January 15th is this Average Joe’s birthday. Which coincidently is a national holiday. And, for this birthday, I decided a weekend celebration bash in the Bahamas with my girlfriend was in order. And, not just anywhere in the Bahamas. I wanted to stay at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, which is part of the Marriott Autograph Resort Collection.
This Average Joe wanted glitz, glamour and excitement for my birthday and I am not ashamed to admit it. I have spent far too many birthdays in a hotel room staring at four walls by myself. Wishing I was anywhere, but, where I was at the moment. But not this year. This year was going to be different. There was going to be an adventure. A big, flashy, showy adventure!
But, as my faithful readers know. I am a broke dick dog.
In fact, on the day I am writing this blog, I have $1.85 in my savings account. And, I am negative $200.00 in my checking account. Yep, of all the people staying at the Atlantis Resort and at the Cove Hotel; I am honestly, the very one person who should not be here. But, I am not about to let that stop me.
So, how did I pull of this amazing adventure on my shoe string budget? I went on a points blitz.
Let me give you the rundown-
For this adventure, I wanted First Class flights. I figure if I was going to one of North America’s best resorts, the Atlantis Resort, I was going to fly in style; mimosa’s and breakfast.
I scanned all of my point’s holdings and then crossed checked with available flights from Minneapolis- Saint Paul to Nassau, Bahamas. For my outbound flight, Delta was my very best choice; a mid-morning flight, non-stop, two first class seats together. But, I only had 60,000 points Delta miles.
I needed 100,000 Delta miles plus for these tickets, so I was a bit shy here. I decided to bite the bullet and buy the first class tickets for $1,070.20. But, since I have and was using my Gold Delta Sky Miles card for this purchase, they have a card holder benefit where you can convert Delta airline miles for a credit towards your cash purchase. For every 5,000 Delta miles you have accumulated, you can redeem those miles for a $50.00 credit on your purchase; 60,000 miles/5,000 miles = 12 ‘credits’ x $50.00 = $600.00.
I jumped on this offer. So, our first class seats from MSP to Nassau costs $470.20.
A savings of $600.00 plus free checked luggage, which is another $60.00.
The Cove Atlantis
The Cove Atlantis is a Category 9 resort in the Marriott Autograph Collection. It is a separate hotel within the Atlantis Resort complex. The Category 9 hotels are the most distinguished of the hotels within the Marriott family and as such, I wanted that one. No hostels or flea motels for this Average Joe; this weekend, we were hanging with the high rollers.
The rack rate for this hotel is $737.00 per night for this weekend’s stay, plus resort fees. We were staying for three nights. Now, I did not have $2,211.00 burning a hole in my Average Joe pocket. But, I did have almost a million Marriott hotel reward points. So for this stay, I decided to redeem 155,000 Marriott hotel points for our three night stay.
A savings of $2,211.00.
There is a resort fee of $49.95 per night which helps pay for all these amazing things; so for three nights, a total costs of $149.85 for our stay.
Marriot eGift Card
The Marriott Rewards program goes far beyond just free nights at Marriott brand hotels. You can use points towards gift cards, airline miles and cruises to name just a few options.
Another excellent perk for Rewards Members is the ability to transfer accumulated hotel points into hotel credits or the equivalent of cash (good for food, spa and drinks) either through their instant redemption program or through their gift cards program. I have done this several times and I love this option.
If you are going to redeem points for hotel credits/gift cards it is important to look at each rewards redemption option as there are different nuances to each method and not all hotels participate:
Instant Redemption– I believe this is a newer redemption model which appears to be the simplest and most affordable method of point’s redemption. When at the resort, you advise the hotel front desk staff that you want to pay with points for your incurred expenses (before check out mind you), and they simply do a deduction of points from your account, converting your hotel points to cash equivalent credits, and then applying those credits to your folio allowing you to pay for your expenses that are charged to your room. For example, using this redemption model, 190,000 rewards points is good for $1,000.00 hotel credit.
