Hotel Loyalty Winter 2009 Promotions Are Out

Hotel loyalty programs have posted 2009 offers in the past week.  Within a few days of the SPG 2009 promotion beginning January 7, four other promotions have been released.

Is there a little Hyatt-Expedia love conduit going on with the frequentflier?

Hyatt has still not detailed their promotion on their website, however, promotion details were leaked through Tim Winship and www.SmarterTravel.com. 

The theme for winter 2009 seems to be nights, except for Marriott who went with stays. 

Ironically Marriott is the only program that bases elite status only on nights.

Here is the quick 2009 rundown:

Hilton HHonors – December 23 update:  Even Hilton HHonors is in the hotel loyalty promotion game for 2009.  Yesterday an offer for double base points on HHonors participating hotels globally was posted.  The promotion is still missing details such as a working link to participating hotels and an accounting procedure for double base points.  Double base points may mean a total of 20 points per dollar with the Points and Points earning style and a bonus to equal double base points.  Double Base points may mean 20 points and Miles, or 20 points and an additional 5 points per $1 if Points and Points.  The promotion fine print is still not posted to explain how double base points works. 

January 7, 2009 updateYesterday I received an email from HHonors regarding the Double Base points promotion.  The earnings are even better than I suggest above.

During the promotion a member selecting Points & Points will earn 10 base points per $1 in hotel spending + 20 bonus points per $1 for 30 points per $1. 

January 13 update: Hilton HHonors reissued its Double Base Points promotion press release on January 12.  Originally, the January 7 press release stated HHonors members selecting Points & Points would earn 10 base points + 20 bonus points per $1 in eligible spending, or 30 points per $1.  The reissued press release on January 12 says this was incorrect and HHonors members selecting Points & Points will earn only 25 points per $1.

A member selecting Points and Miles will earn a total of 20 points per $1 + miles.

Way to go Hilton HHonors! 

HHonors still isn’t playing the open promotion loyalty game.  HHonors used to be the program that offered astute members the opportunity to earn a free night or much more every year  just by changing your online account email address every three months or signing up for a charitable contribution as a virtual walker in charity fund drives.  HHonors dropped out of the high bonus promotions game a few years ago.  Fortunately the other hotel chains have not followed HHonors lead.

Hyatt Gold Passport – As reported by Tim Winship in Frequentflier.com and Expedia-owned SmarterTravel.com, Hyatt Gold Passport has put together a promotion offering up to 20,000 points for 8 nights during the promotion period of January 9 – April 30, 2009.  Hyatt’s promotion is still not posted on its website as of December 22, 2008. 

Comparing Points Across Programs:

Gold Passport operates a points earned system of 5 points per $1 with Hyatt Hotels compared to Marriott Rewards and IHG Priority Club being 10 points per $1.  Hilton HHonors is 10 points per $1 + airline miles, or 15 points per $1.  Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is 2 points per $1.  Elite members earn additional bonus points.

Hotel Loyalty Program 2009 promotions:

Hilton HHonors – double base points globally

Promotion dates: January 6 – April 6, 2009

Registration required before reservations to be eligible for bonus.

https://www.hiltonhhonors.com/globaldoublepoints

Offer: Double Base Points at Hilton brand hotels globally

 

 

 

 

Hyatt Gold Passport – up to 20,000 points 

Promotion dates: January 9 – April 30, 2009

Registration required.  Webpage not active as of 12-22-08.

2 nights = 2,000 bonus points

4 nights = 4,000 bonus points  (6,000 cumulative)

6 nights = 6,000 bonus points  (12,000 cumulative)

8 nights = 8,000 bonus points  (20,000 cumulative)

20,000 bonus points is equivalent to points normally earned with $4,000 spending.  8 nights will earn 20,000 bonus points with this offer.

 

Earning: 8 nights @ $100 night = $800 to earn 20,000 points. 

Redemption: The highest Hyatt category 5 hotel is 18,000 points per night. My stay this past weekend at the Hyatt Highlands Inn, Carmel Highlands, CA would have cost $675 on a AAA discount rate for the ocean view room.

 

 

IHG Priority Club – up to 30,000 points or 10,000 miles

Promotion dates: January 12 – April 30, 2009

Registration required. https://secure.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/pc/1/en/c/10/content/dec/teaser/pc/0/en/lp/promolp/q109/usenptsmiles.html

 

Offer: 3 nights = 3,000 bonus points or 1,000 bonus miles

 

3,000 bonus points is equivalent to points normally earned with $300 spending.  3 nights will earn 3,000 bonus points with this offer.  30,000 bonus points is equivalent to points normally earned with $3,000 spending.  30 nights will earn 30,000 bonus points with this offer.

 

Earning: 30 nights @ $80 per night = $2,400 in hotel spending to earn 30,000 points.

Redemption: 1 night at the InterContinental Monterey will cost 30,000 points.  Crowne Plaza free night will be 25,000 points.

