Nov042014

Trip planning, booking and rechecking trip plans

Denver, Dublin, London. I have three trips planned over the next four weeks. That is 17 hotel nights. Trip planning, booking and rechecking trip plans is my take on how I see travel planning.

Which comes first in trip planning?

The destination, the airline plan or the hotel plan?

Circumstances often determine the order of planning.

Of my three trips, Denver was planned as a necessary family trip back in August. The destination was in my mind and there was a good opportunity airfare sale on Frontier for $133 round trip San Francisco to Denver.

Hotel stays have been booked for Denver over the last two weeks to take advantage of Hyatt and IHG targeted promotion offers available for November hotel stays.

The rental car was the most expensive component of the trip when there were no rates under $200 for a 3-day rental at time of initial planning. Over the past month, I saw rates drop to $150, then down to $105 in the past ten days and I booked a full-size car rental this past Friday for three days for $67 all-in. I had a $126 bid rejected by Priceline for the same rental car period on October 18, 2014. So I am lucky the Priceline bid was a fail. $67 all-in for three days with Fox Rental car beats Priceline. My total rental car rate for three days is the same as the minimum daily rental rate at any major car rental company three weeks ago. I have rented from Fox before at Denver and it went fine.

It saves to recheck travel rates up until the time you go for price drops on the flexible cancellation aspects of the trip like cars and hotels.

Denver hotels have been more challenging than usual. Rates are relatively high compared to prior trips to Mile High. Sheraton and Courtyard Downtown are $239 per night. I don’t think I have ever paid more than $100 per night for the Sheraton Denver Downtown. I stayed last year in Crowne Plaza Denver Downtown for free on an approved Best Price Guarantee claim. Starting rates at Crowne Plaza are $210 per night for my trip. There are not many deals to be found in downtown Denver with most of the major brands priced at $200+ per night. Since we have a car in Denver, hotel hopping is my strategy for three nights in three hotels to maximize promotion bonuses with three stays.

London was Kelley’s trip destination choice. In this case the destination was set with no date in mind. Again, the airfare opportunity made London viable on October 14 when American Airlines ran an airfare sale to Europe. SFO-DUB under $500, SFO-Europe under $750. Kelley had an $800 e-voucher expiring March 2015 and it has been a tough year to find discount airfare on American to Europe. I often wished she had a United e-voucher. United and Delta have seemed to me to offer many more fare sales to Europe than American Airlines in the past year.

Kelley’s San Francisco to London round trip ticket came out to $33.30. Rather than paying $834 for my ticket, my flight destination is American Airlines to Dublin for $539 from San Francisco and I paid $114 for round trip Dublin to London on RyanAir. I saved $180 on airfare to London and get to spend five nights in Dublin as a consolation benefit of additional air travel.

Hotel stays in London and Dublin are all set to fulfill the IHG Into the Nights promotion for me requiring a stay in two countries other than the USA. We will take advantage of Club Carlson hotel points with two night stays using ‘Club Carlson Visa second reward night is free’ benefit. Loyalty Traveler – London with Club Carlson points and Club Carlson credit card.

Another benefit of Club Carlson Visa is complimentary Gold elite which opens the option of 2-for-1 paid weekend discount rates.

Loyalty Traveler – Club Carlson Gold elite 2-for-1 rates scarce availability in London and Dublin

I have two nights at the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Dublin booked for 120 EUR, less than $80 per night. The 2-for-1 rate is not widely available in London or Dublin on short notice and relatively few dates are offered based on my look at flexible date calendars for these rates.

Plotting the Travel Destination

I find learning about a destination is something I am doing regularly in life in general reading. I read travel articles about places and see movies and develop an interest in visiting a place.

The airline ticket generally comes first to set the travel dates and sometimes even the destination, unless I already have set dates and location for travel based on an event.

Until dates for travel are set, then everything else about trip planning can be a wasted effort or at best a leisure activity. In my travels, unless I am going to a conference or event, the airline ticket is the first piece of the travel puzzle to put in place. Nonrefundable flights set the travel dates and then hotel nights can be planned.

I have also learned over the years that checking hotel options before buying the ticket is a good idea. Iceland ($58), Alaska ($123)  and Venice ($257) are tickets I purchased in the past and then canceled the trip when the estimated cost of my lodging exceeded the value I placed on the trip. Spending $1,000 on high priced accommodation is not necessarily a good travel budget choice at times, even if the airline ticket was only $100. Perhaps the high cost of lodging is less of an issue these days with Airbnb options.

Hotel Check-Off List

November 2014 is currently in my head as a check-off list of hotels.

IHG, despite its Into the Nights fiasco, offers me what I estimate to be a $100 credit on the cost of a hotel room. I see a $120 room at an IHG hotel and I calculate the actual long-term cost will be $20 per night since I will get $300 hotel value from the two free nights I earn after three paid hotel nights at IHG hotels. That is the best rebate value I can get and makes IHG my first choice hotels for travel. Loyalty Traveler – Dealing with IHG Into the Nights Fiasco.

Hyatt Hotels offers 2,000 bonus points on my next two stays in November. I received a targeted offer of 2,000 bonus points on three stays.  Loyalty Traveler Hyatt Gold Passport targeted offers Sep 1- Nov 30, 2014. Hyatt is offering 1,000 bonus points for mobile app bookings by December 31, 2014. I also have some Diamond elite suite upgrades to burn. Hyatt is my second choice hotel chain.

Marriott could get some attention after I run through IHG and Hyatt, since I receive 2,500 bonus points beginning with the second stay as my Marriott Rewards MegaBonus offer to January 15, 2015.  Versions of Marriott MegaBonus Sep 15, 2014 to Jan 15, 2015. That second stay is the sticking point. Marriott has been the hotel chain where I have seen potential best rate guarantee claims for sub-$100 per night rooms in Denver, but IHG and Hyatt have been filling the hotel night slots just fine for that short trip.

Hilton double points is not much to get excited about, but I do have Gold elite which can mean a free breakfast and Hilton brands in Denver show some of the lowest hotel rates. Loyalty Traveler – Register for Hilton HHonors Double Up Double Points Nov 1 to Jan 31, 2015.

Time to get the hotel puzzle pieces for November trips in place. December travel planning will be necessary soon.

*****

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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