Matthew Riter


In December 2015, Mom, Dad and I traveled to Hong Kong for two nights, and then to Japan for 8 nights. The idea was mine, but Dad was integral to the vision, and execution. Mom was along for the ride. The following is a re-cap of miles, points, free nights, and cash used.

United Airlines: Rapid City - Denver - Newark (Economy)

  • 37,500 United miles + $16 total for 3 passengers

British Airways Galleries Lounge - Newark (Access with Cathay Pacific Business ticket)

  • Impressive selection of snacks and drinks
  • Alcohol in BA Lounge(British Airways Galleries Lounge – Newark Airport)

Cathay Pacific: Newark to Hong Kong (Business)

110,000 American Airlines miles for 2 passengers (received 10,000 miles back as benefit of Barclays Aviator credit card) + $11

50,000 Alaska Airlines miles for my ticket + $44

Lie-flat seats + amazing food and service

Champagne on Cathay.jpg

(Mom and Dad enjoying champagne before takeoff on Cathay Pacific – EWR – HKG)

Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge

  • Shower + Snacks and Caffeine

Intercontinental Hong Kong

  • Free Night Certificate (from Into the Nights promotion)
  • $85 per night upgrade to Harbourview Room
  • Hong Kong Panoramic
  • (Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak)
  • Intercontinental Hong Kong

    • Free Night Certificate (from Into the Nights promotion)

  • The Wing: A Cathay Pacific lounge

    • Coffee Bar, Noodle Bar, Sandwiches and Pastries

  • G16: A DragonAir lounge

    • On par with American lounges

  • Cathay Pacific: Hong Kong to Narita (Business)

    • 40,000 British Airways avios for 2 passengers + $43
    • 0 miles for me: Newark to HKG included this segment. HKG was my stopover.
  • Appetizers on Cathay 
  • (Appetizers on Cathay Pacific – HKG – Narita)

  • Intercontinental Tokyo Bay

    • Free Night Certificate (from IHG credit card)
    • View of Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay

    Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto

    • $112 per person
    • Mt. Fuji smiled at us

    Hyatt Regency Kyoto

    • 20,000 of Dad’s points
    • + $101 per night for third person
    • Zen Garden Kyoto
    • (Zen garden in Kyoto)
    • Hyatt Regency Kyoto

    •    20,000 of Dad’s points

    • Shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya +

      Limited Express train from Nagoya to Nagano

    •    $92 total per person

    • Jizokan Matsuya Ryokan - Nagano

    •    $161

    •    Traditional Japanese guesthouse with futons on floor

    • Snow Monkeys
    • (Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani – outside Nagano)
    • Shinkansen from Nagano to Tokyo

    •    $67 per person

    • Conrad Tokyo

    •    Free Weekend Night Certificate (from Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card) + $71 per night for third person

    •    Access to Executive Lounge (free breakfast, afternoon tea and snacks, and cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres)

    •    View of Tokyo Bay from room

    • Conrad Breakfast
    • (Breakfast at Conrad Tokyo)
    • Conrad Tokyo

    • Free Weekend Night Certificate (from Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card)

    • Tsukiji3
    • (Tsukiji Fish Market – Tokyo)

    • Park Hyatt Tokyo

    •    Dad’s Free Night Certificate (from Hyatt credit card) + $153 per night for third person

    •    Classy + Great Views

    • Park Hyatt Room
    • (Sunset from room at Park Hyatt Tokyo)
    • Park Hyatt Tokyo

    •  Dad’s Free Night Certificate (from Hyatt credit card)

    •   Lost in Translation filmed at this hotel

    • Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.jpg
    • (Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – Tokyo)

    • Delta Airlines: Tokyo - Detroit - Minneapolis - Rapid City

    •    105,000 Delta miles + $136 total for 3 passengers

    •    $170 per person to upgrade Tokyo – Detroit segment to Economy Comfort (bulkhead seats)

    •    Disappointing service and food on Tokyo – Detroit segment

    • All in all: a memorable trip!

