Almost Free Vegas Vacation, Broken Laptop, and Other Stuff

fremontstreetI haven’t been posting much lately. My excuse is that I’ve been working and my laptop died. My job finished Friday and I bought a new laptop yesterday so I don’t have those excuses anymore.

My excuse for not posting from October 31 – November 4th is that I’ll be in Las Vegas on vacation at that time and posting on the blog won’t be a priority for me. I do plan on taking my laptop so there is a slight possibility I’ll write a post during that time.

This will be our second vacation in Las Vegas this year. The last vacation was crazy cheap and this vacation will be even cheaper. It should be almost free. My GF is traveling to Las Vegas to attend a conference for her job which makes her hotel, airfare, and food free. I’ll be using some of the Southwest credit I received in August for volunteering to be bumped to get my Vegas airfare free. I’ll be staying with my GF in her hotel room. Luckily, her job is only booking one employee to a room, allowing me to share the room. My only cost for the vacation will be food and any gambling I do. The food shouldn’t be too big of an expense. In-n-Out burger is pretty cheap :). The gambling could get expensive if I allow myself to get carried away.  Although, I’ve lost the last couple of times I visited Vegas I didn’t lose too much.  The gambling loss was much less than what I would have paid for airfare if I didn’t have free credits. Anyway, I’ll budget the amount of gambling I do so my losses aren’t too big. If I get really lucky I could win enough to make the vacation profitable. That is unlikely, but it has happened before.

My friend Jon, at MyFrugalMiser will be flying in to Vegas on the day we’re flying out. We plan to meet at the airport for a short visit before we have to leave for KC. When I return from Vegas I should have some exciting (well, it is exciting to me at least) news to share. In the meantime, I plan on posting several times this week and reviving the blog a little.

A Fun and Profitable Vacation

View from Cape Horn
View from Cape Horn
Last week my GF and I spent four days on vacation in the Portland, Oregon area. We were visiting friends of my GF that live there. We spent one day doing a tour of the waterfalls in the area and enjoying the scenery. There is spectacular scenery in this area. We ate that evening at the Portland Grill which features a fantastic view of the city. The next day we went to the famous Powell’s Books and went out for a great lunch at Killer Burger. We also spent a lot of time hanging out at our friend’s house and catching up with them. It was a short and fun vacation.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls

Making the vacation even better for a tight-fisted miser like me was the fact that the vacation was almost free. Our round-trip airfare on Southwest was free using Rapid Reward points. We only had to use points to purchase my airfare since we have a companion pass allowing my GF to fly free with me. The only cost for the airfare was the $5.60 security fee. We didn’t have any hotel cost since we stayed with our friends. They will be visiting us in September so we can return the favor. They were also nice enough to lend us a car so we didn’t have to spend any money on a rental car. Other than leaving $20 for gas in the car the use of the car was free. Our biggest expense was for restaurants. We went to happy hour at the Portland City Grill which kept the cost of the meal reasonable. Killer Burger is a fast casual restaurant so it was a reasonable cost as well. Our only other cost was for airport parking. I used a coupon giving us a free day of parking which made the total cost of parking $21. Our total out-of-pocket cost was just a little over $100. I think that is a great deal.

Bridge of the Gods
Bridge of the Gods

The trip became an even better deal on the way home. When we arrived for our flight home Southwest was asking for volunteers to be bumped from our flight. Since I was traveling on a ticket bought with points and my GF was flying free on the companion pass I wasn’t sure they would offer us much for being bumped. Before volunteering I asked the agent how much we would get for being bumped. When she told me we’d be compensated $500 for my ticket and $400 for my GF’s ticket I decided to take the offer and be bumped to the later flight. The later flight was only a couple of hours later but since it was a connecting flight rather than a non-stop flight like our original flight we ended up arriving in KC about 5 hours later than we originally would have. We didn’t have anything planned for that day so the delay wasn’t a big deal. I felt like receiving $900 in travel credit for a few hours delay was a great deal.

Overall, we spent a little over $100 on our vacation and made $900 in travel credit on the vacation. This vacation will pay for our next vacation. It was a fun and profitable vacation.

Walking from the Vegas Strip to the Airport

Scenery near Vegas airport.
Scenery near Vegas airport.

In order to keep my string of travel posts on Wednesday I’m writing about an aspect of a trip I took last year. I think it will be interesting to some people.

Last year while on a Vegas vacation I decided to walk from the Strip to the airport to catch my returning flight. Walking rather than taking a cab can save you a fair bit of money, especially since many cab drivers like to long-haul passengers by taking the tunnel to the airport. If you’re just interested in saving money though a better option would be to take the bus to the airport. The bus fare is only a few dollars. Your motivation for walking from the Vegas Strip to the airport should be for the enjoyment of the walk itself rather than saving money.

