I’m a serious bucket lister. I have a very long list of all the things I want to do in life and I frequently look at it to make sure I’m checking off a few items every year. Well, almost every year… until COVID-19 appeared. Like many families, my priorities shifted to taking care of family and staying healthy. My mom has always been a caregiver — first through staying home to raise my two siblings and I, and then in caring for my late father through his battle with stage-four cancer. Now, she’s caring for my grandparents as they approach 90. She has always put her family before her own wants/needs, which is how she’s managed to make it her entire life without checking off the No. 1 item on her bucket list: seeing the Grand Canyon.
Armed with 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, often thought of as one of the most valuable flexible point currencies, I decided I was going to take my mom to finally check out the Grand Canyon. If you’re hoping to pull off a special trip like this, now’s a great time to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because Chase is offering its best-ever sign-up bonus: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 or more in the first three months of account opening.
Here’s how the trip went and how I made it happen on points (and a little bit of cash).
|Trip Element||Paid with Chase Ultimate Rewards Points||Paid with Cash|
|Round-trip economy flights for two (PIT–PHX)||46,946 UR||N/A|
|1-night stay at Clear Sky Resorts (near Grand Canyon)||25,353 UR||N/A|
|2-hour Grand Canyon Jeep tour||N/A||$174.44|
|1-night stay at Poco Diablo Resort (Sedona)||15,545 UR||N/A|
|1-night stay at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch||12,000 UR (points transferred to World of Hyatt)||N/A|
|Total points and cash||99,844 Chase points||$459.29|
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Day 1: Arrive in Phoenix and road trip to Clear Sky Resorts
To make the most of our first day, we woke up in Pittsburgh around 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Phoenix, with a JFK connection. With so many restaurants/shops closed or short-staffed right now, it can be a bit tricky to grab a bite to eat during a layover.
Pro tip: Download an app like Panera or Starbucks so you can order something online as soon as you get off the plane. You’ll essentially skip the line, and have enough time to walk to/from whatever terminal you may need to get to for your next flight!
Price: We picked the cheapest flight options possible and paid 46,946 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for round-trip flights for two through the Chase Travel portal. Had we paid cash, we would have been out of pocket for $704.20.
We landed in Phoenix around 11:30 a.m. and picked up our Avis rental car.
Price: We found a good rate on a rental car so we paid cash: $284.85.
Before embarking on our three-hour road trip up to our stay near the Grand Canyon, we stopped for Mexican food at an amazing little spot called Cocina Madrigal, conveniently located less than 10 minutes from the airport. After lunch and making the three-hour drive, we were driving down I-64 (the main road into the Grand Canyon National Park) when our GPS told us to make a right off the highway onto a dirt road. At first, all you see is a long open stretch of desert… and then the domes appeared.
When searching for hotels close to the Grand Canyon, most options were both expensive and dated, so I decided to search for places to “glamp.” While I love a good backcountry backpacking trip, that’s not really my mom’s vibe, so I wanted something that was much more glam, less camp. Clear Sky Resorts was perfect for both of us. The geodesic domes had large comfortable beds, complimentary plush robes/slippers, an in-room fireplace, free drinks at happy hour in the “welcome dome,” a food truck on-site with coffee/meals, secure doors and an incredibly modern bathroom.
We checked in at the welcome dome with their warm, knowledgeable staff, and were taken by golf cart to our dome. We settled in and then went back to the lobby to grab some complimentary drinks and our dinner, then ate on our private deck. Once the sun went down, we put on our robes and sat on our private deck to stargaze with the most incredible view (and no light pollution at all). Once we were done stargazing outdoors, we went inside and watched the stars from our bed through the skylight.
Price: One night in a Luxury Sky Dome cost 25,353 Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Travel portal
Day 2: The Grand Canyon
Thanks to the amazing natural light in the dome, we woke up at 6 a.m., and felt refreshed and ready to start the day — thanks to the incredible accommodations! We walked over to the food truck for breakfast and coffee. I jumped on the giant in-ground trampoline that’s on-property and then we went over to play cornhole (Clear Sky Resorts has a playground, tons of outdoor games, a trampoline, a disc golf course and entertainment). We were having such a great time, we almost missed leaving on time for our excursion.
We booked a two-hour “Grand Entrance” tour with Pink Jeep Adventure tours so we could hit a few key overlooks with a guide.
Gallery: I stayed in a luxury tent on an island just outside of New York City and was blown away by the views (INSIDER)
Price: The “Scenic Rim two-hour tour” cost $174.44 for both of us. We paid cash but we could have also spent 11,628 Chase Ultimate Rewards points instead.
