One of our readers asked for an article on the merits of collecting hotel program points or airline frequent flier miles. Which should you focus on? The answer of course is complex, and begins with… it depends!
I like to look at the desired end result before selecting how to focus my “loyalty” and my campaigns of earning points/miles. The end result for me, normally is staying in a gorgeous hotel for nada OR easing into that free elite class seat strapped to a mega ton airliner about to be launched across the planet in style and comfort.
But… everyone has different needs, aspirations and traveling personalities.
This game takes patience and sometimes a well planned attack to get the end result, occasionally years out. A few years back, my company was flying me a lot of Delta, so I looked at where I could redeem on Delta or their partners, and discovered a great redemption possibility on Singapore Airlines, so I went for it … by getting two Delta credit cards, earning Delta points from their dining program, and even… *shock horror*… buying miles when on sale! The payoff was two round-trip First Class tickets on arguably the best airline from Los Angeles to Singapore (15 hours) at the time I wanted to go ($23,000 value) and a good return on my investment.
Nowadays Singapore Air is only under the umbrella of Star Alliance, and if you have those aspirations United Mileage Plus miles can be used for such a trip. Beware of poor availability in Business and First however! Some of the best airline credit cards are the AAdvantage Citi and United MileagePlus Explorer for bonuses of 50,000 and up to 60,000 respectively.
The moral is long haul elite class direct flights on reputable airlines can be outrageously expensive to purchase, and if this is your goal to gain for free, then fully focusing on miles instead of points would be a good idea. Be prepared to earn hundreds of thousands for multiple seats on such routes though. Keep in mind, that some cards (such as the SPG Amex) allows you to transfer points into miles … so while you’d be earning SPG points, you can transfer them to American Airlines. Transfer 20k points, get 25k miles too.
Even if your traveling pattern is domestic only, but you fly trans-continental regularly from coast to coast for example, for this travel profile focusing on miles could also be a winner to gain free upgrades for such long flights or full elite class redemption’s if the coach fare is high.
If your traveling needs are mainly domestic, and you fly from or through major hubs where competition keeps fares low, it MAY make sense to go for hotel points … especially if you desire to stay in high-end pricey hotels in wonderful locations. Perhaps the W South Beach, Miami where rooms rarely dip below $500 plus tax and rates can be seen in the thousands during peak season. Or perhaps if a redemption at any of the numerous Manhattan hotels over New Year’s eve are on your radar, then a hotel campaign could be your next project.
So … how do we run such a campaign? Well the Hilton Amex for a 50,000 point bonus is a good start, especially if your aspirations include for example a Waldorf Astoria hotel or the Grand Wailea in Maui. You’ll also get a bump in elite status too.
The old faithful SPG Amex is still a great option, with a current promo of 25,000 SPG points and one of the best feature being the flexibility of SPG points. You can mix and match miles and points, as they can be transferred to a number of airlines at 1:1 and a 25% bonus if transferred in blocks of 20,000.
If you are a frequent guest and have a choice of where to stay, it makes sense to pick a hotel chain and try and stick with them. For my company, Marriott is often the chain of choice for their international exposure. I use the Marriott Visa for an extra 5 Marriott reward points per dollar spent. Another useful tip is sign up for a Platinum challenge with Marriott (a free instant fast track to elite status and will be maintained after 18 nights instead of 75) even if you will not or may not make the minimum within the 3 months. This is because you will get extra points immediately from night number 1. This is a one-time challenge however so use it when most useful.
For both airline and hotel programs, there are shopping and dining portals with almost every one. Examples include AAdvantage dining and Hilton shopping. These are ways of topping up programs on a continuing basis especially if you are big on eating out or a big spender on items such as electronics, household goods, etc… I always check on Amazon and similar sites before committing to purchases on these sites to ensure the best price and divert to the cheapest if necessary despite losing out on points.
As I mentioned the subject is a complex one and has many other factors. Not least being which program is currently running the most lucrative promotion.
Personally for my plan of attack is to focus on airline miles. I still have a stash of Marriott and Hilton largely from credit card spending. However I have a lot more airline miles because it makes more sense for me (with my wife and child). I want to fly first class or at least business, and I want to fly far. Cathay Pacific and other prestigious airlines don’t like to discount their premium products. $20,000 of my cash for seats up the front to the Far East and beyond is too rich for my blood and always will be … so that’s where my campaign mainly lies.