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.

 

Miles, Points, and Elite Status Save the Day!

This spring, we received an invitation to our good friends' wedding in mid-May. We had been excitedly anticipating this wedding for a long time, but also knew it could prove a challenge for our schedules and pocketbooks. The challenges were several-fold: the wedding was across the country in North Carolina, Johanna couldn't get a day off work, flights were already getting expensive by the time we had the date, and Nascar had a big race the same weekend. Here's how miles, points, and elite status allowed us to have an excellent trip celebrating our friends' marriage!

Challenge #1: Flying Cross-Country and Back in 48 Hours without Breaking the Bank (and Our Bodies!)

Johanna wasn't able to take a day off work on Friday and the wedding was Saturday at 11am, making a red-eye flight an absolute necessity. Many actually like this flight, because it wastes no day-time hours and saves a night in a hotel. Unsurprisingly, this flight combined with a return on Sunday was going for $500-$600 per-person.

Instead, I looked to use American Airlines miles to get us to Charlotte (an AA hub) from LAX. While I didn't find anything in economy, I did find availability in first class and given the need to sleep on the plane, gladly accepted those seats at 25,000 miles per-person (we slept nearly every minute of the 4.5hr flight). Instead of spending another 50,000 miles on the day-time return flights, I was able to utilize our Southwest Companion Pass and airline credits we had from Johanna's Citi Prestige card to reduce our return flight to $130 total.

Since we were flying American and had the Citi Prestige card, we were granted access to the AA Admiral's Club at LAX before our trip began and the Admiral's Club in Charlotte after our arrival. This helped us take care of dinner and breakfast for free and gave us a comfortable place to hang out while in the airports. We also visited the Korean Air Lounge at LAX with our Priority Pass Club Cards, but weren't particularly impressed. Airport lounges aren't a necessity, but they do make travel more enjoyable and came in very handy during this trip!

Challenge #2: Hotel on a Busy Weekend + Early Check-In

Since we would be at the wedding all day and have to leave fairly early the next morning, I was hoping to avoid spending too much on our night in a hotel. At the same time, it was important to be close to the wedding and after-party locations. After spending a bit of time searching for nearby hotels, I realized that it was Nascar Weekend; most of the hotels were booked and most of those that weren't were charging $150-200 per night...ouch!

Instead, we took advantage of my Hilton Honors Diamond account (top-tier elite status) to book a Hilton Garden Inn at preferred pricing. In the event that all hotels had been booked, Diamond Status means we are guaranteed a room within 48hrs of arrival, but there were a few still available anyway. 

We spent $120 after tax and earned 4,000 HH points in the process (valued at $20). Another reason I booked a Hilton is that Diamond status included free cooked-to-order breakfast (valued at $20) and early check-in (priceless!!!) as benefits. The hotel had our room ready at 8am so that we could shower and even get a little extra sleep before heading to what was a beautiful and enjoyable wedding.

The Bottom Line

  1. Instead of spending $1,000-$1,200 on flights, we used 50,000 AA miles + $130 in cash.
  2. Instead of paying exorbitant airport prices for food and drinks, we used free lounge access for dinner, drinks, and breakfast on the way to Charlotte (estimated savings: $50), while enjoying quiet, comfortable seating instead of waiting by the terminal.
  3. Instead of spending $150-$200 on a hotel room we wouldn't even be able to access before the wedding, we parlayed Hilton Honors Diamond status into a $120 - $20 (points earned) - $20 (free breakfast) = $80 hotel room that we checked into at 8am!

Utilizing miles, points, and elite status to travel hack our way to and from our friends' wedding in North Carolina, we saved between $990-$1,240. For those not yet taking advantage of the miles and points game, that's a significant sum of money to spend on a 48-hour trip, during which nearly half of those hours were spent in-transit. Utilizing our travel-hacking skills allowed us to fully appreciate the special occasion without suffering over the cost of getting there. Win!

Limited Time: Combine 2 Great Deals to Receive 110,000 IHG Points for $0

I have been following a developing opportunity to earn lots of IHG points over the last two months. At first, I wasn't sure if it would pan out, but now that I have started receiving my points, I want to share this awesome opportunity with my readers! Second, a friend recently asked me to recommend a credit card sign-up that had a low minimum spend requirement and I think the IHG card is a perfect fit. In this post, I'll discuss how combining both of these opportunities can result in thousands of dollars in free hotels like the one one that grants you that beach access above!

The current credit card offer & why it's so great

The IHG credit card issued by Chase is one of the few no-brainer cards to get and keep year-after-year. It comes with 60,000 points after spending just $1,000 in the first 3 months and the first-year fee is waived. If you do a dummy-booking on their website, you can usually also generate the same offer, but with an additional $50 statement credit. To save you time, I am including a link to the landing page for that offer here; it should look like the image below.

