A bit of hotel loyalty program schadenfreude


The past few weeks have seen two hotel loyalty programs shake up their award charts in a big way. For members of the Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors programs, the points tucked away for some future plans were suddenly a much different asset, and mostly not in a good way (though I maintain there are still some gems in the HHonors reboot). And, while I can sympathize with people who have been squirrelling away points, saving up for "the big one" at some point in the future who have now seen their plans change significantly, I’m also rather bemused by their plight. Call it schadenfreude, if you will. It isn’t because I take joy in the setbacks they’re experiencing; it is because I think more and more people are finally discovering the truth: The value proposition of hotel loyalty programs is crap for many travelers.

I used to be a traveling consultant, on the road for work 2-4 nights per week for 35+ weeks a year. That’s how I first got in to the point and miles game. And I accrued a lot of points and miles. I also had top-tier hotel status as a function of all those nights on the road with an expense account. I got upgrades on occasion and the other elite benefits the programs offered. Then I quit my job to travel more. I had hotel loyalty back then, or so I thought. After my first few trips I realized that I was losing that game. BADLY. Once I had to pay for the rooms myself rather than getting reimbursed the math changed dramatically. Skipping out on hotel loyalty was a phenomenal way to save money, it turns out. At least for me.

There are two main types of benefits I see that come from hotel loyalty: on-property benefits and point redemption. It turns out that I cannot really find value in either. Here’s how I came to that conclusion based on my travel patterns.

On-property benefits

"Free" upgrades to a suite, "free" breakfast and "free" internet are the main areas where loyalty programs provide benefits on-property. For some there are also lounges with snacks/drinks in the evening. And, with very few exceptions, it turns out that none of these are actually worth much to me. Finding a hotel which offers free breakfast and internet to all guests rather than to only elites isn’t very hard to do, it turns out. As an added bonus, these hotels are often available at a lower price than the properties where the benefit has "value." On the off chance that the breakfast is not free, I’ve yet to find myself in a scenario where the on-premises breakfast was a better choice than walking around in the neighborhood for a few minutes and finding a local shop. Whether it is dumplings in Beijing, sushi in Tokyo, noodles in Bangkok or pastries across most of Europe, getting breakfast out rarely breaks the bank and it provides a much better sense of place than being holed up in the hotel.

Suite upgrades are another area where I just don’t get the value. Maybe it is because I live in a small apartment when I’m home so I’m used to it, but the idea of a huge suite for my sleeping needs is one that I struggle with. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t turn them down – but the value of a suite upgrade to me is roughly nil. Especially when I’m traveling solo. I spend so little time in the room; I actually somewhat prefer one I cannot get lost in.

And the snacks/drinks in the executive lounge as a replacement for dinner is something I just do not understand. I have read far too many trip reports of people taking their meals in the lounge, "because it is free." I’ve cringed when traveling with a group and hearing that some were doing the same and suggesting that their partner join them rather than going out for the local fare (we actually invited the plus one out in that instance). Even in Europe or Asia where the lounge spreads are generally rather more impressive they still are not necessarily local food nor are they free, just included in the rate. For this category I almost see the value as negative. Failure to get out and actually experience the local dining scene should count against travelers; I know it does on my scorecard.

Point redemption

Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that with all my travels the number of nights I’d even consider redeeming points for a stay are pretty low. I don’t actually go places where the redemptions are such great value. My travels this past year probably had me in towns without a western-branded hotel more than 30-40% of the time anyways. So even if I wanted to redeem points for a hotel that wouldn’t have been an option. Even where there are such hotels available the cost to acquire the points is, generally, more than I’m willing to pay. The Hyatt in Kiev, Ukraine, for example, is a lovely property. But we needed four nights in town and it was cost-prohibitive to stay there as a revenue booking. Even on points it was rather costly, far more expensive than taking a room at another hotel not far away. Sure, a credit card may have helped offset the points accrual costs but that’s not a long-term strategy for realizing 75+ nights in hotels annually.