  • (Menus from Cathay Pacific - EWR - HKG)
  • Cathay Supper Menu
  • Cathay Snacks Breakfast Menu


Hotel Ivy, a Luxury Collection Hotel
SPG Category 5 Free Night Certificate
Sleek, Modern, Stylish

Doubletree by Hilton
$55 + 12,000 points (received $50 statement credit)
Upgraded to suite with access to Executive Lounge



Radisson Denver Southeast

15,000 Club Carlson points

Upgraded to business room on top floor with view of lake, mountains, and double rainbow


Radisson Denver Southeast

FREE (last night of any award stay is free – benefit ended June 1, 2015)


Hilton Garden Inn Denver Tech Center

$81 (Best Rate Guarantee – received $50 American Express gift card)

Top floor + Breakfast in Restaurant


Element by Westin – Lone Tree, CO

$82 (Best Rate Guarantee – received 2000 Starpoints)

Modern, Funky, Sustainable


Residence Inn Denver Tech Center

Category 4 Marriott Free Night Certificate

Garden Level with Fireplace


Comfort Inn – Denver

FREE – Friend’s Best Rate Guarantee


Quality Inn Denver Tech Center

FREE – Best Rate Guarantee


Candlewood Suites Denver Tech Center Meridian

$40 + 5,000 IHG points

Top Floor + Free Laundry


Candlewood Suites Denver Tech Center Meridian

$40 + 5,000 IHG points


Hilton Garden Inn Denver South Meridian

$84 (Best Rate Guarantee – received $50 American Express gift card)

Top-Notch Breakfast


Best Western Plus Denver International Airport

$106 (Best Rate Guarantee – Friend received $100 Best Western gift card)



Holiday Inn & Suites Denver International Airport

FREE (Best Rate Guarantee)


Arizona Bound: Dancing in the Desert



Denver – Comfort Suites DTC

FREE – Best Rate Guarantee



Albuquerque – Hampton Inn University Midtown

$119 (Best Rate Guarantee – will receive $50 American Express gift card)



Scottsdale – The Phoenician

SPG Category 5 Free Night Certificate + $32 Resort Fee

Upgraded to Casita


Monday – Friday (12 nights)

Phoenix – Marriott Canyon Villas

Thanks to Family



Pueblo, CO – Courtyard by Marriott Downtown

Family Again

Denver, Colorado: A Winter Foray with Best Rate Guarantees


Aloft Denver International Airport

$76 (Best Rate Guarantee: matched rate + 2000 SPG points) (counts toward Free Night Promotion)

Modern, funky, friendly



Hilton Garden Inn Denver Tech Center

$97 - $50 Gift Card (from previous BRG) = $47 (Best Rate Guarantee: matched rate + $50 American Express Gift Card)

Cooked to order breakfast



Aloft Denver International Airport

$2 (Best Rate Guarantee: mistake rate + 2000 SPG points) (counts toward Free Night Promotion – this stay netted a Category 5 Free Night Certificate)



Holiday Inn Express & Suites Denver East – Peoria Street

FREE – Best Rate Guarantee

Portland, Oregon – On the Road Again


I arrived in Portland at the beginning of October 2014. I unloaded my belongings into an apartment for two days, but never slept there. The nonsmoking apartment smelled of cigarettes, an upstairs neighbor directed a garish tirade at his girlfriend, and the place creeped me out.


I took to my favorite hobby, collecting miles and points, for assistance. I spent nine weeks in Portland and paid full price a handful of occasions, only to take part in promotions. I stayed many nights at Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) properties, including Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Staybridge Suites.


I hold Platinum status, the highest tier, with IHG, a benefit of adding their credit card to my wallet. As a Platinum member, I receive 500 welcome bonus points on each stay. Most properties include free breakfast, and I particularly enjoy the cinnamon rolls at Holiday Inn Express. Platinum status often equates to a room upgrade, a pleasing perk. Especially at Holiday Inn Express, the staff is genuine and helpful.


An apartment in Portland is at least $30 a night. A hotel seemed simpler than renting an apartment: Free WiFi, High-Def Television, a coffee maker, often a fridge and microwave. I became a connoisseur of toiletries, and enjoy Hyatt and Marriott properties for these amenities. Also, the coffee at these two chains is superior to IHG, Best Western, or SPG.


One reason I stayed at IHG properties was to participate in their “Into the Nights” Fall Promotion. The promotion was different for everyone, but mine offered two free nights at any IHG property and 18,000 points, after a total of three paid stays.


