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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Beth, who got excellent value from booking hotel awards during ski season. Here’s what she had to say:
My boyfriend and I are full-time consultants, part-time travel nerds. Realizing how many points we had accumulated and simultaneously itching to ski, we started looking into ski vacations in November of 2017. We realized the high prices at various Marriott and Starwood ski properties meant they would be great for redeeming points, so we picked a few places we wanted to go — Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Vail, Tahoe — and then decided when to visit based on award availability. We knew we could cancel if the dates didn’t work out, but we wanted to book early since the hotels would likely fill up.
Our first weekend was at Breckenridge in December. The Residence Inn Breckenridge is brand new (opened in 2016), right on Main Street, and provides a shuttle to the gondola as well as a room for ski storage. It was incredibly convenient for our first ski weekend of the year. We spent 35,000 Marriott points per night for two nights, which was an awesome redemption since rooms there can go for between $500 and $700 in peak season.
Next up was Beaver Creek in January for my boyfriend’s birthday. The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch is an amazing ski in/ski out property right on the mountain. They provide unbeatable service and so many amenities, including ski valet service and a massive indoor co-ed grotto style hot tub! We redeemed 70,000 points per night for three nights, and because of our Platinum Elite status we were upgraded to a suite at check-in. It included a full kitchen and living room, which was great because we could save money by cooking some of our own meals. A TPG article suggested that we always tell hotels about special occasions, and this time it paid off, as they brought us a bottle of champagne for my boyfriend’s birthday! Suites often go for over $2,000 per during peak season, so this was yet another great redemption!
In February we spent one night at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort for 45,000 points (when rooms often go for $900-$2000), and then three nights at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe for 70,000 points per night. We were again upgraded to a suite, and were able to have our friends stay with us on the pullout couch! Using points for our ski vacations helped us eliminate some of the usual stresses (carrying gear to and from the mountain, expensive hotels, etc.), and proved to be an excellent way to get value from our rewards!
Last summer Hilton, Marriott and IHG all updated their cancellation policies, requiring travelers to cancel reservations as much as 72 hours in advance to avoid a penalty. Hyatt followed suit in December, but while these moves certainly aren’t good news for customers, hotel cancellation policies remain fairly friendly overall compared to the more draconian airline counterparts. The upshot is that since hotel awards can generally be canceled with no hassle, you can afford to book rooms speculatively as Beth did. Just make sure you’re clear about which cancellation policy applies beforehand, since some reservations are non-refundable.
Most people first decide when they want to travel, and then sort out which air and hotel options work for their itinerary. But if your schedule is flexible, you can maximize your rewards by letting availability dictate when (and even where) you go. Beth and her boyfriend did just that in planning their ski vacations, and they were able to get excellent redemption values as a result. This approach won’t always work — you might have limited vacation time or a narrow window to travel around other obligations, and in that case it’s worth paying a little more to get the trip you want. When you can, however, look for discounted flights, award sales and other opportunities to score an unexpected deal.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Beth for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Feature photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees