Reacting to the Latest SW Companion Pass News

I've written about Southwest's Companion Pass on several occasions in the past, since I think it's one of the best travel deals out there. Recently, Southwest had announced that hotel point transfers will no longer count towards qualification for the Companion Pass, a few days later, they made a partial backtrack, giving us until the end of the first quarter of 2017 to make the transfers. Here, I'll discuss what I decided to do with this information, with regards to the points I had stockpiled for a Marriott Hotel + Air Package.

The backstory

Even before Southwest put the dagger into the hearts of many miles/points churners on January 1st, I had been considering using my points transfer to receive Alaska or United miles as part of a Marriott Hotel + Air Package.

I was leaning heavily towards getting the Hotel + Air Package that included 120,000 Southwest miles on January 1st, since that would immediately qualify me for the SW Companion Pass for all of 2017 and 2018, but Southwest understood my plan (and presumably that of many others) to maximize the pass benefit for a full two years. They waited until the very day that would make the most sense to redeem for this package, leaving many scrambling for backup options.

Luckily, I had already written my previous post, where I identified what I feel to be the 2 best alternatives to the Southwest Companion Pass play. As I was forced to consider those alternatives further, I realized that they really weren't that bad. In fact, if you have no into of flying to any of the tropical destinations serviced by Southwest, or you're hoping to fly premium class products, there's really not much reason to have miles and the companion pass with Southwest.

What I'm doing

Despite the fact that I am looking to move into more business-class travel, there's no getting around the value-proposition of essentially doubling the travel-potential of miles with a companion pass. What's more, Southwest flights can be cancelled at any time leading up to the flight, allowing for speculative booking, last-minute adjustments, and general de-stressing of the award-booking process. Finally, I have found that Southwest often has the best redemption values for many routes across the US and the tropics (I just researched a spring break trip to Costa Rica for 2 people for 19k miles, round-trip!). It's an unbeatable combination of perks for me, so I just went all-in!

It took just three minutes by phone to convert my 270,000 Marriott points into a Hotel + Air Package that includes 7 nights at any Marriott Cat 1-5 hotel and 120,000 Southwest miles. The post I referenced earlier looks at the best Cat 5 and 6 redemptions, which is useful because you can always add an extra 30,000 Marriott points later to bump up to a higher award category.

The Bottom Line

If you have a stash of Marriott Hotel points, it's time to cash out for a Marriott travel package. My redemption netted me a SW Companion Pass for all of 2017 and 2018 + 120,000 Southwest miles. Combining the two benefits of this redemption generates $3,200 in free flights. Oh, and lets not forget the 7-night stay in a Marriott, from which I expect to extract about $1,000 of value. The total value of the package works out to about 1.5 cents-per-point, whereas typical Marriott redemptions are worth more like 0.5-0.7cpp!

New Year's Eve and Other Events that Make Hotel Points More Valuable

When valuing hotel points, it's often easy to accept that you won't be getting anywhere near the same redemption numbers as with airline miles. Hilton points are mostly redeemed at 0.4-0.6 cents-per-point and IHG at 0.5-0.7cpp, and so on. Where these values tend to skew favorably is when the hotel's rates are abnormally high because of special events occurring in the area. Today, we'll take a look at this opportunity for point-value maximization by sampling New Year's Eve options and list other potential event opportunities.

New Year's Eve Redemptions by Hotel Group

For our NYE sample, we'll look at a two-night stay from December 30th-January 1st and compare it to a January 20th-22nd stay. While this is by no means a perfect method for comparing the price-difference between a normal stay and a popular event stay, it's a decent starting point. Rather than follow a strict formula for picking properties, I'll try to use examples that best assess each hotel group's sweet spots and shortcomings.

Hilton Hotels

Hilton Hotels in New York City: NYC has the most notable, if not the best NYE celebration in the United States, and less than a month out, many Hilton properties are still available on points, even for our short stay of two nights (sometimes thanks to my Hilton Diamond status). For example, Hilton Time Square quoted me $2200 for our two-night sample stay or 160,000 Hilton Honors points. That may sound like a lot of points, but they're not really that hard to come by and this reflects a redemption value of 1.38cpp instead of the paltry 0.29cpp ($400/140k) offered three weeks later. It is hard to create a higher redemption value than that with Hilton points. There are half-a-dozen Manhattan Hilton properties still available on points.