 

Marriott Rewards – up to 25,000 points

Promotion dates: February 1 – April 30, 2009

Registration required. https://www.marriott.com/rewards/promotionRegistration.mi?promotion=MGS9&psrc=MRTR

 

Offer: 2,500 points per stay starting with second stay.  Some Marriott Rewards members may receive a different offer for earning between 15,000 to 50,000 points.  My wife has no elite status with Marriott Rewards and she received a 25,000 points offer.

 

25,000 bonus points is equivalent to points normally earned with $2,500 spending.  11 nights (11 one-night stays) will earn 25,000 bonus points with this offer.  

Earning: 11 stays @ $100/stay = $1,100 to earn 25,000 points. 

Redemption: 1 free night at Category 5 hotel = 25,000 points.

Starwood Preferred Guest – up to 110,000 points

Promotion dates: January 7 – April 30, 2009

Registration required. http://www.spgpromos.com/nights/index.cfm?EM=VTY_SPG_NIGHTS_PROMOTION

 

 

Offer: 500 bonus points per night.  5,000 additional bonus points earned for 10 nights.  A total of 10,000 bonus points will be earned for every 10 nights.

 

Analysis: 10,000 bonus points is equivalent to points normally earned with $5,000 spending. 10 nights will earn 10,000 bonus points with this offer.   The 10-night bonus may be earned multiple times.

 

Earning: 10 nights @ $100 night = $1,000 to earn 10,000 Starpoints. 

Redemption: 10,000 points = 1 free night Category 4 hotel or Category 4 Cash&Points award is 4,000 points + $60.  

 

Conclusion:

The SPG promotion looks best overall compared to the other offers.  Hyatt is basically a free night anywhere after 8 nights and ranks second.  Sure the Hyatt offer is good, but I can spend the next 8 nights in Hyatt Hotels over this Christmas break and earn 4 free nights anywhere in the world with the perennial Faster Free Nights promotion.  One free night after 8 nights isn’t as enticing.  The main advantage to Hyatt points is the ability to upgrade room nights to suites using points.

These promotions actually look to be an attempt by the hotel chains to lower points distribution in the face of widespread declining revenue among the hotel industry.  Historically there is nothing too spectacular about these opening promotional blasts for 2009.

Link to the HHonors Pointstretcher List

The next two weeks are your best opportunity to find a Pointstretcher award for the listed offers of the next six months.  Come January 1 the current Pointstretcher list can be purged.  A large portion of the hotels listed do not show any Pointstretcher dates for 2009.

Hilton HHonors Pointstretchers allow an HHonors member to redeem points for hotel rooms at 40% below the standard redemption rate.  An HHonors Category 6 hotel like the Mount Juliet Conrad in Ireland normally costing 40,000 points per night is only 24,000 points if using a Pointstretcher award available most nights during the months of January and February 2009.

The selection of hotels is limited and Pointstretcher dates are sporadic.  Hilton has no Hampton Inn properties listed for Pointstretcher dates despite this brand being Hilton’s largest with about 1,500 hotels. 

There are over 500 Hilton Hotels globally and 23 hotels in the USA are participating in this 2009 Pointstretcher offer while 75 are participating in international locations.  A bit less than 20% of Hilton Hotels are participating in Pointstretcher awards over the next 6 months, however, 9 of the 23 USA Hilton Hotels only list December 2008 dates and 19 international Hilton hotels do not have any 2009 dates listed.

HHonors has always struggled to release Pointstretcher dates in a timely manner.  This offer is no different.  Hilton Garden Inn, primarily a domestic hotel brand, has 31 hotels on the Pointstretcher list offering dates only in December 2008.  There are only about 52 Hilton Garden Inn hotels on the Dec-May 2009 Pointstretcher list, about 1 in 7 HGI properties, and 60% of these Hilton Garden Inns only have award availability over the next 12 nights during December.  Might as well purge the list as of January 1 and show just how few hotels are offering Pointstretchers in 2009.

32 Doubletree Hotels in USA Pointstretcher list and only 12 of these hotels have Pointstretcher dates for 2009.

16 Embassy Suites (about 1 in 20 brand properties) show Pointstretcher availability.   Eight of these hotels only show December 2008 Pointstretcher dates.

Homewood Suites take the prize for the least timely release of Pointstretcher dates.  There are 17 Homewood Suites properties on the just released Pointstretcher list.  Only 2 of these hotels have Pointstretcher dates in 2009.  And if you wanted the Homewood Suites Lancaster, PA on a Pointstretcher, then you will need to wait for the next list to be released.  Last night, December 18, was the last Pointstretcher date shown for this period at the Homewood Suites Lancaster, PA.

Overall Hilton Hotels, a corporate chain with over 3,000 hotels globally included about 225 hotel properties in this Pointstretcher list.  About 40% of these hotels do not show any Pointstretcher dates after December 31, 2008 through May 2009. 

