Points Intervention: Maximizing Hotel Stays
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I get a ton of e-mail from readers asking for advice on how to maximize their points earning, whether it’s for personal use, business or both. This week, we’re featuring a new Points Intervention series where I help individuals and small-business owners get their awards earning on track.
Intervention: Carissa Reiniger Episode 5
This week I’m working with Carissa Reiniger, a small-business owner who hasn’t been using points and miles to her advantage. Yesterday Carissa wanted to know when it’s appropriate to use a business credit card vs. a personal credit card.
Today, we turn our attention to hotels.
Hotel Stays Earn Points
Three years ago, Carissa spent 280 nights in hotels, but because she hadn’t set up accounts with any points-earning programs, she got zero points out of it. A huge missed opportunity like this makes me cringe!
Although Carissa has recently cut back on her travel, she still spent 50 nights in hotels last year, again earning zero points. Her only strategy during all this time, as she told us in episode 1, was to find the cheapest room rate as quickly as possible.
Booking Directly with a Hotel vs. an Online Travel Agent
To book hotels, Carrisa relied largely on online travel agent (OTA) Hotwire, and her loyalty was rewarded with a VIP phone number for customer service — a benefit which she says got her “basically nothing.” You can certainly save money by booking your stays through OTAs such as Hotwire, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com and more, but in my experience you’re not going to get the nicest rooms, and in most cases you won't be allowed to earn points on your bookings.
By booking directly with the hotel, you can often get a similar room rate, and if you have elite status with its loyalty program, you can also get free perks such as room upgrades. And if you book your room with a co-branded hotel credit card, you'll earn more points than you will on any other purchase.
By using Hotwire, Carissa was essentially saving $5 on the room rate but paying for Wi-Fi, parking and other extras, as well as missing out on perks including free breakfast, bigger rooms, early check-in and late check-out. Definitely not worth the trade-off, if you ask me.
However, know that sometimes it pays to use OTAs, as long as you include your hotel loyalty program account number in your reservation when booking a property within that brand; even if you don’t earn points, the OTA might recognize your elite status. It can be a bit hit or miss though — while I love saving on last-minute bookings using the Hotel Tonight app (use referral code BKELLY99 to instantly earn a $25 credit), you likely won't receive SPG elite credits and perks.
Choosing the Right Hotel Loyalty Program
When looking at hotel points programs, first consider where you travel most often to determine which hotel groups have coverage in those areas. Marriott and Hilton have fairly big footprints, and while Starwood Preferred Guest’s is smaller, the elite program is one of the strongest out there. For Carissa, her 50 nights a year qualify her for SPG Platinum status, which comes with great perks such as room upgrades, comped Wi-Fi, a welcome gift upon arrival and late check-out.
Hotel Credit Cards
Whether you book directly or through third-party channels, use a co-branded hotel credit card, as they're one of the most lucrative means of earning points. When Carissa starts building her credit card strategy, throwing in one or two of these hotel cards can save her tons of money and increase her stash of points.
I recommend Starwood Preferred for its various levels of Platinum elite status, which you can earn faster by using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and its business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. For mid-tier elite status with perks such as club lounge access and free breakfast, I'd suggest Hilton Gold status, which is an automatic benefit for cardholders of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express. Carissa’s choice between these co-branded cards will depend on how each fits her travel needs and spending.
This series isn’t over just because it’s Friday! Monday Carissa and I will talk about elite status matching, and on Tuesday we'll wrap up what she likes to call her "points slap-around" — and define a plan of action.
Episode 1: How To Start Earning
Episode 2: Maximizing Your Miles
Episode 3: Choosing the Best Transferable Points Program
Episode 4: Personal vs. Business Credit Card
If you or your small business needs a Points Intervention, email firstname.lastname@example.org.