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Points, Points, Points, and Status – How to get and maximize your travel points

If you follow me on Instagram you may notice that my accommodations vary from budget to luxury.                   IMG_5227IMG_3784

Let me assure you, I am not rich, and I could never have paid for all of the suites and the two first class flights I have had during this trip.   I accumulated all of those luxuries exclusively by collecting points.

I know there are SO MANY programs to collect points with it can be daunting to even begin figuring out what is best for you.  In this blog, I have broken the points down to Hotels and Flights. I never use points for car rentals, food, or spa expenses because the return on value vs points is minimal.IMG_1912If you haven’t visited The Points Guy already, you should.  He is king of everything points and how to travel first class for almost free.  I haven’t mastered his skills yet, but I do have some of my own pointers for getting points 😉

Disclaimer: I am not recommending anyone open any credit cards, and I am not being paid to write this article.  This is simply how I got points and this is an effort to teach other travelers how to maximize points to travel the world without dropping big $$.IMG_5717

Before we get started, let me begin by saying that before I took this around the world trip I sold my house.  I knew I was going to be listing my property, so to maximize profit I went in head first and decided to do about $10,000 in upgrades prior to listing it.  If you are wondering, yes this added on to the sale price 🙂 Excellent return on investment!

Now, most people would find this very irresponsible, but I put all of these renovations across several credit cards to get points.  Trust me, even I was sweating bullets when I got the credit card bills and my house hadn’t sold yet.  My house was on the market less than one week and I knew it would absolutely sell so I felt confident in my choice to do this, but, yes, it was scary to charge that much money all at once.boss

 

Hotels

Overall my view is to maximize hotel points, the reason being is, you are only on a plane for the first few hours of your trip, but you will stay several days in the hotel so to me, I think free hotel rooms are a better bang for your buck than the flight points.  I have listed hotel point redemption below in order of importance. IMG_5245

Starwood

  • In the points world, Starwood is the golden ticket.  They offer the best value for their points and generous upgrades to their gold and platinum members.
  • You may not recognize the name Starwood, but they own several brands of hotels including Sheraton, Le Meridien, the W, and Aloft.  Starwood was recently bought by Marriott in 2015, but current Starwood members would keep their Starwood loyalty program through 2017 (as stated in an email to members in March 2016).
  • I opened the Starwood American express card and this was BY FAR AND AWAY the best decision I could have made.  I have had completely FREE stays in suites in Mauritius, Panama, Chile, Guatemala, Thailand, and Malta.
  • The Starwood credit card offers a 25,000 point bonus when you sign up and spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months.  This is a huge amount of points considering rooms can be redeemed for as little as 3,000 points a night.   I decided to make this my primary card and rack up as many hotel points as I could.
  • In addition to 1 point per $1 spent, you can earn an additional 1 point per $1 spent on Uber rides. I linked my Starwood American Express to my Uber account, so I actually got a total of 2 points per $1 I spent on Uber rides.  The uber ride + the use of my Starwood credit card.
  • Furthermore, when you have Gold or Platinum status you get a 250 point or 500 point bonus upon check-in, free high speed wifi during your stay, upgraded rooms including suites upon availablity, and 3 points per $1 spent at resorts and restaurants.
  • Most Starwood properties also offer the ‘green choice’ option where you are able to forgo housekeeping by hanging a ‘green choice’ tag on your door and you get 500 points per day you choose this.  I recently earned 2,000 points on my free stay at the Le Meridien Malta just for making a green choice.   I really don’t need my bed made every single day.

 

Next, I opened the American express Platinum card.

  • Now this card does come with a hefty annual fee of $400, but I went for it because these are the things you get:
    • World wide lounge access at airports with Priority Pass in which nearly every single airport I have been in has a Priority Pass affiliate.  This alone costs $399 a year so that paid for itself in one fell swoop.
      • If you have never been in a lounge, THEY ROCK.
      • Free wifi, free food, free drinks including alcohol, and some even have showers! I took a shower in the Johannesburg airport on a long layover and the shower was like a small hotel room!
      • At the lounge in Dubai they had a full breakfast buffet with a custom barista!  If you are not flying business or first class you can enter a lounge usually for about $50 for one day.
      • That is a lot of money so I calculated that I would again get value from this credit card in 8 lounge visits.
      • This to me was totally worth it based on the free meals and free wifi I could get from the lounges.
    • Next, you automatically get Starwood Gold Status and Hilton Gold Status.  It has several other perks as well, but for the purpose of this blog those are the items I will focus on.
      • At the time when I signed up, one also got an additional 40,000 American Express Membership Points for spending $2,000 in the first two months.
  • I used this card exactly two times: to buy my travel insurance and my macbook air for my trip.  I was going to buy those things anyway, so I bought them on the card to hit the $2,000 threshold and I got the bonus 40,000.
    • There are hundreds of ways to use these points, but I opted to transfer my 42,000 points to 14,319 Starwood points because I knew that is where I would get the most value out of them.

 

Do you see where I am going with this?  Before my trip even started, I was a Starwood Gold Member without having even slept in one Starwood hotel in my life!

My plan:  To redeem the lowest amount of points in the lowest room possible, and hope that with my status I would get upgraded.  I was upgraded every.single.stay.

Since I have used Starwood redemptions the most throughout this trip, I put together a list of all of the awards I used, what I was upgraded to, and how much the estimated out of pocket cost would have been.  For every room below I paid $0 because when you redeem starpoints even tax is included!