Loyalty Traveler hopes to see more dates added for 2009, but it has not been the normal operating procedure over the years for HHonors Pointstretcher dates to be added after the initial release of the list.

I spent a day at the beach in Carmel last week.  There were the usual crowds walking along the boutique storefronts and across Ocean Street.  The pedestrian traffic subsided quickly once away from the commercial district of Carmel and the beach was a quiet place on a sunny December weekday.

Carmel was voted #6 city in the 2008 Condé Nast Readers poll.  Condé Nast Traveler has a guide to the California Central Coast.  According to the guide the best months to visit this area are listed as April, May, September, and October. 

These are the months when the temperature may be warmest, but winter season is the Central Coast locals’ best kept secret.

Every year there is some gorgeous day in the 70s during the winter months when K and I drive down the coast and say, WOW!  Winter in California sure is tough.”

Big Sur coast in winter

Big Sur Coast in Winter

It wasn’t in the 70s last weekend, however, we did hit a dry spell between rain storms.  The forecast was for rain on Saturday and the tourists stayed away.  Monterey-Carmel-Big Sur is a weekend getaway destination for many California residents. 

The Los Angeles Times newspaper today stated California has just surpassed 38 million residents.  That is a lot of California homegrown tourist potential. 

The more interesting statistic to me was the fact that 69% of California-born natives 18 years or older have remained in California and this is the 4th highest percentage in the United States behind Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia.  For our immediate families, my wife and I maintain our native born numbers at just 2 of 5 Californians still remaining in California .  We just love the beauty of the Monterey County coast too much to seek out more lucrative opportunities.

California actually has more people leaving the state than moving here from other states.  Foreign immigration and births keep the population growing.

Big Sur and Coast 1 Views

The weather looked great and we jumped in the car to drive south.  I looked for whales on the water and didn’t see any.  The water was calm without white caps, but not quite smooth.  The basic indicator for whales is seeing a blow water spray from the blowhole just above the ocean surface and following it as the whale remains near the surface for a few minutes.  Often you can’t see the whale from the shoreline, but you can follow the blow as the whale swims along the coast.  Any white water waves make it quite difficult to detect whale blow. 

Highway 1 Bixby Bridge Big Sur

Big Sur Highway 1 Bixby Bridge

We made it to Nepenthe Restaurant on the cliffs of Big Sur to drink Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale and eat a basket of French fries.  This is a childhood tradition for my wife, the French fries that is, the beer was an adult acquired taste, although I think the prices these days for French fries and soda would be beyond the resources of most poor people ($5 for a soda and $10 for fries after tax and tip).

Big Sur Nepenthe Restaurant view from patio

Big Sur view from Nepenthe Restaurant

Monterey Hotel Deal – Monterey Plaza Hotel, Cannery Row, Monterey

as low as $99 for reservations made by December 24 for stays through March 31, 2009

 

Like many other locations around the US and the globe, there are good hotel deals locally with some upscale hotels offering the lowest rates in several years for winter 2009 stays.

 

Monterey Plaza Hotel Cannery Row Monterey

Monterey Plaza Hotel, Cannery Row, Monterey

 

Monterey Plaza Hotel has been the premier Monterey hotel for the past decade.  This bad economy has dropped rates down to $99 per night for a room at the Monterey Plaza during Sunday through Thursday nights for reservations made by December 24, 2008 for dates through March 31, 2009.  Not all weekday dates are still available.  Make sure you change the calendar to 2009 since the default is 2008 and you will receive a message stating “Package not available for selected dates, please click OK and try alternative dates again.”

The hotel has buildings on both sides of the street at the entrance to Cannery Row.  The Cannery Row, non-ocean-view rooms are $99. 

Paradise with an Ocean View – Monterey Plaza Hotel, Deluxe Ocean View $199

The real deal for the Monterey Plaza Hotel is the Deluxe Ocean View room with balcony for $199 per night.  This rate requires the special link to the discount offer.  The regular Monterey Plaza Hotel reservations page is charging $350 for these ocean-view rooms.  The special offer rate drops the after tax rate to $220 per night.

January 3 has an Ocean View room without balcony for $149 per night.

There are several luxury properties in the Monterey area such as Post Ranch Inn Big Sur ($500+); Pebble Beach Lodge ($400+), and Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley ($350+), however, I think the Monterey Plaza has one of the best locations for a tourist to the Monterey area.  Watch sea otters from your room.  I can’t think of another hotel location in the area besides Cannery Row’s other two waterfront hotels the  InterContinental Clement and the Spindrift Inn, and a couple of Pacific Grove B&Bs with an ocean view room combined with the feature of overlooking sea otter habitat.  A good ocean view room at the Monterey Plaza ranks up there with the best hotels in Monterey County.

Big Sur – Post Ranch Inn Spa Package for a truly luxury discount price of $1,440 for Tree House

I always feel hypocritical when I comment on the Post Ranch Inn.  This property is so out of my price range and that of most travelers with an average price tag starting at $600 per night and upwards of  $1,000 per night. 

