Seven flights; four airlines; one cruise ship; 65 hotel nights; seven hotels; six hotel brands; and approximately 20,149 miles in air, on road, rail, and water–this is what I learned from my summer of travel.
Use Hotel Status for the Point Multipliers
I currently have platinum status with Marriott and diamond status with Hilton. That basically keeps me covered no matter where I travel, because these are the two largest hotel chains globally and offer a range of properties from luxury to budget.
I’ve learned not to expect much from my hotel status. Food and beverage credits depend on the property; lounge availability depends on staffing; late check out depends on occupancy; room upgrades depends on the front desk representative’s mood. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve mostly been successfully at early check in and have always been lucky with late check out.
But the one perk no property can take away is the rate at which I earn points. My platinum status with Marriott means I earn 50% more points on room rates and incidentals. Diamond status at Hilton gives me a 100% bonus.
Don’t pursue hotel status for the notoriety. People use credit cards to jump ahead, and if anyone is an elite, no one is an elite. Besides, you only see a dramatic difference in how you’re treated at international properties, but using hotel status means you can accelerate the rate at which you earn points per stay. The more points you earn, the more you can save on future travel.
When It Comes to Travel, Loyalty Means Very Little
Confused? I mean, I did just go on about my status with the top two hotel chains, and I do enjoy the rapid rate of point accumulation. I don’t want to minimize the value of points, especially since that’s the next section, but dollars will always make more sense than cents.
Part of my freelance work involves negotiating hotel contracts. I could just as easily steer the client toward chains where I benefit from the points, but if it is a question of earning more points or paying less money, I’m always going to opt for paying less money. I’d like to consider myself a good stewart of my client’s finances, and I’m certainly careful with my own savings.
Early on in this blogging journey I wrote about breaking up with my bank. Fast forward to now, and I still have no regrets, and I feel the same way about allegiance to travel. I enjoy Southwest because of its fair rates, no luggage fees, and open seting, but if I find a better rate on a competing airline, I’m jumping to the other airline. This past summer it was more important to me to have a direct flight than it was to accumulate points.
I firmly believe you should always enroll in a company’s loyalty program. This coincides with my advice to use credit cards. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, you may as well get a little traction out of it, but remember, companies are not looking out for you. Loyalty programs are nothing more than an incentive for you to keep spending money on their service. Think of yourself as a company, and put your bottom line first. Make businesses chase you.
Travel Points Really Can Work for You
I wouldn’t blame you if you approached reward points with a certain level of skepticism. It’s hard to read about people claiming to pay for European vacations with points. There has to be a catch, right?
Bear in mind, the people typically making these claims are professional bloggers sitting on a large stash of points. One would hope they’re able to finance entire trips with points considering they’ve made a career out of travel reporting.
Of the seven flights I took this past summer, three were personal. I paid for these with points. That’s three flights that could have set me back more than $1,200. I also paid for five of my personal hotel nights with points, which could have easily set me back another $2,000.
I didn’t accumulate these points overnight. I’ve been stashing my points since March 2019 when I began taking credit cards more seriously. I knew I would eventually want to cash them out for a special occasion. Just like with saving money, you have to give yourself a goal so the effort has a purpose.
Sometime very soon we’ll talk about ways to accelerate your point accumulation. If you’re willing to do a little juggling, and willing to apply for the right combination of credit cards, you can generate points a lot faster than you think possible.
I hope my story helps you understand reward points are not a scam. It’s going to take time to get there, but you will get there and have your own recollection of how you were able to pay for a substantial piece of your vacation with points. Or, you’ll have enough points to meet life’s emergency travel scenarios.
Splurging is Acceptable When It is Practical
On my extended work assignment, I was faced with the question of doing my own laundry or sending it out for pickup and delivery. You already know where I’m headed here, but in my defense, I did my laundry once in order to have a basis for comparison, or maybe just to clear my financial conscience.
It was 10 PM on a Friday night. I headed down thinking no one else could possibly be doing laundry on a Friday night, but naturally, I was wrong. I had forgotten the annoying class of travelers that call themselves families. In fact, the lady with whom I rode the elevator pounced on the machines. I had to stop by the front desk to grab some complimentary detergent and dryer sheets. Damn that financial conscience.