Cash is king

At the end of the day I’ve found that realizing ~15% back on my bookings – 10% as credit towards any future hotel stay and 5% in cash – is a better value for me. I’m able to book in at less expensive properties to begin with, hotels that I’d rather be staying at thanks to the local flavor. They offer the free breakfast and internet that I want and, with very few exceptions, are perfectly suited to my sleeping needs. And when I add up the amount I save per night, multiplied across the 75+ nights and combined with another 15% off, well, I just don’t know why I’d care about points or status.

I realize that rate of return by using hotels.com and their Welcome Rewards program. That covers the 10% back (after every 10 nights). It is a direct credit and there are minimal hoops to jump through. Of the booking engine-based schemes it is the best I’ve come across so far. For the extra 5% cash back I use a cash-back booking portal. I happen to be partial to my own travel rebates site, but there are others available, including TopCashBack, ebates and more. Check the rates on those sites; they can vary and different sites may offer better or worse deals on any given day.

If you really are committed to getting the hotel points – something that a hotels.com booking will preclude – these cash-back booking portals can still work for you. I know that Marriott, SPG, IHG and Accor participate in many of them (I have Accor on mine). Just make sure that your brand loyalty isn’t costing you more money in the long term.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

67 Comments

  1. Excellent analysis, sir – so may people travel to places and don’t ever leave the hotel (especially other travel bloggers) … but with the wide range of properties on hotels.com, how do you decide on one property? For instance, I stayed at the Conrad Tokyo on points back in December (which is s great property with an awesome breakfast spread and close to Tsujiki) but looked at H.com for other options when I was planning. They had everything from the Four Seasons to a capsule hotel and everything in-between….especially in countries where the standards differ, how do you decide on accommodations through h.com? TripAdvisor? Another site?

  2. Very interesting and pertinent point. Very relevant for the average traveler.

    Bloggers are cute showing what their affiliate money is getting them through their elite status through mileage and mattress runs…

  3. So true and great analysis. Wanted to mention that on your site the link to CheapOair travel rebate page has an incorrect spelling of booking. Earn $7 plane Boking.

  4. +1

    I don’t get people who stress over suite upgrades, staying at the fanciest hotel they can get, or rearranging their whole plans around the hotel. For me it’s about the destination and local culture.

  5. Amen. And let me add an intangible factor — when you have a policy of not paying more than $50 a night it’s almost impossible to be disappointed. If you’re staying in a $500 a night hotel (even for free), it’s almost impossible not to be.

    Airline programs, at least until now, have been benefits *on top of* the cheapest price to get where you want to go. Hotel programs pretty much always require you to compromise cost to rack up the credits.

  6. I’ve consistently achieved Gold status with Hilton, by staying at Hampton Inns. These are (lower?) end Hilton hotels that are between $60-100 a night and include breakfast, free internet and very clean – for everybody.

    Last week I struggled to burn my HHonors points, so their points are useless. I’m switching to earning air miles instead.

    That said, when I travel with my family we stay SPG properties. A bit more expensive, but I get fairly consistent upgrades and the space keeps the family with proper personal (sanity?) space. SPG points are easier to use and I’ve done great with Points & Cash.

  7. I’m confused by the excitement over hotel lounges. I’m one of the youngest and most junior people on team, don’t travel much, and don’t have status. My colleagues, way more senior and high-paid than me, love the lounge. The handful of times I’ve had access to the lounge, I’ve found some chips and cookies. You’re excited about chips and cookies? That’s not dinner. We can all charge room service to our corporate cards. Our food expenses are limited to $80 a day. For me, that’s way more than I need to have an omelet delivered to my room in the morning and dinner when I’m relaxing after meetings. And yet my colleagues – twice my age and making twice my salary – are all excited about the Marriott lounge with free tostitos and oreos.

  8. Very good post Seth. BoardingArea is so flooded with bloggers who fly around the world, stay holed up in their [insert “aspirational” chain hotel name here], taking pictures of the toilet and the bar of soap in the room. Affiliate links are a cruel master.