I have planned for two years to take a tour of the hotel.  Post Ranch Inn invites prospective guests and visitors to tour the hotel on weekdays in the slow seasons and if you are willing to splurge $50 to $100 there is the opportunity to eat lunch.  I think I will get to the Post Ranch Inn in winter 2009 on one of those sunny clear days when digital photographs sparkle. 

Post Ranch Inn is working the Value-Added marketing strategy with room and spa treatments at Winter 2009 discounts.  The best value, if you can afford it, is the Winter Big Sur Spa Package for a Tree House or Mountain House room at $1,440 for two nights and two one-hour spa treatments.  These room categories normally go for $855 to $895 per night.  The special offer includes two hours of spa treatment and for this area generally costs $300+.  This is a 25% to 30% reduction in rates. 

Big Sur Coast 1 Highway, north of Point Sur

Looking south on Highway 1 to Point Sur

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Starwood Lurker, the Starwood Hotels/SPG corporate representative on FlyerTalk, posted a link yesterday for the initial 2009 Starwood Preferred Guest promotion called Night after Night, and located at SPG.com/nights.  This promotion will award a 500 points per night bonus beginning with hotel nights on January 7 through April 30, 2009.  An additional 5,000 points will be earned for every 10 nights stayed during the promotion period.

 

Promotion:  Night After Night 

SPG promo link

 

Registration is required. 

Registration link will go live on January 7, 2009 5:00pm Eastern time and SPG members have until March 31, 2009 to register. Promotion will apply retroactively for eligible hotel nights during promotion period.

 

Offer:  500 bonus points per night.  Earn an additional 5,000 bonus points for every 10 nights for a combined bonus of 1000 points per night.  In other words, 10 nights earns 10,000 points.

 

Promotion Dates: January 7 – April 30, 2009

 

Terms and Conditions link: http://www.spgpromos.com/nights/tc.cfm

 

Good features of this promotion are hotel stays do not need to be booked in advance to earn the bonus points and promotion registration will apply retroactively to eligible hotel nights.  Any hotel night from January 7 to April 30 qualifies.

 

114 nights = 110 nights + 4 nights = 110,000 points + 2,000 points = 112,000 bonus points possible from the Night After Night promotion.

 

There is no provision in the SPG Nights Terms and Conditions stating this promotion is not combinable with other offers which could justify the promotion statement “There will be no limits on bonus earnings during this period.”  Combinable promotions for the next few months would be a rewarding benefit for SPG members. 

Marriott Rewards has hotel redemption offers exclusively for elite members.  The changes to Marriott Rewards is prompting many elite members with 150,000 points or more to take advantage of high value elite redemptions with regional hotel sampler rewards before the 2009 calendar date change.

Marriott Rewards elite members (Silver, Gold, Platinum) have the option to purchase 7-night multiple hotel stay Sampler rewards called Hawaii Hopper or Europe Hopper for 150,000 points.  These Marriott Rewards hotel redemption certificates are issued as three paper certificates for 2-night, 2-night, and 3-night combination of hotels and are valid for 12-months from issue date for any participating Marriott hotel within the Marriott-defined region of Europe or Hawaii.  There are also Sampler Rewards for Florida and UK/Ireland. 

Marriott Rewards elite members have the opportunity to redeem Europe or Hawaii Hopper awards under the 2008 award rules and benefit from the “No Blackouts” rules changes in effect January 15, 2009.  The Hopper does not require advance reservations and is valid for any Marriott Rewards category of hotel redemption, including the soon to be Category 8 hotels. 

The Marriott Rewards member can order these certificates (Europe Hopper must be ordered by December 31; Hawaii by January 14, 2009) before the 2009 change at the low rate of 21,429 points per night.  2009 per night redemption rates will be 30,000 for a Category 6 hotel; 35,000 points for Category 7; and 40,000 points for Category 8 hotels with a 5th night free on longer hotel stays.

There are 14 Marriott Hotels listed for the new Category 8 redemption level beginning January 15, 2009.  Nine of these hotels are in Europe (none in Hawaii):

List of Category 8 Hotels: http://www.marriott.com/rewards/lra-faq.mi#question16

Category 8 Hotels in Europe

  • Paris Marriott Hotel Champs Elysees
  • Renaissance Paris Vendome
  • JW Marriott Capri Tiberio Palace Resort & Spa
  • Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora
  • London Marriott Hotel County Hall
  • London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square
  • London Marriott Hotel Marble Arch
  • London Marriott Hotel Park Lane
  • Renaissance Chancery Court London

 

Marriott Rewards Elite:  Europe Hopper 7-Night Reward  

Elite members of Marriott Rewards can redeem 150,000 points for a Europe Hopper 7-night award with three paper certificates issued for 2-, 2-, and 3-night hotel stays at any participating Marriott in Europe.  (Russia and Turkey are not participating hotels for this award.)  The value of this redemption is the savings in Marriott Rewards points for hotels in 2009 by having Europe Hopper certificates once the hotels in London, Paris, and Rome are established in a new redemption Category 8 hotel for 40,000 points per night. 

