A Football Game Taught Me How to Travel for Pennies

A Football Game Taught Me How to Travel for Pennies
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Jaguars In London: Step by Step

Introduction: A Football Game Taught Me How to Travel for Pennies
Part 1: Getting There
Part 2: 5-Star Stays for Free
Part 3: “But Can I Do It?”
Part 4: Game-Planning
Part 5: Pulling the Trigger

I’d like to thank the NFL International Series for providing the motivation to start this site.

Allow me to explain.

In late 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced that the team would soon have a new owner, a Pakistani-born, American-made billionaire named Shad Khan. After a few months of uncertainty, it quickly became clear that Khan would become one of the best things to happen to the city I call home, as his bold vision for growing the team and city became clearer.

A centerpiece of Khan’s early efforts was announced in August 2012: an agreement to play one home game per year in London per season for four years beginning with the 2013 season. This would raise the stature of Jacksonville and its Jaguars worldwide and provide an opportunity to gain new sponsors and increase the revenue dollars critical to the success of a franchise in the NFL.

I was last in London in March 2005. I fell in love with the city and much of the south of England on a class trip in college. A few months later, London was selected to host the 2012 Olympics. Shortly after that, the Underground bombings took place. I was shaken by how this city with which I had some small bond had been attacked so terribly just a few weeks after cheering its Olympic designation, and vowed to return to London in 2012 for its Olympics on that day.

The Broken Promise

Seven years go quickly. As 2012 neared, I began to research how to make this Olympic goal a reality. What I found was heartbreaking: I found myself unable to navigate the challenges of purchasing tickets as an international spectator, with most of the best events bundled into hospitality packages targeted at sponsors and the well-to-do. Flights were prohibitively expensive as attendees the world over descended on London, and hotels were virtually unbookable, with sky-high rates and no listed vacancies.

It seemed that, to attend Opening Ceremonies, perhaps four or five events, stay at a fairly nice hotel and pay for airfare and necessities would cost nearly $10,000 for the week. If I’d thrown every penny of savings at it, I could have made it happen, but the rational counterargument was too strong: that same money could pay for an untold number of trips at any other time.

I decided against going, and was angry to hear how so many of the jacked-up rates on flights and hotels crashed as the Games began, and how so many seats at events remained empty. Clearly, I’d gone wrong somehow in my research, lacking the savvy to look past the list price to find true value.

A Second Chance

The Jaguars’ plans in London were announced weeks after Closing Ceremonies. Here was an opportunity to redeem myself for bungling a plan so long in the making! One way or another, I would go to every Jaguars home game of the 2013 season, especially the one at Wembley Stadium.

The Jaguars pledged that Season Ticket Holders would have the option to purchase tickets to the game, and that travel packages would be made available by the NFL. In December 2012, NFL On Location announced these packages.

The cheapest option offered was $2,899 per person for double occupancy, or $3,899 for one person. This included:

  • A general bowl seat for the game.
  • Roundtrip airfare from Orlando (not Jacksonville).
  • Four nights in an unnamed 4-star hotel.
  • Daily breakfast.
  • Access to a tailgate party on gameday.
  • A commemorative gift bag.

Packages for club seats were priced as high as $4,199 for double occupancy or $5,199 for a solo traveler.

I was furious. After all, my seats in Jacksonville, within spitting distance of the field, cost less than $800 a piece for the entire season. The discrepancy between double and single occupancy rates were also infuriating, as I wasn’t certain whether I would find a travel partner for the trip. But I had learned my lesson from the Olympics failure, and was not going to allow the sticker price to win again.

One Small Step

I began researching how to replicate NFL On Location’s package on my own. I needed a flight, four nights in a nice hotel, a ticket to the game, transport around town and breakfast each day to do so.

The game ticket was first: I searched for the method UK fans used to purchase tickets and found my way to Ticketmaster.co.uk. The single game tickets were already sold out, but a 2-game package was offered including not just the Jaguars-49ers game but also the Vikings/Steelers game set for a few weeks prior. This 2-game package started at about $116 per person. At worst, the one ticket would go to waste, but I saw no reason why listing it on Stubhub.co.uk couldn’t recoup some of the funds.

Next came the hotel. Hospitality packages were available to UK buyers including a game ticket and three night stay, but I skipped over these in favor of my own research so I could at minimum match the four nights offered by the NFL. I found the Best Western Palm Hotel, about 3 miles away from Wembley with a 3-star rating, for $118 per night, tax included. Cheaper options were to be found, but this seemed like a nice property and a good compromise.

Now for the main event: the flight. I found the very same Delta flight from Orlando to London utilized by the NFL available for $1,077 per person. Again, cheaper options existed, including one for around $800 that included an 11 hour layover in Reykjavík of all places, but traveling out of Orlando was the best compromise since my family live in Orlando, anyway.