    Anyway I hadn’t really looked into Hotels.com but think I will now and also the booking portal. Hotel programs have never been as rewarding as the airline programs, to me anyway…and now it’s even worse.

    Sure I’ll still accrue points on work travel (or maybe choose airline miles when that’s an option), though our work travel budget is almost nil so most of my trips will be personal for the next year or so.

    Will I still hit some credit card signup bonuses? Sure, but they haven’t ever been my main focus for hotel purposes and less so now.

    The “free breakfast” is so over-hyped – as you said, pretty much any city has affordable, good breakfast that beats the hotel’s offerings. I’ve yet to spend more than $10 on breakfast anywhere in the world.

    So many local, modestly priced hotels have free wi-fi, what value is it to me to work hard to get “free” wi-fi at a chain hotel that would otherwise charge $25+ per day?

    At times a suite upgrade might be nice when my family of 3 is together…but again, not worth overspending or foregoing other opportunities for the chance.

  9. Provided you are not on expense account, hotels.com etc is fine but beware of binding yourself to no-cancel bookings, and having little say if and when problems arise. Even more than points and free breakfast, loyalty perks come in handy when needing to stay a little past your late-checkout deadline or being made felt welcome when it counts.

  10. @Seth — Interesting perspective. What is your average spend per hotel night + breakfast and internet + taxes? I keep detailed track of our hotel spend and stay exclusively at chains, so I would love to compare. I’m thinking it may be time to re-think our strategy!

  11. @Kay,
    It’s all about the alcohol and getting some work done on your laptop in a semi private space

  12. I fully agree with you. Hotel loyalty is not worth it (anymore). Breakfast and suite upgrades mean very little to me as well.

    That being said, I think that the hotel chains are shooting themselves in the foot.

  13. @Zz – I agree that’s a benefit. But we can all work in our completely private hotel rooms and get booze delivered to our door on the company’s account (within reason). Maybe I’m missing out on the work socializing that happens in the lounge.

  14. An excellent commentary.

    More generally, some mileage and mattress runners are so focused on “maximizing” their miles and points that the destination no longer is the primary interest.

    And I do not say that with a judgmental demeanor. If you love playing the “maximizing” game so much that it overrides considerations of the destination and becomes an objective in and of itself, then by all means enjoy the game to its fullest.

    But the average leisure traveler whose main priority is still to experience a destination shouldn’t be misled into playing the same game.

  15. Great post. Hotels.com is also a Chase Ultimate Rewards partner with 4points/$, you can essentially earn 4 Hyatt points at any hotel

  16. I think it depends on where you travel. North America has plenty of Hamptons and Residence Inns, hotel lounges here are generally useless.
    But sorry, when i am in Asia, i enjoy the grand hotel breakfast, not into noodles and rice at 6 in the morning, or for that matter bread and water in Paris

  17. Totally agreed that cash is king. All these other bloggers tend to over-estimate hotel values: they check public prices. Actually if I were to use Priceline bidding, the prices would be less than half or even a third most of the time. If I know I am staying in a 4-star hotel in the area I want to be in, I really don’t care which hotel I am going to stay at. Also agreed the suite part. I myself is not a big fan of high-end hotels, where you have to use valet parking, pay for Internet, etc. I also don’t need concierge because figuring out the trip myself is a big part of traveling.

  18. Great post. As I get going in the points game, I am realizing that most of the bloggers offering their advice are much more into “aspirational” travel than I am.

    Married to a college professor, we are lucky that when we get away, it can usually be for trips of 3 weeks (when school is out) or 3-4 months (when he is on sabbatical). We usually try to rent an apartment and settle in for a while.

    The points and miles I am trying to accumulate are to enable us to perhaps fly business rather than economy, and get the occasional night or two or three when we are en route or far enough away from “our” apartment to need a hotel. But I also do not need a super-snazzy suite. The Hilton points I have been accumulating, if used for other than highest end properties, will still help me at that. And yes, some of our best breakfasts are in places close by a hotel where we typically have more interesting food options as well as locals to chat with.

