Everyday after work, I head to the mailbox. Like most, I don’t enjoy that part of my day. I feel like most of what comes in the mail is bills, junk, and more bills. But occasionally something shows up that makes my day. Yesterday, that was an “Experience Orlando” offer through Sheraton and American Express that on the surface seemed too good to be true.
I was naturally skeptical as the wording on the offer was not entirely clear if the $259 rate was for one night, so I assumed the worst. To my surprise, the published rate for the one bedroom villa at the Sheraton Vistana Villages for $259 was for all 4 nights! Perhaps offers like this are Marriott’s way of putting Sheraton back on the map, which has been “a bit of a challenge,” according to Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson.
Details of the Offer
- Four night stay for two adults and up to two children in a one bedroom villa.
- The villa has a king-size bed, full-size sofa bed and a kitchenette.
- $100 gift certificate for Planet Hollywood at Disney Springs.
- Must be paid for by the end of October using an American Express card.
- Stay must be completed by Nov. 30, 2019.
After reading through the offer I still had questions that needed to be answered. Telephone time: here’s what I learned from Amex.
One of my primary concerns with this type of offer is accepting it, getting there, and then choking on hidden fees. As such, I was on the phone with the representative for a very long time asking questions. I even hung up, called back, and asked the questions one more time to another representative.
Here’s the lowdown:
- No timeshare presentation required.
- The $269 fee also includes all hotel fees and taxes.
- There is no charge for parking.
- A shuttle to Disney/Universal is available and is $11/person per way.
- If I wanted to have additional people join us I could book a 2 bedroom for an additional $269.
- The unit includes a washer and dryer.
The representative stated that this offer came through because I am an American Express cardholder. However, the representatives could not specify which of my five Amex cards triggered this promotion.
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- Amex EveryDay Card
- Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
Surprisingly, only twice was there any mention of additional fees. The first of those included booking over a holiday which would incur a $25/night charge. Another downside, they considered “Spring Break” a holiday and the $25/night extra was in effect from March 15-31. The upside was not a single date was blacked out and the fees only applied to holiday nights. Example: Booking August 28-September 2 would incur 2 regular nights and 2 holiday nights (Labor Day) thereby costing an additional $50 to book.
The second mention of fees was for changes. More than 90 days out there would be a flat $50 fee to make a change to an existing reservation. If we tried to change or cancel within 90 days of the stay, the package would be forfeit.
Making the Booking
Based upon what I had heard, my wife and I decided to book the vacation package. We had two choices. 1) Lock in the dates, or 2) Book a voucher good until November 2019. As we thought that we might have some family join us we wanted to talk with them about dates and therefore left the booking open ended. Booking the 1-bedroom package and then changing it to a 2-bedroom later was also an option. Upon making the payment another representative came on a recorded line who read through all of the terms.
We began calling some family members to see if they wanted to join. It turned out my in-laws stayed at Vistana Villages using a similar offer and absolutely loved it. Their offer did require the timeshare presentation, but even with that they said it was one of the best travel deals they had ever gotten. From there it took less than a 5-minute phone call back to upgrade the package and lock in the dates.
Those that know me well know that I’m frugal and won’t spend cash unless absolutely required. Paying for a hotel is usually one of the vacation costs I forgo in favor of spending cash on experiences. Therefore, starting this trip with a $259 hotel bill is unusual so my goal is to keep other costs to a minimum.
The good news is that I just recently replenished my Southwest account while redeeming a Marriott Vacation Package offer in July. Even though my wife’s Southwest Companion Pass ends in December of this year, I’ve kept her under 5/24 for two years for the sole purpose of being able to re-up her pass for 2019/2020 via the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card and the Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card. The leg out on Southwest from Memphis to Orlando has already been booked for a total of 17,802 Rapid Rewards points and $16.80. We will be refunded 5,934 Rapid Rewards points upon completing the Southwest Companion Pass in January. In addition, we are currently waiting for the next extension to the Southwest calendar to book the return flight for an additional $16.80.
As far other costs, by utilizing the kitchenette during our stay the food costs will remain similar to our at home cost. Plus we are being provided a $100 gift card for Planet Hollywood through the offer to give us one dinner out at Disney Springs. The Uber to get there will cost about $10 each way, or around $20 total. This means that after all expenses I figure that we will spend about $315 total for a four day getaway.
Even though I just got back from Orlando, at less than $70 a night this offer is just too good to pass up. Now the only decisions left are when to tell my son we are going back to Orlando (a.k.a. Mickey’s Place) and how many days to spend at the parks.