Part One: The Place
I attended a financial blogger conference from Oct 17 to Oct 20 in St. Louis, MO. Had a blast!
Funny, how I had never considered myself a personal finance writer. What do I know about finance? I’m a travel nut. I love going places whenever I have a chance. Sometimes when I don’t, too.
Even though I write books and articles on what is essentially an intelligent way of using credit cards for profit, I still considered myself purely a travel writer.
I don’t know much about investments, I don’t clip coupons, and I rarely manage to take advantage of Groupon or Living Social and such. I mean, even when I buy these deals, something always comes up. A few weeks ago, I bought a bunch of cheap Duracel batteries off Groupon, and the Fedex somehow managed to lose the shipment! Got my money back, but I had to ask for it.
My wife and I enjoy different kinds of food which means we always end up eating at her favorite places :). Last time we were able to use one of those deals successfully was sometime last year. Both of us got really, and I mean really, drunk at a Mojito brunch on the Upper West Side. Don’t even remember how we got back home. So that was a success! Just that one time.
However, what I do know is how to live on the budget and how not to make a credit card debt. I pulled myself out of credit card debt in the 90s, and I have never looked back ever since. While my debt was never anything spectacular, getting out of it still remains one of the two highest points in my life. Another one was quitting smoking 21 years ago. Now, I guess, would be a good time to do something about my waistline–so it could be the third.
I can’t be making credit card debt anyway. I travel for free. I fly for free and I stay at hotels for free, too. Sometimes, I even eat and rent cars for free–when I feel especially
cheap frugal. And credit cards are instrumental in getting me there. If I borrowed money from credit cards and paid them 12%-18% interest–that wouldn’t be free, that would be stupid. I’m against stupid, and I feel very strongly about it.
So who said, I was not a personal finance writer? I guess, in the end I am. Without even knowing.
But anyhow, I digress. Since this was a financial conference, I guess I should talk a little about budgeting for it. So here goes.
My total cash outlay for the conference was as follows:
$90 for the conference pass bought at the exchange.
$80 car service to/from La Guardia.
$5 airline taxes.
$9 for all Metroline travel in St Louis.
$100 for the upgrade at Hyatt that included a huge corner room, free Internet, and access to the lounge.
$15 for the media lunch with Jason and Eric at the Sports Bar.
$15-20 for the tips to the maid and bartenders total.
That’s $319 total. I might’ve missed something but I think that’s it.
Miles and points used for the trip: 15,000 British Airways Avios and 32,000 Utlimate Reward points transferred to Hyatt for four nights.
Was it a good redemption? That’s not the best, but decent. I booked my trip very close to the event. The cheapest direct flight from NYC to St. Louis at that point was around $260, and the Hyatt room went for $195 a night without internet, which is an additional $10 a night. While I could find better redemption rates for my miles and points, to me they are a renewable resource. I estimate saving close to $1,000 considering that I didn’t have to eat out due to the lounge access.
I got to St Louis from La Guardia using British Avios on American Airlines. All 15,000 of them. An American, Delta or United ticket would’ve cost me 25,000.
Next step to insure not to overpay was taking the Metrolink for $2.25. I wish our New York airports had subway connections. Airport transportation in my neck of wood is a huge financial burden.
At the hotel reception, I asked for an upgrade, which I always do because asking doesn’t hurt. I’m not a Hyatt elite member, and the Hyatt website offered an upgrade to a Club Floor room for $150 a night–thanks but no, thanks. The front desk offered an upgrade to a corner room for $100 a night, I said pass; then he went down to $50, passed again. Then he offered $25 and threw in free internet and lounge access. I was sold. Considering I would’ve paid $10 a night for internet anyway, that was no-brainer. The room was very large, perhaps around 700 sq ft. It had a safe, spacious enough to hold a laptop; a large flat screen TV with a couple of movie channels, a coffee machine, and a fridge. Most importantly, the views could not be beat.
The hotel was very nice, and the Regency Club lounge was fantastic. If you can get upgrade without paying too much, it’s totally worth it. Between their excellent (albeit very limited) menu, and the food provided by the conference organizers, I was never hungry or compelled to eat anywhere else.
Not only was every hotel employee friendly, they were proactively helpful. While I was at the lounge on the last day, the lady from the kitchen came out and asked me when I was leaving, then wished me a good flight. It’s those little things you remember. Next morning a few Hyatt “suits” were inspecting the lounge, so I made sure to tell them how pleased I was.
There were a few housekeeping hiccups that did not, however, detract me from an overwhelmingly positive experience. On the first day, I found a couple of lubricants in a drawer (no, not making this up:)) Then, they forgot to clean my room one day, although they came as soon as I called them. Another day, they forgot to bring condiments along with coffee. Considering that a hotel was overrun by a convention and other events, and there was a game in town, it was really not a big deal.
Here are a few more pics.