    Thanks. I have already looked at your portal. I note that some of the fine print there says you sometimes run signup bonuses. How would I learn about that when it happens? Thanks again for your thoughts.

  19. I gave up the status game about 5 years ago when I switched to Priceline. I save tons of $$$. It more than covers my breakfast/internet cost. As you stated above, many places include this anyway.
    These days, status comes easy to some of us via credit card spend.

  20. This has always been my philosophy. A huge and pretty room really does me no good when I am spending 95 percent of day time exploring the destinations. Location is #1 and Price is #2 for me. However, I have too many points in my loyalty programs so I will still be staying on points.

  21. Thanks for this awesome post. I agree with you 100%. The purpose of traveling is to see the world, try different foods, and experience the culture, not to be holed up in the hotel eating at the lounge and fighting over suite upgrades. Some of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at were lovely locally-owned places that have amazing service, great location, and all the amenities included (breakfast, internet, snacks).

    Of course, sometimes, it does make sense to stay in a chain Western chain, and in those instances, status and points can definitely help. But that should never be the deciding factor in planning out your trip.

  22. For those individuals who have to spend a long workday in a foreign, less developed city, the lounge in a nice hotel is a very welcome refuge in the evening.

    1. If the lounge works for you, JetAway, then go for it. But if you’re traveling for work odds are the budget considerations are a bit different anyways.

      If the only thing you are finding for breakfast in Europe is bread and water, Carl, then you’re not looking very hard. A full breakfast can easily be found at far less than the prices in the hotel restaurants.

      I agree that the hotel status can be easily attained by some through CC spend, dhammer53, but that doesn’t make it free. Think about the other points you might be acquiring with $40,000 in spend that is no longer tied to your HHonors credit card.

      Gene, I don’t have the detailed numbers readily at hand but I’ll get them together. I agree that having them to support my claims would be useful.

      As for the comments about the “other” bloggers and what they’re pushing, I was actually rather surprised by a brief conversation I had with one on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepointsguy/status/304004474618400768. Seems that even despite pushing the glory of hotel status and CCs there are better ways to stay when it is personal. 😉

  23. While I’ve always admired your blog and insight, you’ve now been elevated to the ultimate travel Deity in my humble opinion. Talk about nail/head! Don’t get me wrong… I appreciate reading (for entertainment value?) trip reports made when others visit their ultra-deluxe/5-star properties, but I can’t help but feel many seasoned road warriors commonly share your attitude… regardless who’s dime the stay is going on. Spot on!!!

  24. Thoughtful post.

    I similarly don’t value hotel points, but for different reasons. I generally look for other than run-of-the-house rooms for my stays. That, coupled with Virtuoso/FHR benefits, in many cases at hotels that do not offer points schemes, lead me to accrue hotel points when convenient, but not to go out of my way for.

  25. @Seth Miller-Yes, and an analysis of hotel program benefits has to differentiate between (reimbursed) business travel and self-funded leisure travel. Although even on leisure travel a lounge can be very useful for getting a family started with breakfast.

  26. Very accurate and concise report. Most of the bloggers forget that we do not travel to experience hotels or airport lounges. We travel to enjoy as much as we can about a destination. Basically: sleep, shower, get ready and hit the streets. The destination has much more to offer!

  27. Seth, great, spot-on advice as always. However, sometimes it is nice to have breakfast in the hotel or to be able to retreat to a lounge for a bit, but I agree, if all you do is stay in chain hotels you’re missing out…

  28. Good Point! Your thoughts on the Value of Hotel Loyalty program as “crap” totally aligns with my own valuation as well. I dont have top tier status with the big 3 nor do I do mattress run.I make extensive use of PCR pointbreaks reward stays for 5000/nt or SPG cash & Points. I stayed at your Kiev IC for 8 nights for 40k breakpoints (~$280) when the rate was 350eu/nt. Other time I have found that local rental of an apartment for 1 wk in BKK or SGN or EZE was much cheaper/better. Most are not aware of this aspect.

