This is why you need to sign up for hotel programs before booking your room.

l’ve already posted about how you can sign up for hotel programs. Not surprisingly, I’ve certainly signed up for quite a few. When I look at AwardWallet, I see that I have accounts with these hotel programs:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Hilton Honors
  • World of Hyatt
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Le Club Accorhotels
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Choice Privileges
  • La Quinta Rewards
  • M Life (MGM Resorts)
  • Kimpton Karma Rewards

I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t enrolled in the last two programs on this list until this week. I signed up for them because I was staying, or thinking about staying, in hotels belonging Continue reading “This is why you need to sign up for hotel programs before booking your room.”

Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites West Palm Beach Jupiter

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Photo of hotel from Marriott website

When we drove home from Key West, our original plan was to leave early and visit the Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach and then go to dinner at Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale (more on Mai-Kai at a later date – it deserves a post all its own!). After driving from Key West and then having a full day of events, we figured we would most likely need to rest after dinner instead trying to drive three more hours to get home. We do have family in the area so we figured if we stayed overnight, we could plan to meet them the next morning for breakfast. We’ve stayed in the Fort Lauderdale area recently but decided we’d rather drive a little ways towards home after dinner so that our ride the next morning would be that much shorter.

Since I am not loyal to any specific hotel chain, I looked at what options I had that were Continue reading “Hotel Review: Fairfield Inn & Suites West Palm Beach Jupiter”

Resort fees and parking fees and taxes, oh, my! Choosing a hotel in Las Vegas

I’m well into planning mode for our big trip to the Southwest, which means I have to start researching hotels. I love the planning of trips almost as much as I do going on them; it is part of the fun for me. There are times where the planning starts to drive me, and Sharon, a little crazy (edit by Sharon: a LITTLE?!?!?! hahahaha!!!).

Part of our trip will be a stay in Las Vegas. Due to the number of activities suggested to us when we asked for help with planning, we extended our stay there to 3 nights. It’s been a
while since I’ve been to Vegas so I needed to brush up on my hotels. Many of the places I Continue reading “Resort fees and parking fees and taxes, oh, my! Choosing a hotel in Las Vegas”

All miles/points are NOT equal

I’ve found that this is one of the most difficult miles/points concepts for people to understand. Using two hotel chains as an example, why is a Starwood point and a Hilton point not equal? You have 1 mile/point in each program so they are worth about the same, right? Wrong!

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I’ve gone over the different types of points you can earn in a previous post, here. Now that you have a understanding of the different types of points, you need to understand that even the same type of points can have very different values.

I’ll use the above mentioned hotel points and two credit card offers as an example.

Hilton Surpass AMEX 100,000 point offer

Starwood AMEX 35,000 point offer

On the surface, it would seem that the offer for Hilton is much better than the Starwood card. It’s more points and more is better. right?  Why, then, am I going to sign up for the Starwood card and pass on the Hilton offer?  Because I feel that Starwood points are worth much more than Hilton points, that’s why. I estimate that the 35,000 Starpoints are worth around $800 to me and 100,000 Hilton points are only worth about $400.

How did I come up with those values? I used what I’ve read from other websites like The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time, combined with my personal experience redeeming points with each hotel brand.

I’ve used my Starwood points to stay in some wonderful hotels, like the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. I used a combination of 18,000 points and $330 cash to stay here for 3 nights in 2015. At the time, if I used only points it would have cost 12,000 points a night (since then the amount of points needed has gone up to 20,000 points a night).

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Garden Court of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco

I’ve also talked about our wonderful stay in London at the Great Northern Hotel. Our 4 nights in an upgraded room cost us 71,000 points. If our schedule had allowed, we could have stayed an additional night at no charge because if you are paying with Starpoints at a category 3 hotel or above, the 5th night of a stay is free.

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A stay at the Great Northern Hotel in London at King’s Cross Station will cost you 12,000 to 16,000 Starpoints a night for a standard room.

So with my 35,000 Starpoints from the AMEX offer, I could stay at either of these hotels again for 2 nights and still have some points left over. That’s a pretty good deal.

