Thursday, February 28, 2008

SPG Annual Category Shift: Yearn to Burn

The Laguna Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
Dec 2003, SPG Category 2, free weekend night =3,000 Starpoints
March 2008, SPG Category 4, free weekend night =10,000 Starpoints

[Note from Ric Garrido Mar 3, 2008:
I apparently misread the "SPG Hotel Category Changes for 2008" chart at the time I wrote this post. I do not see The Pulitzer, Amsterdam showing a Hotel Category Change in March 2008. The Pulitzer remaining at Category 5 made much of my blog text moot concerning that hotel going from Category 4 to Category 6 in just over a year. I have edited the blog post to delete the portion on The Pulitzer. I also corrected some elementary math errors: Increasing from 100 to 250 is a 150% increase, not 250%.]

Gary Leff's post, February 25, 2008 on View from the Wing about the SPG annual category shift got me to thinking about my reaction to the coming changes. I understand the rationale for SPG increasing the categories for high demand hotels. Yet, I feel the pain of devalued points.

I have decided to look at it initially from my personal travel perspective.

Maybe later, I'll tackle a real analysis of the shifts if I can locate charts showing the SPG categories from 2004 and 2006 to help me track the changes. Blondebomber of FlyerTalk has active links to his SPG Hotel Category spreadsheet on the internet. The spreadsheet tracks the SPG hotel category changes from 2005 to the current March 4, 2008 changes.

Hotel Shifts I notice from past stay award rates for a single free night:

Sheraton Noosa, Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia,
July 2003
Category 3
7,000 points

March 2008
Category 5
12,000-16,000 points

Four Points Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia
July 2003
Category 2
3,000 points weekend; 4,000 points weekday

March 2008
Category 4
10,000 points

Westin Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
December 2003
Category 1
2,000 points weekend; 3,000 points weekday

March 2008
Category 3
7,000 points
December 2003
Category 2
3,000 points weekend; 4,000 points weekday
March 2008
Category 4
10,000 points

Royal Orchid Sheraton, Bangkok, Thailand
March 2004
Category 1
2,000 points weekend; 3,000 points weekday

March 2008
Category 3
7,000 points

Westin Atlanta Airport
June 2007
Category 2
3,000 points weekend; 4,000 points weekday

March 2008
Category 3
7,000 points

Sheraton Newark Airport
June 2007
Category 2
3,000 points weekend; 4,000 points weekday

March 2008
Category 3
7,000 points

I have made a very rough estimate of the category changes at hotels I've visited.
I've probably redeemed 150,000 to 200,000 Starpoints for free nights at some of the hotels listed here and other places and locations I've stayed over the past five years.
I estimate it would now take about 260,000 points for the same number of nights at hotels where I redeemed points for stays for about 100,000 points.
Next month, 100,000 Starpoints might buy 10 nights at a selection of hotels where I redeemed 100,000 points for 25+ nights.

Hotel room rates in most places have not risen anywhere near 150% in the past five years. Starwood point inflation has been devastatingly high on the free night redemption side for many travelers.

In Starwood's favor, the widespread expansion of available Cash & Points rates in 2007 for hotels in all SPG categories from 1-6 has proved to be a high value use of Starpoints at many hotel properties.

$60 and 4,000 Starpoints for a Category 4 hotel award night can be a great alternative to 10,000 Starpoints or a $250+/night paid room rate. Paying $60 cash is a much higher value than spending 6,000 Starpoints.

$150 and 8,000 Starpoints for a Category 6 hotel night is often a better choice than 20,000 Starpoints or a paid room rate of $500/night.

I am glad I traveled when I did.

How much has your Starpoints earning power increased over the past five years?
My earning power hasn't increased significantly and nowhere near 150%.

Two options for this traveler: Stay fewer hotel nights or pay more money to increase the ratio of paid/award nights.

My economy will be the decider.

The SIN of Travel - a Mileage Run Primer

SIN is Singapore, Changi Airport.

Loyalty Travelers based in the United States learn that Singapore is the farthest destination in flight miles a person can easily fly to from the USA on a variety of carriers and have an easy and affordable experience.

Singapore generally requires a US-Japan-Singapore routing and this is an 8,444 mile flight distance from San Francisco-Tokyo-Singapore (SFO-NRT-SIN).
New-York City-Los Angeles-Tokyo-Singapore (JFK/LGA/EWR-LAX-NRT-SIN) is an astounding 11,250 miles one-way. Mileage runners even figure out ways of adding additional flight segments to these basic routings for 1,500 or more flight miles.

The rationale for making a “mileage run” long distance itinerary is apparent when considering the miles earned in the frequent flyer member’s account and the elite qualifying flight miles credit. After attaining 50,000-flight mile elite status, a flyer earns a 100% flight mile bonus on qualifying economy fares with any one of the major airlines Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, or US Airways. The perks of complimentary flight upgrades, international lounge access, and other benefits await the elite flyer.

It is always good to know the rules for miles earned for your ticketed fares. The booking class of your ticket determines upgrade eligibility, miles earned, and eligibility for frequent flyer elite status qualifying miles (or points).

April 2008 Mileage Run Sample:
I’ll use United Mileage Plus as the carrier for this example, although a nearly identical calculation will apply for flyers in the other major airline loyalty programs of Alaska, American, Northwest, Delta, Continental, or US Airways.

Feb 28, 2008 a New York, (JFK)-Singapore (SIN) ticket, prices today at under $1,100 for all United Airlines itineraries. (Prices fluctuate and may occasionally drop below $1,000 from eastern US or below $800 from western US departure cities).

Tip: Quick mileage calculations between airports is available from the website: Great Circle Mapper,

The first choice of the lowest-priced itineraries offered by is JFK-NRT-SIN routing in economy class “S” booking code. "S" booking code is ineligible for Mileage Plus cabin upgrades with miles or elite certificates since it is an all international flights itinerary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

United Airlines Flight #837 (1-stop, plane change)
Depart New York, JFK 7:09
Arrive Tokyo, Japan, NRT 14:10 (next day, Thursday)
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 6,745 miles

Thursday, April 3, 2008

United Airlines Flight #803
Depart Tokyo, NRT 17:50
Arrive Singapore, SIN 23:55
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 3,324 miles

Thursday, April 10, 2008

United Airlines Flight #804
Depart Singapore, SIN 7:15
Arrive Tokyo, NRT 15:15
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 3,324 miles

United Airlines Flight # 852 (1-stop, plane change)
Depart Tokyo, NRT 18:00
Arrive New York, JFK 22:33
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 6,745 miles

Summary: JFK-SIN, United Airlines, "S" booking class,
$1,069.24 and earns 20,146 Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and
20,146 frequent flyer Award Miles (+ elite and/or promotional bonuses)

Although the screen states the flight is a one-stop, the ticket buyer must click the Plane Change links on the United reservations screen to see where the plane stops. A change of aircraft is required in San Francisco.

The New York to Tokyo routing requires a plane change in San Francisco, yet the two separate flights are given a single flight number. United Mileage Plus calculates the ticket as a non-stop flight for frequent flyer flight miles earned. This ticket will earn 20,146 flight miles for $1,069.24.

An alternative routing for the New York, JFK to Singapore “S” booking class ticket provides the frequent flyer with 22,363 award miles for $1,087.24, and also adds Hong Kong airport to the itinerary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

United Airlines Flight #877
Depart: New York, JFK 8:00
Arrive: Los Angeles, LAX 11:14
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 2,475 miles

United Airlines Flight #867
Depart: Los Angeles, LAX 12:56
Arrive: Hong Kong, HKG 18:45 (Thursday, next day)
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 7,246 miles

Thursday, April 3, 2008

United Airlines Flight #895
Depart: Hong Kong, HKG 20:00
Arrive: Singapore, SIN 23:35
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 1,603 miles

Thursday, April 10, 2008

United Airlines Flight # 804
Depart: Singapore, SIN 07:15
Arrive: Tokyo, Japan 15:15
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 3,328 miles

United Airlines Flight # 838
Depart: Tokyo, Japan 16:05
Arrive: San Francisco, SFO 09:10 (Thursday, same day)
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 5,124 miles

United Airlines Flight # 010
Depart: San Francisco, SFO 11:20
Arrive: New York, JFK 20:03
Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and Award Miles Earned: 2,586 miles

Summary: JFK-SIN, United Airlines, "S" booking class,
$1,087.24 and earns 22,363 Elite Qualifying Flight Miles and
22,363 frequent flyer Award Miles (+ elite and/or promotional bonuses)

Perhaps the greatest benefit is the ability to upgrade the transcontinental USA flights in "S" booking class since these are now domestic flights. Although the other itinerary also has two transcontinental domestic flight segments, these flights are under a single international United flight number and thus international upgrade rules apply.

A United ticket from New York, JFK to Singapore has itinerary choices that make a huge difference in loyalty program benefits for a small difference in cash. $18.00 is a small price to pay for 2,217 extra flight miles towards elite status and mileage upgrade credit, in addition to the extra frequent flier miles for awards and the potential for a transcontinental domestic upgrade.

Elite Frequent Flier Bonus Miles

A Premier Executive, 50,000-mile status member with a 100% flight miles bonus will earn 22,363 elite bonus miles on the Hong Kong routing.

$1,087.24 fare / 44,726 Mileage Plus miles = $24.31/1,000 miles earned.

Travel earns miles at a lower rate than buying miles through the airlines or credit cards.

