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Fast Track to Elite Status with IHG Rewards Club (former Priorityclub)

English: InterContinental Hanoi Westlake Hotel...

English: InterContinental Hanoi Westlake Hotel Tiếng Việt: Khách sạn Hanoi Intercontinental (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

IHG Rewards Club had some very good redemption levels when it was still called Priorityclub but suffered some serious devaluations at the start of this year.  (in line with Marriott Rewards and HHonors just to name a few other programs)

IHG Rewards Club did more or less a complete turnover of their program and aligned it more to what we’re used  in other loyalty programs.  Hotels are categorized in tiers and each tier requires a number of points.  (before the points requirement was based on the chain)  This caused some devaluations for the best steals that were out there in the past.

Also did they make it slightly harder to attain Elite Status but they are offering some fast-track options now to compensate for that:

  • 10 nights in at least 3 different brands will get you Gold Status (instead of 15 nights or 20.000 points)
  • 40 nights in at least 4 different brands will get you Platinum Status (instead of 50 nights or 60.000 points)

Gold status gives you free internet (this will become free for everybody as of 2014) and a mere 10pct bonus points.

Platinum status gives you potential room upgrades and 50pct bonus points.

The elite benefits at IHG are not tremendous but the program also has some attractive elements, even after the devaluations.

  • Elite Rollover Nights (all nights on top of 50 are rolled over for your status next year (just like Marriott Rewards)
  • Reward Nights count towards status, not seen in many reward programs (SPG has this as well)
  • Points never expire

If you reside in the US you can even apply for their Chase Credit Card that grants you their top-tier Platinum Elite status.

IHG ambassador

IHG ambassador

Aside of that IHG Club has a special exclusive Ambassador level that they may grant you, or you could buy it for 200USD or 32.000 points (extension is only 150USD).  It gives you some nice perks across the Intercontinental hotels and seems a very good value to me if your travel plans would allow you to stay in their properties:

  • Guaranteed Room Upgrade, fruits & water as well as a small gift in the room, newspapers & a complimentary movie on pay-TV
  • Dedicated check-in area
  • One Free weekend night (pay one night and get one night free)
  • 5000 bonus points
  • Late check-out
  • Gold Elite Status in the IHG Program
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Marriott’s new promotion: Megabonus

Marriott just recently announced the new promotion that will be running from mid-september to mid-january.

This time the promotion is called Megabonus again, different from the “Unexpected Bonus” offer that we saw this summer.  Nothing was unexpected about the summer promotion and this time again the promotion is very similar to the promotions they ran in the past.

Each member receives a unique offer.  “This is personalized for factors such as a member’s history with the Rewards program, frequency and nature travel, along with plenty of other factors”.  (according to a statement from Marriott itself)   In the past you could easily switch to a different offer but with the last 2 programs this seems to be harder to achieve.  T&C of the Megabonus offer specifically states that you cannot switch.  There’s no harm in trying however, just expect to get a ‘No’ and be happy when your request is accepted.

These offers have been reported by with Megabonus by various members:

JW Kuala Lumpur - a category 4 hotel

JW Kuala Lumpur – a category 4 hotel

  • Earn a free night at a category 1-5 hotel, up to two free nights, for every second paid stay
  • Earn a free night at a category 1-4 hotel, up to three free nights, for every second paid stay
  • Earn 35,000 bonus points after 20 paid nights plus an additional 15,000 after 25 paid nights, up to 50,000 bonus points
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points after 15 paid nights plus an additional 15,000 after 20 paid nights, up to 40,000 bonus points
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points after 12 paid nights plus an additional 15,000 after 18 paid nights, up to 40,000 bonus points

The free nights promos are one of the best that are out there in the sector.  This basically is a 50% discount on your stay and you can increase the value if you stay at a cheaper hotel to earn the certificate and cash it in over an expensive stay!

Just remember a stay is defined as consecutive nights at the same hotel.  (even if you check-in/check-out during your stay)  If you have a longer stay in one city and this city has multiple Marriott hotels you can consider to test a few of them and switch hotels.

Stuff people complain about

I follow several forums about traveling and sometimes I come across some pretty crazy stuff.  Just last week I read something I want to share with you.

I’ve read multiple threads about people that file complaints with hotels and airlines.  Most of the time people have a very good reason to complain.  It seems you as a customer must become somewhat more assertive to receive the service you deserve, certainly when things turn ugly.

A Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong entrance

A Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However never before have I read a case where somebody complains to a hotel because he thinks he has been bitten by a mosquito in his hotel room.  (and later on again because he thinks he has been bitten by another mosquito in the gym).  Really, serious?  This occurred at a Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel chain.  Many people thought this was some kind of joke but it turned out the original poster was really serious about his case.

The complainant managed to get what he wanted in this case: compensation.

I certainly think the hotel went the extra mile in this case.  You cannot expect any hotel to completely avoid the presence of mosquito’s, even not a 5* like this one, and this would have been a valid statement from their side.  Instead they proved they’re a true luxury brand offering their customers top-notch service even when they receive the most insane requests.

