Maximizing Points, Miles, and Dollars at the Spa
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
From the Away Spa at the W Vieques in Puerto Rico to the Chuan Spa at the Langham Hotel in Chicago, some of my most relaxing travel experiences have come at the hands of hotels and resorts that offer spa services. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen offers tips for how to make spa visits less expensive and more rewarding, so you can be pampered in style while sticking to your budget.
In my travels, I've found that a relaxing massage is the perfect remedy for the ailments of a long-haul flight. I hadn’t experienced the glory of spa treatments until my honeymoon several years ago, but now, just about every vacation my wife and I take involves a spa visit. As with all my purchases, I try to maximize my points earning and minimize my out-of-pocket expenses at the spa using a number of strategies. In this post, I'll highlight my favorite methods to help you do the same.
The first and most obvious way to rack up points and miles on spa purchases is to indulge in treatments at a points hotel. Unless the spa is an unaffiliated business that just happens to be located on premises, you should be able to charge your treatments directly to your room, and these charges should be eligible to earn points at the normal rate. I’ve even used this strategy when my wife tags along with me on work trips; at checkout, I simply ask to split the bill and pay part of it with a personal card and the rest with my corporate Amex.
The same holds true for visiting hotel spas even when you're not actually staying at the property. Many hotels allow you to accrue points on all purchases, regardless of whether you're an overnight guest. For example, here's Hyatt's description of how to earn points with the Gold Passport program:
Even if you can’t apply the treatments to your loyalty account, it could still make sense to use your co-branded card (like the Citi Hilton Reserve) to earn bonus points. However, this may not work if the merchant codes the purchase as health/beauty rather than as a hotel charge. See my post from last month about Merchant Category Codes for more information on how to determine whether your spa visit will be categorized as travel.
Hotel Gift Cards
Another option for hotel spa purchases is to consider purchasing gift cards. Many prominent hotel chains offer gift cards (Starwood is a notable exception), and this can be a great way to send a friend or family member to a day of relaxation. If you (or the recipient) won't actually be spending the night, I recommend calling the hotel in advance to make sure that the gift card can be used directly at the spa.
Buying directly to the chain (e.g., here for Marriott, here for Hyatt) is one option, and this can be especially beneficial if you have a co-branded card or are trying to hit a minimum spend requirement by pre-purchasing gift cards for a future hotel stay. However, you can also get discounted hotel gift cards through sites like Gift Card Granny, which has both Marriott and Hyatt gift cards available with discounts of 3-6% (plus free shipping). This doesn’t save you a ton, but every bit helps!
Of course, hotel spas aren't the only game in town. Many independent spas provide luxurious treatments and are often less expensive. One way to find local spas is by visiting SpaFinder. You can search by zip code and pull up various locations nearby. SpaFinder even has its own loyalty program, which offers 100 points for signing up, 1 point for each dollar you spend on gift cards, 20 points for booking appointments online, and 10 points for writing reviews. You can then redeem points for SpaFinder gift cards starting at just 500 points.
Now, any spa aficionado knows that SpaFinder gift cards can also be purchased elsewhere, and this offers another opportunity to maximize your points earning potential. Buy from your local grocery store and use a card with a grocery or supermarket category bonus. You can also find these gift cards at gas stations, and use a card like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, which offers 2x points on gas purchases. However, my favorite strategy is purchasing these gift cards using the Chase Ink Plus or Ink Bold at office supply stores, earning 5x Ultimate Rewards points in the process.
Staples makes this process even easier, as SpaFinder gift cards are available online with electronic delivery in $25, $50, and $100 denominations. To find them, visit this page and then filter for “Entertainment” at the left (don’t ask why they aren’t classified under “Health and Beauty”). My wife recently sent one of her best friends a gift card in this fashion, and it made for a great birthday gift and a nice sum of bonus Ultimate Rewards points!
One important caveat with these gift cards. For some reason, not every spa on SpaFinder.com will accept SpaFinder gift cards. When you search for locations near your city or zip code, there will be a check box at the side to filter the results:
Be sure to check that top box if you plan on redeeming a gift card, though it only applies to a handful of spas (just one of the 30 locations within 10 miles of my home didn't accept SpaFinder gift cards).
Regardless of whether you purchase SpaFinder gift cards directly or through a retailer like Staples, be sure to go through an online shopping portal to bump up your points earning. As always, EVReward is a great starting point, as it will show you offers through cash back sites like Ebates and BigCrumbs, as well as loyalty program portals like Ultimate Rewards. Staples doesn’t have any big offers right now (2% cash back and 1-2 points or miles per dollar on most sites), but purchasing gift cards directly from SpaFinder would earn you 3.8% back through BigCrumbs or 4 points per dollar through the Hilton or Marriott portals.
Though not as widespread as SpaFinder, Spa Week is another website that can help you find spas in your area. Spa Week too has a loyalty program, called MyWellness Rewards, and you can earn 250 points for enrolling, signing up for e-mails, and linking a Facebook or Twitter account. There are nine other ways to earn points, including 5 points per dollar spent, 10 points for appointment bookings, and 15 points for checking in on Foursquare. Rewards include gift cards and beauty products, and start at 2500 Wellness points.
Another interesting aspect of this site is the upcoming Spa Week Event, which runs from October 20-26. Through this promotion, many participating locations are offering $50 specials. You’ll need to sign-up for their e-mails in order to see details, but this can be a great opportunity to try out a new spa at a steep discount.
Finally, Spa Week is a very limited participant in the world of online shopping portals, but one of the few in which they participate offers a huge bonus: 8 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent! TPG values Marriott Rewards points at 0.7 cents apiece in his September valuations, which means that you'll earn 5.6% back for Spa Week purchases made through the Marriott shopping portal. Not too shabby! Just start here and search for Spa Week.
A final way to make the most of your spa purchases is to take advantage of various online deal sites, including Groupon, Living Social, Travelzoo, and others. I constantly see spa treatments on Groupon, and in the past I’ve even seen $50 SpaFinder gift cards available for $35 (a 30% discount). My wife and I have both purchased Travelzoo vouchers for our favorite local spa: the White Orchid Spa at the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa (a Kimpton property). For just $99, we each got a massage and facial with a complimentary glass of wine (regularly $230). All of these specials can offer significant savings; just be sure to read the fine print on each one, as many will have limited dates/times for redemption.
As I mentioned above, remember to go through shopping portals for these as well. At the time of writing, Living Social is offering anywhere from 5-9% cash back or 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, while Groupon is just behind at 5-6% cash back. Again, EVReward.com is your best friend for tracking rewards from shopping portals, so start there.
Spa hopping can be a pricey hobby, but to me, nothing says relaxation and vacation like an hour or two of pampering in a luxurious resort. Hopefully this post will help you make the most of these purchases!
What are your strategies for earning points and saving money on spa visits? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.