The Quest for Frequent Flier Elite Status

Two trips between New York and Singapore a year on United can easily earn 45,000 elite qualifying miles and earn 90,000 frequent flyer miles. These earned miles are redeemable for a Business Class Star Alliance award from the USA to Europe (80,000 miles) or South America (80,000 miles) or North or South Asia (90,000 miles). And a frequent flyer would only need one additional 5,000 mile trip, like New York City – San Francisco (JFK-SFO), to earn 50,000-mile elite status within the calendar year with United Mileage Plus.

United Airline Mileage Plus Business Class Star Alliance Awards:

80,000 miles Business Class award, US/Canada-Europe using United Airlines or any of these 11 Star Alliance partner airlines which currently operate flights between North America and Europe: Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Austrian Airlines, bmi, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, TAP Portugal, US Airways.

90,000 miles Business Class award, US/Canada-Asia using United Airlines or any of these partner airlines which currently operate flights between North America and Asia: Air Canada, Air China, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways.

A Blast from the LatinPass Past

Ric and tour guide, Cuzco, Peru, May 2000

Presidents Week Vacation - February 2000

I was anxious and suffering a vacation hangover upon my return from Holland at the end of my two week trip for flying on five member airlines of the Oneworld Alliance for a 100,000 frequent flyer miles bonus. Travel euphoria withdrawal was a shock to my mind. The Christmas holidays 1999 were designed to celebrate my 40th birthday and the days had been a whirlwind tour of Europe. I dubbed it our “industrial tour” because the routing took us from London to Manchester on British Airways, Manchester to Amsterdam on Cathay Pacific, and Amsterdam to Barcelona on Christmas Day and back to Amsterdam on December 26 for another 3 nights in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Rotterdam blew our minds as the most cosmopolitan city we had ever visited. Rotterdam is a mix of world cultures.

The remedy for a vacation hangover is to start planning the next trip. I desired another adventure to energize my soul with the buzz of planning travel.

Fortunately, I had a quick recovery for my vacation hangover on January 7, 2000. I learned about the possibility for a one million mile bonus by flying with a group of Latin American airlines. It took a few days to ascertain the authenticity of the offer. And another week passed before the details were published on the Latinpass website.

I then worked through three weeks of intensive travel planning.
I planned an itinerary for the 500,000 mile bonus with six flights through Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela, and either Puerto Rico, Aruba, or Curacao. Using free award tickets from California to Central America or South America would drop the cost of airfare to under $2,000 and the miles earned would be sufficient for six Business Class tickets with KLM Airlines, a LatinPass affiliate airline, from San Francisco to Europe.

There were some reservations in planning the LatinPass tour, and I am using reservations in the hesitation sense.
1. Guatemala having a major volcanic eruption
2. Caracas having devastating floods
3. Terrorist kidnap danger in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru

I have mapped out a dozen routings for flights. The route changes all the time. The key to this trip for me is getting several free award nights at Starwood and Hilton hotels. I actually planned on using Starwood points for hotel stays on this trip and needing the points I developed a scheme for the first two weeks of February to accumulate Starwood points. Starwood Preferred Guest became a partner in the internet company ClickRewards and for the months of February and March, ClickReward miles are worth 2 Starpoints. In addition to that bonus FTD had a Valentine’s Day special offer for double points. I was able to earn 16,000 Starpoints by purchasing $550 in gift certificates for several shops where we regularly shop anyway. I bought $110 in Barnes and Noble gift certificates and while in Denver I purchased Let’s Go Central America 2000.

My first ticket purchase for the LatinPass promotion was a KLM roundtrip from London to Amsterdam for the Easter week vacation. I booked The Pulitzer Hotel for 7,000 Starpoints. The cheapest cash rate for the week was $350 per night. I also redeemed 45,000 HHonors points for two nights at the Amsterdam Hilton.
My initial LatinPass itinerary planning required two trips and were designed via these routings:

First LatinPass Trip: 12 flights and 7 nights
San Francisco – Guatemala City (American Airlines award ticket 30,000 miles) (SFO-GUA)
Guatemala City – San Salvador, El Salvador (GUA-SAL) – Aviateca Airlines $100 one-way
San Salvador, El Salvador – Managua, Nicaragua (SAL-MGA) – Taca Airlines $175 one-way
Managua – Miami, Florida (MGA-MIA) – Nica Airlines $500 one-way
Miami, Florida – Caracas, Venezuela (MIA-CCS) – Aeropostal $250 one-way
Caracas, Venezuela – Bogota, Colombia (CCS-BOG) – Avianca $250 one-way
Bogota, Colombia – San Juan, Puerto Rico (BOG-SJU) – ACES $450 one-way
San Juan, Puerto Rico – San Jose, Costa Rica (SJU-SJO) – Lacsa $300 one-way
San Jose, Costa Rica – Guatemala City, Guatemala (SJO-GUA) – Copa $250 one-way

Second LatinPass Trip: 6 flights and 4 nights
San Francisco – Quito, Ecuador (American Airlines award ticket – 60,000 miles Business Class)
Quito, Ecuador – Lima (UIO-LIM) – SAETA $330 round-trip
Lima, Peru – Cuzco, Peru (LIM-CUZ) – Taca Peru $170 round-trip

This LatinPass scheme kept me up all night thinking and I decided to ask for a week off work and fly the six airlines. Then I kept thinking how easy it would be to get 8 airlines in one trip as I showed above. And then I figured why not just go for one million miles since it only costs about $1,000 to $1,200 more.

First Day of LatinPass Run March 31, 2000

I completely rerouted my trip from the February planning. I waited until this morning to pack a suitcase and at the last minute I threw in my Sharper Image mini-luggage cart. I didn’t pack much: socks, underwear, 4 shirts, jeans, and Teva sandals. I didn’t bring a raincoat. I figure I won’t be outside much. I actually had jeans in the car and at the last minute before leaving the airport I went out to get them.

I am flying in seat 5A, the first row of Business Class. It has been a few years since I’ve flown this class and the comfort level is really incredible. I had to read the card on the seat control functions to learn the features of all these buttons. There are 7 knobs for adjustment and the seat goes damn near horizontal. I have the leg rest up and the head rest out and it more comfortable than any place I sit at home. I have my own video monitor with a choice of five movies and several audio channels. The flight has been incredibly smooth so far.

The plane is over Nevada and the Becks beer has arrived. The movie hasn’t yet started and I fell like I am in a near full-service bed, trapped between a video monitor straight up in front of me, a tray table horizontally across my lap and a headphones cord draped diagonally across my chest. It is good I do not feel the need to go anywhere quickly. I am on a 767 to Miami that continues on to Buenos Aires. San Francisco was gorgeous today and forecasted to be 75 to 80 degrees.

So what else did I pack? I brought a flashlight, a tape recorder, an alarm clock, a camera and 7 rolls of film.

The coolest feature is being able to listen to music while watching a flight map of the current plane position. The sun is just about setting over Duncan, Oklahoma. This is so cool.

I ate a bland Hindu rice and veggie meal and drank a couple of glasses of cabernet for dinner. We are traveling at 626 mph at 37,000 feet altitude. The outside temperature is -73 F. There is a 120 mph tailwind.

I drank a couple of more Becks and grooved on New Age music and tripped on the lights of Florida. This was quite a ride. Passed over Tampa Bay as I listened to Celtic tunes with a tartan blanket across my legs to cover my bare knees against the cabin cold. I can’t wait for the harsh reality of Miami 80 degrees F at 10 pm at night. The flight attendant just offered me another Becks with only 15 minutes of flight time left. I love Business Class. I declined the beer. This buzz is just right and Miami is below. This is fun.

Avianca Airlines flight #9 on-time departure from Miami to Bogota, Colombia. The safety instructions for the flight are running in Spanish with German subtitles. Guess I will wait and see if American comes up. This flight is a 767-300 and only about 25% full in economy. I am in the back section of the plane and look to be the only person seated next to someone on the entire aircraft. The woman beside me is Spanish speaking, but holds an American passport. I moved two rows back to the empty three seats in the middle section of the plane. The safety messages are now playing in English with French subtitles as the aircraft taxis down the runway.

Flying over the Caribbean Sea and the water below is a shade of light blue, so different from the dark Pacific Ocean of the California coast. The colors are hypnotizing. Looking down on the wisps of clouds sitting above the light blue water gives the illusion of gazing up into the bright sky. The imagery is beautiful.
The white edges of sea breaking on the shoreline of Cuba breaks the hypnotic azure spell. The green agricultural landscape of Cuba comes into view.

The drink cart coming down the aisle refocuses my attention. There are 2-liter bottles of Coke and Diet Coke, and 1-liter bottles of scotch and vodka. I receive a can of Club Colombia, Bavaria Brewery, 4% Colombian beer. The two women flight attendants do not appear to be even 20 years old. Several men are also working the aisles. This flight has a large crew to service a small passenger load.

The island of Jamaica appears much browner and extensively developed compared to the interior green cultivated farmlands of rural Cuba. Jamaica passed by quickly as we skirted the western end of the island over Negril. The sea once again is reflecting the white clouds and mirrors the sky.