Such complainants risk to receive a note in their file about this annoying behavior.  Sometimes hotels or airlines go a step further and blacklist serial complainers (or take back their miles/points).  Here is such a case.

Complainers not only deliver themselves and airline/hotel personnel a sour life.  (I don’t really think you can enjoy your life if you complain the whole time) Their complaints have the opposite effect of what they may hope for.  Instead of improving customer service their complaints deteriorate customer service in general.  Employees get grumpy of all these complaints., hotel chains and airlines install more and more rules and in the end nobody wins with all these unneeded complaints.

Bottom line is you should think twice before you complain.  I encourage you to complain if you have a good reason.  At the same time I also encourage you to give a compliment when the people that took care of you deserve one.  A smile and a compliment can go a long way.

What are some of the things you have complained about in the past?

Marriott & Southwest

It may be a far shot but if you know you will have Marriott stays in the future and you are a regular US visitor that sometimes flies domestically in the US this promotion is something for you:

Through September 26, 2013, you can earn up to a maximum of 12,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flier loyalty program points by purchasing gift cards from Marriott in the following amounts:

  • $100.00 = 1,200 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flier loyalty program points
  • $250.00 = 3,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flier loyalty program points
  • $500.00 = 6,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards frequent flier loyalty program points

Marriott Gift Cards do no expire, just make sure you don’t loose them.  Southwest points expire after 24 months of inactivity.

To be able to view the promotion you need to have a Southwest Rapid Rewards number.

Devaluations all around…

A quick question to all of you that have a bunch of miles or points standing on their frequent flyer accounts: When was the last time that you made good use of them?

Don’t forget that your miles and points are subject to devaluations just as is the case with money on your bank account.  The ongoing crisis reminded us painfully how hard it is to fight these devaluations.  The good news it’s not as hard to fight devaluations with your miles and points.  The only thing you need to do is use them.  You basically got them for free and don’t need to worry about savings like you would with your money.

You might wonder how devaluations work in frequent flyer programs.  There’re actually many ways that this can go.  Airline programs will typically increase the number of miles required to fly between destinations or increase the nominal fee you need to pay to book the reward ticket.  Hotel programs tend to change the hotel categories.  Marriott for example states that the changes in hotel categories are done based on demand (hotels that are often booked as rewards moving up, others moving down).  The changes in categories implemented by Marriott in 2013 however resulted in 1% of the properties that decreased by one or more categories and a dazzling 36% of the properties that increased by one or more categories.  I wonder how this can be the result of their statement that this is based on demand…

Hotel programs are also implementing extra categories on top of the existing ones.  Marriott’s program has added a category for each of the last 2 years.  Hilton added 3 categories beginning this year.  Hilton also implemented seasonal awards resulting in higher redemption rates in high season.

Another devaluation just recently (beginning this week) implemented by Club Carlson is their reduced mileage when you transfer their points to frequent flyer programs.

– 2000 points used to earn 250 miles, after the devaluation only 200 miles
– 50000 points used to earn 8000 miles, after the devaluation only 5000 miles
– 100000 points used to earn 18000 miles, after the devaluation only 10000 miles

Honest programs, in my opinion, should always announce devaluations upfront to their members but unfortunately reality tells me this is not always the case.  The Club Carlson devaluation came unannounced in the middle of the year. (most devaluations occur at the start of a new year)
Unfortunately the number of announced (and unannounced) devaluations seems to increase.

So, 1 big advice I give to all of you, use these miles when you can.  It’s fun to have a look at your account and see a figure of 1 million miles or more but it’s even more fun to take a free trip!

If you like my blog please like and come back later!  Also don’t forget to follow me on twitter for more news!

A quick look at Hilton HHonors

HHonors got some serious criticism a few months ago for the devaluation they did in their program.  It must have been one of the most drastic devaluations that occured over the last years and unfortunately it was followed by devaluations in other programs like Marriott Rewards.  I watched it all with sorrow eyes.  Meanwhile we had time to settle our emotions and had another comparison in between the major programs after they did their devaluations as well.

Hilton was my second choice (after Marriott Rewards) before the devaluation and remains in that spot.  They have many hotels and a consistent product.  I believe their Hilton Garden Inn brand to be even somewhat better than Marriott Courtyard.  I just don’t switch to their program as it’s harder to get a good value for your points.  As a matter of fact, it’s not possible to do so by using their standard rewards.  To give just one example:  5th redemption night is free for everybody at Marriott but only for Elites at Hilton.

Also the introduction of Seasonal awards in the Hilton program will increase the amounts of points you need to spend in High Seasons.  This will make it harder to find a good deal for your points.   HHonors is stopping you from doing what you would do to get most value out of your points. You would typically use them at your favorite hotel at the moment that their prices are higher than normal due to some event or holiday.

One thing I do like about HHonors is the double dip option.  HHonors allows you to get a combination of both points and miles for every stay.  If you have different programs of which some of them are hardly used you could use this double dip option to stop the miles in those programs from expiring. (if you don’t want the miles you can choose to get 50 percent more HHonors points)

I do believe that you can still make it work for you if you can focus on the program and exploit all available options  by participating in all promotions and getting the Hilton Creditcards.  HHonors often has bonus promotions going on, more then I’ve seen with Marriott Rewards.  Just be sure to register for them or you won’t get your bonus points.  Quite recently Doubletree had a promotion that basically offered free points for just liking their facebook page.

