Planning a Train Day on the California Zephyr

Y’all, Llama is completely crazy, I swear. He couldn’t let the Southwest 20% points sale slip by and not use the last month of one of his travel buddy’s Companion Pass.

He played and played with a bunch of options. Llama was trying to use the last month of Michael’s Southwest Companion Pass and use only the points in Michael’s account. There was also the criteria of a quick trip, relatively warm or activities that would be mainly inside. Heading to Mexico would have been an option, but the trip would have taken too long and the taxes would have been too much. Not cost or time effective.

Llama’s Travel Buddy has always wanted to take the Amtrak California Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake in the winter. Decision made. Train trip it is.

So, Llama is now the proud owner of 2 one-ways to Denver, 2 one-ways home from Salt Lake 3 days later in mid-December. Always remember when booking flights, you don’t have to book round trips, sometimes one ways give you to trip you want.

The flight to Denver from our small market was only 5,531 Southwest miles plus $11.20 in taxes for two travelers. Since Llama chose the evening flight, he was able to snag a direct. That is rare on Southwest.

Llama and friends could have returned on Saturday from Salt Lake, but that seemed exhausting. Llama found a decent afternoon flight from Salt Lake City, through Austin, to home for 8,548 ✈️ miles and $11.20 in taxes for two travelers. That gives a good day and a half in Salt Lake, which has great museums and food, something that can be done inside if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

To book the California Zephyr, Llama hopped on his Amtrak account. The Denver to Salt Lake portion leaves at approximately 8 a.m. in the morning and arrives in Salt Lake City 15 hours later. The coach class tickets for a Senior and Adult ran $169. Llama stopped by grocery store and picked up Amtrak a $150 gift card for 5x Ultimate Reward points (750 UR) on his Chase Freedom Flex and 2x local gas rewards points (300 points or 30 cents off gas). Pretty decent for a 5 minute detour home. Llama needed some fresh bananas anyhow. Killed two birds with one stone. The remainder of the train cost was booked on Llama’s Chase Sapphire Reserve earning 37 more points. Also, the CSP offers travel protection if needed.🚉

Trip is now set. Now time to look for hotels.

Since the main focus was the train trip and Llama didn’t want to mess with a car or Ubers, etc., he looked for hotels near the train stations. Union Station in downtown Denver is a destination itself and near Coors Field. Lots to hotels to choose from. Part of the criteria was though, Llama and friends really wouldn’t be spending more than 12 hours there and most of that asleep. Just needed something nice, clean and convenient. Utilizing google maps and Chase hotel portal to get ideas, Llama settled on the Hotel Indigo Union Station Denver. Llama loves Hotel Indigo and this one has excellent reviews and is located right at the station. Perfect. Though typically Llama likes transferring points to the hotel chain and booking direct, This time booking through the US Bank portal ended up saving about 5K points. Llama used 19,864 USBank points for Hotel Indigo Union Station Denver. USBank doesn’t transfer points to partners but this seemed a reasonable redemption.🏢

Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown-Union Station
1801 Wewatta Street
Denver, CO, 80202, United States

The estimated cash cost for the hotel would been $197, so about 1 cent per point redemption rate. Not bad. Llama will have pay a $25 resort fee at the hotel upon arrival.

For Salt Lake City, Llama looked around and found a Hyatt not far from the train station. So he transferred 16K Hyatt points from BILT and his Chase Sapphire Preferred for the 2 nights. Cash price would have been $356 for the stay. This is a 2.2 cents per point redemption rate. Llama is happy with that.

So far out of pocket is $22 airline taxes, $169 for train tickets, and $25 for resort fee at Denver hotel. All of this was put on bonus points earning credit cards. Of course, there will be food and Lyft rides but so far so good for a fantastic trip Llama and friends have been wanting to take.

Earning is fun, but burning is the best. Quick weekend get away ahead.

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