The snacks on the plane were something different to eat. Coctel, a Colombian product – crunchy chick peas and faba beans – kind of like Corn Nuts. I also received Achiras, original Colombian biscuits made expressly for Avianca. They are made from cottage cheese and achira starch to make a biscuit. They are quite tasty and different. I can’t think of another food they taste like. It is a kind of mini-bread stick with a cheesy flavor, sort of Cheetos-like, but definitely different.
The subtle differences of travel. Despite the hassle of a language barrier there are entertaining, ordinary changes like the kinds of snack foods served on a Colombian airline compared to United Airlines. The little alterations make all the difference in the travel experience.

We have just crossed the Colombian coastline and the rivers, brown with sediment and silt, flow into the Caribbean. There are no coastal cities below us and we cross over to land. I picked up a Colombian paper on the plane and the Bogota section had an article about deaths and 59% of people who die of unnatural causes are murder victims. Traffic accidents account for 21%, suicide 8%, 9% by accidents, and 2% undetermined causes.

Tomorrow, April 2, 2000, is some kind of Colombia Peace Day ribbon campaign, being promoted by a newspaper half-page ad.

The sky was too hazy to see the ground once we crossed over Colombia. Flying into Bogota the skies cleared and the beautiful countryside appeared below. We passed over farmhouses and country estates. An upscale country club golf course was on the outskirts of the city. The few cars on the streets below appeared to be moving slow. Most people on the roads were traveling on bicycles. Bogota Airport is situated in a beautiful valley about ten miles from the downtown urban sprawl. The region looks to be about 20 flat square miles surrounded by mountains.

[Feb 2008 note: This is interesting to see my enthusiasm for air travel back in 2000. Back in the days when travel was solely for fun. I ended up with 1,014,000 LatinPass miles. The miles allowed me to live about 4 months in the Hilton Hotels after transferring most of the airline miles to Hilton HHonors over the course of several years.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is there a Priceline Master in the House?

I am not a real doctor (PhD). I only have a Master of Science. That is why I work for consumers instead of pocketing the lucrative research paycheck from the hotel industry.

The doctor, Chris K. Anderson, Ph.D., at the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research has come out with a report advising hoteliers how to squeeze more pennies out of our consumer pockets. This time the research is aimed to maximize hotel profits from Priceline.

The report is available for free download upon registration with the center.

Loyalty Traveler has a few comments on the report.

Cornell Report Statistic:
60% of online hotel rooms are booked through hotel-branded websites (I assume this is what is meant by "supplier-managed" websites).

Loyalty Traveler view: Hotels have provided incentive for customer reservations through hotel-managed channels by offering exclusive loyalty program benefits. In other words, Hotel points and frequent guest member perks are only guaranteed when booking through hotel-managed websites. The hotel websites generally offer a better rate , although special offer rates are often hidden from view to the casual online reservationist of a hotel room.

Report Statistic: 40% of online hotel bookings are made through online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline.

Loyalty Traveler View: Expedia and Travelocity and Orbitz are convenient. Priceline and other opaque sites like generally offer the best discounts on room rates. A traveler has to weigh the factor of cost with the uncertainty of hotel location and brand. A frequent guest member does not earn hotel points and the reservation is likely to be booked in lowest category hotel room on property.

Priceline Bidding data:
A graph shows the number of bids in the two weeks prior to the date of arrival for the sample hotel. Data shows about 50% of all Priceline bids occurred in the 2 days before arrival.

The minimum acceptable Priceline bid for the hotel, within a one week period, ranged from mostly $55/night to $65 per night with one outlier night at $235/night.

An interesting chart is Exhibit 8, which if I have interpreted correctly, indicates that about 1 in 25 Priceline winning bids represented a 90% discount on commonly published rates for the hotel. And about 5% only got a 20% discount on the going room rate.

The vast majority of bid winners receive less than a 50% discount on the regular room rates. About 60% of winning Priceline bids received a 28%-36% discount on the room rate. Technically, the Priceline slogan "Save Up to Half Off" appropriately represents the Priceline reality. The Cornell graph shows about 10% of bidders received between 67% and 90% off the regular room rate.

The last time I used Priceline was for a night in Washington D.C., June 2007. I ended up with the Marriott Key Bridge, Arlington, VA for about $100 and the lowest available room rate through the Marriott site was $329 for that night.

My initial analysis of the Priceline tool provided for hotel managers seems to indicate some trends for consumers.

Consumers may find the most favorable room rates booking Priceline the day before or day of arrival. Booking at 10 to 14 days in advance of arrival may also provide the best opportunity for higher discounts. The Cornell Priceline tool appears to encourage hotels to not discount Priceline inventory rooms as deeply between 2 and 10days before arrival as a means to maximize profits.

An interesting analysis would be to compare the Cornell Priceline data with consumer bidding data from to see if there is useful consumer information to be gleamed from the comparison.

Anyone planning to make a hotel bid through or should check out to see what successful bids are pricing out and then try and use that data with the knowledge that 10-14 days before arrival may provide the best opportunity for deep discounts on Priceline. And if you are desperate and lucky, the day before and day of arrival Priceline bids may save you enough cash to buy gas and pay for hotel parking.

The PointsWizard blog on had a link to this article detailing strategies for successful Priceline bidding.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Loyalty Triple Pointer: The Bali Hop

The Laguna Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel (12/2003)

March Madness Triple Pointer

Another Easter vacation break is coming up in March. When a spouse works in public schools in the USA, Easter week vacation is a given.

The combination of points and miles I currently have at my disposal had me looking at flights to Japan. I have transited through Tokyo more than a dozen times, however, I have never flown on a ticket allowing a free stopover. I am quite familiar with the Narita (NRT) airport.

Mexicana miles are my connection to Japan. Back in 2002, Kelley and I earned about 60,000 miles in our Mexicana Airlines accounts when the airline was a Star Alliance member. There was a 5th Anniversary of the Star Alliance promotion for 55,555 miles earned if a frequent flier flew 5 Star Alliance member airlines. I purchased 5 tickets from Lufthansa, United, Air Canada, British Midland, and Austrian Airlines. Each ticket consisted of four flight segments. For example: Lufthansa went Amsterdam-Frankfurt-Munich outbound and Munich-Frankfurt-Amsterdam on the return flights. We flew 20 flight segments and submitted one boarding pass from each ticket to four different airlines. We received the 55,555 mile bonus with Lufthansa Miles&More, Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Plan, and Mexicana Frecuenta. Since 2002, I have added to the accounts through other activities and both Frecuenta accounts now have 100,000 miles.

Mexicana airline partner awards still include several of the Star Alliance airlines. A feature of Mexicana Frecuenta is the ability to purchase large amounts of miles. The price at $22/1,000 miles makes this a lower cost alternative than many other airlines. Japan Airlines is the newest airline partner of Mexicana. The low cost of miles and high value award tables seem to have prompted an awards table makeover for Mexicana Airline Partner tickets using miles.

As little as two years ago I could have traveled in First Class from the USA to nearly any country in the world for 100,000 Mexicana miles. Now I have the option of LOT Polish Business Class from New York to Warsaw for 80,000 miles; American Airlines USA–Europe for 90,000 miles, or the high value ticket routing of Tokyo-Sydney or Tokyo-London in First Class for 100,000 miles.

A Japan Airlines First Class award ticket using my Mexicana miles is what prompted me to look at the fares between California and Tokyo. And what I found prompted me to sign up for the American Airlines Platinum Challenge.

$753 all-in fare, Monterey – Tokyo, March travel, “W” booking class.

There is high value in one ticket bought and flown and American Airlines 50,000 mile Platinum status after the trip through February 2009.

Starwood Hotels Le Meridien Free Nights Promotion

This promotion is the biggest opportunity with Starwood Preferred Guest since 2003 when the Asia/Pacific Stay 5 earned a 50,000 points bonus. Another reason I was looking at a Japan Airlines award is the opportunity of a First Class Japan Airlines award to Bali, Indonesia. The interesting feature of Bali is the ability to hotel hop around the island while quickly qualifying for two promotions at low nightly rates.

The two Hyatt hotels, the Grand Hyatt Bali at Nusa Dua and the Bali Hyatt, and Starwood's Le Meridien Nirwana Golf and Spa Resort, Bali all have rates below $150.
Le Meridien Nirwana has rates as low as $95 for most nights in March. The Bali Hyatt was as low as $100 for most nights. There is a 21% tax and service fee.
Egypt has dirt cheap Le Meridien rates, Germany has European comforts at Le Meridien hotels in several cities in relaticely close proximity, and Bali has beach resort living.

Do the math: Le Meridien promotion awards 4 free nights at Le Meridien hotels for 7 Le Meridien stays by March 31, 2008. Starting at Le Meridien Bali and alternating nightly with Bali Hyatt means Day 1, 3, 5, 7 are at Le Meridien and days 2, 4, 6 at the Hyatt. 7 nights x $125 night = $875 for a week in Bali. Tokyo has two Le Meridien hotels and the rates are as low as $160/night all-in for some nights in March. Add $500 for 3 nights in Tokyo.

$1,400 for 10 hotel nights would earn Hyatt Platinum status (and free Clear Airport membership) and 4 free nights at a Le Meridien hotel to be used by March 31, 2009. Le Meridien Bora Bora is an eligible redemption hotel and this property will be reclassified as a Category 7 hotel next week for a nightly redemption rate of 30,000 points in low season and 35,000 points for high season.

The Hyatt lover loyalist could just bounce between the Hyatt hotels and quickly add up the Hyatt elite qualification stays with “Stays Count Double”. A two week Bali vacation could send you home with Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond elite status for under $2,000. The Stays Count Double promotion lasts through March 31, 2008.