But, in the fine print, the Atlantis Resort was excluded from this option. As are a few other hotels. So, this method was not going to work for me on this trip.
eMarriott Gift Cards – I used to redeem points for gift cards and I would receive a physical gift card in the mail within a few days. Now, Marriott has an electronic redemption which makes it far more convenient. Using this process, I simply go online, redeem my elected amount and shortly thereafter I receive notification and receipt of the card.
For this trip, I elected to redeem 250,000 points for a $1,000.00 credit; which is a bit higher than the Instant Redemption method noted above. This would be my primary way of paying for my activities and dining at the Atlantis Resort. I called the help desk, confirmed that the eGift Card was good for the Atlantis Resort and ordered away. I received the eGift Card electronically in less than 24 hours in my email inbox.
At least now, I had some back up cash! Or, so I thought.
Houston We Have a Problem
Checking into the Cove, the first thing I did was mention I had my eGift Card and that I would be using it for my charges. The front desk looked over my email confirmation and politely informed me they do not take eGift cards.
I literally felt my heart begin beating faster at those words. Now, when these things happen, it is very important not to panic and to courteously try to resolve the issue. I very politely informed the front desk staff that I thought there was a mistake. I explained I had called and confirmed that these cards were accepted at the Atlantis Resort and I had spoken twice to the Marriott Rewards staff to confirm this and they had confirmed it with the hotel.
Again, I was very politely informed that I was informed wrongly. The hotel could not honor that card, it had to be a physical card.
I asked the staff to please check with management and two managers later I was still informed they could not help me.
At this point, I decided to step back and not pursue this further with the on duty staff. I have found that sometimes, it is best to step away from an issue before it becomes an issue.
The next morning, I went to the front desk to plead my case. This was serious. If I did not resolve this issue, this adventure was going to change dramatically.
I approached the morning staff to plead my case. I spoke with a young lady and explained what had happened last night. She was not familiar with the eGift card program, but she was willing to ask other management staff. I handed her my iPad Pro with my confirmation email and instructions for hotel staff. The young lady stepped away to seek out additional help.
Fifteen minutes later, the young lady returns and voila, my eGift card was accepted.
She explained to me they (the hotel staff) simply followed the instructions in the email and were able to apply my eGift card reward credits to my incurred room charges. I thanked her profusely for doing just that, when the night shift would not even try.
I made sure I noted her name and I can assure you CEO Arne Sorenson of Marriott will be getting a positive letter about this staff member!
The Resort has some fabulous dining available, and it is best to make reservations. Which I did not. I figured I would just try and ‘wing it.’ This is not the best method and it would come back to haunt me.
Chop Stix – This is one of two Asian themed restaurants at the resort. We were fortunate enough to get into here, when I discovered that my first choice, Olives, was booked out. I should have made a reservation. lesson learned.
With a typical Asian themed motif; colors are heavy with the golds, reds and blacks and an Asian themed interior. The restaurant serves up a smaller menu selection than other Asian restaurants I have been to. But, smaller can be better.
The menu is expensive (as is all food at the resort); appetizers will run about you about $10.00. Entrees on average $30.00 to $40.00. Some dishes being more, some less. We ordered two appetizers to start with. I always get pot stickers. Angie wanted steamed dumplings. These were excellent.
For the main course, I went with the Sweet and Sour Pork; Angie, the Hong Kong Beef. All of the dishes were delicious. And, while they are expensive, I would recommend sharing a meal. The portions are plentiful enough that you can do that.
In fact, I would recommend eating just appetizers and enjoying the variety of flavors that an excellent Asian restaurant can provide.
Our total bill here was $122.29.
Seafire Steakhouse – For my birthday, I decided to have a steak. The Bahamian Club was closed this evening (again, poor planning on my part) so I opted for the Seafire Steakhouse which is located in the marina area of the resort. I decided early that morning to make a reservation having learned my lesson, and was fortunate enough to get one.
This restaurant has a dress code, however, I saw several men wearing shorts. I was dressed resort casual and I personally felt underdressed compared to many of the other men who wore jackets and ties.