Country Hotel Nights Room Estimated cost
Mauritius Le Meridien 7 Upgraded to two level Royal Suite $7,000
Guatemala The Westin 1 Upgraded to executive level $180
Panama Aloft 4 Upgraded to corner suite $556
Chile The Westin 1 Upgraded to Fantastic Suite $1,500
Thailand Le Meridien 1 Upgraded to Avantec Suite $300
Malta Le Meridien 7 Upgraded to Executive King room $3,400
$12,936

 

Hyatt

  • Hyatt is overall my favorite hotel chain the world.  They have the best rooms, best service, and I always know what to expect from them.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get as many free nights with Hyatt, but the ones I have had have been fantastic!
  • I opened the Hyatt Credit Card and at the time they were offering 50,000 bonus points PLUS automatic platinum status when you spent $1,000 in purchases in the first three months.
    • I bought my new iPhone with this credit card and got all the points in one purchase.
  • Hyatt redemptions start at 5,000 points so to me this sounded like a good deal.
  • I have so far redeemed two nights at the Park Hyatt in Siem Reap and as a Platinum member I was upgraded to one of the best hotel rooms I have ever stayed at in my life.
    • This hotel was also recently featured on the Instagram account @beautifulhotels.  This was an expensive room coming in at 15,000 points a night, but it was worth it.
  • Now that I have burned through most of my Starpoints and I still have quite a large bank of Hyatt points, I have changed my main credit card for purchases to the Hyatt card to continue to build my points bank.

 

Expedia 

  • Did you know that Expedia has its’ own loyalty program?   I actually didn’t either until last year I happened upon it.  I was traveling quite a bit for work and I booked my own flights+hotels and I was reimbursed by my employer.  I just used expedia for these bookings and one day I got a congrats you are gold now email.
  • You can get Expedia Gold status by staying 15 nights or spending $10,000 in a year.
  • You can earn points at any level of status, but once you have Gold status you start earning more points per purchase.  These points are available 30 days after the stay/flight/event occurred and can be used towards discounts on subsequent purchases.
  • This program has changed significantly since I first became aware of it last year.  I think they are fine tuning their program.  But as of May, 2016, when you accumulate 3,500 points you are able to take $25 off your next hotel purchase.  This doubles to $50 when you book at one of their VIP+ hotels.  In my opinion, none of their VIP+ hotels that I have stayed at have been anything to write home about.
  • The nice thing about Expedia though is that I often do last minute bookings and the Gold status often shows even deeper discounted prices, plus you can use points to reduce the price.
  • I have not figured out how their point system is awarded, it appears different depending on what you are booking.  The one thing I do know is you get triple points for using the app to book, so I always book with the app.
  • This is a nice backup status to have because if you aren’t staying at a major chain hotel, or at a hostel, and you want to get a cheap room quickly you know you are earning and possibly saving with points redemption.

 

Flights

Bottom line here: learn about alliances.  In general, I just book the cheapest flight, I seriously don’t care how much it costs, and I will pay $80 to fly one way on a budget airline over $200 on a major airline any day of the week.IMG_4012

I do not have status on any airline because I am not loyal to any alliance but the best advice I can offer is to open accounts with two of the major alliances.  For Americans this would be United Milage Plus on Star Alliance and American Airlines on One World.

If you are not sure if the airline you are booking with is in an alliance, simply check out their ‘partner’ airlines or google what alliance they are in.

Most budget airlines are not in any alliance, but offer their own awards.  If you fly a certain low cost carrier often, it pays to be a member and collect awards on that airline.

Star Alliance

Star Alliance is the largest, global airline partnership in the world.  If you have a United Airlines Mileage Plus account already, you can earn miles on the partner airlines listed on the Star Alliance website.  For example, if you are flying to Turkey on Turkish Airlines or to Germany on Lufthansa, you can earn miles on your United Airlines account.  Conversely, you can redeem United Airlines Milage Plus awards on partner airlines.

I redeemed 30,000 UA miles on a first class overnight flight on Thai Airways from Melbourne, Australia to Bangkok, Thailand.   I typically buy one way tickets since I am traveling around the world, and a one way in economy was around $800 and a first class ticket was around $2,000.  To me, this was a great redemption and I was really happy to get the first class experience!

One World

One World is the second largest, global airline partnership.  If you have an American Airlines account already, you can earn miles on partner airlines listed on the One World website.  For example if you are flying British Airways to London or LAN to Chile, you can earn miles on your American Airlines account.  Conversely, you can redeem American Airlines awards on partner airlines.

Caveat – Now this is annoying, but depending on the type of ticket you buy – say for example a deep discounted economy ticket on a partner airline, it may be ineligible to earn awards.  I feel like this can go either way.  If you saved a lot on a ticket then to me the points don’t matter, but if the difference was $20 and you would’ve earned 5,000 points, then I would’ve paid the $20.  This is a case by case basis.

Lastly, the second free first class flight I got was just a complete accident.  I booked an Air Asia flight, which is a budget airliner in Asia, and was too cheap to pay for a seat assignment, when I checked in I can only assume that first class seats must’ve been the only seats left because I was casually put in first class.  #Winning

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I know this was an overload of information, but hopefully you can refer to it when you start your own travels.  Please comment below if you have any questions and I would be happy to answer them.

Happy travels!

 

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