At this point they’re running a different promotion.  This is the great getaway promotion with discounts up to 40 percent!   Certainly worth a look if you are planning a trip in the near future!

HHonors has a creditcard in Europe as well, see below for a complete list.  It will give you HHonors point for each euro spent.

To wrap up, if you want to make your HHonors membership a succes:
– Make sure you get most out of the double dip option, you can switch these preferences as often as you want
– Keep an eye open for all promotions
– Try to get a Hilton branded creditcard if you can (Visa in UK, Austria, Italy, Japan & Germany, Visa & AmEx in USA)

PS : Picture attached is taken at Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica.  A resort I can recommend!

 

How it is to be elite in the hotel programs

We already discussed airline programs in an earlier post, let’s now have a look at the hotel programs.

Just as is the case with airline programs, hotel programs tend to offer 3 elite levels.  The advantages that come with each elite level tend to vary from program to program but here again, as is the case with the airline programs, you will see that there are similarities.  The same is true for the requirements to earn the different elite levels.  Let’s have a look a the first elite level that is usually achieved after 10 nights.  (Hilton Honors offers this after 10 nights or 4 stays).

One benefit that is common to all programs are bonus points in the form of a percentage on top of your base earning.  The bonus percentage you get will varies a lot from program to program.  Here are the bonus points granted with the first elite level in a few example programs :

– Accor Hotels (still the biggest chain across Europe) offers its Silver Elite member of the ‘Le Club’ program a 50 percent bonus.

Accor hotels

Accor hotels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– Marriott Rewards offers it’s Silver members a 20 percent bonus
– Hilton Honors gives a 15 percent bonus to Silver Members
– Choice Privileges (Choice Hotels) gives only a mere 10 percent bonus to Gold Members (the first level as well but only differently named)

Bonus points are a nice perk if you are mainly interested in free nights.  Extra points means you will faster earn your free night.

Other perks for elite status are room upgrades. Usually they come with small print to indicate that these upgrades will only be granted if space is available.  Upgrades are usually offered as of the second elite level.  In our example programs the exception is Choice Privileges that only offers upgrades for their top tier members.  Upgrades are a perk that is often discussed amongst frequent travelers.  Success rates vary a lot as well as the “type” of upgrades.  Is a room with a better view an upgrade?  Upgrades to suites are excluded in some programs (like Marriott) but some travelers receive them anyway.  It’s still a nice perk if you don’t set your expectations too high and let yourself be surprised.

Welcome gifts are one more perk.  You can receive anything from a bottle of water to a bottle of wine, snacks or a voucher.  It depends on the brand you stay with and the goodwill of the hotel.  The latter at least for the lower elite levels.  As of a certain elite level the welcome gift is guaranteed.  The level varies by program  (top-tier for Marriott, 2nd tier for Hilton & Accor, no welcome gifts in the Choice Privileges program).

Without going into further detail I will list some other perks that can be found in these programs:
Ultimate Reservation Guarantee : You’re guaranteed to get a room untill X-hours upfront your stay.  The number of hours varies by program and sometimes elite level as well.  Mostly interesting for business travelers although it turned out to be very usefull when we stranded in Hartsfield Jackson Airport Atlanta during a storm and lot’s of people could not find a hotel. (but we did :-))

Free Internet : Interestingly some hotels still do not offer free internet to everybody.  Marriott Rewards and Hilton Hhonors offer this as a perk to their 2nd tier level elites in all their properties.  (both have brands where everybody receives free internet)

Late checkout : Another benefit that is offered with small-print (space available).  A nice benefit that could come-in handy if your departure flight is somewhere in the afternoon and you want to grab a quick shower before you head out to the airport.

A picture of the Courtyard of the beautiful Marriott Costa Rica - San Jose

A picture of the Courtyard of the beautiful Marriott Costa Rica – San Jose

Hotel programs are different from airline programs in the sense that you will be able to get status for free.  No status or spending with the hotels are required.  This is not true for all programs but is the case for Marriott and Hilton.  Marriott offers credit cards that give you Silver status.  Hilton has several credit cards that grant you Silver or Gold status.  (the cards are not free but are relatively cheap if you plan on benefiting from the status you will enjoy)

Note that there are many more hotel loyalty programs ( Starwoord Preferred Guest, Club Carlson, Wyndham rewards, ….) but I just picked out a few of them to give you some examples.  Why I picked these?  Le Club Accor is the biggest chain in Europe and Hilton and Marriott have a very good coverage in the United States and to a certain level the rest of the World.  All three of them include a good selection of brands from basic hotels to very luxurious.  They have something for everyone.  Choice hotels is a program that includes 11 different brands as well but is mostly focused to the budget-wise traveler.  I included them as they offer very good options for budget-wise travelers although their coverage worldwide is less attractive.

We will go into further detail, comparing programs head 2 head, in later posts.

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