The restaurant has an excellent vibe to it; lots of woods, dark colors and marbles. The bar was long and inviting. Displays of freshly cut meats and seafood greeted you as you enter. An open kitchen allowed you to peer into the cooks stations. This was more my style.
The menu was again limited in my opinion. There were only a few steaks being offered (Flat Iron, Rib Eyes, New York Strip, and Filet Mignon). Seafood was limited as well (spiny lobster, tuna, salmon, and catch of the day). This night they also offered up shrimp, but, this does not seem to be a regular offering.
We started our menu with a crab and lobster cake appetizer. A tasty dish, I thought it needed more crab and lobster and less breading. But, it is large enough for two to share.
Angie and I both ordered the Rib Eyes. When we are home, this is what we grill up. And, now that I have eaten at Seafire, I may have to toss my grill and forever forgo grilling at home ever again. When you get a steak that is perfectly cooked and seasoned just right with only salt and pepper, there is something magical about it. I have eaten many of steaks. And, at many of steakhouses. But, I thought these Rib Eyes steaks were simply amazing and probably the best I have ever had.
The steak is served with two sauces, but please do your taste buds a favor, just eat your steak without any of the sauces and enjoy meat as it should be. You can thank me later!
Side dishes are served ala cart. Angie got the asparagus as a side dish. I however, am a potato man and ordered the Au Gratin potatoes. Which should be aptly called “The melted cheese with chunks of potato dish”. It was the most decadent potato dish I had ever eaten. Sliced potatoes with a small amount of seasoning swimming in melted cheese and then heated so that the cheese is slightly darkened. As hard as I tried, I could not finish it. This is a must try item!
As it was my birthday, I wanted a dessert. My waiter recommended heartily the Sticky Date Pudding. He promised me it was amazing, and deferring to his better judgement, I ordered it. The man should be knighted. It was simply the best dessert dish I have ever have. A regional bread like pudding, warmed and slightly crispy and sticky sitting atop of a caramel sauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream atop of it. It was utterly amazing. If you don’t try anything else, try this dish!
Our total bill here was $204.78.
The Bar Scene – The Atlantis has a 14 different themed bars throughout the complex. Our goal was to visit as many as possible in our 72 hours. Now, be forewarned, alcohol will be your Achilles heel here. For Angie and me to have a drink, on average ran about $30.00. That’s for two drinks and nothing else. So as we watched football, sat and socialized, and as we struggled to on solving the world problems, those drinks began to add up fast. Very fast.
All told, with a few souvenirs in hand, drinks, meals, snacks, resort fees, etc. Our total bill was $1,239.00.
However, once my eGift card was fully used, a cool $1,000.00 was deducted from that hotel bill. My out of pocket expenses were now just $239.00.
Dolphin Swim – Ms. Joe loves the dolphins. So, for a Christmas gift, I bought her a dolphin swim package. I paid cash for this so I could make sure it was locked in for her and so I could give it to her for Christmas. Now, this turned out to be the highlight of the trip for Angie. The adventure last about an hour and half and she and several others were able to get into the water and swim with the dolphin while under supervision by a staff member. The experience allows for a very physical, but yet mystical encounter with an amazing animal that we so rarely get to see. In hindsight, Angie wished she had done this at the beginning of the trip instead of the back end. I did purchase a photo of Ms. Joe and her new best friend, Nechama.
Cost for the Deep Water Dolphin Swim, $199.00.
Marine Habitat – We spent the first part of our first day at the Atlantis Resort exploring the habitats and walking among the beautiful gardens. The Atlantis Resort is probably the most eco-minded hotel there is and you are afforded a unique opportunity to enjoy it vast collection of turtles, sharks, fish and rays and other sea life on the property. This is where you need to have your cameras and cell phones at the ready. You are going to want to take lots of photo’s here. While there are paid excursions that you can do here, we chose just to enjoy the beauty and walk the grounds.
No costs incurred here.
Aquaventure – The Atlantis Resort has an amazing collection of water slides, swimming pools, and lazy rivers. We enjoyed the Rapid Rivers, a tube ride which has a series of ‘rapids’ built into it. This is an absolute blast! There is no costs for enjoying the water park. Remember, those costs are captured in your resort fees.
