Any Value In Daily Getaways For Eco-Tourists?

Longtime miles & points junkies will be familiar with the annual US Daily Getaways Program.  In the golden days, it was once possible to leverage cheap Wyndham Rewards points to cheap airline miles and I must admit to taking full advantage in years past.  That all came to a halt last year when Wyndham devalued their transfer ratio and the Daily Getaways put up their price.

This year the promo will run 23 March to 24 April and the first 3 weeks have already been posted.  Since there is no longer any value in airline transfers unless you just need a couple 1000 as a top up, the best reason to buy these points is to use them for hotels.  I know all the miles/points/travel blogs will be covering the best deals in a general sense so I will only address the best deals specifically for eco-tourists who want to use points to stay cheaply some place within a day trip of a good bird watching location.

In all of the examples below, you need to determine if it represents a good value to you.  You need to check if the chain hotel is where you really want to be or would you prefer to just pay for a night in a non-chain hotel.  For myself, I have decided that I will not pay money to stay in chain hotels but I will stay in them if I get an extremely good deal from a credit card.  The only credit cards I deem useful to me are the IHG Rewards & Club Carlson Visa.  I have no interest in any other hotel chain credit cards.

Daily Getaways 1

Daily Getaways Week 1

 

WEEK 1

3 major chains have points on offer, – IHG, Club Carlson & Hilton

IHG does have some good properties in places like Accra, Ghana (day trip to Shai Hills, my review coming soon), Tahiti (between hops to Rimatara & the Marquesas), Panama (day trip to Soberania NP) & Puerto Rico (day trip to El Yunque).  Historically these points won’t sell out quickly as you can buy IHG Rewards using the book & cancel method.

Club Carlson also has a property in Puerto Rico and Panama suitable as above.  I also used the Radisson Blu to good advantage for a day trip to Birds of Eden, Tahiti on a layover and a pre-flight stay in San Jose, Costa Rica.  These points will go moderately fast as they are very useful to anyone who has the Club Carlson Visa card and gets a free night for at least one night booked on points.

The Hilton packages don’t seem to be that great of a value and I don’t see them selling out.  While we did enjoy our stay in Mauritius last year which cost 80,000 points for 2 nights, there is no way I would have spent $500 to purchase 100,000 points for those 2 nights.  We got those points by doing social media games which are no longer running for free.  If we hadn’t had the points, we would have used Pointshound to book something cheap and earn miles.

Daily Getaways 2

Daily Getaways Week 2

 

WEEK 2

Nothing here to interest eco-tourists.  The Choice points on Friday are excellent value when used in Europe but that’s out of scope for this blog.  Here is a good example of a blogger who is making excellent use of this promo for his trip to Europe.  Last year, we used 10,000 Choice Rewards to stay in Venice at a hotel that would have cost over $300!  They are the only thing I see going fast so if you want some you will have to be ready to go right at 1:00 pm ET.  (US time zone as in New York if you need a converter).

Daily Getaways 3

Daily Getaways Week 3

WEEK 3

Once again, nothing of interest to eco-tourists.  The Hyatt packages will go extremely fast because people who want to stay in luxury hotels will snap them up but Hyatt doesn’t have any properties in places that also have good birding.

WHAT AM I DOING?

Sitting out this year!  Since I am a good advance planner, I have already determined that I have enough hotel points for our needs for the next 3 years.  Most of our stays will be at independent properties, I just like them much better and I like having more choice.  Nothing worse than being stuck in a bad location because that’s where your points hotel is!

Using Points To Stay In Mauritius

Any way you look at it, Mauritius is not a cheap place to stay, even on points!  Only 4 hotel chains are represented here so you don’t have a lot of options.  If you have gotten hotel points via credit cards, these could be a great use of the points as cash rates are very high.  For the examples below, I did a quote for 1 night Saturday 9 May.

ACCOR LE CLUB

With Accor, every 2,000 points acquired results in €40 off your bill. If you have enough points your stay could be free, or simply pay the remaining balance using your credit card.  For the first hotel you would need 24,000 Le Club points and 12,000 points for the 2nd one.  You have to add taxes to the rates below.   MRU Sofitel

HILTON HONORS

There is only one Hilton property in Mauritius and if you can snag a capacity controlled cash&points award this can be a really good deal! MRU HiltonIHG REWARDS

The Intercontinental would be an excellent use of a Chase free night certificate!  They also have a new hotel near the airport which could be a good idea if you have an early flight out.  The traffic can be horrendous!

MRU IHGSPG

Cash & Points looks like a pretty good deal!

MRU SPGBOOK NON-CHAIN HOTEL & EARN MILES

If you don’t have enough hotel points or prefer to pay cash, there are lots of options on both Pointshound & Rocket Miles that allow you to earn in a wide choice of airline programs.  If you use the links I posted, you and I both get a bonus after you complete your first booking.  This is currently 1000 miles!