Another reason I frequented IHG is because certain properties cost only 5,000 points per night under the Point Breaks list. 5,000 points is equivalent to $35 and the Portland area had two participating properties this fall. Additionally, I stayed a night in the Tri-Cities in Washington at a hotel on the list. At the tail end of my journey, I stayed three nights at a Holiday Inn Express in Vancouver, Washington, on the Point Breaks’ winter list.    


For those considering the IHG MasterCard from Chase, look for the 80,000-point offer. It’s available on Flyertalk, a website dedicated to travel hacking. Below is a summary of nights stayed, points used, and cash spent on rooms.          


Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)

5,000 points – Holiday Inn Express (HIX) Richland, WA

5,000 points – HIX Gladstone, OR (5 nights)

5,000 points – HIX Salmon Creek, WA (3 nights)

5,000 points – Staybridge Suites Vancouver, WA (4 nights)

10,000 points – HIX Troutdale, OR (4 nights)

5,000 points + $40 – HIX Troutdale, OR (2 nights)

$98 – HIX Lake Oswego, OR (Into the Nights Promotion)

$101 – HIX Vancouver, WA (Into the Nights Promotion)

$116 – Holiday Inn Gresham, OR – (Into the Nights Promotion)

FREE – Best Rate Guarantee – Staybridge Suites Portland Airport


Club Carlson

28,000 points – Radisson Portland Airport (3 nights)

FREE – Radisson Portland Airport (3 nights) – last night of any award stay is free

$122 – Radisson Portland Airport



Category 5 Free Night Certificate – Residence Inn by Marriott Lloyd Center

10,000 points – Fairfield Inn & Suites Beaverton, OR (4 nights)


Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)

4,000 points – Four Points by Sheraton Portland East (4 nights)

3,000 points – Four Points by Sheraton Portland East (5 nights) – weekend nights

cost 3000 points, while weekdays are 4000 points

$108 Best Rate Guarantee – Four Points by Sheraton Portland East (earned 2,000

points for BRG + counted toward Free Night Promotion)

$98 – Four Points by Sheraton Portland East (Free Night Promotion – this stay

netted a Category 5 Free Night Certificate – I booked The Phoenician in

Scottsdale, AZ for my parents with the certificate)



8,000 points – Hyatt Place Portland Airport

$109 – Hyatt Place Portland Airport (earned 6,000 points on two promotions)


Best Western

$81 - $50 Gift Card = $31 – Best Western Inn Vancouver, WA

$81 - $25 Gift Card = $56 – Best Western Inn Vancouver, WA

$81 – Best Western Inn Vancouver, WA

$125 Best Rate Guarantee – Best Western Inn Meadows Portland (BRG netted a

$100 Gift Card)



4,000 points + $37 – Hampton Inn Clackamas, OR

$85 Best Rate Guarantee – Hampton Inn Portland East (BRG netted a $50 Gift



Choice Hotels

$80 - $78.50 for BRG = $1.50 – Quality Inn & Suites Portland Airport


Phoenix Inn & Suites

$117 - $100 Cyber Monday Orbitz coupon = $17 – Phoenix Inn & Suites Lake

Oswego, OR

Priceline Express Deals

$65 – Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham – Bozeman, MT

$55 – Guesthouse Inn & Suites – Gresham, OR

$56 – La Quinta Inn & Suites – Salmon Creek, WA

$55 – Extended Stay America – Gresham, OR

$63 – Red Lion Portland Airport

$43 – Howard Johnson – Missoula, MT


My Truck

FREE for one night – thankful for warm blankets

 Portland, Oregon


I love Portland! My dog and I lived in Hillsdale, a neighborhood in Southwest Portland, in 2006 and 2007. In that timeframe, I enrolled in master’s courses in Urban and Regional Planning at Portland State University. I also took the Oregon bar exam. And then I returned to the Midwest.


I set sail once again for the West Coast in late 2014, hoping to find steady income. En route, I spent a night in Bozeman, where I lived for two years, and Ritzville, a small town in the midst of scrubland in eastern Washington.


Eventually, I arrived in Lake Oswego, in Southwest Portland. I coexisted as a grateful guest for five nights with a friend, his girlfriend, and their daughters. The apartment, surrounded by lush forest, yet close to downtown, felt like home.