Adding these together, my cursory research led to the following package for two people:

[table style=”brown” shadow=”1″]

Subject Details Price
Flight: Delta • Orlando to London Roundtrip $1,077
Accommodations: Four Nights, 3-Star Hotel Split By 2 People $236
Tickets: 2-Game Package, Upper Sideline $116
Ground Transport: Airport to Hotel Roundtrip $50
Total: Per Person • Double Occupancy $1,479

[/table]

In less than an hour, I’d successfully halved the price of the NFL’s package, giving up only the tailgate party, gift bag and a star’s worth of hotel along the way. It was even cheaper if the Vikings/Steelers ticket could be resold.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Seeing how much could be saved with just a little research, a funny thought hit me: with enough time and effort, exactly how cheap could the trip become? How close to FREE was possible?

Knowing that the flight was the largest line item expense for the trip, I began to research frequent flier programs to learn more about how points and miles worked. I had signed up for the Delta Gold Skymiles American Express earlier in the year, so I knew some credit cards offered bonus miles for signing up.

I booked a roundtrip flight from Jacksonville to Portland for a conference a few months prior to this investigation for just $10 using only the card’s signup bonus and a few months’ worth of miles earned through spending. This flight would have been nearly $500 regularly, so I knew points could be a powerful way to save money, but still knew nothing about international redemptions and nothing at all about programs aside from Delta.

I began researching other programs. Going airline by airline, I saw that most US/Europe roundtrip redemptions began at 60,000 points, which seemed prohibitive. However, I eventually found my way to American’s award chart, where I noticed something exciting: “Off-Peak” travel from the US to Europe could cost as little as 40,000 points roundtrip. Reading through the fine print, I found the Off-Peak dates last an astoundingly long time, from October 15 until May 15. As the Jaguars game was set for October 27, this huge savings would apply if I could find an eligible flight!

I created an AAdvantage account and began searching for flights around that time. Sure enough, plenty of 40,000 point trips were avilable that would fit the schedule. Then, I saw it: a small banner ad promoting the AAdvantage MasterCard with a signup bonus of 40,000 points. Could it be that, as with Delta and the trip to Portland, the solution could be as simple as a credit card application? I thought saving $500 was good. Saving over $1,000? This was tempting indeed.

Still, I was nervous about the prospect of applying for a new card. Wouldn’t it hurt my credit? What about the annual fee the next year? And what kind of benefits did the card have, if any, aside from the handsome sign-up bonus? I went to Google to learn more, and shortly found my way to a points and miles blog that had reviewed the card.

As I jumped from site to site, reading and learning more, I became increasingly convinced that this dream trip was not just possible, but that with proper understanding and planning, a far more ambitious itinerary could be achieved for pennies on the dollar.

Forming the Plan

I pored over credit card reviews, information on how credit scores are calculated, award charts for airlines and hotels, forums and blogs discussing ways to maximize redemption values, sites that explained methods to earn points quickly and more. What started as cursory research blossomed into a project of passion.

I created a master plan that included not just myself but my parents and my brother, as well. Being the only member of my family to previously travel overseas, I wanted them to be able to join in on this as well, using the Jaguars game as the focal point to a much larger family adventure.

After a few months of planning and execution, we’re now set for a 10 day journey through the south of England, across the Channel to France to see the beaches of Normandy and the palatial grounds of Versailles before concluding with a few nights in Paris.

In London and Paris, we’ll be staying for free in rooms that go for more than $700 per night at the finest hotels each city has to offer. We’ll have towncar service to and from each airport, generous credits for room service breakfasts and 50-yard line seats for the Jaguars game.

Our flights, once quoted at $1,077 a piece, now ring in at just over $250, and would be $100 cheaper still had I not made a mistake along the way. Much of the middle of the trip will be out of pocket because we chose to stay at bed and breakfasts or pay bargain rates rather than redeem extra points we now know are so valuable.

In total, a 10 night trip for 4 people with an itinerary that blows away the official package for the game will cost less than just 1 person at the advertised rate.

Now, just a little more than six months after my first steps into this exciting world, I have more than 100,000 points saved up in three different programs, enough to go nearly anywhere in the world. While I plan to use them judiciously so as to travel to as many places as possible and to find the best value for my preferences, simply knowing that pointing to a dot on the globe and going there is possible is an incredible feeling.

Even if you’re right where you want to be, simply knowing your freedom of movement is unbounded can be a special source of contentment.

From Here to Anywhere

This site is my way of paying forward the knowledge gifted to me by the many passionate writers helping people learn about cheap and free travel.

Many of these blogs focus on Top 10 lists for most exotic destinations or most valuable redemptions. These are a great starting piont if you’re not certain where you’d like to go, but I believe many people already know. Like me, they have a dream itinerary, big or small, already in mind that they want to become reality. They want to visit family more often, travel to a once-in-a-lifetime event or conference, see the land of their ancestors or take their companions somewhere they’ll never forget.

So, I invite you to submit your trip. Several times each week, I’ll select and post one, with my advice on the most effective ways to make them a reality, tailored to your individual preferences. I can’t wait to see where we can go together, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to show you how your dream can truly just be points away.

Images courtesy: Best Western, Hyatt Hotels and Jacksonville Jaguars
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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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