Hampton Inn & Suites Mexico City: Okay, so I said it would be hard to create a higher cents-per-point valuation than the NYC redemption, but this hotel is always a sweet spot on the Hilton award chart. For 10k HHonors points per night, you can locate yourself right in the center of the action, next to the main square of the largest city in the world. Price for our two sample dates were $300 (1.5cpp) for New Years and for the January dates, making this a great opportunity any time!

In the event that you need Diamond elite status to override minimum stay lengths for busy travel dates, know that it's pretty easy to status-match from another program. I did it through this method, although currently the offer is only for 90 days of status. Hilton seems to offer a few good opportunities per year, so keep your ear to the ground for those moments!

Hyatt Hotels

Cartagena Hyatt Regency: It's no secret I'm coveting a visit to this brand new property, since I wrote about it last month. At $696 or 16k Hyatt points, this hotel is an impressive 4.3cpp redemption for NYE! Even though Colombia is still in its summer high season, moving that stay three weeks into January reduces the price to $418/16k points or 2.6cpp, which is more in-line with typical Hyatt redemptions.

Hyatt Hotels in New Orleans: Both the Hyatt Regency and Hyatt House were going for more than $400 per night, but point redemptions were not available on those dates. It's not clear whether this is because we are so late to the game, or if they blackout those dates. I would guess the latter, since Hyatt Regency houses Big Night New Orleans (which I attended last year!). Hyatt Place was available on points when I searched, but is poorly located for festivities and isn't a great redemption value.

Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)

IHG Hotels in San Francisco: It seems IHG hotels are not quite the NYE value that other hotel groups can be, with Holiday Inn Express & Suites Fisherman's Wharf coming in at $610/80k points (0.76cpp) for our NYE stay or $450/80k points (0.56cpp) in January. Both Intercontinental San Francisco and Mark Hopkins Intercontinental were going for just better than 0.5cpp, which I wouldn't even do as a normal redemption, although there's over $300 value to be had in using a free night certificate for one of those properties. In fact, the free night at any IHG property worldwide that every Chase IHG cardholder receives as an anniversary bonus is probably the best way to leverage any higher-end IHG property NYE award redemption.

One thing to note about IHG hotels, particularly the Intercontinental properties, is that I often found New Year's Eve to be sold out of points stays in multiple cities, while the days around it never were. This was not the case in our San Francisco example, but the general trend leads me to believe that these properties just capacity-controlled NYE to where very few people could take advantage of a points stay.

Marriott Hotels & Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)

Sheraton Times Square Hotel: This hotel, as is the case with a number of other SPG hotels in NYC is going for about 5cpp for our NYE sample dates. Normally, I'd expect 2-3cpp for SPG points, so this is definitely a good opportunity if you don't have a better use for those points (more on that later). Our January price-check saw the same properties, such as this Sheraton, going for about 1/3 the NYE rate, but then again, it is January in the Northeast!

New York Marriott Marquis: I went straight to the best redemption rate I could find, and it certainly is a good one for this NYE booking. At $2,200/90k points for our two-night NYE stay, this hotel is offers us more than 2.4cpp redeeming Marriott rewards points. Since Marriott has recently purchased Starwood and is offering 3:1 exchange for SPG points, you can directly compare the valuation of this Marriott hotel to the Sheraton Times Square. By transferring SPG to Marriott, you'd get $2,200/30k for a valuation of approximately 7.3cpp in SPG points and the Marriott Marquis also gets the better reviews online for what that's worth.

By using Marriott or SPG points, you could achieve 3x their normal value, but there may be an even better redemption. If you've been following along here at Thorpe Travel, you'll remember that I find Marriott Hotel + Air Packages to be just about the best deal in town. If not, go have a look at this post, where you'll learn how to parlay your hotel points into airline miles and still get yourself a nice week-long stay.

Wyndham Hotels

Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront: This hotel would make a strong 1.5cpp redemption at NYE prices ($450/30k points for our two nights), but the date is blacked out. It's quite possible that some people managed to snag the booking by planning further ahead, as 2 nights tied into 4th of July are readily available for $620/30k points for a redemption value of nearly 2.1cpp. That's a tremendous redemption value and one could argue that date is a better time to be in Chicago anyway! Just for kicks, I checked our January 20-22 dates and the property was bookable for $250/30k points, or a little bit less than 1cpp, so that 4th of July booking creates double the average value.

Wyndham International Properties: I looked at both all-inclusive properties in Cancun and several other locations without finding availability on NYE, so my guess is that the availability was probably there at some point, but is less than what these properties would make bookable on a run-of-the-mill evening. In general, it seems the key to maxing value on your Wyndham redemptions involves planning ahead.

