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We’re the first to suggest using your points and miles to book hotels and flights, or to maximize them by paying cash at a hotel and earning loyalty points. And we love to “double dip” by paying with a travel credit card to get extra bonus points and miles.
But there are times where this strategy isn’t the best choice, especially in countries that have really affordable accommodations to begin with. In those places, staying at an a home rental can be a much more inexpensive, immersive and sometimes, an even more comfortable experience. Plus, loyalty programs are wising up and many of them now let you earn and spend points through home-rental sites like Airbnb.
Luxury at a Low Cost, Especially for Groups
On a recent trip to the Thai Islands, Brian Kelly — aka. The Points Guy — chose to stay at the W Koh Samui for about $750 per night. And while the W was beautiful and the room had its own private plunge pool and garden area, there was no ocean or beach view and no kitchen.
Nearby, a group of Brian’s friends shared a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom luxury villa for $650 per night, which had an infinity pool, stunning ocean views, a pool table and not one, but two kitchens. It also came with breakfast and a staff that chartered taxis, offered recommendations, cooked breakfast (and lunch or dinner upon request) and cleaned.
While both experiences were wonderful, the villa seemed just as luxurious, if not more so, than the W. Considering it came to just $70 per person per night, this was clearly a more cost-effective strategy. Translation: staying at a rental with a group or family can be the ultimate money-saving strategy.
You Can Earn and Burn Points With Airbnb
Loyalty programs are giving in to the power of Airbnb. In addition to the Airbnb referral bonus program that allows users to earn credit for referring friends to the service, there are other ways to maximize, like using your Amex Membership Rewards points to pay for Airbnb stays instead of cash. Airbnb also has agreements with Virgin America and Qantas that allow you to earn miles or points for your stays. Recently, Delta offered three SkyMiles per dollar spent on Airbnb bookings; although this particular offer is no longer available, we’re hoping to see similar deals from the airline in the future.
An Airbnb Host Is Like a Concierge, but Better
A few years ago when I was staying at an Airbnb in Koh Samui, I arrived late at night after a delayed flight and was greeted by a smiling host who had a beer waiting for me. We sat down and had a drink together while he told me the best ways to enjoy his island. I found out about the cheapest spot to rent a motorbike, the best agency with an island-hopping tour, the street stall with most flavorful pad thai and the most economical but reputable dive school that offered PADI certification.
Time and time again, I’ve found that Airbnb hosts can be amazing resources, offering insider tips and tricks to find inexpensive ways to explore, eat and enjoy your vacation. A hotel concierge may be helpful, but typically they’ll recommend restaurants and tour agencies they have agreements with and if they book tours for you, the price may be inflated to pay for the hotel’s cut.
Some Cards Consider Airbnb a Travel Charge
If you spend money with a Chase card that offers point bonuses for travel charges, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll get your 3x points at that Thai home rental because Chase considers Airbnb to be a travel vendor. Make sure you use Airbnb, though, because other home-rental sites like VRBO may not be coded the same way — several TPG employees haven’t gotten bonus points for booking through them anyway. Let us know below in the comments section if you’ve had experiences with other home-rental sites being coded as travel on your credit card
You May Get a Stocked Fridge or Other Money-Saving Amenities
I’ve found most Airbnb hosts, especially in laid-back countries like Thailand, offer extra amenities that are not only convenient but will save you a few bucks. Many rentals here have water coolers, meaning you can refill your water bottles with filtered water so there’s no need to buy bottles during your stay. I’ve also had Airbnb hosts provide breakfast and leave a fridge stocked with alcohol and snacks — sometimes you’ll end up with an espresso machine, pods included, or you’ll get an array of bath amenities just as a hotel might offer. I’ve had hosts leave diving, swimming and other sports equipment for use (unicorn pool floatie? Check!) Many owners and guests leave books and magazines in English, allowing you to enjoy a little quiet reading time on the beach. You’ll often have a washing machine and sometimes a dryer, too.
Have you ever stayed at an Airbnb in Thailand? Share your experience in the comments, below.
All photos by the author.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees