Anyone who travels a lot realizes that diversifying with your loyalty programs can be a huge benefit. Putting all of your eggs in a single basket is a risky venture. If anything ever happens to the program, all of your “currency” goes away. Starwood has properties where I want to go, and for every trip this year that I have booked (with one exception), I have been able to stay at a Starwood property when booking a points eligible rate. I’ve had a few trips this year where I was on special discounted rates or a customer booked a hotel for me that I had no control over. Lucky for me I generally travel to larger cities where finding a Starwood property is no issue. With all of the great tips Shannon has been sharing, I’m sure everyone can see why I like SPG, given that there are so many options.
The airline decision is almost just as easy for me. That said, Delta is known for having one of the hardest programs to redeem awards with, and some of their recent changes haven’t been positive for me. Since I don’t live in a hub (or focus city) the most important thing for me is access to a hub. By the end of the year I’ll probably end up with around 250,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and could qualify for top tier status with two airlines. But I’ll stick with Delta. Delta services its uberhub (Atlanta) with 10+ daily flights on mainline aircraft ranging between 34 and 37 minutes. From Atlanta I can get most anywhere non-stop and never have to touch a regional jet! American, Continental-United, and US Airways all service Savannah with regional jets only. Additionally, each of the flights on those regional jets are anywhere from two to four times longer then the regular hops I take to Atlanta.
If I were based near Dulles, Houston, Chicago, Charlotte, or a number of other cities, I’d be crazy to do what I do. But it works for me. If I were going to places where only a Marriott Courtyard or Holiday Inn were prevalent I would certainly have to “play the game” a bit differently. The same would hold true if I were visiting cities that didn’t have service by SkyTeam (Delta’s airline alliance) or if prices were significantly cheaper on other carriers. It is different for everyone and we each need to evaluate (and reevaluate) our travel habits. Every few months I look at where I’ve been and look back to see if it makes sense to change what I do. For those who invest, you’re familiar with that process.
Whether you’re away from home 150 days a year or five days a year the same principles are at work. If you don’t travel enough to hit a status level with a program, look at using a credit card that offers the benefits. If you don’t want to go that route use Priceline (or Hotwire).
Oddly enough, that is the path I take with most of my rental cars. I generally take public transportation or a taxi when I travel. Including personal travel this year, I have six rental car days with another five or six possible. I’ll sign up for Hertz promo or a National promo to get a bump up in status, but most of the time I can save 30% to 40% on my rentals using Priceline or Hotwire. At the end of the day the car gets me from point A to point B. It doesn’t have free Wi-Fi or a non-stop path that will get me home two hours earlier, but it gets me to my destination. I don’t rent enough cars nor do I care much if I’m driving a Nissan Versa or a Cadillac CTS. This is my method. It works for me. Whatever you do, make sure it works for you!
As a part of what I post here, I want to also give you a few tips every week. A travel tip can be just about anything, including a packing tip to make trip preparation a little less stressful. I’d love feedback and any recommendations on new tips.
Travel Tip: Don’t pay the posted rate. When planning a trip somewhere, figure out where you want to stay and what property or properties would be ideal. If the rate is higher than you’d expect or there are other close-by properties of similar caliber / quality that have a lower rate, ask the property that you want to stay at to match the rate. Retail stores price-match and so do hotels. I’ve tried this three times and have been successful each time. But don’t call the reservations line. Call the property and ask for in-house reservations or the manager on duty. Tell them you found a rate of X-amount at X-hotel although you’d prefer to stay with them (the property you’re calling), yet you have a limit you can spend. Let them know you’re willing to pre-pay for the room in advance (only if you are). If you’re a member of their elite program, let them know. Hotels want to fill their rooms and if they’re not near capacity a room filled is better than an empty room. Use all of your bargaining chips!
Packing Tip: Write down a packing list. We create to-do lists, grocery lists, and even lists of presents that we’d like to receive. Do the same thing when you pack. And after you go through the list and check everything off, save the list for your next trip. I did this for the first year I traveled and it made packing a stress-free experience. I never forgot a thing. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at what you’re currently wearing and go from there.
Not sure if you had seen this on MP or FT, but it’s been pointed out that the wording on “first time MP personal cardholders” in the Elite (60K) version of the offer, has been changed to only restrict it to “first time MileagePlus Explorer” cardholders, although the Pricing & Terms still has some weasel-wording.