That means, in the first year they give you 60,000 points and $50 profit for free! After the first year, you pay a $49 annual fee, but in return you get a free night at any IHG hotel. Since Intercontinental, Crown Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and Holiday Inns are all part of the IHG network, there are lots of hotels out there that go for $300-$600 per night. That $49 fee is well worth it!

Additionally, the card also comes with IHG Platinum Elite Status. I have been upgraded to suites several times since receiving this status. It's really fun to show up expecting a basic room and then get a bigger room with a jacuzzi inside!

A Limited-Time Offer to supercharge your IHG rewards account

Right now, you can add at least 47,500 points to your account by participating in a sweepstakes that runs through mid-February. Rather than try to explain this myself, I'll direct you to one of my favorite bloggers to share the details on the Priceless Surprises Promotion. The basic idea is that you send in 94 sweepstakes entries that earn a minimum of 500 points each.

You will spend between $50-60 and 4-5hrs to send in these entries, but if you sign up for the credit card with the $50 statement credit, participating in this sweepstakes is basically covered by that credit. I am on pace to earn about 50,000 points from this offer, and since Johanna is taking part as well, we should double that!

If you have questions about this sweepstakes promotion, ask away in the comment section below! I have been studying this thing as it has developed and have it pretty-well figured out at this point.

The Bottom Line

I value IHG points at between 0.5-1 cent-per-point, so let's take a look at what a couple could earn in hotel stays by combining these two great deals for a really good redemption:

  •  2X60,000 signup bonus points + 2X50,000 sweepstakes points = 220,000 IHG points
  • 220,000 IHG points X 1 cent-per-point = $2,200 in IHG hotel stays

You're probably wondering what 220,000 points looks like in hotel-form, so I'll provide an example. When Johanna and I go to New Zealand, we plan to hit Fiji on the way back. For 210,000 IHG points, we'd be able to spend 7 nights at the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, which is the little spot on the beach pictured at the top of this post. This is just one of many options available to you with IHG points.

Would you move your everyday spend to a new credit card for a few months and spend 4-5 hours filling out entry forms for up to $2,200 in free hotels? The real question is, why haven't you done this already?


The Miles & Points Game: How to Know if You are Ready

I've been getting a lot of questions lately from friends and family wondering how I do all this traveling, what miles and points are all about, and how they can do it, too. I firmly believe that subsidizing travel expenses with miles and points earnings is something everyone is capable of doing, but you have to be ready. In this post, I'll discuss how to know if you're ready to jump into the miles and points game.

Do I know how miles and points work?

Luckily, this one is easy, because I've written about exactly this topic in The Miles & Points Primer. I am confident that you'll be ready to move on from this step within half an hour of reading this free guide to miles and points, but it's an absolute must if you want to get it right.

Am I willing to protect my credit by staying organized?

What a headline, right? I know I said you can DO MORE AND LOVE EVERY MINUTE by using miles and points to reduce the cost of travel, but there is some work and discipline involved, too. If you don't stay organized and sort out your finances, you will end up losing this game.

Credit is a means to miles and points, but is not to be taken lightly. Your credit score is insurance against unexpected moments in life and probably the only thing that will allow you to buy a home. More importantly, credit-worthiness is one mark of a person's character. If you decide to enter the miles and points hobby, it's important to protect your credit by paying on-time and in-full. There's no value in earning miles worth between 1-3 cents each if you are paying 15% interest on the money you spent. 

It's also important to be organized enough that you don't overextended yourself to reach minimum-spend or get those extra points the card companies will offer you. Start slow and figure out how to manage several credit card accounts, spend-by dates for bonuses, and avoid annual fees. I use a spreadsheet to track these important dates and figures on one page.

Do I have a goal for my miles and point?

Once you know how award travel works and are ready to protect/enhance your credit-worthiness, all that's left to do before wading in is figure out what you hope to achieve. It's easy enough to accumulate a raft of points and miles with various companies, but unless you have a plan to use them, they will be under-utilized.

While it doesn't always go as planned, we try to have a purpose for the points earned from a new card before we get it. This helps us avoid managing rewards and credit card accounts just for the preservation of points, instead of using them to explore the world. Think about what you want to do in the next year or two and go after cards that help you attain that goal.

The Bottom Line

If the desire to travel is there and you can answer all three of these questions, congrats: you're ready to start earning miles and points. Tread cautiously and stay organized to get the most out of your rewards points and, of course, keep an eye on this site for more ideas and tips to produce tremendous value!

The Best Award Mile Redemptions for Traveling to New Zealand

As part of my research into a forthcoming expedition to New Zealand, I have been scouring the internet to learn everything I can about how to get there and making the most of my time. As is always the case, I have a particular interest in how I can do this on a budget, or maybe even for free. This post is the first in a series about NZ and will detail my findings on the best award redemptions from the United States to New Zealand and back again.