Let’s look at what I can get from the 100,000 point bonus currently offered for the Hilton Surpass AMEX card. To be fair, I’ll try to look at comparable hotels to the ones mentioned above.

While there isn’t a Hilton which would compare to the history of the Palace in San Francisco, one of their more popular hotels is the the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. Hilton has changed the Honors program so it’s impossible to quote exactly how many points a room would cost, but previously a room would cost 50,000 to 60,000 points a night. Remember, a night at Starwood’s fancier Palace Hotel goes for 20,000 points.

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The very convention oriented San Francisco Hilton will cost you up to 60,000 points a night

Lets look at London as well. One of the standout hotels you can book with Hilton points is the Conrad London St. James. I’d definitely like to book a stay here.

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A newly remodeled hotel resides behind the classic facade of the Conrad London St. James hotel.

This is a top category hotel in the Hilton program and would cost around 90,000 points a night to book a room. That’s almost the entire sign up bonus for the Hilton AMEX. I looked and the lower level Hilton hotels in London cost at least 60,000 points a night. Remember that  I stayed 4 nights (and could have stayed 5) at the Great Northern for only 71,000 points (and that was paying extra for an upgraded room).

With these examples, I’ve limited my comparison to two large hotel chains to show how much difference there can be in the value of a “point.” It’s easy to see here that all points are not created equal, and it pays to do a little research to find out what value people are giving for points before going out to earn them. That will give you a starting point for reference. When you’ve been at this for a while, you can factor in your travel patterns and needs. Then you can come up with your own values because, as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

Why I’m not going to bite at the 100,000 point AMEX Hilton Surpass card offer.

When I was at work this week, my travel news feed was full of these headlines.

Best ever offer on Amex Hilton cards: Up to 100k + free weekend night!
AMEX Hilton Cards Offering Highest Sign-Up Bonuses Ever
Limited Time: 100,000 Hilton Honors Points Available Via Bonus!

I was all ready to go ahead and write about why I was going to jump in on this offer, and why you should, too. Then I started looking at how I could use these points and upon closer inspection, the cracks in my logic started to show.

Hilton just recently revamped their program, including changing the name from Hilton HHonors to Hilton Honors, as well as the ways you can redeem points. Hilton previously had a clear system with 9 categories for their hotels and each category had a set range of points needed to redeem a free night. They have now gone to a variable point redemption model, where you can apply some or all of your points to get any room. However the amount of points needed to book a room can change based on the going rate. While this does increase your opportunity to use points, the value of your points is now a mystery.

I crunched the numbers for some Hilton brand hotels I’ve stayed at before, to give myself an idea of what type of value I could get from Hilton points. I searched for the same weekend in May and compared the points rate to the AAA rate I would usually book.

Lets go toward the top of my range. The Hilton Garden Inn Times Square.

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One night at this Hilton Garden Inn will cost you 70,000 points

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With the AAA rate, a 2 night stay after taxes is $686.55. If I used points, the stay would cost 140,000 points (that is well over the 100,000 sign up bonus offered). I would be getting $0.49  a point value (686.55/140000) x 100.

Maybe a value hotel would give more value. Here’s a hotel we stay at when visiting family, the Hampton Inn Linden.

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Rooms here are going for 30,000 points a night

A two night stay with AAA rate would be $287.73. With rooms costing 30,000 points a night, this would mean that you would be getting $0.47 a point (287.73 / 60000 x 100)

Hmmmmm, that’s almost the same as the first example.

Maybe a different hotel might give a better value. Here’s a hotel we are considering staying at later this year, the Palmer House – a Hilton Hotel in Chicago.

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Nights at Palmer House cost 60,000 points

Even with a stay costing 10,000 points a night less than the hotel in New York, the price for a 2 night stay would cost $824.93 or 120,000 points. This would be a value of $0.68 a point (824.93/120000 x 100). That is a much better value for the points than the other two examples.

