|by Jason Steele|
Yesterday, I wrote about how I generally see a lot of value in hotel loyalty programs and by extension, their affiliated credit cards. Generally, I find hotel programs to be more customer friendly, and hotel options to be more flexible. As a traveler, I may have few choices in airlines that will get me to my destination with a minimum of hassle, yet once I arrive, I usually have plenty of good hotel choices. As a reward traveler, I find that my hotel spending can meet or even exceed my airline costs, especially when traveling domestically.
Starwood Preferred Guest vs. Membership Rewards
Readers of this blog know that the Starwood Amex is my favorite reward card due to their easy rewards and their very helpful customer service. Whenever I have had the occasion to contact their customer service, they have always come to a resolution that met or exceeded my expectations. On the other hand, I have not had the occasion to use the Membership Rewards program offered by Amex. Both programs are highly regarded by reward card fans for their high degree of flexibility. While Starwood offers it’s industry leading awards with no blackouts and no capacity restrictions, it also offers transfers of points to miles on dozens of airlines.
Membership rewards offers transfers to airline miles as well as award seats on several airlines, if not as many as are affiliate with Starwood. That is what makes this latest offer interesting. Until September 22d, there is a 50% bonus on transfers from Membership Rewards to Starwood. The normal transfer rate from Membership Rewards to SPG is 3 to 1. This rate is not terribly favorable. The new 2 to 1 rate makes a little more sense to people who have a lot of Membership Rewards points who may need to top off a Starwood account.
Membership Rewards Hotels
It is tough to grasp how many different hotel options there are with your Membership Rewards Points. It is not that there are an infinite number of options, it is that they are laid out by property, and there are dozens of different properties. The awards vary in both points and value, and it takes some time to go through them all. At first glance, it does seem like most hotel stays start at 20,000 points. For that value, you could transfer to Starwood and stay at plenty of Westins that are 10,000 points a night, and get your fifth night free.
More Hotel Discounts
This is a tough year for hotels, and September and October are some of the toughest months of the year for the travel industry. That is probably why hotels are trying to unload rooms for discounted reward rates. Airlines can park their planes when fuel costs rise and traffic falls, but hotels have a far higher percentage of their costs already sunk into their property. Marriott is now discounting their awards 105 for general members, and 15% for those with status. Registration is required here and it is only valid for stays through January 15, 2010. The points look like a lot. For example, the web site says Denver to Dallas for 40,000 points plus $76. That seems pricey in a time where a round trip flight to Dallas is around $200 when paying with cash. Keep in mind that 10 points are earned for a dollar spent at a Priority Club hotel.
If you travel on business and spend many nights in hotels, keep your eyes open for deals and promos offered by hotel chains. The best deals in travel are often on the ground.