No costs incurred here.
Casino Credit Line
I wanted some extra cash for this trip. I like to gamble, and it does not matter if it’s the table games, the slots, horses, football, or the time of sunrise. If I can gamble, I will.
And, the Atlantis Resort has a very fine casino. But, I did not want to use my money per se. So, I contacted the Atlantis’s Casino credit department and asked for a line of credit. I was denied.
I called the Casino Credit Department to inquire if I could get a lessor amount of credit to play with. Within minutes, my account was pulled up and they advised due to a bankruptcy, no credit would be given. “But, I have never declared bankruptcy,” I countered.
The Atlantis Resort Casino Credit Department uses Experian. So, when the agent checked my credit she advised that Experian showed a bankruptcy. I thanked the agent for her time and told her I looked forward to seeing the resort.
Remember Average Joes, when we are trying to get something for nothing, always be polite!
So, my free casino credit idea crashed and burned. But, I learned I needed to check with Experian and check for errors on my credit reports. Checking your credit is never a bad thing.
I still wanted to gamble and opted to do it the old fashioned way, I broke out the cash. About $200.00 lost.
I was planning on taking Uber to the Atlantis Resort from Nassau Airport. However, as of this blog post, Uber is not an available service in the Bahamas.
My second option to get to and from the airport and the resort was the local Bahamian taxis. I have used Bahamian taxis before and they are a bit of a crap shoot. The quality of the service, the availability, and the price would all be in question if I went with this option. I decided on a third option.
The Atlantis Resort offers several transportation options through a third party provider; you can pick a shuttle bus, a shuttle van, a SUV or a town car. Each transportation mode is priced differently from the others and it varies on how many customers it can carry.
I decided to opt for the shuttle bus, which was $33.00 for one person for a round trip transportation to and from the Nassau Airport to the resort. So, for two people, I was looking at $66.00 for my transportation costs. This fee is do at the time of booking and I could not charge it to my room.
Bank of America Cash Rewards card – I have been using this card on occasion to develop a cash reserve building off of its rewards program of 1% cash back everywhere, every time. And, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% cash back on gas. I don’t use it much, but checking the rewards inventory, I saw I had enough credits accumulated to pay for some of this trips expenses and I could and would apply some of these credits towards this trip’s expenses.
I opted to use the Bank of America Cash Rewards card to pay for the shuttle bus; a cost of $66.00 for two people, round trip. And, then request a cash reward to offset the shuttle service.
A savings of $66.00.
After our amazing weekend, us Average Joe’s needed to get back to Minneapolis. Which, let me tell you, when leaving paradise, is truly a very difficult thing to do. I again perused my airline miles with the various options and found that American Airlines offered the best First Class flight option back.
I booked two First Class tickets for 100,000 miles, a retail value of $1,276.00. Now, I did incur some taxes with American Airlines, and these amounted to $220.32. But, there is nothing you can do about taxes. A wonderful flight back to the bitter cold.
A savings of $1,276.00.
Uber Home – We had made arrangements to meet a family member close by on our return to MSP, but those plans fell apart. So, we caught an Uber. MSP is a very Uber friendly airport and I have grown very fond of the service. I used my Ibotta app and received a $1.00 rebate. Which, seems funny now in retrospect.
Uber fare $48.98 with tip.
All together how much did I save and how much did I spent:
- Total Savings – $5,148.00.
- Total Spent – $1,376.50.
Regarding these costs, with the exception of the unexpected trip home and going slightly over budget at the resort, these other costs were picked up and paid for prior to my trip and budgeted for. So, they did not break the bank per se. Total unexpected costs, about $300.00. Not too bad for three days in paradise!
If it had not been for the liberal use of airline miles and hotel points, this trip to the Atlantis Resort would never have taken place. I continue to stress the collection of hotel points and airline miles are worth every effort possible; and by using the various techniques that I discuss here on my blog and on Facebook, as well as learning from others who engage in the rewards point’s game, you can live a life that is far more than average. In fact, every Average Joe can live a life like this!