With this value, I might have jumped at the offer for 100,000 points. However for the weekend we are looking at, the rooms are going for a much more reasonable price of $525 for two nights. This would only be a value of $0.43 a point. That’s even lower than the other examples.

I’d say the maximum value I’d get from this sign up bonus of 100,000 Hilton points would be $680 but I’d be more likely to find it worth a little less than $500. There are way too many other cards I could sign up for that would give more value. One thing you learn with miles and points is to go after good deals when they show up. With experience, you also learn that what is a good deal for other people might not be the best deal for you.

So I think I’m gonna let this one go. I have 1 or 2 other cards that I was already thinking about getting. Even though this is a compelling offer, I have a inkling that this will not be the last time we see a higher sign up bonus for this card. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. Your Mileage May Vary.

What to do with a couple points here, a few points there.

There was a good article I read on Frugal Travel Guy’s website this week called

What Should You Do With Your Leftover Hotel Points?

It’s a problem that you’ll have to deal with after collecting points for a while. I currently have random point balances with Hilton, Hyatt, Choice Hotels, Marriott and La Quinta. Not enough points to book a room for a long stay but not so little than I’m willing to let the points expire. Remember, hotel points can go bad if you don’t keep your account active and  I use AwardWallet to keep track of my points so that doesn’t happen.

If I have enough points for one night, I’ll look to see if I can use them up when we need a quick, overnight stay. I used La Quinta points to book a room in Tampa when we went to see Billy Joel in concert in 2014. We just needed a room, and that’s what we got.

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I wasn’t a fan of the avocado green painted brick walls at the LaQuinta Tampa Bay Airport, but all we needed was a bed.

When I don’t have enough points for even a one night stay, I have to determine if it’s worth the effort to keep the points alive. I almost always answer yes to that question because it’s usually not that difficult to do. Since rules for each plan differ, I go to the internet to find acceptable ways to have some account activity. There are multiple resources with seeming endless ways available to keep your points from expiring.

So while the article above does mention left over points, I always seem to have a use for 1 night in a hotel. It’s more of an issue when I have orphan points that I want to keep from expiring that takes a little more effort to manage.

What’s the difference between earning flexible points, fixed value points, airline miles, hotel points or cash?

Before you start earning miles and points from your credit cards, it’s really important to know what type of points you are earning. There are several types of reward miles/points that banks offer and they can be most easily be divided into four categories:

  • Transferrable (Flexible) Points
  • Airline Miles and Hotel Points
  • Fixed Value Points
  • Cash Back

I’ll go over some of the basics for each of these points below:

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Transferrable (Flexible) Points

There are three banks that give these type of points:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thank You Points

These points are the most desirable ones to collect for miles and points enthusiasts because of their flexibility. You earn them in your account and can hold them until you have a use for them. You can then transfer them to the program which is most beneficial to you at the time.

With each type of point, you have a number of different transfer partners specific to each program. This is to your advantage because if you have points in each program, you have a multitude of options open to you when you need to book travel. More options means you are likely to be able to book the trip that you want, when you want, for the lowest price. These are the big three of points redemptions (Where, When and How Much).  Therefore, collecting each of these points is best if you do not have a set redemption in mind because this way you are not locked into a single airline’s or hotel’s points program.

The downside of these type of points is that in order to transfer points, you usually have to hold a premium card with an annual fee. You also need to keep your account open (and pay the annual fee) to keep your points. If you decide close your account and still have your points sitting there, you will lose them. Losing points is one of the big no-no’s of collecting miles and points. You can stop this from happening (transferring them before closing the account is one way) but you always need to keep that in mind.

Airline Miles and Hotel Points

The way these type of cards work is usually easier to understand. When you earn points or miles with airline or hotel credit cards, they are deposited directly into your account with that program (not with the bank). Some of the most common programs with credit cards are:

  • American Aadvantage Miles
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United Mileage Plus
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

There are many other programs with offers for their own credit card that earns points or miles. If you tend to fly a specific airline, having their co-branded card can have its advantages. Besides earning miles/points in the respective programs, these credit cards often provide additional benefits such as free checked bags or preferred boarding on airlines or free internet or upgraded room at hotels.