The Loyalty Traveler Triple Pointer is American Airlines to Tokyo ($753 cost) and Platinum elite status through a challenge. Le Meridien Pacific Tokyo and Le Meridien Grand Pacific Tokyo and Le Meridien Bali for 7 stays and 4 free nights to come ($850 cost; future value about $2,000). 3 nights at the Bali Hyatt and Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status with Stays Count Double promotion ($350 cost). $2,000 cost, plus a whole lot of added value for the Loyalty Traveler.
Loyalty Traveler sees the possibilities.

And if you don't have the miles for First Class to Bali, United members can fly between Tokyo and DPS, Bali airport for 40,000 United Mileage Plus miles. From the USA, Bali is a 60,000 mile economy award flight. Another option is 20,000 miles on United from Tokyo to Bangkok or Singapore, and then a second 20,000 mile award from that location to Bali. This earns an additional city for no additional miles.

Got Miles? Get Hilton HHonors Points!

An integrated loyalty program travel plan provides numerous opportunities to use airline miles and hotel points for travel savings. The knowledge of equivalent exchange values for points and miles between loyalty programs allows the traveler to save money on travel. This loyalty traveler is always looking for a good exchange of hotel points and airline miles for an economical 5-star vacation.

Hilton HHonors advertises itself as the only program letting members earn both hotel points and airline miles for a hotel stay. This feature is what HHonors calls “Double Dipping”. Starwood, Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt loyalty programs all allow the member to select in the member’s guest profile an earning preference for either hotel points or airline miles.

An even more impressive feature of Hilton HHonors is the ability to exchange airline miles into HHonors points. Airline miles to points exchange can be done with the following airlines: American, Hawaiian, Mexicana, Midwest, South African Airways, and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Exchange rate is 5,000 frequent flier miles = 10,000 HHonors points for all these airlines except Virgin Atlantic which has an even exchange of 5,000 miles = 5,000 HHonors points.

Over the past ten years I have exchanged nearly 1,000,000 airline miles from American Airlines, LatinPass, and TWA into hotel points with Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors. The option to transfer airline miles into Marriott points was discontinued several years ago.

I discovered the value of this strategy when I planned a trip to Spain and the Netherlands in 1999. Hotel prices were about $150/night at the Hilton hotels in Amsterdam and Barcelona. I exchanged 50,000 TWA miles into 100,000 Hilton HHonors points. The miles could have been exchanged for an economy class airline ticket to Europe ($500 value) whereas the 100,000 HHonors points were good for 9 hotel nights ($1,300 value).

It is also possible to purchase up to 40,000 points in a calendar year for $400.

If you purchase more than 10,000 points at one time the price is $0.01/point and $0.0125/point if less than 10,000 points are purchased. Points will appear in account in about 30 minutes.

A strategy I have frequently used for stays at Hilton Hotels was to change my airline miles earning preference to frequent flier programs holding miles in accounts I might not use for the year. Losing your frequent flier miles for inactivity is cheaply avoidable. A Hilton-brand hotel stay allows the guest to maintain an active account with 500-miles earned for most Hilton-brand hotel stays. And, you also get HHonors points for your stay.

Paradise with an Ocean View

In 1995, when I worked as a special education teacher in Maine, I received my classroom’s first Mac computer. The desktop picture I selected for the monitor was a beautiful white sand island with palm trees. The island paradise was my fantasy image when the day-to-day grind of behaviorally impaired special education students had me feeling whipped. The picture title named the location as the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, a thousand miles off the coast of Africa.

My dream of an Indian Ocean resort getaway has eluded me to this date. I have had opportunities to fly British Airways using miles and stay for free at the Hilton Mauritius on points, but my vacation fantasy was not my wife’s ideal vacation. The resorts of the Maldives, the Seychelles, and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean are still a trophy travel dream of mine. These locations are about as far as a person can travel from the USA.

Nearly every year the resorts in these island locations go up in price (at least for Americans exchanging devalued dollars) and the Category rating for many of these hotels continues to rise in various loyalty programs.

Which brings this discussion around to Hilton HHonors PointStretcher discounted hotel stay awards.

Hilton HHonors PointStretcher Award Chart

HHonors PointStretcher Participating Hotels for 2008

Hilton Mauritius Resort, [Pointstretcher dates: May 25-June 30, 2008]
Category 6 HHonors hotel = 40,000 points/night or 175,000 points/6-night GLON2P award
PointStretcher Award is available for 24,000 points/night
Monday, June 16 –Sunday, June 22
King Deluxe room = 144,000 points/6-nights

Cash price is 13,696 MUR/night = $472/night for the nonrefundable internet only lowest rate or 17,120 MUR/night flexible rate. In this instance, 24,000 HHonors points can be redeemed at a value of almost 2 cents each for a $472/night room.
A complimentary upgrade for an elite status member may be even more rewarding with a PointStretcher stay in a Corner Suite = $772/night or Deluxe Suite = $868/night.

Other PointStretcher Opportunities:
Hilton Prague, Czech Republic, PointStretcher dates: March 8-14, 22-28; April 20-26
HHonors Category 4 hotel, standard award = 30,000 points/night or 150,000 points/6-nights GLON2 award.
PointStretcher Award = 18,000 points/night
March 22-28 PointStretcher award is available for 108,000 points/6-nights.
Pointstretcher saves 42,000 points on regular GLON2 award.
Paid rate = 158€/night = $235/night compared to 18,000 points/night ($180 value)

Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio, Hawaii - Rated #11 of 85 Honolulu hotels on TripAdvisor.
HHonors Category 6 = 40,000 points/night
PointStretcher dates = April 1-7, 2008
24,000 points/night and 5 night award available for 120,000 points. This saves 80,000 points on regular award rate.
Internet only paid rate = $172/night.
Even at a pointstretcher award rate the value of points redeemed is worth less than one cent each and is a low redemption value for hotel points compared to other hotel options. This hotel may be a better value for a paid stay and save your points for a higher value redemption.

Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio - $172 night vs. 24,000 points/night ($240 value)
Hilton Prague - $235/night vs. 18,000 points/night ($180 value)
Hilton Mauritius - $472/night vs. 24,000 points/night ($240 value)

Also, for a more accurate comparison, the traveler needs to calculate the points not earned on award stay that would be "added value" for the cost of a paid stay. (Another outstanding and unique feature of Hilton HHonors is an award stay counts as a stay for elite status qualification - terrific added value for elite status seekers.)

Hilton Prague $235 night = 2,350 points + 1,175 points = 3,525 HHonors points for non-elite with Points&Points preference selection) = $35.25

The value of points not earned for a PointStretcher stay compared to a paid stay at Hilton Prague is about $35.00. A comparison of the value of using a free hotel award must include the "added value" that would have been earned if paying for the room. The 18,000 points for a free night have a $180 purchase value. The "added value of a paid stay would be $35. Together, $180 + $35 = $215, the points value and the missed opportunity for "added value" from a paid stay, can be compared to the going room rate for a comparison of award value to paid stay value.

$180 + $35(added value, if paid stay) = $215 value of using PointStretcher Award. Even considering the "added value" of the HHonors points not earned for an award stay, the PointStretcher award option is still a higher value alternative than a paid stay.
Hilton Prague PointStretcher = $215/night
Hilton Paid Stay Nonrefundable internet-only rate = $235/night

Monday, February 25, 2008

Help! My Airline Status Is Falling and I Need a Boost Up

Travel is the quickest way to earn elite status, loads of miles and points, and upgrades for flights and hotels.

I was called up to the United First Class cabin, minutes before takeoff, on a crowded flight home from Denver last week. I had been sitting for 10 minutes in an economy class exit row seat. The bulkhead panel offered no visual distractions and I had some wine and cheese. There wasn't a movie. I was fairly productive in working through the flight.

I realized that next week I will not have a sufficient level of elite status in any frequent flyer program to earn an elite bonus of 100% miles for flights. My low tier status means a significant reduction in "seat scored per upgrade attempts" on United flights. A premier member in Mileage Plus has a difficult time in successfully navigating the upgrade waitlist. This is the first time in 8 years I have dropped below Mileage Plus Premier Executive (50,000 mile) elite status.

I only had about 55,000 butt-in-seat miles for 2007, and like many frequent fliers basing decisions to a large degree on fare price (meaning a fair price), my miles were divided between two different airline alliances – Star Alliance and Skyteam.

My wife asked me after the Denver flight, "How long will it take to re-earn frequent flier elite status?" For a poverty jet setter, the cost is more of a consideration. Air travel is expensive and I have to make it in economy until I earn elite status and a chance at upgrades.

First, the Loyalty Traveler must see the possibilities, and then seize the possibilities.

AAdvantage Platinum Challenge

I just signed up for the AAdvantage Platinum Challenge this morning. Earning American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status will not take long, as it turns out. The primary benefit of AAdvantage Platinum elite status is earning a 100% miles bonus on flights. And the cost is highly affordable.

Sample Airfares:
Economy class airfare is relatively low to many international destinations at the moment with Tokyo at a reasonable under $800 fare, and Frankfurt, Munich the recipient of fare wars and near the historically low fares in low season at just over $450 to $550, even over Easter break.

Airfare to Europe for between $400 and $500, with all taxes, is generally the low fares to Europe which surface periodically throughout the year. $400 to $500 all-in fares have generally been available from the major California airports for brief purchase periods each year over the past decade. The travel economy has some good value for consumers.