The Europe Hopper award must be ordered by December 31, 2008 and the award will be valid for 12 months for any European participating hotel, according to posts by Marriott Concierge (Marriott Rewards representative) on FlyerTalk.  Current Category 7 hotels joining the new Category 8 will still be available for new reservations after January 15, 2009, if using the Europe Hopper certificates.  Beginning January 15, when the new Marriott Rewards rules take effect, the cost for a Category 8 hotel night using points will be 40,000 points.  The new 5th night free option will mean 7 nights at category 8 hotels will cost 240,000 points. 

Redeeming 150,000 points now for 2009 Europe hotel stays can potentially save 90,000 Marriott Rewards points on a trip including Marriott Hotels in London, Paris, or Rome.  Any combination of Category 6, 7, or 8 hotel redemptions using the Europe Hopper certificates will save points compared to the upcoming 2009 redemption changes for standard awards and 5th night free.

A shout-out to FlyerTalk member GrizShel who put together a detailed FlyerTalk thread to assist Marriott Rewards members with consolidated information from a Marriott Hotels representative and included analysis on the Marriott Rewards changes that will impact members hotel redemptions in 2009.  This thread also contains useful information about redeeming for Marriott Rewards Air and Hotel Packages before January 15, 2009.

 

Credit Card Fast-Track to Marriott Rewards Status

Marriott low level elite starts at Silver based on 10 nights of Marriott hotel brand stays in a calendar year.  The Marriott Rewards Visa Signature credit card gives Silver Elite membership through an annual 10 nights credit towards Marriott Rewards elite status as long as you maintain card membership in good standing.

London average room rate in November 2008 dropped 5.6% to £130 per night from November 2007 rates.

For Americans, that comes out to $200USD per night at today’s exchange rate of $1.54 = £ 1.  That sounds expensive , yet compared to November 2007 when the average room rate was over £137 per night and the exchange rate was $2.02 = £ 1, the average room rate has dropped from $277 per night to  $200US.  That is nearly a 30% reduction in room rates for the American tourist in one year. 

 

The Euro has also gained in value from 1.40€ per £ 1 in December 2007 to just 1.10 € per £ 1 currently.  The reduction in price of UK hotels by 20 to 30% for Europeans and Americans still has not generated increased tourism.

 

UK Hotel Occupancy Declines from November 2007 to November 2008

London    - 6%  to 79.5% occupancy in November 2008

 

I think the hotel consumer needs to keep in mind while reading all the doom and gloom hotel news in late 2008 that 2007 was a peak in hotel room rates.  London hotels made record profits in 2007 and occupancy was at its highest in ten years since 1997.

 

The fact that airfare is a bargain during this final quarter of 2008, hotels in London and the UK cost 20 to 30% less than a year ago for millions of tourists, and occupancy is still declining at an accelererating rate indicates 2009 will be a year of remarkable value for travelers able to take advantage of the hotel economy downturn for some personal leisure benefits.

 

Story sources:

PKF Consulting April 11, 2008 – UK hotel sector well-positioned for challenging 2008.

Hotel Travel News November 14, 2008 -  London Hotels Set for Tough Year

Hotel Travel news December 15, 2008 – UK Hotels Feel the Pinch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand – Luxury in 2009 on a Backpacker’s Budget?

The Thailand hotel industry sees some luxury hotel properties drop to “single-digit occupancy rate” following recent turmoil in Bangkok, Thailand. The country’s primary international airport, BKK, was shut down for a week by protestors.   Tourism could be impacted by a decline in tourism due to negative perception of Thailand as a 2009 vacation destination.  Projections are as high as 2.3 million foreign tourists staying away.

Story: http://www.hotelsmag.com/articleXML/LN897557488.html

 

Travel tourism indicators like the Bangkok Airport event stranding thousands of American tourists in Thailand could be another sign for big discounts on resort travel through resort packages and online outlets like SkyAuction.com.  A website I have used in the past for Asia travel bargains is www.zuji.com with sites in Hong Kong, Singapore, and several other Asia Pacific countries. 

I expect hotel loyalty promotional bonuses to market and attract visitors to Thailand’s big chain hotels will be likely in 2009.

My quick survey of rates indicated hotel deals are to be found in Bangkok with good availability of rooms using points.  The beach hotels are more hit and miss depending on dates.  I did see much more availability of rooms for points and lower prices in February 2009 than for January 2009.  The recent airport troubles and political turmoil may see better deals for the traveler for late winter, early spring after the tourists who booked trips before the troubles finish their vacations and the lull in reservations hits the system.