UPDATE, 1/11/2016: I found a goldmine of economy award space today for United redemptions by searching from SFO. Remember to search from multiple west coast hubs as it might be worth repositioning to find availability!

Introduction

Crossing the Pacific Ocean to Oceania and Australia/New Zealand has typically been a very tough redemption space, but with renewed interest from US airlines, there's hope for some positive change in availability. Meanwhile, if you've got the desire to visit New Zealand on miles, there are already some valid options if you have United, American, or Alaska miles in your account!

Using United Airlines Miles for New Zealand

This is the partner that unlocks Air New Zealand flights, so if you've got United miles you've got a good shot. While Air New Zealand doesn't open up much availability on its own flights, when it code-shares with UA there are often 4 economy seats bookable with miles if you plan way ahead (like 11 months ahead, the first few days they become available). A roundtrip to Auckland or Queenstown from LAX will cost you 80,000 miles and typically will route through Australia (Sydney or Melbourne).

To make the most of your points, you could organize a "stopover" in Queenstown for a few days on a roundtrip flight from LAX-AKL, giving you both New Zealand cities for no additional miles. Alternatively, you could also use an "open-jaw" award to fly Los Angeles to Queenstown and back from Auckland to Los Angeles. You'd need to find your way between the two New Zealand cities (typically $100-200 for a one-way), but this would save your stopover for Melbourne or Sydney if you want to see a bit of Australia, too.

Using American Airlines Miles for New Zealand

Continuing to look at our late-November window, there is lots of economy seat availability on partner airline Quantas to Queenstown, via Sydney. I also found space for the same route on Wednesdays booking directly through American Airlines. Flying back from Auckland to LAX, via Sydney should be easier, so just a one-way flight from Queenstown to Auckland would be needed to complete the loop. 

A third option, and perhaps the best, is partner Fiji Airways. There is ample availability (if booked 11 months out) for both economy and business class routing from LAX to Auckland, via Nadi Airport (Fiji). A roundtrip flight to and from Queenstown would still need to be booked to complete the loop. 

All of these awards would price out at 37.5k each way in economy and 62.5k in business (although soon American is raising business award redemption rates).

Using Alaska Airlines Miles for New Zealand

There's one obviously good play with Alaska miles that needs to be added to the award options. Alaska, like American, is partnered with Fiji Airways. The difference between the two programs is that Alaska allows a free stopover, so you can actually spend some time enjoying Fiji on your way to New Zealand. Alaska allows you to do this for 40k miles each way in economy or only 55k in business and I have seen availability for both options.

The Hybrid Miles Option for Getting to New Zealand

Johanna and I have a rather substantial supply of American Airlines miles and a growing supply of Alaska miles as well, so we will probably do a hybrid redemption. Both airlines offer one-way awards, so we'll be looking to book with American miles on the way and Alaska miles in order to relax in Fiji on our way home.

Since Alaska miles are harder to come by and include things like free stopovers (which American no longer allows), I value them more highly. Using the AA miles on the outbound (when we wouldn't use a stopover anyway) preserves more of our higher-valued miles. We may even decide to use our additional Alaska miles to make the long return trip in business class, which would be a first for us in seven years of traveling together.

Note: Don't get me wrong, American miles are valuable! However, there are lots of AA credit card sign-up bonuses in the 50-60k range to pad your accounts and they have announced a devaluation of their award chart for March of 2016.

Other Options for Award Travel to New Zealand

It's also possible to get from the US to New Zealand using Hawaiian (via Honolulu) or KLM (via Tahiti) and I did do a fair bit of research before concluding these options to be less desirable. The exception would be if you wanted to visit those places anyway, in which case the issues in award availability and routing might be worth fighting through.

Using Miles within New Zealand for Domestic Flights

Once in New Zealand, you may find yourself wanting to hop between the two islands by plane, in which case, you should be looking for cheap flights or an alternative mode of travel. United is partnered with the domestic monopoly that is Air New Zealand, but its a rip-off. It costs 17,500 United miles for a domestic one-way, making those points worth a cent or less each, whereas you'd be redeeming United miles for at least 1.5 cents-per-mile when flying from the US to New Zealand.

The Bottom Line for Award Travel to Kiwi Country from the US?

As American and United announce new routes from the US to New Zealand and Australia, we should see more space come available as well as a decrease in the cost of a paid ticket. If, however, you're like me and just can't wait to get to New Zealand, there are still plenty of options if you plan far enough in advance and know how to find the award space.

Next up in this series, I will tackle all the ways to visit both Auckland and Queenstown (on opposite ends of the country) in one trip. Stay tuned!

Do you have an interest in New Zealand and lots of miles to cash in? I can help you find those flights and get you headed out on your next adventure. Contact Thorpe Travel for more information.