This past weekend, the last weekend of February, airfare searches revealed interesting features for March 2008 spring break travel. The holiday season timing of low international airfares are available from many regional airports like Monterey. Generally holiday season fares have 14-day or longer advance purchase requirements. Many of the March 2008 international fares only require a 7-day advance purchase. The easing of advance purchase ticketing is alluring to the spur of the moment vacation getaway.

Low airfares, a low American Airlines airfare tied in with a London overnight, and drastic rate cuts in Hilton Hotels in London indicate a travel slowdown on the European front. The travel battles are escalating and all-out travel discount war may be around for the 2008 seasons.

This past week Asiana had a $500 all-in fare between Los Angeles and Hong Kong via Korea. The ticket was available Saturday and gone on Sunday.

Tokyo is available from several locations for $600 to $700 on American Airlines. Hong Kong available now for March travel for under $700 from California. These are low fares compared to the average lows of the last two years for Asia flights.

An interesting feature of the American Airlines tickets was Monterey to Tokyo for $750 was in "W" booking class. Monterey-Frankfurt, with a night in London, for $550was in "L" booking class. These discount economy class tickets can be used to qualify for the AAdvantage Platinum elite status challenge. A single airline ticket will qualify and meet the Platinum elite qualifying points 90-day challenge.

A distance of 5,124 miles between San Francisco and Tokyo means AAdvantage Gold elite status is earned through the AAdvantage Challenge on the flight to Tokyo. The return flight confers Platinum 50,000 mile status. All remaining flights taken with American Airlines in 2008 will earn a 100% frequent flier elite status miles bonus. The goal is to requalify for 50,000 mile Platinum status with additional international flights in 2008.

There is a thread on FlyerTalk about the Platinum challenge.

The number given in FlyerTalk redirected me to 800-882-8880. I tried the AAdvantage Services option unsuccessfully. I ended up going to a reservations agent and asked to be transferred since I could not find a non-automated phone message through Customer Services.

American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Challenge:

10,000 Elite Qualifying Points must be earned in 3 months to receive AAdvantage Platinum membership.

An elite qualifying point is a factor of the flight miles.

For some discount economy class tickets the booking code earns 1.0 elite qualifying points per flight mile.

Assume San Francisco to Denver is 988 miles. The airline ticket booking codes of H, K, M, L, W, or V will earn 988 elite points.

If the booking code is deep discount economy designated by letters G, Q, O, N, S, then only 0.5 elite points are earned per mile and an SFO-DEN one-way flight would earn 494 elite points.

A paid First Class fare of A, F, P or even a full economy fare of B or Y will earn 1.5 elite points or 1,482 elite points for the one-way SFO-DEN flight.

Discount economy booking codes earn 1.0 elite point credit: H, K, M, L, W, V
Deep Discount booking codes earning 0.5 point credit: G, Q, O, N, S .
Full Fare economy/Business/First earn 1.5 point credit: A, F, P, D, I, J, B, Y

Coming This Week:

The Loyalty Traveler is going to journey the world this week as an armchair travel planner seeing the possibilities for earning and burning in a March Madness Triple Pointer travel extravaganza:

  • AA Platinum
  • Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum
  • Free Nights with Starwood Hotels Le Meridien brand.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Better Late Than Never -- SPG 50% Off Redemption

This SPG platinum-lite member (I requalified for platinum status through "Stays Count Double" promotion) returned home from a Colorado trip to find an invitation in my mailbox. "Sample the world. For half the Starpoints."

The 50% off a Category 1-5 hotel stay is appreciated, but the timing is rather late.

I have to make a confirmed reservation within the next 10 days by March 3, 2008 for a hotel stay to be completed by May 31, 2008. Fortunately, this frequent guest is fairly flexible and efficient at vacation planning. There is a 6-night award stay limitation (last year I was able to book a 9-night award with the half Starpoints offer).

St. Regis Singapore, Sheraton Noosa Australia, or Luxury Collection Arabella Western Cape and Spa, Hermanus, South many choices.

200,000 Mexicana airmiles and a 50% Starpoints award provides numerous combinations for a Loyalty Traveler vacation extravaganza on the cheap.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rocky Mountain Wired Less in Colorado

Hyatt Regency, Denver - lobby

“Now his life is full of wonder
but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down
to bring in a couple more
More people,
more scars upon the land”

-John Denver

Pim and Colorado aligned for a wired less eclipse this past week. Pim is my 10-month old kitten. Colorado is the state. My computer died and the timing was Thursday evening 48 hours before a trip out of state.

An alignment of place and time left me in a brief internet blackout coincidental to this week's lunar eclipse. The place was Colorado for a 5-day trip. Amazing growth has occurred throughout Denver in the past ten years. The housing tracts are approaching the airport periphery, although the nearest hotels are still miles away from the terminals.

The AC cord had been faulty on my computer for a month and I delayed purchasing a new one since I wasn’t sure if the cord was faulty or something else internal. I now have a new AC cord and a working computer.

Pim is the prime suspect for my computer eclipse. Pim is our adopted kitten, found lost in the street at about 3 weeks old last May. Pim initially fit in the palm of my hand. I typed for a month with the fingers of my right hand while cradling Pim in my left hand for much of the day. When restless and wandering off my lap, Pim frequently came to rest behind the computer where he slept, warmed by the computer fan. And when Pim was falling asleep he tended to play with the computer AC cord.

The computer went dead Thursday afternoon, 48 hours before heading to Colorado. I spent hours transferring files to a backup computer. I forgot the wireless card software.

A piece will appear this weekend on Hilton Pointstretcher awards and their airline miles-to-HHonors points opportunity. For the most part, I remained relatively unconnected to the internet and physically connected to family. Although, there were some business activities.

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only a Frequent Guest Blogger

Tuesday, I checked out several hotels in the Denver Central Business District. I looked around the Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Hotel Monaco (Kimpton Hotels).

The Hyatt Regency has rooms with gorgeous views of the Rockies and the LODO district of Denver. Lounge on 35th floor provides a great western view of city. A visitor can have a 27th floor dining experience. The restaurant is primarily evening hours service. The Hyatt Regency is the closest hotel to the Denver Convention Center.

I was approached by Marriott Denver hotel security after spending time wandering around the lobby and cafes. My suspicious activity was taking pictures of hotel signs, menus, the lobbies, and hotel maps. The photos are for my websites and memory joggers for my hotel research.

The security officer accepted my business card. I’m a legitimate small business entrepreneur creating public consumer information. Hotel visits are part of my sightseeing plan wherever I go. Real travel is part of my knowledge base to add contextual details to my writing on hotel loyalty programs and how to get good hotel rates through careful navigation of hotel web sites.

I congratulated the Marriott security team on being observant.

Hotel security is certainly a consideration when I travel internationally. One of the primary reasons I like upscale hotels in the major hotel corporate chains is the presence of security in the form of employees, lighting, locks, and video surveillance. I was serious in thanking the Marriott security personnel for questioning me.

I feel more secure sleeping in a Sheraton in Bangkok, a Hilton in Belfast, or a Best Western in Guayaquil, Ecuador with an armed escort to the taxi on the street.

Denver Boutique Luxury

The Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel, is on the block between the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton. Boutique luxury is an apt descriptor. TripAdvisor ranks Hotel Monaco #1 in Denver. The lobby is charming and cozy, while the hotel is located in the heart of downtown. The location and ambience had a welcoming feeling. There is an Aveda shop at the entrance of the hotel.

Hotel Monaco, Denver - lobby

"Added Value" Frequent Guest Loyalty Programs

Kimpton Hotels are some of the most popular hotels in San Francisco. Many of the boutique and independent hotel associations such as Fairmont, Mandarin Oriental, or Leading Hotels of the World operate loyalty programs offering frequent guests added amenities and room upgrades with paid stays. These are what I call "Added Value" frequent guest programs.

The primary feature of Added Value programs is recognition of elite status and associated privileges by the frequency of paid stays. There are no points involved. Basically, the going rate at a luxury boutique hotel may be $300/night and you may get a $150 added value in room upgrades and/or amenities like complimentary breakfast, wine, spa packages, dining packages, and more as a frequent guest perk.

Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Priority Club, and Starwood operate hotel points loyalty programs which allow any member to accumulate points redeemable for free hotel nights, upgrades, and additional items and services. Hotel points may be earned without ever actually staying at a hotel.

Hilton HHonors provides members multiple avenues for earning hotel points:

  • purchases made with a Hilton HHonors co-branded credit card earning HHonors points,
  • the transfer of loyalty points from a variety of programs into HHonors points,
  • the ability to purchase HHonors points
  • the option to exchange airline miles into HHonors points
  • Hotel stay activity
  • Business Partner activities earning HHonors points

The exchangeability of hotel points to hotel nights, amenities, services, airline miles, and additional items makes Hotel Points frequent guest programs more versatile than Added Value frequent guest programs.

In addition to hotel points, elite status frequent guest members generally earn regular room upgrades and additional amenities in the major hotel points frequent guest programs.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Super-Affluent Don’t Do Super-WalMart

Laurence Geller listed some interesting data points in a blog from Jan 18, 2008. His piece discusses the widening divide between Generations X and Y mass consumers and the truly “super-affluent”. In 2006, the affluent spent on average $2,400 on hotels and resorts, while the super-affluent spent $61,200. He argues new brands will proliferate as today’s luxury brands become commonplace.

