I started my sabbatical travel a little over a week ago and was admittedly slightly disappointed that I wasn’t in Philadelphia to see the city celebrate the Eagles advancing to their first Super Bowl in over a decade. Even in Costa Rica, I saw coverage of the streets filled with people marching up Broad Street and trying both successfully and unsuccessfully to climb up Crisco-lined lampposts. Typical Philly…
After watching the celebration, I began to feel further disappointment in that I wouldn’t be in town for the Super Bowl. Sports is so amazing in its ability to bring people together in celebration and while Philly is certainly infamous for its questionable fan behavior, the vast majority of people are just super-passionate sports fans supporting their team. I felt like it would be a cool experience to watch the city get ready for and watch the Super Bowl. But, despite the feeling of disappointment, the idea of leaving Costa Rica to watch a football game in a cold and overcrowded bar while drinking heavily marked-up beverages didn’t seem all that enticing. There are plenty of football fans around Costa Rica too who will support the Eagles with me!
But then on Tuesday night, I got this text message:
“Sooooooo….. I do have access to tickets at cost”
Followed quickly by:
“I also need to know by tomorrow noon”
Rewind About Four Years Ago
So I met this girl on Tinder… let’s call her LoAnna for the purpose of this story. LoAnna and I matched on Bumble early in 2017. What made this such a great match was that we had actually both right-swiped on Tinder about 4 years earlier. Anyway, a year ago, we got together again and had a good laugh about matching twice so many years apart. We both work in sports so through social media and some shared professional networks, I’ve come across her name with some regularity over the years but since our most recent Bumble connection, she’s become one of my closest friends in Philly.
LoAnna works for the Eagles and I’ve been living vicariously through her this season as the team has been absolutely unbelievable basically from Week 1. I used to work for the A’s and one of my life’s greatest memories was getting to celebrate in the clubhouse with the A’s players, coaches, and executives after the A’s clinched a playoff spot back in 2000. I want the same kind of experience for LoAnna! Actually, I want more for her since the A’s lost in the first round of the playoffs that year. LoAnna gets a Super Bowl ring if things go well next Sunday!
Fast Forward to Tuesday Night
I was NOT expecting those text messages and honestly figured she’d find some old friend or family member to sell the tickets to. But she texted again Wednesday morning and said the tickets were mine if I wanted them. With only a few hours left to decide, the pressure was on to see if I could make this happen!! How in the world do you get a flight and hotel in the Super Bowl host city with about eleven days to go before game day!?! I’m a huge sports fan but I’m also not the kind of person that typically thinks that spending thousands of dollars to attend a sporting event is a great way to spend my money. Thankfully, I have a decent collection of credit card points, frequently flyer miles, and hotel points. Regardless, this wasn’t going to be easy.
The cheapest flight from Costa Rica to Minneapolis was over $1,200. So that wasn’t going to happen especially considering those $1,200 flights were not at optimal travel times with the better flights selling for considerably more. I visited the various airline websites to search for award travel and there was either no availability, outrageously priced availability, or ridiculous routes with overnights in airports and other weird scheduling quirks. One of the problems with Minneapolis is that it’s not really close to anything. If the Super Bowl was in Philly, I could’ve searched for flights into at least six or seven different airports which would’ve increased my chances of finding award flights. Discouraged but not yet deterred, I ended up with three options:
- Fly into Chicago and drive. It’s about a six-hour drive according to Google maps. Though certainly not ideal, there was plenty of award availability from Costa Rica to Chicago at a reasonable cost. Given the potential for wintery conditions and the total amount of travel time, I decided this was only a last resort.
- I have about 250,000 points with the Citi Thank You program. They allow you to buy cash flights with points at a rate of 1.25-to-1. In other words, a $1,250 flight would cost me 100,000 Thank You points. As I mentioned, the problem here is that most of the “good” flights were well above $1,500 so this option was considerably less attractive. Most travel points websites value Thank You points at about 1.7 cents each so by using well over 100,000 points, I’d be using about $2,000 worth of points.
- I checked Delta where I have been sitting on over 120,000 miles from two credit card sign-up bonuses in the last 2+ years. They had a great flight going out to Minneapolis with only a short layover in Atlanta. The return flight was a bit more complicated and I ended up settling on a flight leaving Minneapolis at 5:45am Monday morning. It’s been a long time since I pulled an all-nighter… but it looks like that’s where I might be headed on Sunday night. Total cost: 100,000 points and $64 in fees. It’s a terrible redemption and Monday morning is going to be very interesting but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I felt it was worth it.
Unsurprisingly, decent hotels at decent prices were similarly difficult to find. Most hotels chains were not offering anything in the way of award stays and prices anywhere near the stadium started at $500/night. So I started looking a little bit outside of the city and I was amazed at how many hotels exist in and around Minneapolis with guest ratings of less than 6.0 on the major hotel websites! That’s a major red flag and a risk I’m not really willing to take.
Ultimately, thanks to earning some extra IHG points, I was able to find a points + cash rate at a hotel about 30 miles outside of Minneapolis. Even at that distance, rooms were selling for at least $350/night. I was able to score a room for three nights for 30,000 points and $240. Those 30,000 points saved me close to $1,000 after taxes and fees were added on to the base room rate. While my flight was not really a great value, the hotel I booked was a great deal. Although I must say that paying that much for a 3-star hotel in the middle of Minnesota in February seems a little crazy to me… but this is the world we live in I guess. That same hotel a week later is $100/night.
I’M GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!
It cost me 130,000 points and $300 (plus the not-so-insignificant cost of the ticket to the game). If I didn’t have points to spare, there is absolutely no way I could have paid for this with cash. In the end, I used an awful lot of points but it feels better to spend points than to drop close to $3,000 in cash. In the end, it’s a relatively small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience… and all because I got on Tinder.
A super special THANK YOU to LoAnna for making this all possible!!