  29. Your analysis is leaving out a huge part of the equation over the last 5 years or so, which is promotions. Whether Hyatt’s Faster Free Nights promotions (stay twice separately get 1 night free), Marriott’s MegaBonus promotions (stay twice separately get 1 night free), Priority Club promotions (a single stay can often generate 10x promotional points over the earned base points), or Club Carlson’s manifoldly-named promotions, I pay relatively little attention to the base points earned in the hotel programs as the value I can obtain is dominated by picking the chain with the best promotion running.

    1. It is true, PH, that the bonus promotions have some value at some times. Most recently the Carlson promos have been incredible, especially if you’re able to parlay them into a Radisson Blu night. Still, those only work in small doses. Maybe I’m jaded because I need ~75-100 nights in a hotel each year rather than 10-15. But the math doesn’t work for me to do those long-term. Paying $20-50 extra per night over 2-3 nights just to eventually save $100 on the next room doesn’t make much sense when you look at the math. If you can consistently find a cheap room that you actually would use rather than “investing” in the bonus night then go for it. But you won’t find me booking extra nights just to try to score a freebie somewhere else. I cannot make that value work.

  30. I meant to add that with Marriott MegaBonus, the free night is restricted to Category 1-4. But since I don’t have the same aspirational property focus that many of the bloggers do, I find excellent value in using free nights at Category 1-4 properties, even though there are very few aspirational properties in those categories.

  31. I use hotels.com for all of my hotel bookings because I don’t have to limit my choices in order to earn a “free” night.

    I just spent the weekend at the Malibu Beach Inn, it’s a great hotel in an extraordinary location. It’s the kind of gem that you miss out on with the big hotel loyalty programs.

  32. Thanks for the post and hopefully the details you provided help others understand how they can stretch their travel dollar.

  33. Great article. I’ve sworn by Hotels.com or years… Recently I took on a new role at work and I’m on the road at least 6-10 nights a month. My company has an agreement with Marriott so we always have to choose one of their properties.

    I have SPG Gold via AMEX so I called Marriott to take the Platinum challenge. I figured if I was going to stay at Marriott a lot I may as well have status. So far, my experience has not been consistent at all, and other than 50 percent bonus points, I have yet to see value in their status. I did participate in mega bonus, so I have 3 free night certs to use for personal trips.

  34. I tend to use hotel points for convenience. For example, the Intercontinental at JNB is a short walk from the terminal and would be pricy to pay for, so it is worth the convenience to use points for if I have an overnight connection there.

    I have never understood the appeal of suite upgrades, too. A (non-chain) hotel I used to stay at on business gave me a 3-bedroom suite once for a 2 night stay. It was particularly silly since the main reason I stayed at that hotel was its location a block from the major restaurant street in the cit it was in.

  35. “As for the comments about the “other” bloggers and what they’re pushing, I was actually rather surprised by a brief conversation I had with one on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepointsguy/status/304004474618400768. Seems that even despite pushing the glory of hotel status and CCs there are better ways to stay when it is personal.”

    To be fair to TPG, he made it clear in his blog that he was using VRBO(?), the value it offered him, and why it makes sense for some stays. Why the hell he got a dog with his lifestyle of travel I will never understand! 🙂

    Seth – how soon until VRBO has their own points / award system? They could follow the Open Table model…

  36. @Lark: Seth – how soon until VRBO has their own points / award system? They could follow the Open Table model…

    So, we actually rent out an apartment via Home Away (under the same ownership as VRBO, I think) here in New York. I’d love it if we were part of award system and have even considered trying to buy points in some program myself to offer to guests. The Home Away interface makes it easy to offer “specials” whenever you want (as we did in January and February) and it would be great to be able to offer specials in the form of extra points rather than (or in addition to) a discount on the room.

    Furthermore, the fact that it’s desirable to me as a (very small scale) provider of room(s) to use a few-percent discount expressed as extra points rather than to discount my actual rate by 30% to attract guests supports Seth’s premise that points are a cheaper way than value for hotels to attract customers.