Friday morning on CNBC, a news crew reported from the St. Regis Fort Lauderdale, Florida from a CEO conference. The studio reporters were asking about the age of the hotel and the reporter stated it had been open 9 months. I haven’t looked into those facts.

The report got me to thinking about the super-affluent and the merely affluent. For the Loyalty Traveler the travel is reduced to the numbers. I wondered what the rates are at the Fort Lauderdale St. Regis.

Here are the search results for St. Regis, FLL room rates for Monday, 2-18-08

$476.10 (AAA rate)
$479 (Best Available on
$509 Special Offer Page “SRSPG”
$529 (Best Available on
$549 Special Offer AAA rate “XRF”

Ocean Front
$566.10 (AAA)
$579 (Best Available on and
$609 Special Offer “SRSPG”
$649 Special Offer AAA rate “XRF”

Pool Terrace
$607 Florida Resident rate
$669 Best Benefits Package special offer “SRSPG”
$689 (Best Available on and
$709 Pool Terrace Special Offer AAA rate

[special offers accessed from St. Regis Fort Lauderdale hotel web site homepage]

XRF rate includes complimentary valet parking, two Bloody Mary’s, and complimentary room upgrade to next available room type. In this case, contact hotel and find out a good night for booking with a good upgrade potential.

SRSPG rate includes two Bloody Mary’s, triple Starpoints and complimentary internet access.

The super-affluent spender could be looking at about 2 to 3 months of Pool Terrace living over the course of a year at this hotel and comparable properties. The affluent spender on $2,400 is looking at a long President’s weekend holiday and sitting home the rest of the year.

Starwood Cash & Points Award Savings

While checking St. Regis Fort Lauderdale, I came across an example of where loyalty program membership leads you to a much better booking option than a regular search on the hotel chain primary web site.

Westin Colonnade, Coral Gables, FL
Saturday, Feb 16, 2007
Rate = $429/night web site found through a regular search engine search as a hotel guest not participating in Starwood Preferred Guest and not looking for the loyalty program site. Checking - I have the option of getting a Cash & Points award at this Category 4 Hotel for $60 and 4,000 Starpoints.

The ability to buy up to 20,000 Starpoints online from SPG at the rate of $35/1,000 points is a strategy to keep in mind if you do not have 4,000 Starpoints. Adding the cost to buy 4,000 Starpoints for $140 and the $60 Cash portion of a Cash & Points award makes a $200 room rate booking possible. The website states purchased Starpoints will be posted to your account within 24 hours.

The corporate-branded hotel websites generally have the lowest rates for their own hotel rooms compared to third-party online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity.

The difficulty for the DIY online hotel reservationist, is the time needed to sift through thousands of pages on the corporate-branded websites to find the lowest rate page. Finding the lowest rate is a matter of knowledge and luck at the time you search.

$485 through Starwood Hotels corporate web site compared to $200 for the SPG member using Cash & Points booking option for a one-night rate at the Westin Colonnade is the differential cost for the guest with a lack of knowledge and time. The Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program gives the member a hotel rate option that is nearly $300 less.

An additional benefit of a Cash & Points stay is the award stay usually does not incur tax. The minor detraction of a Cash & Points award is the hotel stay does not count for elite qualification or promotional offer credit. A Cash & Points award stay also does not earn points for the Cash portion of the award.

Priceline Hotel Bookings

CNBC reported Friday morning Priceline has experienced a surge in bookings. The TV commentator asked, "Does the growth in Priceline indicate a weak economy?"

Priceline is a great resource when hotel room rates are threatening to make your credit card bleed. Last June, I booked the Marriott Key Bridge in Arlington, Virginia for a Sunday night before a Monday afternoon flight to Buenos Aires. I wanted to be in DC, but the major loyalty program hotel rates ranged from $250 to $350/night. I considered renting a car and driving to the Virginia outer suburbs for a $100/night Sheraton rate. Instead I paid $115 total for the Marriott and I was a ten minute walk across the bridge into Georgetown. I had an interior pool view room on the third floor while the preferred rooms look out over DC from 6 to 10 stories up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nickel and Dimed! US Airways Ch-ch-changes!

(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers

-david bowie

My post on Monday, Feb 11 with advice to a friend on getting an award ticket with US Airways is already outdated.

US Airways has announced a couple of changes to the Dividend Miles program.
1. Flight Segments will no longer earn 500 miles minimum, but actual miles.
2. Award travel booked online within 14 days of flight departure will have a $50 expedite fee. (The no fee for an award ticket booked online up to 6 hours before flight departure was a major competitive benefit for the Dividend Miles program that is now being eliminated.)

The flight segment change may not seem like a big deal, however, the 500-mile minimum for miles earned per flight segment has been standard across the major US airline frequent flier programs. Now we wait and see if other airline loyalty programs follow suit.

Let me explain why this is a big impact.

I live in Monterey, California and flights originating at our local Monterey regional airport are predominantly feeder flights to the major hubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles airports.

In practice this is how the change affects a regional flyer like me. Let's assume I take 10 trips a year to international locations and cross country domestic. Assume all my flights go from Monterey through San Francisco. (In reality, I try and fly through Los Angeles because the flight out of Monterey to LAX is much more reliable. MRY-LAX=266 actual flight miles. I use Great Circle Mapper for quick mileage checks that are usually within 1 or 2 miles of frequent flier program distance calculations in my experience.)

MRY-SFO is 92 flight miles. Under the old US Airways rules, my United flight segment for MRY-SFO would earn 500 minimum base miles. The new rules for tickets purchased on or after March 1, 2008 for flights on or after May 1, 2008 will earn only 92 miles for this flight.

Upper tier elite status earns a 100% flight miles bonus.

Current miles earned for a flight including MRY-SFO segments on outbound and inbound:
MRY-SFO 500 miles x 100% elite bonus = 1,000 miles
SFO-MRY 500 miles x 100% elite bonus = 1,000 miles
2,000 miles earned for these two flight segments of a ticket.

As of May 1, 2008
MRY-SFO 92 miles x 100% elite bonus = 184 miles
SFO-MRY 92 miles x 100% elite bonus = 184 miles
368 miles earned for these two flight segments of a ticket.

The frequent flier miles earned has been reduced by over 80% on these flight segments.

A frequent flier, with 10 international and domestic tickets that have these Monterey to San Francisco flight segments, will see miles earned over the course of a year reduced from
20,000 miles down to 3,680 miles with the rule change to actual flight miles per segment.

Even if considering miles have a simple value as low as 1 penny each, this means a loss of about $175 in earned mileage per year.

20,000 miles is a good portion of the way to a free ticket.
3,680 miles is a free magazine subscription.

This is a big frequent flier program change.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Major hotel loyalty program brands on Conde Nast Traveler 2008 Hotel Gold List

The Conde Nast Traveler Gold List describes itself as the "Best Places to Stay in the World, selected by readers of Conde Nast Traveler."

Loyalty Traveler has examined a subgroup from this list to determine the hotels which also are part of major hotel loyalty programs. These hotels have the attribute of being available using hotel points.


Hilton Gold List Hotels with links to CN Traveler ratings and description.
Reserve Hotels listed in the print magazine do not appear to be online.

Mount Juliet Conrad, County Kilkenny, Ireland
HHonors Category 6
Free night = 40,000 points/night or 175,000 points/6-nights

Rome Cavalieri Hilton, Rome, ItalyHHonors Category 6
Free night = 40,000 points/night or 175,000 points/6-nights

Conrad Brussels, Belgium (Reserve List)
HHonors Category 5
Free night = 35,000 points/night or 150,000 points/6-nights

Conrad Istanbul, Turkey (Reserve List)
HHonors Category 4
Free night = 30,000 points/night or 150,000 points/6-nights
PointStretcher Awards for 18,000 points/night may be available
PointStretcher Dates Jan 1-12; Feb 10-17; Mar 9-16

Hilton Budapest, Hungary (Reserve List)
HHonors Category 5
Free night = 35,000 points/night or 150,000 points/6-nights
My wife commented recently that our stay at the Budapest Hilton was the best hotel room we ever had. That is a big claim. We stayed in the King Duna Suite on a PointStretcher award.