The Peninsula Hotel Bangkok

Bangkok, The Peninsula Hotel, pool

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Westin Trianon Palace, located in Versailles near Paris is leaving Starwood Hotels and Starwood Preferred Guest on January 15, 2009.  The hotel will be branded the Waldorf=Astoria Paris in the luxury segment of Hilton Hotels and HHonors.  This is the second Waldorf=Astoria rebranding for 2009 in Europe. The Hilton Rome Cavalieri was rebranded in September 2008 as the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, The Cavalieri Rome.  I wrote a post about cashing in points before February 28, 2009 for the Cavalieri.  Beginning in March 2009 the Rome property will cost 50% more for a free night using points with a jump from Hilton HHonors Category 6 redemption for 40,000 points per night to 60,000 points for a high season Waldorf=Astoria Collection nightly rate using HHonors points.  I await the HHonors redemption rate and peak season schedule for the rebranded Trianon Palace.

News Story: http://www.hotelinteractive.com/article.aspx?articleid=12317

 

This property is a loss for Starwood Preferred Guest members visiting Paris where the Category 5 SPG property offered some occasional great deals with Cash & Points rates and the 5th night free redemption discount.  This leaves the SPG member with just the two Le Meridien properties for Category 4 redemption at Le Meridien Montparnasse and the Category 5 Le Meridien Etoile.  The Westin Paris and Hotel Prince de Galles are both Category 6 properties, at times requiring more than double the points of Category 5 SPG redemption.  There is still the Sheraton CDG Airport hotel at Category 5. 

 

Paris has been the strongest hotel economy in Europe for 2008 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to the Le Meridien Montparnasse go up a category in 2009 SPG hotel redemption category shifts.

 

A word of advice.  Paris is too beautiful to spend the night at the airport. 

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There is no better test of a “No Blackouts” Hotel Loyalty Program Points Redemption Policy than looking for hotel rooms using points for a New Year’s Eve stay.

Loyalty Traveler studied the San Francisco hotel loyalty scene for New Year’s Eve rooms.  My search results were surprisingly consumer friendly for San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and a few other places I searched. Hilton, IHG, and Starwood offered most properties for award nights using points in the west coast locations I checked.  Marriott and Hyatt hotels typically require more points than their standard rates for New Year’s Eve rooms in the major cities with Marriott Rewards Stay Anytime at double points and Hyatt Gold Passport Plus Awards requiring 60% more points.

California has plenty of opportunities for using your hotel points for a free New Year’s Eve getaway, but compare your options.  Hotel room rates for New Year’s Eve are far lower than you might think in some locations making points redemption not so great a value this year.

The combination of a bad economy and hotel loyalty “No Blackout” policies make New Year’s Eve 2008 a good opportunity to spend your hotel points and save some cash.

The objective of this survey is to see what hotels are available New Year’s Eve using hotel loyalty points.  Analyzing the relative value of these hotel nights is a task not undertaken for this survey, although I have included the room rate shown for New Year’s Eve on December 12, 2008.  My quick assessment is the W San Francisco is the best value for a room redemption using points. 

New Year’s Eve Hotel Room Availability Using Frequent Guest Points

 

All searches for room availability using hotel points were checked online through the hotel websites, except for Hyatt Hotels which requires phone customer service to check for rooms using points if you do not have the points in your account for the redemption nights.

 

San Francisco Hotels

Hilton Hotels – HHonors

·         Hilton San Francisco – 40,000 points Category 6 award  ($189.00)

·         Hilton Financial District – 40,000 points Category 6 award ($152.15)

·         Hilton Fisherman’s Wharf – not available for points or cash

Hilton has too few properties in San Francisco to illustrate what I consider widespread availability of hotel rooms using points for New Year’s Eve around California in San Diego and Los Angeles from what I saw in my room searches.

Hyatt Hotels  - Gold Passport 

All Hyatt Hotels in San Francisco required Gold Passport Plus Awards at 60% additional points to the regular Hyatt Award Reservation points level.  Hyatt Gold Passport is the only website of these five chains that will not allow a member to check award availability if you do not have sufficient points in your account for the free night.  I received Hyatt information through phone customer service.

·         Hyatt Regency San Francisco –24,000 points Category 4 Plus Award ($236.21)                     

·         Grand Hyatt San Francisco – 19,200 points Category 3 Plus Award ($236.21) 

·         Hyatt Regency Fisherman’s Wharf – 19,200 points Category 4 Plus Award ($269.00) 

·         Hyatt Regency Airport – 12,800 points – Category 2 Plus award ($119)

InterContinental Hotels Group – Priority Club Rewards

·         InterContinental Mark Hopkins, Nob Hill area – 40,000 points – high IC Hotel night ($259.00)

·         InterContinental San Francisco, SoMa area – 40,000 points – high IC Hotel night ($233.10)

·         Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf – 25,000 points ($105.00)

·         Holiday Inn Golden Gateway – 25,000 points – ($135.15)

The IHG bargain is the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf which is a great location for New Year’s Eve, but at $105 for the night, paying for the room is probably a better option than points.  Fisherman’s Wharf is mostly unavailable in the other brands except for Marriott at 60,000 points.

