Sunday, 20 May 2012

HOTELS...HOTELS...HOTELS

So, thus far I've explained my choice of airline, and also how I've managed to accrue significant Avios to use towards my flights.  But there's not much point in being able to fly to great destinations, unless you've figured out where you are going to stay when you get there, and how you can stay in great places, but for minimal cash outlay. So we need to identify the best hotel group to aline with, and start figuring out how to amass loyalty points to put towards free nights.......



Again, spending time to read through the hotel related forums on FLYERTALK, it became clear that the hotel group with the best points accrual options, is Intercontinental Hotel Group (ICH). Some of their brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and of course Intercontinental, and in total they have about 4,500 hotels worldwide, so in terms of options they would have the biggest selection of hotels.  But also, their loyalty points options are by far the best of any of the other hotel groups, and they constantly run promotions etc, meaning if you normally stay even just 9-10 nights a years, you can potentially rack up enough points for 2 free nights. On its own a couple of free nights isn't much good for my intended holiday, but it's a start.  So its a simple matter of becoming a member of their loyalty programme, called Priority Club Rewards, and stay using hotels in their brand ANYTIME you would normally stay in a hotel. In the following I won't be detailling every single technique I used to accrue points, as some are not officially sanctioned, but I will show how I managed to gather up enough for 5 nights stay at their very top end hotels, the Intercontinental hotels.

So as it happened, in 2011 (remember, I'm targetting my ultimate reward holiday for 2013)  I had a couple of outings arranged, a weekend in London and a significant holiday to the USA. I flew economy, as I was too late to into the whole reward thing to be able to take advantage of it, but I *WAS* in time to let me target my hotel spend towards ICH group properties, so as loyalty points would be accrued for use at a later time. Additionally, I had some work stays that I could now ensure where in Holiday Inns, and a trip to Madrid was planned.

The standard rate of accrual of points in the PCR program is 10 points for every $1 spent. To get a regular free night you need to have between 20,000 and 50,000 points, depending on the property you are looking to stay in, so for example Holiday Inn Express costs a lot less points than an Intercontinental.


IT DOESN'T ADD UP

You are probably looking at the figures above and thinking, I'm going to need to spend $2000 in hotel rooms to get 1 free 20K night, as that's what those figures would appear to show. But there are a couple of  things that work big time in your favour. First of all, I said the standard rate is 10 points to the $. This is for a basic member. A Gold member, that anyone can purchase for $50, gets you a 10% increase on this.  A platinum member, which is easily attainable, gets you a 50% increase in this. So that gets you up to 15 points per $1 spend.   The other thing I mentioned earlier, is that PCR runs great promotions.  Promotions when you stay just 3 nights (5K extra points is common), promotions for double points over a set period of time, promotions for staying for a weekend, promotions welcoming you back if you havn't stay for a while etc etc.  Flyertalk keeps an up-to-date list of this promo codes, and its amazing how quickly they mount up. For example, for a single night stay in the intercontinental Madrid, which activated a number of bonuses, I received 18,000 points.  For a 1 night stay in Manchester, UK, for a room rate of £75, I in total received over 5,500 points.

If you have a need to stay maybe 10 nights a year for business, or for your "regular" holidays, if you time things right and take the best advantage of all the promotions, its possible to get 70-80K points in bonuses, almost enough for 2 nights stay in the Incontinental brand of hotels. In reality, if you were staying those nights anyway, then you've got those points for free !.

So how do you get other free nights ?  Well, the next best way is to sign up for the PCR visa card.  In the UK, there was a pomotion recently that new sign-ups got 40K points after a small initial spend on the card.  The card fee of £99 was refunded, when meant that as long as you had some genuine spend to put on the card, then the 40K points were free. But wait, also, for every £1 spent on the card, you get 2 PCR points. AND if you spend £10,000 in a year, you get a voucher for a free night.  As it happens I had a lot of spend backed-up to do, which could not be put onto one of my loyalty AMEX cards, as the vendors did not accept Amex. So in the 5 months I've had the card, I managed to do the £10,000 spend, all genuine spend that I had to do. For that spend, I get 40,000 signup bonus, 20,000 points (2 for every £1), and for hitting the £10K spend target, a free night voucher.  60K points plus a free night. Add to that the example 80K I spoke about earlier and you have pretty much 4 nights accomodation at any Intercontinental hotel in the world (many more nights at Holiday Inn/Crowne Plaza, but I'm aiming to stay in really top end accomodation, so I'm limiting myself to Intercontinental brand). My understanding is that in the USA you get an even more generous sign-up bonus, and an automatic free night every anniversary of your card, regardless of spend, so its even better value.


AMBASSADOR STATUS

Its time I spoke about the Ambassador tier level. The 3 "normal" levels in the PCR programme are Blue, Gold and Platinum.  There is another level called Ambassador. This level can be bought for $200 and  is only recognised in Intercontinental Hotels. However it does give you automatic Gold level standard.  What's the point of it ?  Well, it gives you some decent benefits at IC hotels, including late check-out, and automatic upgrades, which can allow you to book a lower level room and get a free upgrade to the next level, a potential saving of maybe $100+ per night.  But it relation to my quest for cheap nights, when you buy Amb level, you get 5000 points free AND you get a 2-4-1 voucher. If you stay on a Fri, you get the Sat free, If you stay on a Sat, you get the Sun free. So if you have some paid-for stays in IC hotels, either on business or personal, its a no-brainer to buy the ambassador status, and you get a free night with a paid night.

So the above has shown how to reasonably easily acheive 5 free nights at the top hotels in the Intercontinental brand.  The prerequisites are that you have some credit card spend that you naturally have been doing, and similarly you would normally spend some nights during the year in hotels. It also requires you to keep up to date with the PCR promotion codes published in Flyertalk. but if I tell you that the hotel I have in mind has a room rate of £550 a night, and I've just showed you how I will get £2,750 of hotels nights for zero cost, I think you'll start to appreciate how much value you can get, for really quite small effort.


KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN

ICH hotels are not my only target, but they are the main hotel group I am targetting.  However Starwoods (aka SPG), also have some great properties for my intended destinations.  As it happens starwoods had a credit card offer. Again the fee was rebated, and their offer was 20,000 SPG points for a small spend on the card.  20K SPG points is easily worth 2 nights accomodation. Also, from the 1st entry in this blog, you'll remember I spoke about Amex MR points. As well as being able to transfer MR points to BA miles, you can transfer them to SPG points. So should I need extra free nights in SPG hotels, and assuming I have a good MR balance, I can do that too.

Tune in next time, when I reveal my intended itinery, including hotels, and some unexpected need to get Virgin Atlantic miles.  Also I'll talk about why the whole venture has been put in severe jeopardy. (hint the next entry is likely to come from a hospital bed).

1 comment:

  1. I've stayed at many chains over the years, but my favorite for awards is Marriott brands. They often have 2 stays = 1 free night coupon. I also have their credit card (which has the added benefit of 0 fees/% for international currency exchange) which also give extra benefits. I don't like IHG as much, and I find Hilton takes more points for equivalent rewards.

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