  37. Great post –
    I wonder if anyone really does the math to see what these “free perks” are worth? Would they normally spend $30 on hotel breakfast or only $7 at the local diner? that’s what I feel is missing on some blogs – how much did you spend this year to get status and how much value did you receive? is this normally how you travel or is it elevated for the “wow” factor of the blog

  38. Seth good write up on the ‘true’ value of the points, I concur. It is not truly ‘free’ and one should pay closer attention to the power of good old cash!

  39. For me, hotel points are not for aspirational awards, but for family travel. I’ve had pretty good luck unhooking rooms with points or certs at places like embassy suites or residence inns, where we still get a separate bedroom and free breakfast and wifi at a relatively low category.

    If it weren’t for work travel which is all expensed, I’d be using outlets like hotels.com all the time.

  40. The problem is the term “value” has been so perverted in the travel blog-o-sphere. It now basically means how much better you have it than people in a similar situation as you without that status

    Many of these bloggers try to pretend/imply you’d get more “value” out of a hotel where you get free Wifi/breakfast as a result of status, than a property next door where you get the exact same things, as a result of it being a standard amenity.

    Other glaring recent examples of the perversion of “value” is bloggers (predictably) trying to pass off the Citi Hilton Reserve as “more valuable” now because of the Hilton devaluation, and the never-ending ignoring of programs like AGR or CC because they’re “benefits” aren’t good enough

  41. …. even though the coach seats in Amtrak are nearly as good as the domestic first class seats you need to fly 75K+ miles to attain

  42. Well said. In addition to H.com I’ll add skyauction to the mix with their timeshare rentals. I pick up their certs at $249/week and usually get a 1-2 bedroom condo.

  43. @gobluetwo

    “For me, hotel points are not for aspirational awards, but for family travel. I’ve had pretty good luck unhooking rooms with points or certs at places like embassy suites or residence inns, where we still get a separate bedroom and free breakfast and wifi at a relatively low category.”

    Yes, this is really what I meant when I said I can’t get more than a .005/point value from HHonors…

    If I use 20,000 points for a $100 hotel room, this is what I have achieved… (40,000 points for a $200 hotel room last week…)

    So, I don’t disagree with you on your use of points… Just that Lu*ky and a few others would yell at us for not getting .03/cents per point…

  44. For me, I don’t really value upgrades, especially suites, more than a bit. I like exec lounge access when I’m tired, but often my travel schedule doesn’t allow me to take advantage of it. I like free breakfast.

    I’ve had some really, really scary places I’ve stayed in the past (including the hotel with the res meltdown that kept booking people into already-occupied rooms), so I’m unwilling to go the prepaid route any more, especially as a woman who frequently travels alone. So for me, there’s an accountability from chains that I don’t feel from a lot of indie places unless they’re rated by people I trust, and often those kinds of places (like Small Luxury Hotels of the World) are more expensive than the chains. Worth it, though.

    When I booked two 50k point nights at the Conrad Maldives, the going rate for the base room was $2500 a night. Sure, I wouldn’t have paid to stay there at that rate, but that’s what it was. Current rate for that room is $1150 a night, and we booked a third night at 50k points when it was that rate.

    So essentially, I got a really really big loyalty rebate on something I really really wanted but wouldn’t have shelled out the cash for, and that has a lot of value to me. On the other hand, I think the aspirational awards were indeed underpriced (relatively speaking), so don’t really have a problem with the changes.

    Sure, I don’t book Hilton all the time, but I do a fair amount of Hilton bookings — because they have been good to me.

  45. This may very well be my personal Blog Post of the Year 2013. While you, Seth, and I have not always seen eye to eye on all things CO and UA, this post is so darn spot-on, that it literally hurts.

    I have been eschewing major chains for years after having been disappointed time after time. What I look for in a vacation property is a place that uniquely fits into the context of its surroundings and that makes me feel like it could be nowhere else.

    Case in point, I was at the Westin Princeville on a really cheap stay and was struck by how much it looked like it could be in Kansas. I check out after 2 nights and we changed hotels.

