My Weekend Money Diary #9: A Frugal-Luxe Anniversary Trip to Miami

My Weekend Money Diary #9: A Frugal-Luxe Anniversary Trip to Miami

What happens when someone who’s “good at money” tracks their spending the old school way? With a pen and paper and not using an automated system like Mint?

Inspired by the Man Repeller and Refinery29 money diaries, I thought it’d be fun to see what happens when I track my spending for a weekend. Although I’m conscious about my overall spending, I’m at a point where I don’t feel the need to review purchases line by line. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for surprises.


My husband and I don’t do date nights, buy each other birthday gifts, or go out on Valentine’s Day. But for our first wedding anniversary it feels like we should do something.

My husband suggests staying in a hotel in the city for a weekend. Sounds cool until we see prices: $400 for a room at The Standard where they’ll treat you like the gum on the bottom of their shoe? $600 per night at that new hotel in Brooklyn?

Then I have an idea: Forget about NYC. What if traveling somewhere else actually ends up being cheaper?


We wake up at 5:30am to catch our flight—we’re spending the weekend in Miami! It’s also June 15th, which means it’s payday and we’re making it rain until the bills come, and the second season of Queer Eye premieres today, so everything is right with the world.

Since it’s so early, we order a Lyft to take us to the airport. Otherwise, we’re talking about a 90-minute train ride. The security line is a breeze.

Suddenly, my husband, looking at his phone, stops in his tracks. “WHAT???”

What happened?
Oh no…did another celebrity pass away?

“That Lyft ride cost $180!”

Airport rides at most cost $60. $180 is like a one-way PLANE RIDE from NYC to Miami. WTF$#@&(*)*^($^*$&^)# indeed. $179.29 (more on this later)

I’m thirsty, but I don’t like buying water at the airport when it’s going to come free once I’m on the plane. My husband buys a couple snacks from Starbucks. $8

Our flights would have cost $706.80 total, but we used 47,120 Chase Sapphire points, so we paid nothing for the flights out of pocket. I know it’s not the best redemption, but I didn’t want to pay those flight prices. $350 a pop for a three-hour plane ride just seems wrong.

Miami Architecture

We grab a taxi and head over to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. $34.56

The Mandarin Oriental in NYC is $$$$ as hell, but here in Miami, and I don’t know how, but a room in a five-star hotel is costing us just $259 per night. We also get to check in at noon instead of at three. The hotel has a program called “Friends of MO,” where you basically sign up for their e-mails and pick two “privileges” for your stay. We picked early check-in and a free second breakfast. On top of that, we also booked the Miami Getaway rate, which gives us a $75 daily dining credit. Ka-ching!

Mandarin Oriental Miami Waterfront

Once I’m in the room, the first thing I do is turn on the laptop so I can see if I have points in my Alaska Airlines account. I transferred Starwood points to our Alaska accounts the night before to book an Asia flight for the winter holidays, and every day that goes by where I don’t have the points means there’s a possibility of someone sniping our flights. No points have arrived.

We’re mulling over lunch options, when there’s a knock at the door. The hotel sent up anniversary dessert, champagne, and a handwritten note for our anniversary. What a nice gesture! Call me easily impressed, but I’m still bitter about spending $600 on a dinner at Eleven Madison Park, and not even getting a “Ooh, you’re going on your honeymoon.” We decide to save the champagne for later.

Dessert before lunch, it is.

We’re starving and that $75 daily dining credit is burning in our pockets. We head to the hotel’s Peruvian restaurant, La Mar, to see what’s what.

I get a quinoa salad with no greens, but it tastes so much better than a regular salad, and my husband gets a hummus salad. The waitress asks if we want to add a protein to our salads. Um, of course! After she walks away, I think to myself, oh, that will probably set us back another $5 or something. After we get the check, I find out that little chicken skewer actual cost $7 a piece 🙁 $52

La Mar Quinoa Salad

After lunch, we test out the free entertainment: the pool. This is my first “do nothing” type of vacation. I’ve never really valued those types of trips before, since I’m usually super active when I travel. Like, you will be walking 20 miles a day if we go on vacation together. But I’m starting to like this whole relaxing thing.

