New Year’s in the Grand Hyatt Penthouse Suite, for free

We spent New Year's weekend in a 1450-square-foot penthouse suite in San Diego, California for free, using credit card points and Globalist status
Manchester Hyatt San Diego

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On our way to the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, we stopped at La Jolla Cove and lucked out to see a tiny sea lion pup getting his first swimming lesson. Momma sea lion gently prodded the little one to take a dip. When he finally ventured out, he got more and more rambunctious, he swam and splashed around. He seemed so proud of himself! His mom had a hard time getting him back ashore. It was adorable.

Drawing of a hotel

“I pretend I’m one of the royal family when I’m in a hotel, and that the hotel belongs to me – it is my palace.”

– Martin Short

As if that wasn’t enough glee for one day, when we arrived at the hotel, the cheerful receptionist upgraded us to one of their best rooms, a 1450 square foot Penthouse Suite on the 31st floor, regularly priced at $1100/night plus taxes, resort fees, and parking (our cost = $0). We checked in at 10 am and checked out on our last day at 4 pm, making it feel like a three-day vacation for 2 days’ worth of points.

No taxes, resort fees, and free parking when you book with points

Even though we eagerly collect credit card points and have accumulated plenty over the years, if we stay in a hotel, it’s usually at a Hyatt Place which costs the least amount of points while still having spotless, spacious rooms with excellent beds, separate living area, and a free breakfast buffet.

This time we decided to splurge a little. We booked a long New Year’s weekend at two Category 4 properties in San Diego, California.

We spent one night at the Andaz which is nestled in the Gaslamp District, a bustling hub of activity, and two nights at the Manchester Grand Hyatt right along the San Diego Bay, offering beautiful views.

Since we booked all three nights with points, the rooms were free and the $39 per night “destination fee”, the taxes, and the $40 – $62 for each day of parking were also waived.

How do you start collecting points?

If you’re new to earning credit card points and bonuses, I wrote about it here: Make a quick $1100 with credit card bonuses

In short – you need United States citizenship or residency and a good credit score. Then you decide which reward program suits you best and apply for a credit card that offers a good sign-up bonus in points.

After you get the card, use it on all your purchases and meet the minimum spending required to earn the bonus. Just make sure you have enough cash to pay off the card each month, so you don’t get hit with any interest charges.

Then you can either convert the earned points into cash and use it for whatever you like (usually at the rate of 1 cent per point) or you can look into “travel hacking” which is a great way to get more value out of your points. It involves using the points to book hotel stays and airfare, which usually gives you a much better value than cash back.

Rinse and repeat.

I use Google Spreadsheets to track my cards, points, spending, and payments. My favorite reward program is Chase Ultimate Rewards because I can use them for Star Alliance flights (that includes 26 different airlines) and Hyatt hotel stays.

The perks of having Hyatt Globalist status

We have Globalist status which you can earn by staying at any of the Hyatt hotels for 60 days in one year. We earned it much quicker, taking advantage of Hyatt’s promotions to jump-start travel after the Covid lockdowns.

Globalist status comes with early check-in and a 4 pm check-out, complimentary breakfast (even where breakfast is not normally offered) at a restaurant, or at a Club lounge if one is available, which includes whole-day access to free food, coffee, and desserts.

Room upgrades are also a huge Globalist perk and it really paid off during our New Year’s trip.

At Andaz, we got to stay in an inner courtyard suite (meaning heavenly quiet even though noisy streets flank this hotel in the Gaslamp district), and our $81(!) breakfast of lobster and pork belly eggs benedicts, coffee, and cold-pressed juice at the Rooftop Bar by STK was also complimentary, including the tax, tip, and the “increased cost of wages surcharge”.

At the Grand Hyatt, we got upgraded to a beautiful, 1450 square foot Penthouse Suite on the 31st floor and were granted access to the Club Lounge on the 33rd, with complimentary breakfast buffet (including smoked salmon, my favorite), dinner buffet, and all-day snacks (cookies, fruit, and trail mix), as well as coffee, tea, and soft drinks.

The Penthouse Suite at Manchester Grand Hyatt

Sometimes the hotel room is the best part of the vacation. From the moment we walked in, we were in awe of the decor, attention to detail, and spectacular views of the Bay and the city that stretched for miles through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was the most luxurious hotel room we have stayed in yet. Forget enough space to stretch out, we had enough space to jog!

We left the room only to eat at the Club Lounge and to welcome in the New Year at the hotel’s Landing Bar. The rest of the time we spent in our room enjoying the amenities and savoring the most breathtaking views the city has to offer. We were treated to a rainbow on our first morning, sailboats gliding on the shimmering blue waters, ruby-red sunsets in the evening, and twinkling city lights at night. The entire scene was one of beauty and serenity, perfect for a moment of relaxation and contemplation.

We played games, watched TV, sampled all the different kinds of coffee offered with the Nespresso machine in the kitchen, and slept upon that heavenly Hyatt bed. We explored the hotel and enjoyed the fresh and delicious food (with plenty of healthy choices) at the Club Lounge on the 33rd floor.

