.  So, before I accept the prize I ask my husband is it feasible to do this without spending a couple of thousand dollars to utilize “free†tickets?

Until Jeanne got me hooked into trying to get extra points and miles for hotel and flight loyalty programs, I had not been good about tracking our miles and reward points.  I had no idea how many points we had squirreled away in various hotels and airlines until I started putting all our information together (a big thanks to Jeanne for introducing us to AwardWallet).  Since I started tracking our miles I knew that I had just under 25,000 points and my husband had just over 50,000 points with Delta Airlines.  We looked at reward tickets and found out we could get round trip tickets to San Francisco for 25,000 each (with a $10 booking fee per ticket).  That brings our airfare cost down from $500 – $600 to only $20.  That was a good start.

Invalid request error occurred.If you’ve ever traveled to California before you’ll know that hotels can be really expensive there.  In some areas it’s more expensive than Hawaii.  So our next question was, can we stay someplace in wine country over a popular weekend and not break the bank?  It took longer than it should have for me to make the connection, but they have Holiday Inn Express hotels in that area.  I looked up reward nights for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and they didn’t have reward nights available “for one or more of the nights you selectedâ€.  Learning from our past experience with booking a Priority Club hotel in Rome, I looked up each night individually.  They still had reward nights left for Friday night.  I didn’t mind staying in one place on Friday and another on Saturday and Sunday so I booked the points plus dollars rate for Friday night hoping I could find a decent deal for Saturday and Sunday night.

My default search engine to look up prices is kayak.com.  My default for reviews on hotels is tripadvisor.com (note:  if you ever want more detailed reviews about hotels we’ve stayed at you can find them on there).  A lot of places did not have availability on Saturday night.  Those that did were a longer drive away from the wineries than we preferred to be and still would cost around $180 a night.  Some closer places that still had availability were around $250 a night, and most of them were through third-party sites (Priceline, Orbitz, etc.) where we wouldn’t have the option of canceling if something came up.  Eek.   I found a decently-priced bed and breakfast north of the wineries on Priceline for $155 a night.  I looked it up on TripAdvisor and saw nothing but good things written about it.  My only concern was having the pay the entire cost upfront without an option to cancel.  I clicked on it to get more information and I saw that this had an option to cancel with no charge up to a week before our stay.  Whoo-hoo!

About a week after I booked this a pop-up came on my computer about Holiday Inn Express government rates.  For the heck of it I looked up the Saturday at the same place we’re spending Friday night, nothing available.  Then I looked up Sunday night.  A government rate for $109.  I looked up best available for Saturday night, nothing was available.  Next question, would it be worth it to us to save money and the inconvenience of checking in and checking out at different places each night?

After much searching, the best prices I could find were in south Santa Rosa (again, further away than we’d like) or a Super 8, yes, those Super 8s, in Cloverdale, not more than 5-10 minutes from some of the wineries.  There aren’t a lot of hotels in that area, but the Super 8 had the highest ranking on TripAdvisor.   It also was only $99 a night, so our costs are $100 less than doing the bed and breakfast.  In my head that also means we’ll be able to purchase more wine.  😉

That brings our cost to at $303 for hotels, $20 for the flights, and $77 for our rental car.  That comes to $400 for three nights over a spring weekend in California that includes transportation, hotels, breakfast, lunch, and wine tasting.  By using points we’ve saved $600 ($530 on flights and at least $70 on hotels).  Our willingness to spend each night in different hotels and one of those nights in a more average hotel saved us another $100.  Some of you may ask, couldn’t you saved those points and used them for something else?  Yes, of course we could have, but since this opportunity came up we decided to take advantage of it since we had no other plans for using those points.  That’s part of the beauty of saving points is the opportunities it can open up for you.  By using the points we’ve gotten our weekend cost down to about what it would cost for us to drive somewhere more local (Houston, San Antonio, etc.) for a long weekend getaway.

Ultimately, that’s what I want more people to understand; these “big†trips aren’t as far out of reach as many people think.  A lot of times they aren’t that much more than local trips people take because they’re under the impression they’re more “affordableâ€.  For me, already having reservations didn’t mean I stopped looking if a better deal caught my eye.  If you keep looking out for deals and take the time to plan it, you can afford to do the bigger trips too; it just takes time, patience, and lots and lots of research.  🙂

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