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Save on Spring Hotel Stays with Membership Programs

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Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr compares the savings offered by membership discount programs to see which one offers the best deals.

The first day of Spring has come and gone, but given this year’s winter many of you may not have even noticed. Let’s take your mind off of the continuing snow (sorry Northeasterners) and emerge from the winter blues to look at different membership programs that can save you money on upcoming hotel stays.

Some popular memberships that offer travel discounts include AAA, AARP, Student Advantage, and Veterans Advantage. You have to pay to an annual membership fee to enjoy the negotiated discounts and member benefits, which include a lot more than just travel savings. In this post I’ll look at each of these programs, and compare the savings they offer at various hotels for dates this spring.

AAA – Founded in 1902 as the American Automobile Association, AAA is the largest motoring and leisure association in America. AAA membership offers a host of marketed benefits that mainly revolve around roadside assistance and car care, though the program does offer plenty of advertised discounts for travel, as well as for shopping, dining, insurance, and financial services. Most hotel online search engines have a default AAA rate selection option when inputting your requested dates. AAA offers 5 membership levels, costing between $49 and $149 annually (plus a $10 enrollment fee).

AARP – Founded as the American Association of Retired Persons, the AARP is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. Anyone 50 years or older can join for a single year beginning at $16. You can pre-pay for up to five years, lowering the cost to $12.60 per year. Aside from the AARP benefit I look forward to most — a free Dunkin’ Donut with a L or XL beverage — they offer discounts in many categories, including shopping and travel. AARP is also a common standard discount option to select when searching hotel booking engines.

Student Advantage – Advertised as a one-stop mechanism to unlock all the discounts a student could want, an annual membership to the program will set you back $22.50. Most discounts offered are not aimed at travel, but there are a few that could be worthwhile, including 20% off Greyhound tickets, 10% off Amtrak, 15% off Choice Hotels, and 20% off rental cars. I was curious about an advertised maximum $100 rebate at Hotels.com, but in the member’s only area I cannot find any mention of Hotels.com.

Student Advantage advertises up to a $100 rebate at Hotels.com. Once you join, Hotels.com is not even listed as a partner.
Student Advantage advertises up to a $100 rebate at Hotels.com. However, once you join, Hotels.com is not even listed as a partner!

Veterans Advantage – As a Navy Lieutenant, anything offering military or veterans discounts catches my eye. Veterans Advantage is more of an online community that offers things like the latest Veterans Affairs news, career and job networking, veteran government benefits, and of course many shopping, travel, and other partner discounts. What’s nice about Veterans Advantage is that it has an entire online travel booking engine capable of searching flights, hotels, vacation packages, and cruises. Separate from the travel engine, Veterans Advantage has negotiated specific discounts, such as 5% off United, Lufthansa, and JetBlue flights. It also has corporate rate codes with Kimpton, Wyndham, Choice Hotels, Ramada, and a few other chains. The discounts aren’t staggering, but every little bit helps.

Veterans Advantage search engine has proven worthwhile and convenient.
The Veterans Advantage search engine has proven worthwhile and capable of finding good prices.

You must be serving or have served in the US Armed Forces (active or reserve) to be eligible. A 30-day trial costs $4.95 if you want a peak at what membership could do for you. An annual membership begins at $59.95.

Other national and regional hobby groups, clubs, and professional organizations have negotiated discount rates with hotel chains. Everything from the US Rowing Association to whatever pageant group the Toddlers and Tiaras show is focused around probably has negotiated hotel discounts. Hotel chains also have particular programs, like Hilton MVP, which offer savings and may be open to anyone.

Along with the above membership discounts, some hotels are offering Spring savings. For example, Starwood has a 20% off sale through April 2nd for properties in the New York City area. Taking into account all these ways to save, the tables below compare rates for a number of hotels in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles this spring.

New York City

Hotel (15-16 May) Best Available Advance Purchase AAA AARP Veterans Advantage Other
W Downtown $339.00 $409 (with Breakfast) $274.00 $288.00 $332.11 $305.00 (Spring Sale)
Sheraton Times Square $419.00 N/A $369.00 $377.00 $419.00 $356.00 (Spring Sale)
Wingate by Wyndham Manhattan Downtown $320.00 $272.00 $288.00 $268.79 $268.79 $287.99 (dining)
Hilton Garden Inn Times Square Central $329.00 $296.00 $296.00 $296.00 $296.11 $263.00 (MVP)

Washington DC

Hotel (31 May-1 Jun) Best Available Advance Purchase AAA AARP Veterans Advantage Other
Comfort Inn Pentagon City $189.99 N/A $170.99 $170.99 $151.99 $151.99 (Student Advantage
Homewood Suites by Hilton Washington $259.00 $233.00 $233.00 $233.00 $233.11 $207.00 (MVP)
W Washington D.C. $345.00 $335.00 $293.00 $293.00 $335.00 $340 (Internet)
Residence Inn Washington/Capitol $399.00 $384.00 $359.00 $339.00 $399.00 $324 (dinner/romance)

Los Angeles

Hotel (10-11 May) Best Available Advance Purchase AAA AARP Veterans Advantage Other
Hilton Checkers $229.00 $206.00 $211.00 $211.00 $206.11 $183.00 (MVP)
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites $285.00 $249.00 $271.00 $271.00 $249.01 $305.00 (parking incl)
Comfort Inn Universal Studios $114.00 N/A $108.30 $108.30 $96.60 $96.60 (Student Advantage)
Palomar Los Angeles – Westwood by Kimpton $210.00 $179.00 $189.00 $189.00 $178.50 $215.00 (Bed & Break)

For 7 of the 12 hotels, a membership program offered the best rate (or was tied for the best rate). Among those membership programs, Veterans Advantage came out ahead by offering or tying for the lowest rate at 5 of the 12 properties. Hilton MVP is always a great rate if you can find it available at a property you like. One solid conclusion you can reach from these results is that Best Available rates are your worst choice, as they were never close to being the least expensive.

When it comes to travel discounts offered by the membership programs, I’m most impressed with Veterans Advantage. The comprehensive search engine and negotiated discount codes make the site a good option for one-stop shopping with meaningful savings. However, the peace of mind a AAA membership brings in addition to travel savings makes it my choice for the most valuable membership program open to the general public. 

Which programs do you use for discounts when you travel?

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