Lately, I’ve been re-assessing my focus with loyalty points schemes. I’m a firm believer in ‘earn and burn’ (you never know when schemes will devalue, so its best to use up points while you can) and I absolutely love to redeem my points for first class flights. However, at the moment, I’m focusing on using my points for accommodation. Here are five reasons why:
1 – Accommodation often costs much more than the airfare to your destination
These days, it’s incredibly cheap to travel. You can easily find airfares under $1000 from Australian capital cities to Europe, even in peak season. These deals would have been unheard of ten years back. But what happens when you arrive at your destination? If you have a hankering for stylish travel, or you’re visiting during peak season, you’re likely to pay dearly for it. It’s not unheard of for rooms at fairly basic hotels to command upwards of $500 night – take Japan in Cherry Blossom season, or New York in December.
Using your points for the accommodation component of your trip instead of the journey can save you lots of money – particularly if you’re prepared to use a cheap economy flight deal to get to your destination.
Last year I enjoyed a fabulous stay at Domes of Elounda, Crete. This high end Autograph Collection resort can be booked for just 45,000 Marriott points per night in peak season. Located in the stunning Elounda Bay, this all-suite property offers private decks with sea views, a sumptuous breakfast each morning and dedicated child minding facilities. Would you bypass business class award flights for cheap Scoot airfares to Greece, and consider using your points here instead?
2 – A ‘no black out’ policy allows you to book for in-demand dates
A number of loyalty schemes including Hilton Hhonors, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards offer a ‘no blackout’ policy. Simply put, this is a guarantee that a standard room will be made available for an award redemption, every day of the year. Think New Years Eve in New York, Australia Day in Sydney, Carnevale in Venice or Cherry Blossom season in Japan – times of the year when room charges traditionally skyrocket. While competition for these dates is fierce, this policy opens up tremendous opportunities. Like popular award flight redemptions, rooms during these periods are in high demand, so it pays to move quickly. Tip: set your calendar to the date (or even hour!) the rooms are released online to maximise your chances of securing an award night booking for a popular date using points.
As an example, during the 2018 Cherry Blossom season, I booked and stayed at the Ritz Carlton, Kyoto, using 70,000 Marriott points (the equivalent of 23,333 SPG points). By comparison, the cash rate for an entry level room at the time of my stay was approximately $2,600 per night. This provided me with 8.97 cents value per SPG point – tremendous!
3 – When plans change, cancel your award night booking without penalty
Most award nights are booked under flexible cancellation policies, which allow you to modify or cancel your booking without penalty very close to your stay date. In my opinion, this makes award night bookings very attractive, particularly if you think your plans may be subject to change. In comparison, flight redemption bookings are often much less flexible. Most airlines demand a sizeable fee or points penalty in order to change or cancel a booking.
4 – Booking an award night can be incredibly cheap
While many people aspire to use their points for business and first class travel, you’ll need to outlay a significant amount of points to do so. By comparison, you can book a hotel award night very cheaply.
Let’s take SPG as an example. Until August 2018, you can book a weekend night in a lowest category property (Category 1) for just 2,000 points per night (the equivalent of 4,000 American Express Membership Rewards points), or a hotel in category 2 from just 3,000 points (the equivalent of 6,000 American Express Membership Rewards points).
High earning cards like the AMEX Platinum Edge and the David Jones AMEX card earn you the equivalent of 1.5 SPG points per dollar spent at supermarkets. This means that you’re essentially earning a weekend night at a Category 1 SPG property for every $1,333 you spend on groceries – not bad!
5 – Hold elite hotel status? Get even more value from your award booking
Those who hold elite hotel status can unlock additional value from hotel award bookings. Depending on the tier you hold, elite membership can unlock valuable perks like executive lounge access, breakfast, late checkouts and / or room upgrades. These benefits can save you significant money when you travel.
If you don’t yet hold elite hotel status, you might be surprised to find out that it can be quite easy to obtain. Some credit cards offer it as a card member benefit. The American Express Platinum Card currently offers Starwood Preferred Guest Gold (mapping to Marriott Gold until August 2018). And as we’ve previously written about here, you could also choose to purchase Accor Gold status for a very reasonable fee via the Ibis Business card.
To sum up, despite the incredible experiences that premium airline travel can offer, a plane trip is finite, and not your final destination. You’re likely to spend far more time in your accommodation than you would on a flight – so why not make the most of it in luxury?