Marriott Hotels – Marriott Rewards

·         Marriott San Francisco – 60,000 points – Category 6 Stay Anytime reward ($189)

·         JW Marriott San Francisco – 60,000 points – Category 6 Stay Anytime reward ($299)

·         San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf  – 60,000 points – Category 6 Stay Anytime reward ($199)

·         The Stanford Court, Renaissance Hotel – 60,000 points – Category 6 Stay Anytime reward ($239)

·         Courtyard Downtown – 50,000 points – Category 5 Stay Anytime reward ($219)

·         Courtyard San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf – 50,000 points – Category 5 Stay Anytime( $249)

Marriott is charging double points for a Stay Anytime award for any San Francisco city property.  The Marriott Rewards “No Blackout” policy goes into effect January 15, 2009.  Next New Year’s Eve will allow a comparison of Marriott availability with the other chains.  For New Year’s Eve 2008 Marriott has all their San Francisco hotels available using points.  They are just asking for a lot of points for that free room.  Marriott has a great reward search display for seeing redemption room availability.

Starwood Hotels – Starwood Preferred Guest

·         St. Regis San Francisco – 20,000 points – SPG category 6 low award  ($499)

·         Palace Hotel, San Francisco – 16,000 points – SPG Category 5 high award ($230)

·         W San Francisco – 12,000 points – SPG Category 5 low award ($389)

·         Le Meridien San Francisco – 12,000 points – SPG Category 5 low award ($319)

·         Westin Market Street – 10,000 points – SPG Category 4 award ($199)

·         Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf – Not Available for booking with points or cash

 

 

 St Regis San Francisco

St. Regis San Francisco

Starwood has the interesting feature of having two Category 5 hotels, W San Francisco and the Luxury Collection Palace Hotel.  The W San Francisco is typically the more expensive hotel, often by $100 or more.  The W San Francisco is being offered at the low season rate of 12,000 points for a room that will cost nearly $445 after the 14% city hotel tax is added.  The Palace Hotel is 16,000 points for New Year’s Eve, the Category 5 high season rate, for a room that will only cost $265 after tax.   The SPG member using points for the Palace Hotel will pay 4,000 more points for an award room that would cost $180 less than the same SPG category room at the W San Francisco Hotel.   

 

On New Year’s Eve I am usually sleeping by the time midnight cheer rings out.  In Monterey we have First Night on New Year’s Eve.  It is a wholesome family event on the Custom Plaza by the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf.

I even saw the Amsterdam Hilton available on New Year’s Eve for 40,000 points.  That was always a Diamond Desk intervention for my past award stays at the Amsterdam Hilton.  Make sure to request a canal side room for one of the most incredible fireworks displays in the world for the hour around midnight.

Amsterdam has the most amazing homegrown fireworks show I have ever witnessed as a traditional New Year’s Eve celebration activity.  Seeing thousands of rockets continuously explode in colored light every second across the city for over an hour dazzles the eyes.  The light display is a cultural phenomenon of the citizens of Amsterdam.  The upper floors of the Amsterdam Hilton with a canal side view is one of the best locations in Amsterdam for watching this eye candy event.

 

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A couple of days ago I went on a rant about my United Airlines experience this year.  I was asked to FAX my credit card statement to start trying to get back $500 in overcharges from United.  I sent the FAX machine to my wife’s school classroom last year since the school copier kept breaking down and she needed a photocopier in her classroom.  I’ll try the snail mail service option.

I hope United Airlines does not decide to ban me for bitching on my blog.  These things do happen.  I read one of the more popular blog posts on Tripso.com today that tells the story of a couple banned from Royal Caribbean cruise lines for complaining too much about trips and posting to CruiseCritic.com, the internet bulletin board for the world of cruisers.

Today I was looking at United Airlines website and the “Travel Options by United” program.

I currently have no elite status with United Airlines in 2008 after being 1K elite for half of this decade.  I just stopped flying in 2008.  Three trips to Denver and a flight to Las Vegas is the sum of my air travel for 2008.  My air travel carbon footprint went way down.  This is the first year ever that my wife has out flown me.

In June 2007 I flew Air France Business Class from Buenos Aires to Santiago on a $550 bargain Delta Business Class roundtrip fare from Buenos Aires to Washington D.C.  I luxuriated with a half-dozen other passengers in Business Class.  No passengers were seated in the four seat first class cabin.  I read through the flight magazine while dining on damn good cuisine for plane food.  The carbon calculator article in the flight mag blew me away with the statistical impact of air travel compared to other polluting processes. 

Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the Andes Mountains views, but I had a revelation and thought I should reduce the impact of flying around the world for the sake of flying to attain elite status and lots of wonderful cost-saving, travel-pleasing benefits like a much more pleasant airport experience with First Class check in lines, priority security and boarding, and airport lounge access for free food, drink, and showers.  Not to mention complimentary domestic and international flight upgrades. 

