Last month I stayed 20 hotel nights in Europe spread across several major chains.
Marriott Rewards: 2 reward nights = 15,000 points at Courtyard Pilsen, CZ.
IHG Rewards Club: 3 reward nights = 15,000 points at Holiday Inn Brno, CZ.
Club Carlson = 6 paid nights = $660 spend earned 2 Free Fridays for future travel. Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam, Park Inn Prague, Radisson Blu Bratislava (3 nights), Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow.
Wyndham Rewards = 4 GoFast reward nights = $280 + 12,000 points at Ramada Apollo Amsterdam Centre.
World of Hyatt = canceled reward night at Hyatt Regency Amsterdam due to Club Carlson Free Fridays promotion favoring a shift to one paid night to Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam for $118.
Loyalty? Yes! Loyal? Not so much for my hotel travel
For years I focused my hotel spend on one major chain at a time to earn top tier elite status. For years reaching the threshold of 25 or 28 stays was often a challenge I only completed during the last week of December.
I started with Hilton in 1999 due to the ability to transfer airline miles into hotel points. I had several million miles across several airline frequent flyer programs.
One trip from California to Europe typically earned 25,000 miles and those 25,000 miles exchanged into 50,000 Hilton Honors points. From 2000 to 2003, most hotels in Hilton Honors could be booked for 6 night reward stays with 100,000 points. Every two trips to Europe earned 6 free hotel nights for a place like Amsterdam Hilton.
Starwood Hotels captivated me for a decade. I loved the hotels, but viewed the loyalty program with less favor as I watched the low category hotels move up in points cost each year, while points earning opportunities generally weakened with less lucrative promotions.
Hyatt Hotels was my darling partner from 2008 and through the ‘great recession’ years due to an abundance of properties in the San Francisco Bay Area coinciding with my wife’s 2009 year of cancer. We were bouncing around many different hospitals, sometimes requiring stays in San Francisco, more than 100 miles from our Monterey home. Hyatt promotions also became less lucrative with the best deals requiring a large number of hotel nights.
By 2013, I had also become disillusioned with Hyatt Hotels as the reward rates for the chain changed from a right skewed distribution with lots of hotels in the lower reward categories to a left skewed distribution with more hotels in the higher reward categories.
Change to European Scenery
I lived two years near Mainz, Germany as a teenager in the mid-70s. The lifestyle is one I always wanted to get back into full-time as an adult, but education, work, family interfered with becoming an expat. Spending two weeks in Europe on several trips each year is a nice alternative.
Hence, since 1997, except for 2008-2011, I generally spend 4 to 6 weeks in Europe every year. Since 2014 my time in Europe has increased to 2 or 3 months of weeks.
These changes to focus my trips on Europe coincides with the unrelenting record high room rates for hotel rooms in the USA over the past three years, while the US Dollar has strengthened against the Euro making hotel rates drop in price for American tourists there.
August 10, 2014 currency rates
1 GBP = $1.68
1 EUR = $1.34
1 USD = 6.24 NOK (Norway)
1 USD = 5.56 DKK (Denmark)
1 USD = 6.89 SEK (Sweden)
1 USD = 115 ISK (Iceland)
1 USD = 3.13 PLN (Poland)
1 USD = 233 HUF (Hungary)
1 USD = 20.79 CZK (Czech Republic)
1 USD = 1.45 BGN (Bulgaria)
August 10, 2017 currency rates
1 GBP = $1.30 (USD 29.3% stronger compared to August 2014)
1 EUR = $1.17 (USD 20% stronger)
1 USD = 7.96 NOK (USD 27.5% stronger in Norway)
1 USD = 6.34 DKK (USD 14.0% stronger in Denmark)
1 USD = 8.16 SEK (USD 18.4% stronger in Sweden)
1 USD = 106 ISK (USD is 8% weaker in Iceland)
1 USD = 3.64 PLN (USD 16.3% stronger in Poland)
1 USD = 260 HUF (USD 11.6% stronger in Hungary)
1 USD = 22.32 CZK (USD 7.3% stronger in Czech Republic)
1 USD = 1.66 BGN (USD 14.5% stronger in Bulgaria)
While the USD looks much stronger compared to three years ago for European travel, this currency exchange chart from today belies the fact that the USD has dropped 10% to 20% in value against nearly all these currencies since December 2016.