Hyatt Hotels available with Gold Passport Points

Park Hyatt, Milan, Italy
Gold Passport Category 5
Free night =18,000 points

Park Hyatt, Zurich, Switzerland
Gold Passport Category 5
Free night =18,000 points

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome, Paris, France (Reserve List)
Gold Passport Category 5
Free night =18,000 points

InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Carlton, Cannes, France
Priority Club Rewards Free Night = 40,000 points

Ceylan InterContinental, Istanbul, Turkey
Priority Club Rewards Free Night = 40,000 points

InterContinental Amstel, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Reserve List)
Priority Club Rewards Free Night = 40,000 points

Marriott Corporation Brands

JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel, Bucharest, Romania
Marriott Rewards Category 4
Free night = 20,000 points/night to 105,000 points/7-night stay

JW Marriott Tiberio Palace, Capri, Italy
Marriott Rewards Category 7
Free night = 35,000 points/night to 150,000 points/7-night stay

Marriott Berlin, Germany
Marriott Rewards Category 5
Free night = 25,000 points/night to 115,000 points/7-night stay

Renaissance Chancery Court, London, UK
Marriott Rewards Category 7
Free night = 35,000 points/night to 150,000 points/7-night stay

Ritz-Carlton Berlin, Germany
Marriott Rewards Tier 1 Partner Hotel Award
Free Nights = 45,000 points/night to 175,000 points/7-night stay (25,000 points/night)

Ritz-Carlton Hotel Arts, Barcelona, Spain
Marriott Rewards Tier 2 Partner Hotel Award
Free Nights = 70,000 points/night to 250,000 points/7-night stay (35,714 points/night)

Starwood Hotels Brands

Le Meridien Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo, Monaco
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Le Meridien, Vienna, Austria
SPG Category 4
Free Nights = 10,000 points/night or 40,000 points/5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $60 + 4,000 points

Le Royal Meridien Bristol, Warsaw, Poland
SPG Category 3
Free Nights = 7,000 points/night or 28,000 points/5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $45 + 2,800 points

Hotel Imperial, The Luxury Collection, Vienna, Austria
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Hotel Kamp, The Luxury Collection, Helsinki, Finland
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Hotel Villa Cipriana, The Luxury Collection, Asolo, Italy
SPG Category 4
Free Nights = 10,000 points/night or 40,000 points/5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $60 + 4,000 points

Hotel Bristol, The Luxury Collection, Vienna, Austria
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Hotel Alfonso XIII, The Luxury Collection, Seville, Spain
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Hotel Maria Cristina, The Luxury Collection, San Sebastian, Spain
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Hotel Grande Bretagne, The Luxury Collection, Athens, Greece
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Hotel Gritti Palace, The Luxury Collection, Venice, Italy
SPG Category 7
Free Nights = 30,000-35,000 points/night or 120,000 - 140,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = Not Available

Hotel Goldener Hirsch, Salzburg, Austria
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Westin Palace, Madrid, Spain
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Westin Excelsior, Florence, Italy
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Westin Europe & Regina, Venice, Italy
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

Westin Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire, Scotland, UK
SPG Category 5
Free Nights = 12,000-16,000 points/night or 48,000 - 64,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $90 + 4,800 points/night

The Lanesborough, St. Regis Hotel, London, England, UK
(This Starwood Hotel does not participate in SPG loyalty program).

Blue Palace Resort & Spa, The Luxury Collection, Crete, Greece (Reserve List)
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Hotel Cala di Volpe, The Luxury Collection, Porto Cervo, Sardinia, Italy (Reserve List)
SPG Category 7
Free Nights = 30,000-35,000 points/night or 120,000 - 140,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = Not Available

St. Regis Grand, Rome, Italy (Reserve List)
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Westin Excelsior, Rome, Italy (Reserve List)
SPG Category 6
Free Nights = 20,000-25,000 points/night or 80,000 - 100,000/ 5-night stay
Cash & Points Night = $150 + 8,000 points/night

Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory

Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory

A common question is "How much are hotel points worth?"

A frequent guest wants a variety of strategies for reducing the cost of a hotel stay. Your choices are dictated primarily by the investment of time you are willing to make to find the best deal. Traveling with a big picture view of your frequent hotel stay plan allows you to consider a variety of strategies to find lower hotel rates. A knowledge base of the different ways to earn hotel points combined with knowing your options for hotel points redemption is the basis for understanding and applying Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory.

Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory
Principle #1
Hotel Points have real value only when redeemed, or exchanged for an item in lieu of cash.
Principle # 2
Hotel points sitting in an account only have potential value.
Principle #3
The potential value of your hotel points is not a constant value.

[Note: The Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory is my own Loyalty Traveler construct so you won't find it in Wikipedia]

Hotel loyalty program changes throughout the membership year due to factors such as hotel category classification changes, hotel redemption changes or promotions, and special offers using hotel points creates a dynamic potential value for hotel points that rises and falls as redemption exchange rates and conditions change.

Applying the Theory in Consumer Hotel Travel

What is the value of 25,000 Priority Club points?

The cost to buy 20,000 Priority Club points is $200. There is a 20,000 point purchase limit per calendar year. If extrapolated, 25,000 points has $250 value based on simple purchase price of points through Priority Club. This is the elementary answer to value of points.

What is the potential value of 25,000 Priority Club points?

The potential value of hotel points is a range depending on money saved at time of redemption. 25,000 hotel points will have no value if they are never redeemed and expire from member’s account. 25,000 hotel points may have a value of $500 or more if redeemed for an award with that purchase price using cash.

Principle # 3 is the focus of my hotel loyalty program work.

The potential value of hotel points is dependent on the exchange rate when you decide to use them. My work involves keeping track of current exchange rates and sharing my analysis of the more favorable exchanges for your hotel points.

Enough with the theory.

Here is how Exchange Rate applies to real world hotel travel:

The simple value of 30,000 hotel points is $300. The potential value depends on timing and location.

Two examples of timing and location:

Example 1: Priority Club advertises the program feature allowing a member to use Priority Club hotel points for any hotel anywhere. The fact is true, but the details show the real value of hotel points. 29,000 hotel points can be exchanged for a $100 American Express gift card.
This is a poor hotel points exchange rate. The potential value of 30,000 Priority Club hotel points is much higher than $100 if used differently.

Example 2 Scenario:

Michael Palin's Eastern Europe travelogue made Romania look like an interesting destination. 30,000 Priority Club points have been sitting in a traveler’s account.

Will 30,000 points get a free night in Bucharest, Romania?

There happen to be two IHG hotels in Bucharest, the Crowne Plaza and the InterContinental. The security of a major hotel in a large foreign city is comforting. The hotel points exchange rate needs to be compared for different options at these hotels to determine which hotel offers the best value for 30,000 points.

First, look at the redemption levels for the two hotels.

Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood all categorize hotels by a number system to determine the amount of points for a free hotel night.

Priority Club structures hotel redemption by hotel brand and there is only variation in the redemption point level for InterContinental, Holiday Inn, and Holiday Inn Express hotels. Some InterContinental Hotels require 40,000 points, while others are only 30,000 points. All Crowne Plaza hotels are 25,000 points for a free night standard redemption.

InterContinental Bucharest takes 30,000 points for a free night. My simple value calculation tells me that my points are worth $250 to use 25,000 points for the Crowne Plaza or $300 to use 30,000 points for a night at the InterContinental.

Second, check the hotel room rates for anticipated date of arrival to see if they are above or below the simple value of $250 per night for Crowne Plaza or $300 per night for InterContinental.

Hotel rates for April 15, 2008
Crowne Plaza, Bucharest is 743 RON/night (Romanian New Lei) = $299 USD/night +12% tax
InterContinental Bucharest is 300€/night = $437/night + 12% tax

The InterContinental Bucharest appears to be a better value with a hotel points exchange rate value of close to $500 for the 30,000 points. (Award nights generally include the hotel tax in the award redemption.)

Depending on my time I may have stopped my analysis here, checked some hotel reviews, and booked the InterContinental. (TripAdvisor shows Crowne Plaza ranks #8, however only 4 hotel reviews which is too low for statistical validity in my opinion, and the InterContinental ranks #10).

When you check hotel points redemption for Bucharest you should find that the Crowne Plaza has a PointBreaks special redemption offer available for April 15, 2008 for only 5,000 points.

Priority Club PointBreaks Hotel Award- 5,000 hotel points for a free night.

The potential value of Priority Club hotel points redeemed for the Crowne Plaza has increased to about $335 for 5,000 points compared to the potential value of $500 for 30,000 points used for a free night at the InterContinental. The real value of the hotel points exchange is $67/1,000 points if redeemed at the Crowne Plaza, Bucharest using a PointBreaks award compared to the real value of $17/1,000 points if redeemed for a free night at the InterContinental Bucharest.

The value of 30,000 Priority Club hotel points potentially is over $2,000 if used for a 6-night stay at the Crowne Plaza Bucharest.

Hotel Points Exchange Rate Theory shows there is no real value of hotel points until they are redeemed. Points only have potential value when sitting in a member's account. The real value of hotel points when redeemed is all a matter of timing and location.

The Loyalty Traveler seeks out and writes about the higher potential values for hotel points.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Starwood Le Meridien Brand Free Nights Promotion

Le Meridien San Francisco, center and to left of pyramid TransAmerica building.
This hotel was formerly a Park Hyatt.

I was looking back at the Le Meridien Journey for free nights promotion running from December 1, 2007 through March 31, 2008. I drafted a piece December 13th and from this draft developed a piece for the December Hotels-and-Points report. The Le Meridien promotion is a 5-star promotional opportunity for free nights.

There have been some changes in the terms and conditions of the promotion since I wrote the December pieces. One major change is good -- Le Meridien Cambridge in Boston, Massachusetts is listed as a participating property. I have tried to update the articles to reflect changes.

The main point for rehashing these pieces is I believe this is one of the best SPG promotions we will likely have this year. There are still 7 weeks to get your Le Meridien 7 stays to maximize the offer. There is a high value benefit relative to the cost of maximizing this offer.

Offer: (Free nights may be redeemed at most Le Meridien hotels through Mar 31, 2009.)

· Earn one free night after first 3 stays at Le Meridien hotels

· Earn one more night after 5 stays at Le Meridien hotels (2 free nights total)

· Earn two more nights after 7 stays at Le Meridien hotels (4 free nights total)

Dates: Le Meridien hotel stays through March 31, 2008, participating hotels only

Brands: Starwood Le Meridien Hotels—View list for participating properties as most hotels in the brand are eligible, but some properties are not participating.
Le Meriden participating hotels

Registration link:

Starwood Category 6 Hotels cost 20,000 to 25,000 per free night using points. Opportunities to earn free nights at a Starwood Category 6 hotel do not come around often which makes the Le Meridien-brand promotion for up to 4 free nights after 7 Le Meridien stays an intriguing offer.