Afterward, I ambled to Northeast Portland, near the airport, landing at a Radisson for four nights. Two of those nights were free, and the other two were booked with points. The staff enjoyed serving guests, a welcome sign of good hospitality. The check-in agent provided vouchers for evening drinks and appetizers, as well as breakfast, all included with the room. My abode, on the private fourth floor, had a lounge down the hall, where I topped off mochas and lattes.


I stayed one night at the Hyatt Place, also near the airport, using a free night certificate. I might have used the award at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, but in Portland, the only option is a Hyatt Place. The hotel is encompassed by new, chain development, with convenient rail links.


The next day, I drove to the eastern suburb of Gresham, spending four nights at the Four Points by Sheraton, using SPG points. The walls are paper thin, but the staff is obliging. The location, distant from downtown Portland, is connected by rail, but Gresham is a worn-out section of town.


Following the Four Points, I crossed the Willamette River into Washington, spending a night at the Staybridge Suites in Vancouver, using IHG points. I retreated back across the river the next day, staying two nights at a Holiday Inn Express in Troutdale, a suburb on the eastern edge of Portland, at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge. I redeemed additional IHG points.


On my return to South Dakota, I stopped in Missoula, Montana, for a night at the Holiday Inn Downtown, booked via Priceline. My final day on the road was a twelve-hour stretch to Fort Pierre, through rain and scattered snow.


The adventure endlessly entertained. My move to Portland is impending. Below is a re-cap of accommodations and hotel points used. While the trip dissipated a substantial amount of points and awards, it confirmed my suspicion that wise utilization can prove opportune, and financially rewarding.


Friday August 22

Bozeman, MT – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

Upgraded to a King Suite



Ritzville, WA – Best Western Plus Bronco Inn


Nice hotel for this isolated locale


Sunday through Thursday

Portland (Lake Oswego) – Joe’s Place


Thankful for an air mattress and a welcome home



Portland – Radisson

28,000 Club Carlson points

With Club Carlson Gold Status, upgraded and received certificates for breakfast and

evening drinks and appetizers in the restaurant.



Portland – Radisson


With the Club Carlson credit card, the last night of any award stay is free. I booked two two-night stays (see below).



Portland – Radisson

28,000 Club Carlson points



Portland – Radisson




Portland – Hyatt Place

Category 1 – 4 Free Night Certificate (obtained after $91 paid night in Denver).

Enjoyable, but should have saved the certificate for a more desirable property.



Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

4,000 SPG points

Walls are paper thin, but staff is obliging



Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

4,000 SPG points

Earned SPG Gold Status after this stay



Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

3,000 SPG points

Reduced rate on weekends



Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

3,000 SPG points

Another weekend night…



Portland (Vancouver, WA) – Staybridge Suites

15,000 IHG points

A quiet suite with comforts of home



Portland (Troutdale) – Holiday Inn Express

10,000 IHG points

Sandwiched between two truck stops, but pleasant staff



Portland (Troutdale) – Holiday Inn Express

10,000 IHG points

More of the same…



Missoula, MT – Holiday Inn Downtown

$70 booked via Priceline

Late arrival and early departure with view of lobby

A Long Weekend in Denver


Friday June 4

Holiday Inn Denver East – Stapleton

$98 (earned 12,000+ IHG points for this stay by stacking 4 promotions)

A convivial hotel with balcony accompanying each room – Great view of sun setting over downtown Denver with Front Range beyond.


Saturday June 5

Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center

$91 (earned a Category 4 free night certificate for this stay)

VIP Suite – Used an upgrade certificate received via a Diamond challenge – Suite included living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms, office, reading room, and bar stocked with free snacks and drinks. Gourmet breakfast included.


Sunday June 8

Radisson Denver Southeast

15,000 points (with Club Carlson credit card, last night of award stay is free – thus 7,500 points per night for 2 nights – lowest award category is 9,000 points per night)

Remodeled hotel – Pleasant staff – Room with unglamorous view of freeway


Monday June 9

Radisson Denver Southeast

FREE (see above)

Isolated hotel location, but adequate accommodation

  (View from balcony at Holiday Inn Denver East - Stapleton)

The Road to the West Coast Paved with Deals


What an experience! Three days in the East Bay. Three days in San Francisco. A couple nights in Portland. Another in Humboldt County and one in Eugene. Windshield time in South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana. Too many miles on the truck and too much money to oil companies. Memorable nonetheless.