So, fine. The laundry room was located adjacent to the swimming pool. I would just wait her out and enjoy the ocean breeze. The joke was clearly on me, because it was hot, humid, and I had to restart the dryer about six times before I decided I would just hang those clothing items in my room that hadn’t dried to my satisfaction. I went back up to my room after 2:30 AM and decided then and there I would pay for the convenience of having a laundry service deal with my dirty clothes, financial conscience be damned.
In further defense of my splurge, I was earning a per diem through my employer. I simply rebalanced my food expenses in order to accommodate my first world convenience. Would I have sent out my laundry had I been paying for the expense out of pocket? I would have likely done my own laundry at least once more, but you know, sometimes you really have to assess whether the chore is worth the time and effort.
You Get What You Pay For
I flew first class to my first destination of the summer. The only reason I did so was because I had pending credit through American that was on the verge of expiring. After applying the credit, I only spent about $50 for the one-way ticket.
Do you think first class is unattainable? Check out a few tips to claim your spot in a premium cabin.
Did I enjoy the wider seat and leg room? Absolutely. Beyond that, the drinks and snacks tasted the same. I could see first class being worth it on a long haul international flight. Then again, I grabbed a business class seat on a different flight and thought the leg room was more valuable than the wider butt surface.
I haven’t been on enough cruises to have elite status anywhere. I have been on enough cruises to articulate what I like and don’t like about specific ships though, and I finally paid a little extra to enjoy suite class. Sadly, it’s not something I could persuade myself to pay for on all future cruises, but the dedicated butler, reserved theater seating, smaller dining room, and elevated customer service was enough to make me think I’ll have to try the experience again when my savings allow for it.
This point is closely intertwined with the last. Premium travel could easily be considered a splurge, but for me, it’s also about efficiency. As a blind traveler, I understand it’s going to require extra effort to move around the world. Sometimes I want to pay for the added benefit of squeezing extra mileage out of customer care. I’m contemplating a Universal Studios trip next summer, and I might just have to save up for VIP passes to cut down on wait times and unnecessary wandering. I reference my blindness here, but this style of thinking could easily apply to families traveling with children or seniors.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend that extra money on something more practical? Sure, there’s always room for practical, but I don’t want to be that guy who works his tail off and never enjoys the fruits of his labor.
Tipping Goes a Long Way
Gratuity has gotten out of control. Pay a tip for picking up my own food at the counter? Come on, man. I don’t take kindly to companies that lean on tips to justify lower wages.
But there are situations when it might behoove us to be considerate humans. You should always aim to tip if you:
- Took a shuttle
- Got assistance at an airport or train station
- Handed off your bags to someone at a hotel
- Enjoyed an excellent tour experience
- Benefited from a friendly and helpful driver
- Were well taken care of by your restaurant server
It’s not that it took a summer of travel to learn the value of gratuity. Being away from home for a long stretch, however, reminded me of how warmer human interactions can be when you show a little extra appreciation. Yes, some of those roles survive on tips, but I am naïve enough to believe many of those people work in hospitality because they genuinely like people and want to do what they can to make our day just a little better.
Traveling Alone is Lonely Work
You might read this post and find yourself a little envious of my summer of travel. The personal travel was good. The work travel? This can be good when you travel with colleagues. Otherwise it can feel lonely to travel across cities where you don’t know anyone.
I’m ending on this note, because it’s easy to read people’s posts about where they’ve been and what they did. This might inspire a little envy, especially if you’re working at a job that does not provide travel opportunities. For some, the idea of being away from home for long stretches is highly appealing, the perfect opportunity to explore another corner of the world, and don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved exploring new foods, new cultures. Yet, for me, home is my base of operation.
Sometimes I think we spend more money and energy on things to feel as though we’re keeping pace with others. We then share snapshots of these purchases and hope people will believe we’re happy. And in some cases, we really might be, but if you ever scroll through your friends’ feeds and find yourself jealous of their life, remember people only tend to share the positives. I mean, I guess we all have those depressing friends who can’t wait to tell you about their latest drama. It takes all types to make this globe spin, but keep this in mind:
If traveling is part of your nature, go after the sort of opportunities that will make this possible, and maximize your points along the way. Don’t be your own stumbling block.
Saving up your money, or points, to do a little traveling is always a great thing. Maximizing the trip to make it an even more worthwhile experience? Well, that just might be priceless.
Where are you likely to travel to next? What point strategy are you using to get there?