Travel rewards have taken me across the country and around the world – wild experiences and breathtaking sights too beautiful for words.
But sometimes, all you need is a laid-back road trip to the beach. No TSA lines, no baggage weight limits, no coach class legroom restrictions. Just you, your unlimited supply of gas station coffee, and a dedicated USB port for your phone. Sounds like heaven, right?
For Christmas break, my husband and I took the 5.5 hour drive to Hilton Head Island (HHI), South Carolina. We live in southeast Tennessee, which is strategically positioned less than 6 hours from the Gulf of Mexico’s finest beaches, as well as HHI. For our holiday travels, Hilton Head won the coin toss.
Hilton Head Island is located off the coast of South Carolina and considered part of the Low Country of this beautiful southern state. The island itself is just 12 miles long and 5 miles across and striped top to bottom with 24 golf courses, 300 tennis courts and 60 miles of public bike trails. If you enjoy tackling some low-key outdoor activities during breaks from the beach, this is your kinda place.
While road trips offer fewer eye-popping point redemption opportunities, they will forever be a part of my annual travel plans, so here is how we used and earned points for this adventure.
ROAD TRIP TRANSPORTATION
When we aren’t cashing in points to cover our transportation costs, I want to maximize earnings for every dollar spent. For gas, that means a trip to my local Staples store, where we score Shell gift cards for 5x’s points using our Chase Ink. Not only does this cover fuel for the chariot, it also refills the snack bag with protein bars, popcorn and water when we start running low.
HOTELS & LODGING
We worked a full day before hitting the road, so we made reservations for our first night just south of Atlanta. The Hyatt Place near the Atlanta airport costs just 5,000 Chase Ultimate Reward (UR) points and offered free parking, a solid gym and full hot breakfast.
Prior to our family rewards travel era began in early 2016, we had never stayed at a Hyatt Place, but it has quickly become one of our favorite brands for value, convenience and service. If you haven’t tried it yet, do yourself a favor and burn 5k of your UR points on a warm and welcoming experience.
Hilton Head offers a variety of hotel brands, several on prime beachfront properties. But nothing spells a beach vacation for me like cooking, and I can’t cook in a hotel room, unless you count Ramen in the microwave. Which, obviously, we wouldn’t.
We are big fans of AirBnB, but HHI is a VRBO town. So we found an oceanfront 1 bed/1 bath for under $100 a night. It was the perfect location at the Hilton Head Island Beach and Tennis Resort on the north side of the island. The view from the balcony was perfect, and we loved waking up to the sound of the waves every morning.
The $450 bill for 5 nights included all taxes and fees, and is a great candidate for my BarclayCard travel reimbursement. Another good option for condo rental point maximization is paying for your AirBnB with gift cards from Staples (or your favorite office supply store) at 5x’s points on your Chase Ink.
Most of our dining in Hilton Head happened in our condo, on the balcony, or on the beach. But we did hit the food scene for two memorable meals.
For our Christmas Eve lunch at Skull Creek Boathouse, we enjoyed a warm waterfront view with a side of seafood chowder, steamed clams and a weirdly delicious sushi roll. Don’t mock. I know you see the tempura shrimp in there. Nobody said it was authentic Japanese. But it was authentically delicious.
One day we drove to Savannah, just 45 minutes south. I had strained my Achilles after running in a Christmas Eve charity race on HHI, and then biking 28 miles, so I was in no shape to walk. Which is a shame because Savannah is one of the most intriguing walking cities in the South.
But before we toured our chariot through the historic cemeteries and parks around the city, we hit up The Seafood Shack for shrimp and crab boil. Nothing fancy about this spot, but the food was dang good. The seasoning for the boil was perfectly spicy and deeply flavorful – and bonus, they sell it to customers! We picked up a bag and have a already made our own shrimp boil at home.
But the real stunner at this little spot was the crab pie. It came highly recommended from the young man ringing up orders at the front, and he was a genius. Think about the best crab cake filling – sweet crab meat with very little filler and savory seasonings with just a touch of cheese to hold it together – all of this packed into a buttery, flaky pie crust. Can you picture it? No? This should help. Left side on the checkerboard paper.
Go. Order it. Thank me later.
Both restaurants were charged on our Sapphire Card for 2x’s UR points at all restaurants.
For our groceries to stock the condo and keep us fed, we shopped at several of the local supermarkets, but brought along another Staples gift card to Whole Foods, where we bought the fixings for our very festive and fabulous Christmas brunch and dinner.
FUN AND FRUGAL ON THE ISLAND AND SAVANNAH
We covered close to half of HHI’s 60 miles of public bike paths in our 6 hours in the saddle. For $11 each, we enjoyed a full afternoon of biking the length of the island, including the paths running through golf courses, along the forest preserves, and even across the sand at Coligny Beach. It was my favorite way to see the island and I can’t wait to do it again. Bonus – ask for a basket for your bike and at no charge you can carry your water bottle and snacks with you.
HHI is a huge draw for recreational tennis players. Bring your own racquets and balls and you can play for hours at no charge. For a fee, sign up for a tennis lesson with one of the many pros on the island, and come home from your vacation with crazy mad skillz in tow.
Savannah is home to several iconic cemeteries, including Bonaventure, which was featured in both the novel and movie adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We could have wandered through this 160-acre cemetery all day, reading the headstones and tombs and watching the Spanish moss draped oaks shutter as the wind came across the river just below the bluff.
No trip to Savannah is complete without a w
alk down River Street. Offering 70 restaurants, shops and businesses, this stretch of Savannah is the ideal spot for people watching and sampling some of the city’s finest offerings, including the legendary pecan pralines.
Now it’s your turn!
How do you get the most value when burning or earning points on your family road trips?
Share your favorite strategies in the comments!