Over the past year the divide has grown immensely between benefits the airline provides to an elite traveler compared to a frequent flyer program general member or non-member general public flyer.

Many benefits come complimentary for the loyalty elite members.  

For the rest of the airline’s flyers there is a pay for access airline industry model of revenue enhancement compared to air travel of a few years ago.  You now have fees and pay for priority line access, baggage handling, airline lounge access, plane boarding order, seat and row position on the aircraft, food if the plane has any for sale, soda, water, nuts, online ticket purchase, offline ticket purchase, phone ticket purchase, airport ticket purchase, credit card purchase, and frequent flyer miles purchase.

We used to enjoy all the soda, water, and juice we could drink when flying cross-country.  Now cough up $2 or $3 a soda can and fork out another $6 to $8 for some food.  We used to get complimentary alcohol to be buzzed enough to pass out in an economy upright seat when flying abroad.  Now it is “credit cards only.  We don’t handle cash.”

I fondly remember flying back from Heathrow Airport, London after our honeymoon in the UK in 1989, flying Pan Am on a 747 to San Francisco with a group of British bikers heading to Laguna Seca Raceway here in Monterey.  We partied with the bikers and there were 12 cases of ale consumed between 20 to 30 people on that 10 hour flight.  The beer cases were actually stacked on the floor of the galley which is how I know there were twelve when we started.  We ran out of beer before landing in San Francisco. 

The flight would probably not have been so jovial if we had received a $1,500 drink payment due upon landing.

Travel Options by United

And now back to the point.  Today I was looking at United Airlines website and the “Travel Options by United” program.

The ticket for a two-hour economy flight I have to Denver next week can be customized.  I feel like I am in the Build My Own Custom Computer upsale game.

For $39 each way I can upgrade my seat to Economy Plus.  $78 added to my ticket.

For $115 I can buy an Award Accelerator of 3,840 miles.  This is 3 cents per mile or about $750 to buy the miles for a 25,000-mile domestic economy award ticket.  Award Accelerator is not an economical way to accumulate frequent flyer miles, however, it is a “green” way to earn miles.  Frequent flyer miles have always been equated to currency by frequent flyers, and now they are truly a currency commodity in the drive to sell flyers more miles for flying.

The award accelerators used to be handled with frequent flyer promotions. I preferred the good old days when the miles came free with promotions, like in 2004 when United gave elite flyers who met the qualifying criteria of flying 10,000 miles in January 2004 an opportunity to earn quadruple miles in spring 2004. 

The customize your flight options makes me think United Mileage Plus will move to fewer promotions as miles and services are pay-as-you-go and available to the infrequent flyer.  Complimentary benefits of air travel are more tightly restricted to elite flyers today and these elite flyers see the benefit of maintaining elite status to avoid the myriad of fees bestowed on the infrequent flyer. 

I wonder if the value difference between elites and non-elites will be narrowed now that programs like Travel Options by United are in place. There may be downward pressure on current prices in this deflationary travel economy.  The $39 each way Economy Plus fare could drop by half, if the number of Mileage Plus elites drops in 2009 and the Economy Plus section of the planes are not full. 

Still I guess this is good news for elites as the perks should be more accessible to lower elite members if the number of high elites declines in 2009 and 2010.

Denver for the Holidays

Monterey-Denver ticket price $314 round trip each ticket for two passengers

This is the simulated reality of a general member trying to fly United Airlines for holiday travel to see family and exchange gifts.  Hey, I’m a cheap ass and I don’t plan to pay for any of these add-ons.

United Travel Options: $626 in add-on fees and I still can’t get in the Red Carpet Club lounge.

$156 Economy Plus, $39 each way or $156 total for E+ seating both flight segments for two passengers.

$230 Award Accelerator – 3,840 Award Accelerator miles for each flyer’s account in addition to the 1,920 frequent flyer miles we earn for the base flight miles.  5,760 redeemable miles per account.

$80 Premier Line – $40 each passenger to access Premier check-in at Denver Airport, priority security line in Denver, and Seating Zone 1 boarding in Denver.   Monterey is a first in line, first served kind of airport.

$60 First Checked Bag Fee – $15 each way for one checked bag for two passengers.

$100 Second Checked Bag Fee – $25 each way for second checked bag and each passenger has a 2nd checked bag to hold all the holiday gifts.

Elite is still cheap

US Airways has had flights in the past two weeks for $400 all-in between San Francisco and Dublin, Ireland for the next three months.  Two roundtrip flights for a total cost of $800 and credit United Airlines Mileage Plus.   As a Mileage Plus Premier elite you will receive $400 of the above fee related services and benefits for free.  This is why there is still a community of frequent flyer mileage runners.

Is United creating a smart marketing environment to promote becoming an elite flyer?  Time will tell.

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