Experienced traveller Rohit Gupta opens up on a recent leisure trip. He advises readers on tactics he’s used to travelling 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 to be part of this 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 drive 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, which has now been merged into Marriott. Courtesy of my previous 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.
We 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 the 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 my 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 re-qualify for SPG Platinum status (mow Marriott Platinum Elite 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 my 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 (now 63,000 Marriott Rewards points).
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.At the time, SPG was selling Starpoints for 3.5c US apiece. 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 used to sell points at 35% discount. At that discounted price, the 21,000 Starpoints were still worth $477 USD ($634 AUD), which is significantly ahead of what I paid.
- Starpoints points used to convert to over 30 different airline programs 1:1 and for every 20,000 points you transferred, they would throw in a 5,000 points bonus. So, if I transferred the 20,000 Starpoints to Velocity, I would receive 25,000 points. With a 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 used to be able to be transferred over to Alaska Air Mileage plan, which would give me 25,000 Alaska miles. That’s enough for (almost) a 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 could have been used for future hotel stays before the merger with Marriott, 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.
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 in order to retain my coveted SPG Platinum status, but it also opened up numerous business class award flights and point redemption options at a range of high-end hotels.
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.