1 EUR = $1.05 USD on December 17, 2016
- USD is 11.4% weaker against Euro than Dec 2016.
1 USD = 27.02 CZK on Dec 17, 2016.
- USD is 21.0% weaker against CZK than Dec 2016.
1 USD = 4.42 PLN on Dec 17, 2016.
- USD is 21.4% weaker against PLN than Dec 2016.
Will the USD become great again or continue its 2017 dramatic decline against European currencies?
What does currency fluctuation mean for lodging in Europe?
Summer prices in Europe trend up for hotels. Major chain hotels with Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt and IHG tend to be among the more expensive hotels in many European cities.
The weakness of the USD compared to my six weeks traveling in Europe during winter and early spring 2017 meant I focused my summer hotel travel on redeeming hotel points for discount and free rooms.
Three weeks in Poland and Czech Republic since June 2017 meant summer hotel rates were at least 20% higher priced than during my winter travel due to a weakened US Dollar. Hotel points reward rates were generally unchanged.
This summer I kept my hotel spend under $1,200 for about 32 hotel nights, while earning at least three free nights with IHG and Club Carlson I can redeem for $300+ per night hotel rooms over the next few months in London or some other high priced city.
Poland Trip Report – Where my hotel loyalty lies (June 20, 2017)
Summer is Burning Season, Fall and Winter Earning Seasons
Fall and winter season travel is where I concentrate my hotel spend to coincide with better hotel loyalty promotions.
IHG Accelerate Sep 1-Dec 31 will allow me to stay three hotel nights for about $120. IHG Accelerate Sep1-Dec 31 registration open.
Wyndham Rewards MasterPass 7,500 bonus points per stay for two stays by October 31 will earn 15,000 points I can use for 5 more GoFast Reward nights. Ramada Apollo Amsterdam is a great $70 per night deal.
Choice Privileges points cover hotels for my Scandinavia transit stops. Most cheapest routes between California and Europe go through Sweden, Norway or Copenhagen. I hope to see another two stays earns 8,000 points promotion for the coming months.
Hotel loyalty programs still provide sufficient rebates to justify my loyalty to chains where I earn points and can redeem points. I don’t find much value for SPG and Hyatt in Europe. My loyalty trends to Club Carlson, IHG Rewards Club, Choice Privileges and Best Western over the past three years. One of these days I might even make a charge for Le Club Accorhotels points.
And if I find I can’t get good value from hotel loyalty programs for my travels, there are always independent hotels and Airbnb to fall back on.
Hotel loyalty still works well for me. But I am only loyal as long as I see the value proposition of points plays in my favor.
$39 suite at Best Western Bonum Gdansk, Poland in Feb 2017. I was disappointed to learn this hotel left Best Western in May.
Coming up: Cote d’Azur in October
My current airline ticketing issue is whether to pay $400 to fly British Airways San Jose SJC to Oslo in October or fly Norwegian for $140 to London Gatwick and fly back from Oslo for $139 on Norwegian. Or fly Copenhagen to Oakland for $174 and save the transportation difference with cheaper airport trains and hotel options transiting through Copenhagen vs. Oslo.
SAS would be my favored airline choice, but ticket prices are currently over $600 SFO to Oslo and I don’t want to wait too much longer to ticket my air travel.
My primary destination for October is Nice, Monaco and Cote d’azur of France. Portugal, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria are other destination ideas, but the more I think about it, the more I favor hanging out in France in a region I have not visited since I was a teenager.
I was blown away today when I saw the number of Best Western hotels in the region. Published rates are more favorable than reward rates, so I am waiting to see what kind of promotion BW Rewards will offer for October travel.
British Airways flies London Gatwick to Nice for $51 one way.