For those of you not as familiar with Wyndham Rewards, it's a newer program, whereby most any property held by Wyndham is available for a flat rate of 15k points per night. Translation: great values at the higher end properties and terrible values at their lower brands like Days Inn or Super8. You can currently get enough points for three nights by signing up for the Barclay Wyndham Rewards credit card and if you need some inspiration, here's the DOC's list of Wyndham Properties.

Other ideas for high-value hotel award redemption opportunities

  • Major sporting events
  • Location-specific festivals
  • High-season tourism destinations
  • National holidays
  • Conventions and other shared-interest gatherings

The Bottom Line

While we've only just scratched the surface of maximizing our hotel point values by booking during high-occupancy occasions such as New Year's Eve, I think it's quite clear that there are some major opportunities to be found. Even with just 3 weeks until NYE, I was able to find award space at most of the major hotel groups for stays in high-interest NYE destinations and unearthed stays that would triple the value of your points.

Given this data, it seems prudent to consider booking cash on low-occupancy dates if you know you'll need a hotel during a big event. Of course, your valuations will change if you hang onto your points through a program devaluation, so keep that in mind, too.

 

How to Earn Major Free Travel Money with Barclay Travel Community

Recently, I was perusing my favorite travel hacker websites and came across a Milevalue post about the Barclay Travel Community. When you post short travel stories to the community board, you earn points redeemable for Amazon e-certs, but if you also have the Arrival+ credit card, you benefits can really start to add up. In this post, I'll go deeper to explain the potential of combining Barclay Travel Community stories with the Barclay Arrival+ card to earn serious travel play money!

The Travel Community Point-Earning Basics

  • Write a 100+ word story (+1 photo) and you receive 150 points
  • Add up to 25 "details" to that story for 10 points each
  • Every "kudos" you get from member is an additional 10 points
  • You can write up to 100 stories per month, but only 5 per city/state/country ever

The way it's typically been described by most bloggers who have written on the topic, you should write a story, add 3 details, and hope you get some kudos every once in a while. That's going to earn you about 180-200 points per story. Let's say you wrote 10 stories like that per month, you would earn approximately 2000 points, which equates to $20 in Barclay Arrival+ points, redeemable for travel charges to the card. Walking this equation out to 1 year, you would earn about $240 worth of free travel for an hour per month of reminiscing about your travels. Sounds pretty good, right?

Barclaycard Travel Community on Expert Mode

If you do as much travel as me, there is much more potential to this program than just a couple hundred dollars per year in travel credits. While other bloggers have written a bit about the program, I'm going to dig deeper and give you a specific outline for serious earning. Here's the system I plan to employ, step-by-step:

  1. Sign up for the Barclay Arrival+ if you don't already have it - This travel hack really only works well if you stack the participation points earned in the travel community with the credit card. In addition, the card has a 50,000 point sign-up bonus right now, so that's an extra $500 in travel money!
  2. Write 100 stories each month - Pick 20 cities you know best and start there. Write 5 stories per city, focusing on a specific topic so that as the months go on you will still have things to write about. The city/state/country limit makes this tough, but in practice I have been able to select counties and districts within the same area as the city I am talking about, so that's your workaround. If you complete just this step, you will earn 15,000 points or $150 in travel money per month for about 8 hours of work.
  3. Add value with details - After you have completed your stories, go back and add as many details as time allows. Since the stories take time, don't bother with the details unless you have more than 8 or 9 hours per month to spend (more on why later). I was able to bang out 2 details per minute and feel I could probably write about 6 details per story without working too hard. A good method for this would be to make a list of easy details to add to any story (every story could include info about which metro is nearby, where you ate and stayed, etc.). Adding six details per story equals 600 details per month for an additional 6,000 points.
  4. Build a kudos machine - Perhaps the most interesting possibility for adding value where other bloggers have not written is in the extra 10 points per kudos. You don't have to be an Arrival+ cardholder to have a Barclay Travel Community account, so there's no reason you couldn't enlist some friends, find other enthusiastic community members, (or let your multiple personalities chime in). If you got 10 kudos per story, that would add an additional 10,000 points per month, worth $100 in travel. How long would it take for ten accounts to sign in and essentially push the like button over and over? Not long at all.