    Similarly, the Grand Hyatt Bali, while not horrible, cannot compete with the smaller more Balinese properties on the island. The list goes on and on.

    These days, when I travel anywhere, I use Tripadvisor to research the best properties for me. I base my decision on location and the “feel” of the property based on images and reviews.

    I find that properties that are members of “Small Luxury Hotels of the World”, “Preferred Hotels”, “Leading Hotels of the World”, “Oberoi”, and “Orient Express” usually are great properties to stay at.

    As far as chains are concerned, I like only one, namely Intercontinental. Many of their properties don’t feel as generic as Hyatts, Hilton, Westins and Sheratons. And if you earn points, there are some really nice redemptions to be had. But even then, I typically prefer the aforementioned options.

    And on the point of breakfast, I couldn’t agree more. What’s more fun that to go out in Paris in the morning and to search for the best croissant and cafe au lait in town? Or to stroll into the farmers markets in Europe and try their amazing breads and charcuterie?

  46. Seth,
    You travel alone or with an adult friend it appears

    The value changes for free breakfast with status when you factor in a family traveling and 1 cc that costs 95$ at Hilton for Gold.

    The second value I see is that most points bookings are cancelable.

    Our stay Hong Kong Conrad was tax free (points) and cancelable.

    The cash and points options add value at times, even factoring in Priceline, but I do agree with you that one does not need to stockpile a few 100 MM points for that.

    I look at a point in terms of opportunity cost – My HH diamond cost me 930$ (40k spend x 2c cash back lost+annual fees) It gave me 120k points – 4 free nights at Hilton BJS taking the AXON discount, – 200$ a night + free breakfast for family with kids and is valid for 24 months total. I do not regret it. My next plan is however, only Gold with citi CC.

    Lastly, there are values everywhere. I found in Egypt a couple of years ago that Plat status (a friend’s) got me free breakfast for the whole family by staying on the lounge floor and the rooms were low priced 40$ a day for 2 rooms each for 1 week where the breakfast alone was 20$ per person.

    When traveling with older folks and kids, just getting them breakfast without making it a battle of the ages can’t be beat.

    However, if I had your travel pattern I would be right there agreeing with you.

  47. Loyalty programs are great, as in your case, if you are traveling or visiting the business offering loyalty rewards often enough to make it worth your while. However, to the average consumer, Loyalty programs do very little to entice the consumer who rarely visits the business. I know that loyalty programs are designed to help stimulate business, especially, in the hotel/hospitality industry, but these programs are mainly geared toward travelers, and business travelers at that.

  48. Good post – I agree in some ways and others I still enjoy the loyalty. Truth is I can get loyalty through reimbursed travel and use points for personal travel. In between I love hotels.com because of the reasons you outline in your post.

  49. “Thanks for this awesome post. I agree with you 100%. The purpose of traveling is to see the world, try different foods, and experience the culture, not to be holed up in the hotel eating at the lounge and fighting over suite upgrades.”

    I disagree, and, as the odd man out, with this post. I’m all about points-maximizing and points-gaming, churning signup bonuses, and getting free booze while waiting on my plane, and then getting more free booze at the hotel. Why the hell would I go out and spend more money? I can speak English, and I can speak Greek, and I’ll be damned if I learn even five phrasebook phrases of anything else.

    I’ll haggle over the suite upgrade and bitch about the service in the private kitchen and the mediocrity of my servant in the St Regis Rome, thanks!

  50. Example:

    The other day, I was drinking Macallan 25 for free because of (airline) loyalty programs and American Express. Macallan 25 isn’t “aspirational”: it’s the best whisky there is. You can smell the toffee and truffles wafting out of the snifter 10 feet away – people 10 feet away commented on it.

    Macallan 25 is $700 a bottle online, more than that at the liquor store. The last bar I was at that had it – a casino bar – charged $84 per shot.

    And I was drinking it for free for being a sheep. Call me a tool and use me to hit a nail on the head, and I’ll bleat.