I was staying at the Excalibur hotel which is located at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard (aka the Strip) which is one of the closest hotels on the Strip to the airport. A search on Google Maps showed that the walk was only 1.8 miles and would take about 35 minutes.  This gave me plenty of time since it was 11am and my flight didn’t leave until 2pm. My gambling budget had already been spent and I had some time to kill so a pleasant stroll to the airport seemed like a good use of my time.

The walk starts by crossing over the Strip and walking past the Tropicana, Hooters, and MGM. The hotels and all the people walking to and from them provide plenty of scenery to keep this part of the walk interesting. After passing the Hooters hotel there are a couple of budget hotels and then when you cross Koval you mostly have the airport on one side and desert on the other side. This part of the walk is less interesting and the scenery is marred by lots and lots of trash.

Although this was only a 35 minute walk I took a break in the middle of it. There is a shopping center about halfway between Koval and Paradise and I had lunch at the Subway there. This added a little distance to my walk since the shopping center was on the opposite side of the street and set back a couple hundred yards from the street. I had plenty of time and didn’t want to pay the inflated airport prices for food so I chose to have lunch then. There is also a convenience store at the corner of Paradise and Tropicana where I could have bought some snacks if I had them instead of or in addition to having a meal.

Once I resumed my walk after lunch it didn’t take long to reach Paradise and turn southbound on the walk. The sidewalk follows Paradise and the bustling traffic for a little bit and then veers off into a somewhat park-like setting. There were plants and sculptures to provide some pleasant scenery. This is where I took the picture of the cactus that is at the top of this post.

It wasn’t much longer until I was at the airport terminal. I did get to see one more interesting thing. A shuttle bus driver apparently decided to enter a parking area that wasn’t accessible by his shuttle bus. The shuttle driver and the passengers probably had a much less pleasant trip to the airport then I did.

They should have walked.
They should have walked.

The walk from the Strip to the airport is easy because it is very flat. I did this walk in November when it was about 65 degrees.  I also only had a small backpack for luggage. The walk would not be pleasant in the summer with the usual 100 degree temperatures or with a lot of luggage. My last trip to Vegas was in late March and even then it would have been almost too hot to walk. I was with my GF on that trip and I don’t think should would have been up for the idea of walking to the airport so we just took the bus on that trip. The next time you are in Vegas you might consider walking to the airport or from the airport to your hotel. It might be a pleasant addition to your trip.


Niagara Falls Trip Report

CAM00518After the end of tax season my GF and I took a weekend vacation to Niagara Falls. If you have been reading this blog for very long then you know we did not spend very much on this vacation. Our total spent for three nights hotel, two round-trip tickets from KC to Buffalo, three days car rental, and admission to several attractions came to just a little over $200. This post will explain how I managed to keep the cost of the vacation so low.


The airfare was basically free. I still had lots of Rapid Reward points left over from signing up for two Chase Southwest credit cards last year which allowed me to book my flight for free. I also earned a companion pass last year which allows my GF to fly for free with me as well.  This is pretty nice since we get double the value out of my points.  The only thing I had to pay for the two round-trip flights was the tax of $5.60 on each flight each way.

The hotel room was completely free. I received 25,000 Starwood points for signing up for the SPG American Express card and meeting the spending requirement earlier this year. Three nights at the hotel used up 10,000 of those points. We stayed three nights at the Four Points by Sheraton in Niagara Falls, NY.  The room was pretty nice by my standards. It was a little smaller than our room at Excalibur, but much newer and a little fancier than Excalibur. From reading reviews of the hotel I knew to request a river view room and I’m glad I did. We wouldn’t have gotten the river view otherwise and it was a great view. The hotel had free cookies by the front desk which were delicious and a nice perk for staying there. The hotel was about five miles from the Falls, which wasn’t a big deal since we had a rental car. If we ever go to the Falls again I’d probably get a hotel on the Canadian side though.

view from our room
View from our room

As you might have guessed, our main reason for visiting Niagara Falls was to see the Falls. The first day we went to Niagara Falls State Park and did some sightseeing there. A plus to being early in the season is that we didn’t have to pay for admission to the park or for parking. Also, it was not at all crowded. The minus is that some parts of the park were off-limits due to being covered in snow and ice so we couldn’t get quite as close to the Falls as we would have been able to later in the year. Also, the Cave of the Winds tour and Maid of the Mist boat ride were not yet operating. At the park we were able to view the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from Goat Island and we also walked on the bridges to the Three Sisters islands and observed the rapids above the Falls.

