In this section, I’ll discuss different things you can do to save money, time or headaches while traveling. Hopefully these tips will make your travel experience more enjoyable. Whether you’re going on vacation, or traveling constantly like we are, it should not be stressful. These hints and tips are things I have learned along the way In all of the years I traveled the world for work and the last 16 months traveling the USA. Hopefully they help you too.
Become a Point Junkie
This first tip is a must if you travel a lot now or you’re trying to save for travel later. By point junkie I mean, no matter what you buy in your normal day to day life, no matter where you stay, where you eat or what mode of transportation you use when you’re traveling, make sure you are getting some kind of reward for these activities.
- The first tip in this category is get one or
more credit cards and use them as much as possible
- You want cards that will give you points or cashback
- Ideally get card(s) that don’t require an annual fee, but an annual fee can be justified if you remember to use the card religiously and get great rewards.
- While most of these cards give you rewards on everything you use them for, some give you more points for certain kinds of activity (like travel related or gas purchases)
- Use these cards for Everything you can instead of cash. Remember, you’re using these cards for things you would normally spend the money for anyway, but this way, you’re getting points or cashback which maximizes the purchase
- Extremely Important: Make sure you pay off the credit card(s) each month or you dilute the benefit of the reward. The insane interest rate that these cards carry with them only comes into play IF you carry a balance over to the next pay period. If you pay them off each month, no interest is applied to your charges
- Don’t use them for cash advances. You will NOT get points and you WILL get charged the interest rate compounded from the first day you take the advance. In this one instance, the credit cards all act as little loan sharks.
- If you’re looking to sign up to get a credit
- Check the sign up bonus. Sometime it pays to procrastinate and get a good point bonus when signing up
- Check if the card waives the first year of annual fee. That can be a bonus right there
- If you plan to travel a lot, check out cards that give you more for travel activity (for example Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you 3 points for a wide range of travel related charges AND if you use the points through their travel portal, they will give you 50% more for your points instead of transferring to an airline for example)
- Check the interest rates if you think you might carry a balance (some have 0% interest for a period and some are in excess of 24%!)
- Check what other benefits they have (like rental car coverage, travel insurance, purchase protection/warranty extension, etc.). These are added benefits that can also save you money.
- One site I look at religiously is The Points Guy. He and his team have many articles on travel and are constantly up on the latest credit cards. Here’s the latest article from the Points Guy The Points Guy Credit Cards Analysis for 2020
- The bottom line, credit cards are a great way to get points you can use to save money on travel. Just choose wisely and make sure you pay them off each month.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
Continuing on from the previous post on becoming a points junkie, let’s talk about Hotel Loyalty programs. Not all programs are created equal just as not all hotel chains are the same. Generally you’ll pick the loyalty program for the hotel chain you use all the time. When you’re traveling all over the US, you sometimes need to have all of them (at least the majors) in your pocket to maximize the benefits. Some claim to have great benefits, but in my experience, those benefits are hard to come by at times depending on the program.
- The first thing to think about here is your preference of hotel when you travel.
- If you’re staying at mostly Marriott branded hotels, don’t sign up for Hilton Rewards right away. You want to get to the highest status for the hotel brand you frequent as quickly as possible to get the benefits. You can play one program off the other to rapidly go through the statuses….more later.
- Don’t just sign up right away.
- The same advice applies for hotel loyalty programs as it does for credit cards, look for the promos that will either give you a great start on points or a bump in status right away or with just few stays
- If you’re reading this and planning to travel almost immediately, sign up regardless of a promo. You want to start getting points as soon as you stay.
- If you want to jumpstart your status, the first credit card to get is one of the ones for that brand. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy card will give you immediate Gold Status will give you a great start at getting more points and some perks.
- One of the best sites I use when looking for promos for both hotel, car, credit card and airline loyalty programs is Frequesnt Flyer Bonues …This one site stays up with them all. You’ll even find ones that are specific to a country, part of the US or a portion of the brand.
- Once you’ve signed up
- Update your profile making sure to add your loyalty number to the profile
- If you have any pending reservation, update those reservations with your loyalty number (you can also do this when you check in, but if you do it ahead of time on the site, you won’t need to remember)
- If there was a status bonus when you signed up, make sure you read the conditions. These programs can be very picky when it comes to following the rules. If even one thing was not followed, they can deny your eligibility for that promo.
- Each status level bump gives you more benefits. For example
- Most of the programs start with 10 points per $1 spent. As you progress through the status levels, they give you a percentage more points per dollar spent. The higher in status you are, the higher percentage of points they give. Marriott goes as high as 75% more base points and Hilton goes as high 100% more base points
- These points are not always equal though. Later on in this post I’ll explain
- Statuses are the pecking order of these loyalty programs. The higher the status, the more perks you may see and the more likely you will get some of these perks.
- All of them usually provide the “upgraded room” perk.
- Upgrade does not always mean a suite. Sometimes they view an upgrade as a larger room, a higher floor, or a better view. Don’t expect a suite all the time.
- They always say “if available” and this is the catch. They are not always available. Some, have a certain amount of suites they will give out as upgrades while others, like Marriott, claim no blackouts. In a higher demand market, that number may be lower than in a lower demand market.
- They’ll say they will automatically upgrade you before you check in. I’ve found that true….sometimes. It is always good to ask if an upgrade is available when checking in. But go in armed with knowledge of what is available. When you get there, go online with your phone and try to book the room you want for the duration of your stay. If it’s available for booking, it “May” be available for an upgrade.