    1. If drinking a glass of whiskey is your goal in life then I’m happy to hear you reached it. I have different goals.

      And I’ll also dispute that it was free. You might not have payed the retail price directly, but it wasn’t free.

  51. Nice post; especially about the crappy, overpriced, money stealing chains! I hate them for the complexity they add to life. Cheap hotels are so simple. You show up you get a room without having to talk to ten people or walk 5 kilometers. wifi is free for breakfast their is a place across the street. Its so ridiculous that the $$$ places charge $$$ for wifi and breakfast and cheap places do not. I cannot get over it.

    I have issues with hotels_com though. Cash is king?

    Hotels_com overcharges by around 5%. I assume thats their fee. booking_com is always around 5% cheaper than hotels_com on the same night for the same property. Yes you say you get 5% cashback through the portal… why the extra hassle when you can just not pay it. I find that booking_com often has a better selection of hotels in more out of the way places (perhaps because they do not charge the hotels as much).
    Free night after ten nights is nice if you stay at a lot of hotels. If you travel less frequently you may get one or two a year. To me its questionable as you may forget. its not savings today.

    What I really like about booking_com is that they seem to have many cancelled properties and they do not seem to charge you on booking. They do take your credit card but do not charge it in my experience — I assume they charge on a no show.
    I hate getting charged for a hotel months out. its so weird.

    1. I’ve compared the numbers, John, and booking_com rarely does me the same decent as hotels_com (though I do have a stay this week booked through them which was ~15% cheaper than booking direct). Worth noting that the 5% is not the fee they extract from the hotels; the number is typically much higher than that.

      You are correct that if you’re never earning enough stays/points to redeem then focusing only on the cash is more important. I’ve got a bit of a hybrid approach given the number of nights I’m away from home.

  52. All these hotels have to pay the OTAs a commission. Is there a way to bypass the OTA, pocket the commission as a discount? Use the OTA to find the best price? Am I missing something here?

    1. The only way to bypass the OTA is to deal with the hotel directly. As you might imagine they’re more keen to keep the difference rather than give it to you but I’ve had some success in the past negotiating directly with the front desk or a manager. It is usually more effective at smaller properties IME but I was able to use it at the Sheraton Gateway LAX last December for a very favorable rate.

  53. yeah.. I see how getting favorable rates by “threatening” to use OTA could be an involved process. Seth, I’d love a follow up post on how to find good hotel prices with various tools/portal discounts and CC categories. I’ve given up on loyalty recently and would be nice to have a go to article on what to do in various scenarios.

    The alternatives I know are
    5% wandrme/4x UR + 10% hotels.com
    2x UR + 10 % off with travelocity amex
    1x UR + 5% Priceline visa

  54. This is way too much of a generalization. For most people traveling on biz, sure, who cares if it’s a room or suite, you’re there to work/sleep. However if you’re traveling on vacation, there’s a huge value there.

    Examples would be in Asia/Europe and going to a Hilton club for free drinks/meal. For people on vaca, a couple can get 50-100 in value easily there. Also, for a family on vaca, the hotel free breakfast saves them $30-$50 easily, plus is usually an easier choice for kids.

    1. I disagree on the “huge value” Phil, even when on vacation. First off, I don’t see taking a full meal in a hotel lounge as a good idea in nearly every circumstance. I’m not visiting a location only to hole up in the hotel rather than get out and actually experience the local culture and food. Yes, there are places where meals are expensive, but that’s part of budgeting for travel.

      Moreover, you say a couple can “save” $50-100 per day by leveraging status. But how much does that “free” breakfast actually cost? How much extra are you paying per night for the hotel versus a comparable property in the area? How much are you spending over a year to hit that status tier? Even if just via CC spend, that’s money which could be churned through an alternate CC for different benefits. And are you really spending $100 or even $50 for breakfast? Where?? Other than my Tsukiji sushi breakfasts in Tokyo I don’t think I’ve come close to that number.

      None of the benefits are “free.” Getting past that hurdle is a challenge, but it truly changes the travel experience – and possibly the valuation calculations – once you get there.

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