The next day we headed to Canada to observe the Falls from the Canadian side and to visit some tourist attractions.  It was also the first time either one of us had been to Canada so we were excited to visit Canada for the first time also. The previous day I had bought us two Wonder Passes which included tickets to Niagara Fury, Journey Behind the Falls, the Butterfly Conservatory, and 24 hour passes for the WEGO bus system. The tickets were $19.95 Canadian each which I think is a great bargain. The visit to Journey Behind the Falls was worth that much all by itself. This was another plus to coming early in the season as Wonder Passes are only available in the off-season. The view of the Falls the previous day was awesome but seeing the Falls from the Canadian side is much more awesome. This post is already getting unwieldy so I won’t go into detail about everything we did. I will highly recommend going on the Journey Behind the Falls tour. You actually do journey behind the Falls. There are tunnels dug behind the Falls and you get to walk through the tunnels and observe the Falls from behind the Falls at a couple of different windows. There is also an observation deck where you can view the Falls outside at a pretty close range.

We both really enjoyed our visit to Niagara Falls and will probably go again sometime. On the next visit I would plan to stay on the Canadian side since the view is much better from there and most of the attractions I’d want to see are there also. A lot of the American side seems to be run-down and the roads are in terrible condition. The next trip we would also like to explore a little further into Canada. We didn’t feel like we experienced much Canadian culture in Niagara Falls since it was pretty similar to any other tourist town. Is there anything else you would like to know about our Niagara Falls vacation? If you’ve been to the Falls before do you have any suggestions on what we should do on our next trip?

Cancun Trip Review


Last month I had a five day vacation in Cancun with my girlfriend and my mom. The vacation was not quite as frugal as I had originally planned, but I do believe it was a bargain for what we got.  And I think we probably paid quite a bit less than most people who had a similar vacation.

The round-trip airfare from Kansas City to Cancun ended up costing about $70 each. The flight was free, but we still had to pay taxes and fees.  The flights were paid for with points I had earned for opening a Southwest credit card and for shopping through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal. I earned enough points this year to qualify for a companion pass. For the rest of this year and all of next year my girlfriend can fly with me for free, I don’t have to use any points for her fare.  If you would like to apply for the Chase Southwest Premier Card you can use my referral link to apply and you can get 2 roundtrip flights on Southwest with 50,000 bonus points once you meet up the easy promotion requirements. Please note that this card does have a $99 annual fee that isn’t waived.  If you use my referral link I’ll earn some points towards a free flight as well.   If that referral link doesn’t work or if you would like a referral email to Rapid Rewards leave me a comment and I’ll get an email out to you.

The flights on Southwest had both good points and bad points.  The good points were that we were able to check our bags for free and both the final leg of the flight to Cancun and the flight leaving Cancun were almost empty.  I believe the flight attendants said there were thirty-some people on the flight.  This was nice since it allowed us to all spread out in our own row. There was also free in-flight TV which helped pass the time.  The bad was that we had flight delays on both the outbound and return trip. They were able to make up a lot of time in the air so we didn’t arrive too much later than the originally scheduled time. Also, there are no direct flights from KC to Cancun which meant long layovers for us.  The flight delays had the effect of making our long layovers a little shorter so I didn’t mind them too much.

We stayed at the Riu Palace Peninsula and the hotel cost was $160 per night. That was more than I prefer to pay, but when you consider it is for three people at an all-inclusive resort it is actually a pretty good deal.  This room would normally cost over $300 a night, we got the much lower rate since my mom is a travel agent. The hotel and grounds were very nice and the view was great.  My big complaint about the hotel room was that the noise from the bands playing in the bar below made it impossible to go to sleep without earplugs.  I wasn’t impressed with the food at all. I thought the food we had on our cruise last year was much better.  We ate at the buffet most nights since you had to reserve the restaurants ahead of time and we were only able to make one reservation. The one night we were able to eat in one of the specialty restaurants was pretty good, but for the price I want every night to be good. Free drinks including alcoholic beverages were also included.  This probably makes the hotel a great deal for drinkers.  Since neither my GF or I drinks very much this didn’t really provide us with much value.  I did have a few frozen drinks while lounging by the pool. They tasted great, but I don’t think they had much alcohol since I never got even slightly buzzed and I’m a lightweight drinker.

The highlight of our trip was the visit to Xplor.  This is a theme park with zip lining, amphibious vehicles, rafting and swimming in underwater caves.  We were able to do the zip lining, amphibious vehicles, and swimming in the underwater cave and I enjoyed them all.  Since we explored the park at a leisurely pace we didn’t get to do everything.  I would have liked to have had more time at the park.  The park package included transportation by bus to and from the park which kept us from having the whole day in the park.  The park was a lot of fun.  The price of $135 was a little high, but I think it was a worthwhile vacation splurge.

The total cost of the trip came to about $600 each which is a pretty good deal for round-trip airfare for three and three people for four nights at an upscale all-inclusive resort.  I don’t think I would do a similar trip again, but I did enjoy it and I’m glad we were able to go.