Experienced traveller Rohit Gupta opens up on a recent leisure trip. He advises readers on tactics he’s used to travel in style using minimal cash outlay and explains why you should consider asking for compensation in points when you encounter a nightmare hotel situation.
Not nearly for as long as Qantas, but I too ‘call Australia home’, having lived here since 1999. That’s almost 20 years and counting. In that time, I have been lucky enough to explore a lot. From the red dirt of outback Northern Territory to lush rolling hills of Tasmania. But the one piece missing from my travel puzzle was Western Australia. It’s kinda spooky how few people living in Eastern cities have ever set foot in WA. I kid you not, ask around you will be surprised too. 😳
Not content at being part of that statistic, I had been itching for a while to get over there. The opportunity finally arose at Easter long weekend this year when my parents were visiting us from India. Wasting no time, I booked all of us on a 4 day adventure to that far-far away land, which also goes by its other name, PERTH. 😉
Initial wins with a cheap Virgin Australia flight upgrade
Our plan was to fly Virgin Australia to our destination. I initially booked economy tickets, as I always do for domestic travel. However, Virgin was advertising a 30% discount on their usual ‘Upgrade Me Bid’ offer. Since my parents had never flown business, I decided to treat everyone to Virgin’s legendary ‘The Business’ and put in a bid at the lowest price possible, which was successful. All up I paid $425 per ticket, $180 for the economy and another $245 to upgrade. Although there were no extra points or status credits for the upgrade, I don’t think I was even slightly in the position to complain. A four plus hour flight in ‘The Business’ for $425 is an offer I would take every day of the week. You’ll find a review of Virgin Australia’s The Business here.
Maximising points earn through Budget Car Hire
Like all good things in life, those four hours flew by too quickly. Soon enough we landed in Perth and picked up a hire-car from Budget. I was able to take advantage of a 2,000 Flybuys points per day promo, earning me 8,000 Flybuys points. I then transferred these points to Velocity (earning 4,176 Velocity points with a 20% transfer bonus) and after a short dive arrived at our hotel, ‘Aloft’.
Arriving at Aloft, Perth
I had booked 2 standard rooms for the trip at Aloft, Perth. This property is part of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) group of hotels. Courtesy of my SPG Platinum status, we were upgraded to the ‘Savvy suites’ on Level 22. I would have been happy if they had upgraded just one room, but to have both upgraded to suites was a fantastic start to the trip.
Aloft Perth. Source: SPG.comWe settled into our suites nicely and days one and two passed pretty uneventfully. Little did we know all that was about to change.
Our second night
On our second night, as we turned off the lights, went to bed and were almost 70% of the way into falling asleep, suddenly the room lit-up. All the lights came on and we were unable to turn them off. It was after 11 pm. I called the front desk and within minutes there was a knock on the door. A staff member stood there, with the maintenance crew by her side. They came in, did some work for about 5 minutes and assured us that the problem was fixed and left. It was inconvenient but not wanting to make a fuss, we went back to sleep. Yet, just five minutes later, we were sitting upright in our bed, the room fully illuminated once more.
Another phone call (slightly stern) ensued and on this occasion the staff suggested that we move to another room for the night while they got the contractors to look at the problem in the morning. We left all our belongings there and slept in the adjacent room, where thankfully the lights stayed off. Phew. 😓
We went out the next day and when we returned in the evening, the staff advised us that the problem has been decisively fixed and that we were able to return to our suite.
Our third night
After a long, hot and tiring drive to Busselton & Margaret River, and stuffed from a sumptuous dinner, it was time to catch some sleep once more. We turned off the lights and dived into our bed. The problems that besieged us on night two were the furthest thing in our minds, as we reminisced on what was a memorable day.
And yet, five minutes later, BOOM, the suite was fully bathed in light. From the bathroom to the sitting area to the bedroom, it was brighter than Christmas night. It was déjà vu, it was my ‘Groundhog Day’, or more precisely ‘Night’. 😬
I’m not generally one for complaints and confrontations, but the time to grin and bear it was well and truly past. Five minutes later, after an angry phone call, we were once again moved into the adjacent room with the night manager profusely apologising. To make up, she offered us a drink coupon to use in the xyz bar next day, which to my mind was grossly inadequate. However, when challenged, she expressed her inability to offer anything more as that fell within the purview of ‘higher up’s’ as she called them. At this point, I just wanted to get back to sleep so called it a night, but not before asking that the ‘higher up’s contact me in the morning.