The suite consisted of:

  • Entry hall with a guest bathroom
  • Kitchen with a microwave, fridge with a wine rack, and a Nespresso coffee maker
  • Dining room for 6 with plush chairs and a glass dining table
  • Sitting area with 4 armchairs and a coffee table
  • Living room with two couches, mirror-top coffee table, and a 65-in TV
  • Office with a large desk, office chair, armchairs, cabinets, and a large-screen Apple computer
  • Bedroom with a fabulous bed and luxurious bedding, large TV, desk and chair, nightstands, dresser, and a chaise lounge
  • Dual bathrooms with two showers, two separate sinks and vanities, two toilets, two closets, and one bathtub to tie the two parts together
  • 5 floor-to-ceiling windows with amazing views of the Seaport Village, harbor, and Coronado Island

The New Year’s Party

We made our way to the lobby. The Landing Bar was alive with excitement. The music was pulsing, people were dancing and enjoying themselves. Waiters were handing out free flutes of bubbly. As the clock struck midnight, hundreds of blue and gold balloons dropped from the ceiling and the whole room erupted into playful mayhem as balloons were tossed around and popped with a big bang. My kind of party!

You can watch the countdown video here:

Hyatt Club Lounge – food with a view

The Club Lounge at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego is a hidden gem. It’s on the 33rd floor of the Harbor Tower, a great spot to work or relax. The lounge has comfortable chairs, complimentary food, coffee, tea, and soft drinks, and stunning views of San Diego Bay. The fast internet connection makes it a nice place to work or catch up on emails.

The Lounge is open 24/7, with a breakfast buffet from 7 – 9:30 am, and an evening buffet with desserts from 5 – 9 pm. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and snacks (cookies, fruit, and trail mix) are always available. NerdWallet has a nifty article on Hyatt lounges.

You can gain access in 3 ways:

  • By having a Hyatt Globalist status
  • By booking a Club room
  • By earning and using a Club Lounge Access award certificate

The Total Cost

All in all, we spent $35 on our 3-day, New Year’s weekend: $4 for a glass of wine at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Club Lounge where you can serve yourself wine ($4) or beer ($3) at the honor bar, and $31 for our amazing Happy Hour feast at the posh and beautiful STK restaurant in the lobby of the Andaz hotel.

The rooms, parking fees, resort fees, taxes, and the rest of the food were covered by the 39000 Ultimate Rewards points we used. The room at Andaz cost 15000 points and the two Manchester Hyatt Grand nights were 2×12000 points (a low-season rate).

The two nights at the Grand Hyatt’s penthouse suite and the “deluxe studio” room at the Andaz would have cost us $2904 (including parking, resort fees, and taxes) if we had to pay in cash. That’s a hefty sum before you even factor in the cost of meals. I’m all for enjoying life but I’d never have dropped 3 grand for a weekend getaway. We are lucky to be able to take advantage of credit card points.

The total cost was less than half of the points I earned for getting one Chase Ink business card. You can apply for it if you have good credit, a business, or a side hustle (even if it’s selling on E-bay or freelancing), in which case you can sign up as a “sole proprietor” using just your soc. sec. number.

This is the card I used to collect the points

At the time I applied for the Chase Ink card (and perhaps still, check it out), they had the best bonus they’ve ever offered – 90k points for spending $6k in the first three months. This is a public offer so you don’t have to apply through my links above, but if you do, thank you. I might get some extra points.

Meeting the minimum spending requirement

I meet the minimum spending requirements in order to get the sign-up bonuses by using the cards for all my regular shopping, pre-paying my bills (electricity, gas, phone, internet, storage, sewer, trash, house, and car insurance), and shopping for friends and family (and getting reimbursed in cash).

In the past, we also used credit cards to fund our weight loss bets with HealthyWage. We lost weight, met minimum spending on our cards, won cash, and earned points. I wrote about it here: Meet minimum spending, lose weight, win cash.

Also, if you’re planning a trip, you can apply for a new card, meet minimum spending by using it to book flights and accommodation, and earn points to help you pay for your next adventure. It’s like two trips for the price of one.

An important point that is worth repeating: I never spend more on credit cards than I could afford to pay in cash. I pay off all my card balances in full each month. The interest rates are atrocious and absolutely not worth the points.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are usually valued at 2 cents per point. By having a Globalist status and being upgraded in both hotels, we got about 8 cents out of each point. That’s an excellent redemption value if I may say so myself 😉

So there you have it. Collecting reward points does take a bit of forethought and discipline, but the end result can definitely be worth it. It’s always a good idea to research which programs are the most rewarding for your particular lifestyle, so you can maximize the points you collect. It’s also important to read the fine print when using points, as some may have expiration dates or restrictions on how you can use them.

With some careful planning and research, collecting reward points can be an amazing way to get experiences that you normally wouldn’t have access to.

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