The frequent guest needs to get to San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Cancun, Toronto, or Montreal if you want to do the promotion in North America. These are the participating Le Meridien hotels for stays qualifying for the free nights.

Sample rates for North American hotels for this Saturday, February 16, 2008

Le Meridien Cambridge, Boston, Massachusetts $189

Le Meridien Cancun, Mexico $238

Le Meridien Sunny Isles Beach, Miami, Florida $319
(Rate for Feb 21; No Availability for Feb 16.)

Le Meridien Versailles, Montreal, Quebec, Canada $159 CAD

Le Meridien San Francisco $289

Le Meridien King Edward, Toronto, Ontario, Canada $179 CAD

View of North Beach and cruise ship arrival at dawn, May 2007

Le Meridien San Francisco 22nd floor

The following piece is an idea seed for people who have the time and inclination to plan an international Le Meridien getaway for March. When I wrote this in December, I took the time to actually plan a schedule and go through the reservations process to find out the total hotel cost for 7 stays in Germany over a two-week period. This methodology allowed me to see how to plan the routing around Germany to plan for lowest cumulative cost of the hotel nights. Laying out the daily rates for all the hotels in the country allowed me to visualize an itinerary where the trip would take the traveler to Nuremberg when the price for a room at the Le Meridien was under 100 Euros and avoid Cologne when the price was over 300 Euros.

Airfare is still relatively low for travel to Europe in March and the hotel prices are not prohibitive, even when paying in Euros.

A Le Meridien Romance 7-stay (days) planner

Some people look at the Le Meridien promotion and think “No good for me!” San Francisco, Boston, and Miami are the only participating hotels in the USA and I don’t live near these places. A weekend in Canada doesn’t help me get 7 stays.

Loyalty Travelers think outside the box.

Do you want to visit Germany and drink beer in Munich and Nuremberg? Try a late winter/early spring volksmarch in the forest hills and river valley villages of Bavaria.

Do Egyptology and the Pyramids rock you? Sunning in the Seychelles or Bora Bora your fantasy? A week in a 5-star London hotel your cup of tea?

Le Meridien hotel chain was originally established by Air France in 1972. A couple of years ago Starwood purchased the hotel chain and has worked to integrate and showcase the unique flair these hotels offer to the Starwood frequent guest. I personally have stayed in 4 Le Meridien properties in San Francisco, Singapore, and the Netherlands, and I noticed a different style in each hotel that was interesting and memorable for each of my experiences.

Europe, particularly Germany and Italy, are the best represented region for Le Meridien hotels. Egypt is another location with multiple properties. The choice of several Le Meridien properties makes Egypt, Germany, or Italy a great vacation destination for fulfilling the Le Meridien 7-stay promotion requirements.

To reduce the frequency of changing hotels, a couple can book consecutive reservations under each individual’s name. In the past, I have booked one night under my name and the next night under my wife’s name. It might require changing rooms, but keep your loyalty program focus on the objective of earning free nights. Even with a room change possibility, the advantage of two nights in one hotel is a budget minded solution and both SPG members will earn credit as long as the reservations are maintained separately.

[Note: This hotel rate data is from Dec. 12, 2007] I checked a sample week of hotel rates from February 16-23 for Le Meridien hotels in Germany and found prices ranging from 80 Euros/night at Le Meridien Nuremberg and up to 199 Euros for Le Meridien Munich. My sample itinerary would cost about $225US/stay = $1,575 for 7 stays.

Use the points for a high-value hotel redemption such as 4 free nights for a hotel with lowest available rates around $400/night. This Le Meridien promotion allows a frequent guest to stay 11 nights for about $1,600. The fair market rate of $3,200 would be double the actual paid rate for the loyalty traveler who plans the promotion well.

[The math: Traveler pays $1,575 for 7 paid nights at Le Meridien hotels and earns 4 free nights with a $400/night value. $1,575 + $1,600 = $3,175 value received in hotel rooms.]

Egypt has four Le Meridien hotels and prices range from $90 to $130 per night on most dates I checked.

7 nights in hotels will cost about $225/night average. A couple can pay for 14 nights and earn 8 free nights for about $3,000. The free nights can be redeemed for rooms that you would not be able to get for under $400 per night otherwise, even if you had 50% off rack rate. Basically, you can have a two-week vacation in Europe and consider all of your hotel expenses to be credited and applied to a future luxury resort hotel vacation worth at least $3,000 for the 8 free nights in Le Meridien hotel resorts. There are several beach resort Le Meridien properties.

Le Meridien Singapore

Hotels-and-Points article excerpt:

Offer: (Free nights may be redeemed at most Le Meridien hotels through Mar 31, 2009.)
· Earn one free night after first 3 stays at Le Meridien hotels
· Earn one more night after 5 stays at Le Meridien hotels (2 free nights total)
· Earn two more nights after 7 stays at Le Meridien hotels (4 free nights total)
Dates: Le Meridien hotel stays through March 31, 2008, participating hotels only
Brands: Starwood Le Meridien Hotels—View list for participating properties as most hotels in the brand are eligible, but 11 properties are not participating.
Registration link:

Voyage of Discovery Promotion

2008 is upon us and Starwood has the jump on the other hotel loyalty programs with the first “free nights” of the new year with a Le Meridien-brand promotion.

7 Stays at Le Meridien hotels earns 4 free nights.

Four nights are worth 80,000 to 100,000 points at a Category 6 hotel. This offer is potentially a huge bonus for 7 hotel stays. SPG Category 6 properties in Bora Bora, Seychelles, and London and several expensive Category 5 resorts that normally run about $400 to $500/night in peak season are participating in free nights redemption.

“You can earn the free nights up until 31st March 2008, but you have up until March 31, 2009 to utilize the free nights you earn.”

Potential Value of Le Meridien Free Nights used April 22-26, 2008

Nightly Low Rates for Luxury at these Le Meridien Hotels
Bora Bora, French Polynesia (SPG Category 6) 45,000 XPF = $543/night
Fisherman’s Cove, Seychelles (Indian Ocean)(SPG Category 6) 485€ = $698/night
Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo, Monaco (SPG Cat 5) 395€ = $567/night
London Piccadilly, United Kingdom (SPG Cat 6) 269 GBP = $544/night

Potential Value of Le Meridien Free Nights used July 22-26, 2008
Bora Bora, French Polynesia (SPG Category 6) 48,500 XPF = $585/night
Fisherman’s Cove, Seychelles (Indian Ocean)(SPG Category 6) 485€ = $698/night
Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo, Monaco (SPG Cat 5) 445€ = $641/night
London Piccadilly, United Kingdom (SPG Cat 6) 279 GBP = $564/night

Potential Value of Le Meridien Free Nights used October 12-16, 2008
Bora Bora, French Polynesia (SPG Category 6) 48,500 XPF = $585/night
Fisherman’s Cove, Seychelles (Indian Ocean)(SPG Category 6) 485€ = $698/night
Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo, Monaco (SPG Cat 5) 240€ = $346/night
London Piccadilly, United Kingdom (SPG Cat 6) 279 GBP = $564/night

The primary obstacle to fulfilling this promotion is the relatively small number of participating properties combined with the number of frequent stays to maximize the promotion for its potential value.

The challenge is to either travel to several places over the early months of 2008 or design a vacation to frequent Le Meridien hotels in one region over a week or two of vacation nights. There are only about 120 Le Meridien hotels worldwide. Only 6 hotels are located in North America. Miami, Cancun, and Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, are all high season rates in winter. Le Meridien hotels in San Francisco, Toronto, and Montreal have hotel rates from $130 to $230 for many dates.
Europe is feasible for hotel hopping this winter with Germany, France, Portugal, and Italy having sufficient hotels at reasonable rates to travel within a region and limit the geographical distance traveling between hotels.
A tour of Le Meridien hotels in Asia can find reasonable rates in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Egypt’s three Le Meridien hotels have lowest average rates in the world.

Winter time in the urban centers of Germany may not be the "Sound of Music" vision you had for a European vacation, but keep the objective in mind of luxury free nights. Stay 7 nights bouncing around western Germany, north and south. Your Le Meridien hotel hopping can take you to Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Cologne, and Hamburg. (Sorry, no LMs in eastern Germany). Plan a two-week trip for a couple and earn 8 free nights and then stay at expensive Le Meridien resort hotels for your next vacation in 2008.
Flights are abundant and airfare is low this winter to Germany. Plan on an average nightly rate of about $225 for your 7 stays. About $1,600 for 7 one-night stays.

A couple spending $3,000 to $4,000 for hotel nights to maximize this promotion can earn another $3,000 to $4,000 in free hotel nights—a two-for-one. A couple can earn 8 free nights for a Le Meridien island resort like Bora Bora, Sardinia, or the Seychelles with a value of $500-$700 per night. Essentially, you can earn free trophy travel by taking a winter European vacation tour with Le Meridien hotels guiding your locations.

Le Meridien Des Indes, The Hague, Netherlands
July 2006
Three participating Le Meridien Hotels are in the United States. Sunny Isles Beach, Miami, Florida is in high season with rates regularly $300+. Le Meridien San Francisco is in the low season months and rooms are as low as $129 in December, and $209 rates available many dates in Jan to March. Le Meridien Cambridge, Boston has rates under $200 on some nights.