I won 20,000 Wyndham Rewards points in a contest hosted by a travel blogger. I used 8,000 of those points at a Howard Johnson Express in Evanston, Wyoming, and another 8,000 at the Knights Inn in Berkeley. Neither accommodation blew me away, but it was budget travel at its best.


I had a $25 Hotels Tonight voucher via another travel blogger and used it on a $37 room in Reno. $12 for an amazing view of the sun setting over Reno. I packed sandwiches for the outbound and return journeys, further cutting expenses.


I slept on a friend’s couch in Oakland, and hit up a Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, California for 15,000 IHG points. I spent 2 nights at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, with pampering fit for a king. Included were free food and drinks in the lounge (thanks to a Diamond challenge), and incredible views of the city from my 32nd story room.


My final San Francisco night was at the JW Marriott. That night, I attended a Braves v. Giants baseball game. I’d received a $10 coupon from Amazon Local and with it I bought a $40 voucher from Score Big. Armed with the voucher, I headed over to Score Big and bid on a $57 ticket for $35. My bid was accepted. The ticket was thus free. My seat was in the lower level, up the third base line. On the hill for the Giants was Tim Lincecum, former Cy Young Award winner who’s fallen on hard times. Yet, he dominated, striking out 11 en route to a 4-2 victory. I abstained from food and drink at the park, opting for a slice of pizza after the game.


I also hiked through the Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. The redwoods had been on my bucket list and didn’t disappoint. Standing still for 2,000 years is some feat. The $7 entrance fee was well worth it.


I left my truck in Berkeley at a relative’s house, and took BART into the city, saving $50+ a day in parking fees. I retreated to the East Bay via Lyft, an alternative to taxis, and used a $50 coupon, again, gleaned from another travel blogger.


After the Bay Area, I headed north to Rohnert Park, in Sonoma County. I stayed at a Best Western, using a $35 Travel Pony voucher. The following night, I stayed at another Best Western, this one in Fortuna, just south of Eureka. The drive to reach it, on Highways 1 and 101, wound past stunning coastline and dense forests. Following this second night, I earned a $50 coupon to use on a future stay.


After Fortuna, I drove north into the Redwoods National and State Parks, hiking through another ancient grove of redwoods. I angled north and east to Grants Pass and Eugene, where I stayed in a king suite at the Holiday Inn Express for 15,000 points.


The next day, I drove north to Portland and found my hotel, a Four Points by Sheraton, which costs 3,000 SPG points per night on weekends. I met up with friends from my time in Portland (2006-2007), and visited Portland State University, where I formerly attended graduate urban planning classes.


I drove from Portland to Belgrade, Montana in one long haul, and stayed at a Quality Inn, using Priceline Express Deals. The next morning I cruised past Bozeman, another former stomping ground, and angled south and east until reaching Pierre. Two weeks on the road and a mere 4 paid nights. The miles and points game paid off. Below is a recap:


Monday May 5

Evanston, WY – Howard Johnson Express

8000 Wyndham points

An adequate place to sleep



Reno, NV – Sands Resort & Casino

$37 - $25 “Hotels Tonight” voucher = $12

Great sunset over Reno



Oakland, CA – couch


Thanks to Friends



Berkeley, CA – Knights Inn

8000 Wyndham points

Better than Expected – Less than a Mile to UC Berkeley



Richmond, CA – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

Standard and tidy - Upgraded



San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

Incredible views and treatment



San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

More of the same



San Francisco – JW Marriott

50,000 Marriott points

Aesthetically stunning but not particularly warm or inviting



Rohnert Park, CA – Best Western

$102 - $35 “Travel Pony” voucher = $67

Never like paying for a room, but it was discounted and counted toward a certificate



Fortuna, CA – Best Western

$91 (earned a $50 gift card after 2nd Best Western stay)

At least I earned a certificate – Northern Cali rocks



Eugene, OR – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

A sweet suite, with fireplace, living room, 2 big screens, soaking tub with jets, kitchen, and comforts of home – same amount of points as regular room



Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

Distant from downtown, but connected by light-rail



Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

After this stay, 2 more needed this year for SPG Gold Status



Belgrade, MT – Quality Inn

$59 – Priceline Express Deals

Late arrival – Sampled a bit of everything for breakfast



(Note: I received the Hyatt free night certificates as a sign-up bonus on their credit card, and I have Platinum status with IHG as a bonus on their credit card.)


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