Traveling to the Total Solar Eclipse for Just $100 + Points

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A couple years ago I started to hear about some happenings on August 21, 2017. By now you have probably heard of that date yourself as it is the date of the “Great American Eclipse” where many cities along a path across the country will get to experience 2+ minutes of a total solar eclipse. A couple years ago some friends of mine in the travel world were already starting to try and secure hotels on points in obscure sounding small towns across the country in states like Oregon and Wyoming.

 

I didn’t jump on the bandwagon at the time, but now that the date is almost here my folks, in particular my mom, decided they really want to get a good view of the eclipse. Since a total solar eclipse is a pretty rare event, they also decided they really wanted to take my older daughter.

Credit to Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com

Since I am one who generally believes that when you get ‘the itch’ you should just take the trip, I was happy to help see what we could put together on relatively short notice. Even though school starts here the week before, I was also happy to have my older daughter tag along with them for this event as long as we minimized her missed school time.

To make the trip as short and economical as possible, while still getting in the line where (weather permitting) you will be able to view the total eclipse, we zeroed in on Kansas and Missouri. Not only is it one of the cheapest and closest total eclipse destinations for us here in Houston, but C’s other grandparents live in Kansas, so they might also be able to join in the fun. As you can see via the graphic below from the really good Great American Eclipse website, Northeast Kansas is a good spot to head to see the total eclipse on August 21st, and that is a very reasonable distance from Kansas City, which became our travel target.

Credit to Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com

This relatively last minute trip was clearly not already in our summer travel budget, so it needed to be a miles and points funded adventure. Driving all the way from Houston to Northeast Kansas was out of the question for a number of reasons, one of which was this is already happening on a Monday, and we really only wanted C to miss that one day of school if possible. A short flight to and from Kansas City was determined to be the best course of action, so here is how we got it all booked in the last few days for the three of them to see the total solar eclipse for just $100 in cash + some miles and points.

Nonstop United Flights:

Houston – Kansas City: 10,000 United miles + $5.60 each for saver awards

Kansas City – Houston: 10,000 Ultimate Reward points each for “purchased” flights via Chase Travel. This was done since saver awards were not available anyway, prices were pretty reasonable, and these will be mileage earning flights.

Total for Flights: $16.80, 30,000 United miles, and 30,000 Ultimate Reward points

Hotels:

For hotels, we used a total of 8,000 SPG points + $75 in cash for two hotel nights. Thanks to having the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card, they will even have Club access the night they stay at a Sheraton, which will help keep the convenience factor up and food costs down. Some hotels in the area were already sold out, but there were still some solid options on points to choose from, especially if you were willing to drive 30 – 40 miles to where the total eclipse will be visible on the day of.

Rental Car:

This is not yet fully booked, but two rental car days looks to be about $90 all-in for an intermediate car out of the Kansas City Airport. Alternatively, we could use about 6,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points for the car rental via the Sapphire Reserve, which I suspect is likely the route my dad will go to keep cash costs as low as possible. As an added bonus, he can even book with Hertz for that price and avoid the fun “Payless, Wait More” scenario that seems to be all too common.

Not to Late to Plan a Total Eclipse Trip:

If you have been considering a trip to see the total eclipse, it isn’t too late to plan one. If you have trouble elsewhere, I can personally vouch for Kansas and Missouri still being very easy targets. This would be in line with the estimates that Kansas will benefit from the fewest number of visitors among the states where the total eclipse should be visible. As an added perk, that area has one of the longest views of totality, and since it isn’t estimated to be super crowded there, you should be able to easily drive to where weather is better for viewing in the event of projected clouds or weather issues.

Credit to Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com

Of course if you don’t want to mess with all of that booking and planning, you can just cross fingers you win a seat on an Alaska Airlines chartered flight out of Portland, Oregon, that will provide a very unique opportunity to see the eclipse from 36,000 feet without the risk of weather mucking up the view.

I’d love to hear if you and your family plan to travel to see the Great American Eclipse and if miles and points played a role in getting you there!

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Comments

  1. My family of four are headed to Gatlinburg TN for the eclipse. Flying United from Newark to Knoxville. Cost was $200 per person round trip. Used Arrival card to pay for around $600 worth of it. Rental car in Knoxville is being paid for with Chase points are we are staying in our Timeshare in Gatlinburg for the five night trip! Still trying to find the best place to view the eclipse but at least we have the other stuff done.

  2. Hope you chose the Crown Center Sheraton, as that’s the best area to be in for kids activities.

    The lounge is nice there, too, but the evening spread hours are just silly — something like 3:30-6pm on weekends.

  3. Nice! We’re driving to Kentucky and staying at a state park there. The upcharge was fairly outrageous for what it is, but whaddya do. Many places along that area were sold out when I booked it more than a year in advance.

    This will be very exciting for all who get in the path! Order your solar glasses now and have extra on hand. I’ve seen bulk orders for about $1 a piece

  4. We’ll be driving to Charleston, S.C., and spending two nights with Hyatt, one night on a credit card anniversary night stay and the other on points.

    • We are also driving to Charleston, S.C. and staying three nights at Hyatt, one night anniversary and two on points!

  5. Every astronomer and educator I’ve heard speak about it says you should be *within the path of totality itself* at least 1 or 2 days in advance of the eclipse. Do not bet you can drive in on the day-of. My family had a whole trip booked with a hotel room in Bend, OR, with plans to drive up to Madras day-of, but then we read that Jefferson County predicts that the drive from Bend to Madras, which is about 40 miles and usually under an hour, will take over 8 hours that morning. We reshaped our plans to be in Casper, WY, at a hotel within totality, the two nights leading up to the event. It was more expensive than we would have liked, but it wasn’t worth it to pay for the other trip if it wouldn’t have resulted in us actually seeing the eclipse.

    On the Great American Eclipse website, they have a “visitors and traffic” section, which also makes the 1-to-2 day advance recommendation. Do not expect to be able to get in and out that day. Bring plenty of water, food, toilet paper, and do not expect your cell phone to work. They predict that as much as 2% of the entire US population will be attempting to move themselves into a very narrow strip of the country, without any major cities or much infrastructure, on that day.

    It looks like Kansas City should be fine, but readers who are “willing to drive 30 – 40 miles to where the total eclipse will be visible” should be making that drive the day before.

  6. I’m lucky to live about 15 miles from totality in ID. We’ll be spending the weekend in Driggs, ID (normally an hour drive) at a friends house. We plan on going up Saturday due to traffic and not come back until Tuesday. They are expecting up to 300K people in East Idaho. Crazy days!

  7. Don’t forget to buy the glasses beforehand. We have family at one of the obscure places directly in the path. Ha ha. I hadn’t even heard about this until recently. People are making big bucks. They are expecting hordes in rural areas.

  8. We are traveling to the Boise, ID area. I booked our SW flights a long time ago, using all points and our hotel (Hyatt) with C&P 7 months ago. Oh and I got our viewing glasses through Amazon with a gc from Staples, using my Chase Ink. 🙂 Only thing I didn’t figure out a deal on is the rental car. That’s going to be the expensive part.

    • Yuck, we just booked my dad’s via the Sapphire Reserve points for 7,000 total points for two days of rental, but that was out of Kansas City. I don’t know if it might be more out of Boise. Good luck!

  9. Sadly (not really), we will be in Greece for 2 weeks during this eclipse. We’ll have to shoot for 2024, maybe in Mexico.

  10. We’re flying to Bozeman and driving to Jackson to see the E. and hang at a friend’s property. I think we are planning the drive taking a while, but I hadn’t factored in 8x the normal time, so EEPS.

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