The Cost of a Weekend of Denver

The Cost of a Weekend Trip to Denver

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Last week, I went over the fun, probably more exciting, trip report of our recent weekend in Denver. Today, I’ll be covering just how much that trip cost us, in miles, points, and cash. I know numbers may not be quite as thrilling as pictures, but to me, they’re fascinating. It helps shed a little light on the nitty-gritty inner workings of free travel.

The Flight

Our flight was one of the main things I was looking forward to on this trip. I had never flown Southwest before and I was itching to try out my companion pass, so I was glad I finally had the opportunity to do both those things. Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan. If you’ve ever flown with them, then I’m sure you know just how annoying their boarding process is.

I always heard stories about how irritating boarding a Southwest flight was, but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Well, it is. The whole process feels like being in a drove of cattle being herded into the slaughter-house. It’s not a fun experience, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it again. However bad the experience may be, Southwest still offers a great bang for your buck!

They not only offer extremely cheap “Wanna Get Away” fares, sometimes as low as $39 per one-way, but they also have one of the most generous companion passes in the industry. Their companion pass gives you the ability to bring a friend with you on any flight, paid for with cash or points, for only $11.20 (the taxes). To top it off, your companion pass can last up to 2 years. It does require a bit of work on your part to earn the pass, but with a bit of reselling and/or churning, it’s actually pretty easily attainable.

So, how much did our flights (two roundtrip tickets from Grand Rapids, MI to Denver, CO) cost? Here’s the breakdown:

  • 26,437 Rapid Rewards Points (RR)
  • $22.40 for taxes (T)

Market Price: $916.40 (M)
Redemption Value Per Point ((M-T)/RR): 3.4 cents

The Hotel

Denver, as with most big cities, offers a ridiculous amount of hotel options to choose from. Considering we didn’t plan on staying at our hotel much and we were only vacationing for two days, Club Carlson was our go to choice for a hotel. For anyone who doesn’t know why Club Carlson was our go to, it’s because Club Carlson credit card holders who pay with points, get their last night free on stays of two or more nights. That basically works out to a BOGO weekend stay, when paid with points.

Denver has two Club Carlson options, a Country Inn & Suites (28,000 Gold points) and a Radisson (15,000 Gold points). The Radisson had a killer redemption value at 7,500 points per night, but we ultimately chose the Country Inn & Suites, since they offered free breakfast as well as unlimited coffee and cookies all day. To us, two days of breakfast, coffee, and cookies is worth more than 13,000 points.

Hotel breakdown:

  • 28,000 Gold points (G)
  • $0.00 (P)

Market Price: $208 (M)
Redemption Value Per Point ((M-P)/G): 0.7 cents

The Car

The car was the only travel expense that we actually paid cash for. It was a very annoying experience I do not suggest any rent from Avis at the Denver airport, but you can read about that fiasco in the trip report.

Being an underage driver (under 25) is a real challenge when looking for a cheap rental car. Every company charges an astronomical fee for underage drivers that makes the rental almost 25% more. At that price, it’s almost cheaper to use Uber and public transport to get around. Fortunately though, when you book through USAA, underage fees are waived and you get a bit of a discount on your rental. What’s even better is that you do not need to be a member of the military to take advantage of this perk.

Rental Breakdown:

  • Rental Price: $155.88
  • Gas: $11.84

Total: $167.72

Everything Else

Our expenses for the weekend were primarily travel related, but we did eat, we did go to a concert, and we did enjoy a movie, so there were a few other expenses. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Movie: $34.25
  • Food: $77.53
  • Concert: $53.04
  • Parking: $13.00

Total: $177.82

Total Cost

  • 26,437 Rapid Rewards Points
  • 28,000 Gold Points
  • $367.94


For a weekend away with food, lodging, entertainment, and company, I would say we got a great redemption value. Of course, everyone’s travel preferences and standards are different, so this may or may not have been worth a trip to you. The way I see it is we had a mini vacation costing not much more than a weekend at home, considering our electricity, gas, water, grocery, fuel, and entertainment costs for those few days simply transferred from Michigan to Colorado. Also, it was nice to get away from the mundane.

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