- When you check in, ask if there’s an upgrade available AND by all means be polite! Nothing turns off the people at the desk than a person being arrogant and flaunting their status. They can see your status on the screen if you’ve added your loyalty number to the reservation. Ask politely and smile. You’d be surprised at how that works most of the time. If they say no, politely thank them and say thanks for trying.
- I have often used this method especially when the hotel has a club level. The club level has free breakfast and usually finger food and drinks at night (the drinks are not always free, but sometime they are) Call the hotel right after making the reservation and politely tell them you just made a reservation (have the number handy so they don’t have to find it) and ask if it’s possible to get an upgrade to the club level. If they say no, you can mention your status and that you thought you might be able to. If you have a high status like Titanium with Marriott, they may confirm an upgrade on the spot. If they say no, politely thank them saying you’re looking forward to your stay and please add a note to the reservation that you are looking for an upgrade if available. They may think twice later and remember you were nice and upgrade you anyway.
- Some will give you free breakfast.
- Yes almost all of the lower end hotels for the various chains have some kind of free breakfast. But there’s breakfast and then there’s a real breakfast. Some leave a lot to be desired and some are pretty damn good.
- When you get to the mid to high level offerings for these chains, breakfast is not included unless you have a higher status. Hilton is a great example. If you stay at the Home2Suites, Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites, “breakfast” is free. If you stay at a Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree, Hilton or higher, it is not…unless you have status. In those cases, breakfast for you and a guest will be provided in the onsite restaurant.
- Again check the rules for these programs to see what each provides as perks.
- What can I use the points for?
- You can use the points for stays, transfer to airlines, shopping or even get perks at various hotels (like spa treatments).
- Obviously you want to get the best bang for the buck and not all points are created equal. Spending them for things like Spa treatments is one of the worse values for these points.
- As stated almost all hotel loyalty offer 10 base points per dollar spent at the hotel, but lower end hotels in the chains are only 5 points per dollar….check the rules.
- They are not all valued the same either. The value of these points is what you can get for them. For instance
- Marriott has different categories assigned to their hotels, but it’s not all based on the brand. I’ve stayed at Residence Inn just outside San Francisco for 10 nights for 100,000 points because it was a category 3 (at that time each night was 12,500 per night and the fifth night was free). I’ve stayed at other Residence Inns on Points that were Category 4 and that same stay would have cost me 140,000 points (17,500 points per night with the fifth night free)
- The category in this case is purely Marriott’s discretion and usually based on a variety of factors like location, age, etc. You need to look at reviews to see what others are saying about a hotel before you book
- I find Hilton brand hotels have a much higher point redemption then Marriott’s brands, so I tend to stay more at Marriott branded hotels and get most of my points with Marriott.
- You can use points at the spas at the higher end hotels and even transfer them to airlines for more miles. I have found redeeming them for hotel stays the biggest bang for your buck.
- One thing to note, when redeeming your points for stays, THE best value is when you stay 5 nights. Most of these programs give you the 5th night free. So the number of points you need to redeem for 4 nights is exactly the same as 5 nights. You might as well plan for 5 nights if you can.
- Just because you have the points doesn’t mean you have to use them right away.
- Sometimes paying is your best option especially if you are travelling like we are. If we had to eat out every night, we’d be way over budget. Sometime you have to cook in.
- Example, we like staying at Residence Inns or Towneplace Suites because they have full kitchen setups with a stove (sometimes even an oven), dishes, silverware etc. If I can stay at one of these in an area we want to visit and the price is in my budget, I’ll pay and get the points. But if it’s expensive to stay, points may be better and help with my budget
- Last year when we visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, I noticed that the hotels in the area were super expensive. The Towneplace Suites got great reviews, but even at the Senior rate, was $365 a night! When I checked the Marriott site, it was labeled a Category 3 but at peak season levels. We stayed 2 nights for 35,000 points total (17,500 per night) and it saved us $730 plus tax (there are never any taxes when you use points either). THAT was a great use of points vs cash. The place was very comfortable and their breakfast every morning was great!
- Points DO expire. Check the rules for each loyalty program. They’ll tell you how long they will last (Usually 1.5 years). But the expiration clock can be reset to get a fresh 1.5 years.
- Any activity for the account will reset the expiration clock to day 1
- Stay at a hotel
- Redeem points
- Transfer points
- Join Rewards Network and get points or miles for just dining out. You have to check which restaurants participate. Once that activity hits your account, your expiration clock resets
- Get a hotel branded credit card. When you use this card to charge your stay at the hotel chain it’s branded for, you get more points even for everyday purchases. Each statement period, your expiration clock resets. The normal Marriott Bonvoy AMEX card gets 3x the points for charging your hotel stay and anything spent at the hotel. Everyday purchases are 1 point for every dollar spent.
- Once you build up loyalty in one program, you can now use this for a Status Match with the others to catapult you up the status chain of the others
- These status matches are not always available so you’ll need to check with each hotel program
- They always have a minimum amount of night or stays within a set period to keep the status they match
- If you’re traveling a lot like we are, it’s easy to make these matches
- One comes with an extra match. If you do the match for Wyndham, you get an additional match for Caser’s entertainment group. They have casinos all over, so if you’re planning a casino trip AND have status in one of the major chains, do a match with Wyndham to get more match for your buck.
- We recently did this and immediately were comped a room at Harrah’s in Biloxi
The Bottom line is, sign up for all of the hotel loyalty plans for the hotels you may be staying at. Look for the promos to augment the points you’ll be earning and get your status up there. The higher the status, the better off your stay can be and you can make your travel dollars stretch. Remember, anytime your spending money, get points and make the points work for you. Travel Smarter!