For my mom and I, seeing the Canyon together was the thing we were most looking forward to, and the canyon did not disappoint. It looks beautiful in photos, but seeing it in person is truly indescribable. As my mom put it, “This is the most beautiful thing I have seen in my entire life, outside of the birth of my children.” Yup. That spectacular. We both teared up several times throughout the day, just completely in awe.
After finishing the tour, we shopped for some souvenirs and grabbed drive-thru food to eat in the car while we waited in line to get back into the park. We then drove to the main visitor’s center within the park and walked to Mather’s Point for more incredible views.
From there, we drove to Sedona to check into the Poco Diablo Resort. We had no idea we were in for the most beautiful drive of our lives. After driving through desert for over an hour, you’re suddenly at the top of a lush green canyon called Oak Creek Canyon, and you wind your way down curvy roads to the bottom. Again, our breath was completely taken away by the natural beauty of the area.
Price: One night at the Poco Diablo Resort cost 15,545 Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Travel portal.
We then set out for dinner at Sound Bites Grill, where they have live music every Thursday night. We drank sangria and listened to Spanish guitar while overlooking the red rocks at sunset over dinner. After dinner, we shopped for a bit and headed back to the hotel, since I was waking up early for a hike in the morning.
Day 3: Sedona Hiking and shopping, Chapel of the Holy Cross and a drive to Scottsdale
Since I was hiking on my own in the desert, I wanted an easy, well-marked hike that would be plenty populated early in the morning. Based on the recommendation of our Jeep guide and the staff at Clear Sky, I landed on Bell Rock, which ended up being an awesome choice. Parking was simple, the trail was populated (but not overcrowded) and the views were unbelievable from every angle. I hiked for a while and hung out under the shade of a juniper tree toward the top of the trail, trying to take in the mystical “vortex” energy that Sedona is rumored to be full of.
After hiking, we grabbed coffee and donuts at Sedonuts (which were heavenly) and then checked out of our room. My mom is a religious woman, so we couldn’t leave Sedona without making a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Even if you aren’t religious, the chapel is an architectural, spiritual marvel and worth the trip.
After that, we stopped by Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping village to shop around and have lunch at the Secret Garden Cafe (probably our favorite meal of the trip). Then, we were off to Scottsdale!
After hiking in the morning, walking up the hill to the chapel in the middle of the day and shopping outside all afternoon (all followed by a two-hour drive), we were beat, so we went straight to the hotel: The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch. The hotel and grounds are absolutely stunning, so we opted to stay in, explore the resort a little and call it an early night.
Price: One night at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch cost 12,000 World of Hyatt points. I transferred my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt account and I made the booking directly with Hyatt.
Day 4: Scottsdale
For our last full day, we decided to explore Scottsdale, and enjoy the amazing hotel pool for a bit! We started the day with breakfast at Butter’s Pancake House, a local favorite. Early in the trip, my mom and I forgot to stop by the Grand Canyon Harley Davidson store (we always get my uncle, who is a veteran/Harley rider, a shirt from every place we visit), so we decided to stop by the Scottsdale store. We pulled up and were shocked to find out we’d just stumbled upon the largest Harley Davidson store in the world. At 150,000 square feet, it’s complete with a tattoo parlor, movie theater, barbershop and a chapel. Apparently, you can get married at a Harley Davidson. Who knew? After that, we went back to the hotel for pool time.
The main hotel pool is beautiful, large and features a pool bar/restaurant along with live music… but, every single chair was taken. Thanks to our amazing concierge at the hotel, we were told about the smaller, lesser-known pool on another side of the resort and headed there. To our amazement, we had the entire pool and its cabanas completely to ourselves.
After a few hours sitting outside with temperatures over 100 degrees, we decided to go shopping for a bit. We drove to Old Town Scottsdale, which is an adorable, walkable area featuring dozens of unique shops and restaurants.
We ate at Grimaldi’s Pizza on the recommendation of one of our friends. My calzone was great, but surprisingly, my favorite margarita of the trip (I tried one everywhere) was at this pizza spot! The salted watermelon margarita there is to die for — one of the best drinks I’ve had in my life.
After dinner, it was about 110 degrees and we were ready to head in for the night. When we got back, we noticed the National QB Club was hosting an event at the resort. My mom’s celebrity crush is Terry Bradshaw, so we may or may not have just sat outside in a courtyard for an hour, waiting to see if Terry might appear. He didn’t, so we headed in and packed, to be ready to leave at 6:3 0.a.m the next morning.
Day 5: Goodbye Phoenix, hello Pittsburgh
On our last day, we got on our Southwest flight back to Pittsburgh. It was a nonstop flight, which we really appreciated after our busy trip.
This trip was everything we could’ve possibly imagined and more, and we’re so thankful to have been able to use points and miles to have the mother/daughter experience of a lifetime together.
Featured image by Lauren Brady for The Points Guy
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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