Adding It All Up to Rake in the Arrival+ Points

Here's my math for the system I just suggested:

15,000 + 6,000 + 10,000 = 31,000 Arrival+ points per month

8 hours + 5 hours + 1 hour = 14 hours of work per month

31,000/14 = 2,214 points per hour or $22.14 per hour

And here's why I did the steps in that specific order:

15,000 points/8 hours = 1,875 points per hour

6,000 points/5 hours = 1,200 points per hour

10,000 points/1 hour = 10,000 points per hour

The least efficient point-earning opportunity here is adding details and the most profitable is getting kudos. Therefore, getting stories up quickly so you can maximize the kudos opportunity is the first priority and details are really just a lower-value add-on. However, if you are 100% sure you're going to hit 100 stories per month, it might make sense to add a few details while writing stories, just so you don't have to click back and re-acquaint yourself with the story later.

The Bottom Line 

While I think it would be difficult to keep this earning strategy up year after year, by combining the Arrival+ signup bonus of 50,000 points with the 31,000 points per month from the travel community, you could earn 422,000 Arrival+ points in the first year, netting you $4,220 in free travel credits, which could be used for flights, hotels, Airbnb, Uber, and on and on!

ht: Milevalue.com

Quick Deal: Free Hertz Top-Tier Status in 2 Minutes

While I think it's fair to say that most people dislike the average car rental experience, the fact remains that sometimes it must be done! Take advantage of this simple loophole to make renting a car a more rewarding experience with Hertz President's Circle Status.

How to Get Hertz President's Circle Status Right Away!

Within the miles and points community, there are some secrets that tend to stay hidden. For example, on reddit/churning, sometimes people downvote good opportunities just to make sure they reach fewer readers. One such example is this post, which details how to get President's Status by filling out one simple form.

It seems Choice Hotels' Nordic division is offering a status match to the Hertz top-tier rewards benefit, but you don't have to have status with Choice for the form to work in your favor. Simply click the link, fill out the form, and within a day or two an email will show up to confirm your status upgrade. Just click through the reddit link above and you'll have Hertz status in no time at all.

Why do I want to be part of Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President's Circle

That status title is a mouthful, but there are some useful benefits that come with it. On top of all the benefits imparted to Gold Plus Rewards members, you'll earn a 25% points bonus on all rentals and get a confirmed vehicle upgrade. For more details about all the rewards program benefits, you can visit this Summary of Gold Rewards Benefits.

I'm already a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards member, since I find their points to be quite useful and I am always assured the best discounts on my Hertz car rentals. I even wrote a post on Hacking Hertz Points for Exponential Value. One of my favorite uses of Hertz points is to offset the cost of expensive one-way rentals. I also appreciate that many locations offer self-service Gold Rewards stalls; you just walk up to the rental board, find the stall number next to your name, and your car is there waiting!

The Bottom Line

Is Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President's Circle Status life-changing? No, not really. However, it's always better to have status if you want to be treated well and get the best deal, so this two-minute loophole to top-tier status is a no-brainer. Get it while you can!

 

 

Use My Alaska Airlines Companion Pass!

Hello friends! I am using an Alaska Airlines Companion Pass to help a pair of travelers get to their destination a lot cheaper. In the last year, I’ve used my companion passes three times and saved the recipients over $2,000 on flights.

The Alaska Air Companion Pass allows for the purchase of a second ticket for approximately $120, regardless of how much the first ticket cost. For example, a flight from NYC to Hawaii on Alaska Air often costs north of $1,000 round-trip, but with this pass, instead of $2,000 for two people, it will be closer to $1,120, or a savings of about $880. Here's the list of travel destinations served by Alaska Airlines, including two cities in Costa Rica and nine in Mexico!

I have really enjoyed helping make some travel dreams come true with these passes, but in the past, my method for distributing the passes left some equally-worthy recipients at a disadvantage. This time around, everyone who completes the three tasks below will have an equal chance at the companion pass (I'll even be helping you book your flights).  In one week, I will use a random number generator to pick the lucky winner!

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Comment on this post about Marriott hotels, sharing which one looks like the best use of the travel package and why

  2. Share a link on facebook to my post with helpful strategies for using Airbnb

  3. Go to the Thorpe Travel facebook page and describe the trip you’d like to take on the Alaska Companion Pass Giveaway post (don't forget to like the page!)

Best of luck!

*A few things to keep in mind: the pass can only be used on Alaska Air flights and I will only redeem if savings from the flights total at least $200 for the recipient. The best uses of this pass are for flights to Hawaii, one of Alaska's international destinations, trans-continental flights, or for flights that are expensive because of busy travel dates. Alaska Air terms state I cannot give this pass away, since the owner must be flying or paying for the flight, so I will be booking your flights and you will reimburse me.