Mandarin Oriental Miami Hotel Pool

For dinner, we walk 15 minutes to Brickell Center where there’s an open-air mall. My blogger friend, The Rich Miser, lives in Miami and said we had to go to Pubbelly Sushi. I get the Big Eye Tuna (love crispy rice), and my husband gets the Salmon Roll. $42.64

Pubbelly Big Eye Tuna Sushi

Friday Total: $308.49


We’re both more tired than we thought and wake up late at 9:30. Time to indulge in in-room breakfast. My breakfasts are usually pretty light, so we order one big breakfast for two. The American breakfast is more than enough for 2 people, and it comes with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which would have cost $8 separately. We also order a pot of coffee for my husband. $39.28

Mandarin Oriental Miami Breakfast

Off to the pool! Instead of Instagram-friendly poolside cocktails, we decide that using our $75 daily dining credits on food is more important to us. Plus, we still have that unopened champagne in the fridge. We order sushi and a wrap for lunch. $40.64

When in Miami, you have to check out South Beach, right? Off in a Lyft we go. After that $180 Lyft charge, I have a sinking feeling about how much this Lyft ride is going to cost. It feels like we’ve been on the road for half an hour. But I’m pleasantly surprised when the receipt comes out to what was originally estimated. $16.58

The weather at the beach is hazy and unbearable. But I’m not going to spend the $12 to rent an umbrella or $20 to rent a cabana. Plus, the water isn’t much help to cool us down. It’s as warm as pee water–probably 80 degrees! I look over at my poor husband and he’s got a towel over his head and is quickly sweating through it. We need to get out of here fast. We order another Lyft to go back to the hotel and to the pool, where there are more trees around to help cool things down. $20.62

Miami's South Beach

I still can’t believe a 30-minute car ride only costs $15. In NYC, this would cost at least double.

Back at the hotel, the points made it to our Alaska accounts. Now I’m in concentration mode, making sure my husband and I get the exact flights I want. We’ll be flying Japan Airlines from Bangkok to NYC with a stopover in Tokyo for 65k points a pop, plus $151.62 in taxes and fees.

Saturday Total: $268.74


Last day! We order the same breakfast as yesterday. $37.91

Then one more poolside hangout.

Mandarin Oriental Miami Pool

At checkout, I’m expecting our grand total number to be about $1,000, but the front desk lady surprises me when she says it’s only $637.49. So, we ate five meals at the hotel all costing about $40 and up, and only had to pay $52 for all of it. Amazing! $637.49

Lyft to the airport. $15.25 (Also, notice how this Lyft ride cost half the price of a cab ride in the opposite direction.)

It’s lunchtime so my husband buys water and water and granola bars: $5.84. I opt for a less healthy choice–Wendy’s chicken nuggets and fries: $8.42

We land in NYC. Scarred by that original Lyft incident, we try to offset costs by taking public transportation home. $16

Past-Luxe planned for me to be hungry and lazy when I got home tonight, so Thursday I purposefully saved part of my dinner. I eat leftover cold sesame noodles with a poached egg on top. My husband orders some Vietnamese. $13.07

Sunday Total: $733.98

Weekend Breakdown:

Flights: $0
Hotel: $585.34
Ground Transportation: $174.98
Future Trip Expenses $151.62
Non-Hotel Food $77.97
Hotel Food and Drinks $52.15

Weekend Total: $1,042.06 (includes dining credits and refunds)

Frugal Wins

1. Considering traveling in low or shoulder seasons to capitalize on lower prices. I looked up the cost of our hotel for a room in November ($500), December, ($600), and on Valentine’s Day (A heart-stopping $800)–man, paying $259 per night felt like such a steal. Usually, I pick Airbnbs or cheaper hotels, because most of our time is spent outside of the hotels. But we basically lived at the pool this time, and I’m happy with the value we got.

2. I usually book hotels through third-party sites, but booking directly with the hotel can lead to savings. Being able to enjoy the hotel three hours earlier was nice, and the dining credits were such a money saver.

Frugal Fails

Ugh, that $180 Lyft charge was an aggravating way to start a trip. My husband has promised me he’s going to call Lyft tomorrow to see what can be done. Moral of the story: Especially because the app might not indicate that it’s “Prime Time” pricing, don’t forget to always check the estimate price before completing a request! You can do this even without the app.

Update: My husband e-mailed Lyft and we got the prime time fees removed! We’re now $107.32 richer.

Are you into “do nothing” type of vacations? Have you ever gotten hit by hidden Lyft or Uber fees? Have you noticed a difference in taxi costs versus Uber/Lyft?

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