I have to be in Tucson for a week in June for a family wedding. I know, it’s Arizona. No one goes to Arizona for a vacation in the summer. Let’s just put that aside for a minute: there will be aircon and swimming pools and we’ll make the best of it and have fun with family. But I’d rather not actually pay for this trip. I got the flights using Southwest miles and the companion pass, so next up was working out the best way to not pay for lodging.Tucson, Arizona

I took a look at hotels in Tucson, where most people will be staying for the wedding. If we want to be super cheap and stay in a hotel that gets 1 or 2 stars on Tripadvisor, there are actually options for less than $40/night. I have a hard time thinking it’ll be a comfortable or enjoyable stay when fewer than half the guests who stayed at a hotel would recommend it. So let’s just say that I might want just a small step up from The $40 range.

dirty hotel room - not in Arizona

The dreaded dirty hotel room (this one’s not in Arizona)

For $60/night (including tax) I can get a booking at Candlewood suites, a budget hotel that gets good reviews, and was on sale when booking through Tripadvisor when I did the search. For six nights that’s $360, actually a very good deal. I could also book a Best Western that gets good reviews for $72.78/night ($438.66 for the week). In spite of the good reviews, these are still budget hotels, with no breakfast offered or really much for amenities. They both do have wifi and the pics look clean and decent. So either would be totally acceptable and if I had to book a hotel. Bottom line is that going to Arizona in the summer has some perks: super cheap hotels.

But do I have to pay $360+ for a hotel?

Looking into sharing economy options I know that homes on peer to peer rental sites like AirBnb will afford us more space and comfort (an entire house). I searched on AllTheRooms, an aggregator site for various lodging options and selected just the Homes and Apartments option. There are some cheap listings on there that rival the cheap hotels, but the reviews are mediocre at best. I found a mobile home like place for $240 for the 6 nights, it got good reviews though it looked quite small. There were a few other even nicer looking options for less than $300 for the week. If I had to pick between a hotel and peer to peer rental lodging I’d definitely go this route. It also gives me a kitchen so that we can eat in for at least some of the meals, saving even more money.

But do I have to pay $250+ to rent a house?

I then turned to hotel points. I found that my best value for the points I have was with Club Carlson, which allows you to redeem points for one night and get the second night free (they are discontinuing this perk of the Club Carlson credit card at the end of May). You can’t do this for consecutive stays, so I was going to do the first two and last two nights on points (1 night on points, one night free each), and then book the middle two nights with points+cash. The total cost for this: $106.80 at a hotel that I would rank about 1 class above the hotel options I’ve listed for cash only above (a Country Inn & Suites). To be fair we should also include the $79 annual fee I paid on that Club Carlson credit card to get this perk. (I’ll be canceling that card after I burn those points now that this key perk is eliminated.)

2-Club-Carlson-Visa

So let’s say my total cost to use the points for 6 nights is $145 since I only spent half my Club Carlson points for this stay. A pretty good deal.

But why pay $145 for a hotel when you can stay for free?

I had investigated home exchange options when I first learned the exact dates for this wedding. But all my offers to folks in Tucson were rejected. Recently while looking for home swaps for another trip I decided to do another search on Tucson. I found a number of new listings on HomeExchange.com so I sent off a few requests. This time I got a match: one of the people I reached out to agreed to a swap. We’ll be staying in a 1 bedroom condo near some great hiking trails in a small community with a pool. It’s free!

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Free is my best price.