After we finished up at breakfast, the front desk manager met me, wanting to speak about the incident from the night before.
He was very apologetic and blamed it on Aloft Perth being a ‘technology driven hotel’. He was extremely polite, respectful and seemed genuinely remorseful. To make up for all the stress and hassle, he offered to waive charges for nights two and three, and since we had one more night to go, said he would provide that as a complimentary night too. That was a generous offer and on another occasion I would have gladly accepted it and moved on.
But I had something else on mind. You see, one of the things about holding elite status with an airline or hotel program is that you continually have to fly or spend nights at the hotel to retain it. For SPG Platinum status, I need to have a minimum of 25 stays or 50 nights each year to retain it.
At the time, I was into a period of ‘double elite qualifying nights and stays’ which SPG had sent me to requalify for SPG Platinum status. Generally speaking, the two rooms I had booked for four nights would give me two stays and eight nights. However, under the offer, these were worth four stays and 16 nights, almost one third of the way to the 50 nights I needed to hit SPG Platinum status. I explained this to the front desk manager and asked if he would instead consider awarding me 3 nights worth of SPG Starpoints. Since Aloft Perth is a category 3 hotel, that would have meant awarding 21,000 Starpoints.
The front desk manager was open to the idea but said he would need to consult SPG. Ten minutes later, he called me and confirmed that he had spoken to SPG. As a result, 21,000 Starpoints would be credited to my account over the next week or so – a win! This was a phenomenal outcome and probably the best compensation I have received to date. I explain below why:
- I paid $120 per night for the standard room. The total cost for three nights was $360. Normally, SPG sells Starpoints for 3.5c US a piece. On that price, the 21,000 points awarded to me were worth $735 USD, which on current rate converts to $977 AUD, more than 2.5 times what I paid for my room. Occasionally, SPG sell points at 35% discount. At that discounted price, the 21,000 Starpoints are worth $477 USD ($634 AUD), still significantly ahead of what I paid.
- Starpoints points convert to over 30 different airline programs 1:1 and for each 20,000 points you transfer, they throw in a 5,000 points bonus. So, if I was transfer the 20,000 Starpoints to Velocity, I would receive 25,000 points. With the current 20% bonus promo on top, that would make it 30,000 Velocity points, almost within striking distance of 35,500 points required to fly between Sydney and Perth in ‘The Business’ as mentioned above.
- 20,000 Starpoints can be transferred over to Alaska Air Mileage plan, which would give me 25,000 Alaska miles. That’s enough for a (almost) round trip business class flight on Japan Airlines within Asia, if you know how to use it. This is particularly appealing for Perth based flyers who can catch a cheap flight to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to position themselves for the Japan Airlines flight.
- The 21,000 Starpoints can be used for future hotel stays too – enough for 5 nights at SPG cat 1 and 2 hotels, or these could be transferred over to Marriott Rewards for 63,000 Marriott points. Marriott Rewards points open up a number of amazing redemption possibilities which we’ve previously written about here. For example, 60,000 Marriott points is all you need for 5 nights at the glorious JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur. If Hong Kong is on your to-do list, you can treat yourself to a night at the opulent Ritz Carlton for 70,000 points (you will need to come up with an extra 7,000 points though).
If you travel a lot, it’s inevitable that you will run into problems occasionally with an airline or hotel. But as they say, every challenge presents an opportunity. By electing to receive Starpoints instead of cash, I was not only able to accelerate my stays/nights which will go a long way towards retaining my coveted SPG Platinum status, but it also opens up numerous business class award flights and point redemption options at a range of high end hotels.
Just six months into the year, I am already up to 41 nights and expect to achieve the required 50 nights I need for SPG Platinum status well before the year is out, thus providing me an opportunity to experience non SPG/Marriott premium hotels like the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, which I have been wanting to do for some time.
They say ‘Cash is King’, but in this instance by saying no, I earned myself something which would help me in creating lifelong memories, and that to me is certainly worth more than cold hard cash.
Rohit is a financial consultant by the day and a passionate points & miles collector at all other times. Over the last 18 months, Rohit has earned and redeemed over a million points to fund his (mostly) business and first class travel to 10 different countries. Follow Rohit on twitter @Rohit_FP