The benefit of earning miles/points with credit cards with these programs is that if you cancel the credit card, you do not lose the points as they are already deposited in your program account. You only need to keep your account active with the airline or hotel (each program has its own specific requirements to do so) to keep from losing your miles.

The disadvantage is that your points/miles are locked into that program. So if that airline/hotel has no availability where you want to go, too bad.

The one hotel program which has additional benefits is Starwood Preferred Guest. With their program, you are allowed to transfer your hotel points from your account to several airline programs (some of which have no other transfer partners). When you transfer points into airline miles, you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This perk makes Starwood points extremely valuable. Many miles/points websites consider Starpoints a flexible point currency instead of hotel points.

Fixed Value Points

By far, these are the easiest points for people to understand. You earn points which are worth a fixed value. Usually  1-2 cents a point. So if you want to book an airline ticket worth $200 and your points are worth 1 cent each, you’ll need 20,000 points. The credit cards that work like this include but are not limited to:

  • Capital One Venture (The one Jennifer Garner does commercials for)
  • Bank of America Worldpoints
  • Wells Fargo Rewards
  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles
  • US Bank Flexperks

These points are easy to use because if there is a ticket available, you can most likely use your points to pay for it. You either have to book tickets through the program’s travel portal or book the ticket/room yourself and apply your balance to cover the payment on your statement, depending on the program. Check with the particular program to make sure how it works before making any reservations.

You believe Jennifer Garner, don’t you? With the ease of redeeming these points, it would seem that they would be the most preferable ones to collect. That may be true if you are only looking to book low cost domestic airfare. It is true that availability with airline miles can be difficult to find for flights within the US. But with fixed value points, if there is a seat available, you can use your points to pay for it. This can serve a purpose in a diversified portfolio of points, it has limitations.

The disadvantage is that you can only get a fixed value for your redemption. Most travelers don’t get into collecting miles and points to redeem them for inexpensive domestic flights. The value in points/miles is using them for something you usually couldn’t pay cash for. Something like that business class ticket to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. If that ticket cost $2500 cash, you’d need 250,000 fixed value points to get it. As of today, using Delta Skymiles would only cost you 140,000 miles (if you can find availability).

Fixed Value travel cards aren’t very popular because of a similar credit card product which is available and has more advantages.

Cash Back Cards

Cash is still king. When earning Flexible points, Airline miles, Hotel points or Fixed Value points, you always need to remember than you could have been earning cash back instead.

It is very easy to understand a cash back card. Some of the most popular cards are

  • Citi Double Cash
  • Fidelity Rewards
  • Discover It Cash
  • American Express Blue Cash
  • Capital One Quicksilver (the one Samuel L. Jackson sells)
  • Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Citi Double Cash card and the Fidelity Rewards card both earn 2% cash back on all purchases. Citi pays 1% when you make the charge and 1% when you pay the bill. Fidelity pays the 2% back as a deposit into your Fidelity account (so it helps if you already do some banking or investing with them). The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% back on all purchases.

The Discover It, American Express Blue Cash and Chase Freedom all earn back 1% on most purchases. They also have bonus categories where you can earn additional money back in certain categories like restaurants, gas and groceries. Both the Chase Freedom cards also have the advantage of that if you have an another Chase Ultimate Rewards card that earns flexible points, you can transfer your Freedom points to that account. When you do that, the cash back points transform into flexible points.

Comparing a cash back card to a fixed value card, you see that since you can earn at least 2% on any purchase, only earning 1% back on a fixed value card just doesn’t make sense.

Conclusion

So which points should you collect? That does depend on what travel goals you have. I personally have a combination of all of these cards except for a fixed value card. Most of my spending goes onto cards with flexible points (including Starwood points). I do have a cash back card which I use to maximize bonus categories as I value 5% cash back more than any point I could earn. Your Mileage May Vary on which card or combination of cards works the best for you. Understanding the difference between the types of points or miles you can earn with credit cards allows you make an informed choice when deciding which ones to apply for …and now you know.