 

A Major Weedout Of Hotel Programs

If you saw yesterday’s post about the Radisson Blu in Port Elizabeth, you got a general idea of how having the right credit card can save you lots of money on accomodation.  Mainstream travelers who mostly visit cities have a huge advantage over eco-tourists because they tend to stay in one city for a couple days at least.  Maximizing the Club Carlson Visa assumes you want to stay in one hotel for at least 2 days.  There are a few places around the world where there are good birding sites within a short drive of a Club Carlson property so you can take advantage of the freebies and not waste your time in a city when you would rather be in a rainforest lodge.  The example of Port Elizabeth with the day trip to Birds of Eden is one such example, Panama City is another and I really saved a bundle in Tahiti when we had to wait 2 days for the next flight to Rimatara to see the beautiful Rimatara Lorikeets.  We also made good use of the “get one night free” during our travels in Israel & Europe before we went to Tenerife for the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque.

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WHY DID I HAVE ALL THESE HOTEL POINTS ANYWAY?

Although I am by nature a “free agent” and prefer to choose hotels by location and convenience, not because of loyalty to one chain; between 2009-2011 I found myself a member of just about every hotel program in the book.  Why?  Because I wanted “hits” in the US Airways Grand Slam promo.  This was the cheapest way to get a large number of miles with very little extra cost over what I would normally pay for something.  I did direct a lot of our discretionary stays to these programs to get these “hits”.

Fast forward to 2012.  Everyone in the miles & points community was expecting Grand Slam to happen again in the usual time of Sept-Nov.  We painstakingly did surveys, played Facebook games and did Foursquare “check-ins” to get free hotel points.   Well guess what?  2012 came and went and no Grand Slam.  2013 came and went, still no Grand Slam.  And now US and AA are merging so there won’t ever be a Grand Slam again.  I had all these hotel points and had to do something with them.

Since we usually stay in small eco-lodges in remote locations, we have very little use for hotel points other than what has been mentioned above.  Mostly we use them at airports before or after a flight.  After several devaluations were announced, I knew I had to spend these points asap before they were totally worthless.

2014 was my year for massive burning of hotel points.  100,000’s of Club Carlson were used as above.  100,000’s of IHG Rewards were burned in French Polynesia, Israel & Africa (actually this includes the annual Chase free night certificate).  I used E-Rewards to top up Hilton just enough to get us 2 free nights in Mauritius and used Choice for one night pre-cruise at the Comfort Inn Diana in Venice, then sent the remaining points to United Airlines.  Now here I am at the end of 2014 and the only hotel points I have left are about 25k in Club Carlson, 30k in IHG and about 12k in La Quinta from the Facebook game last year.

MAKING THE DECISION – WHO STAYS AND WHO GOES

Looking to 2015 and beyond, I now need to assess which hotel programs (if any) I will keep.  I also need to know which hotel credit cards to get rid of.  To do this, I used two maps made by Drew at Travel is Free.  One for Club Carlson and one for IHG.

1. IHG is a keeper for the long run.  The $49 for the card which gets a free night certificate is easily worth it.  In any given year, we would need at least one stay at an airport hotel and IHG serves this market well.  They have properties at most of the gateway cities we would be transiting to get to eco-lodges.

2.  La Quinta is easy, there is one near my Mom’s house so I know what to do with them.

3.  Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Choice, Best Western & Wyndham are either zeroed out or have a few orphaned points (less than 1000) and we won’t be needing any of these chains for the foreseeable future.

4.  SPG is more valuable for airline transfers into otherwise difficult programs such as Flying Blue.  I have the credit card because of the bonus but never use it because they have no category bonuses and they charge forex fees.  Plus I can use my Aussie Amex to transfer into SPG so this card can go, but I will keep my SPG account active.

5.  My Club Carlson Visa also comes up for renewal next month – $50 since I only have the basic card (silver status) not the more expensive one that gets gold status.  Using Drew’s maps, I can easily see that the only places I want to go to that have Club Carlson properties are Puerto Rico and Trinidad.  I can see spending 2 nights at the Puerto Rico one as it is within easy driving distance of El Yunque National Forest and the value of 2 nights is easily more than the $50 fee.  This trip is planned for mid 2016 so will be bookable in Oct this year.  In Trinidad, a trip planned for 2018, I would much prefer to stay at the Asa Wright Centre’s Lodge for the superb birding, even though it costs more than paying the card fee for 2 more years would cost.  So the verdict is keep this card one more year, then cancel it.

SO WHERE WILL I BE BOOKING HOTELS?

By the end of next year, I will be down to only one program – IHG for the annual Chase certificate.  SPG doesn’t count as it will be used for airline miles, not hotels.  The best thing for me to do moving forward is use the hotel booking engines that GIVE airline miles, not COST hotel points.  No more being stuck at inconvenient locations just to get a free night!  On the plus side, many eco-lodges also can be booked with these engines.

POINTSHOUND – I use it for AA or Flying Blue miles.  Has a wider variety of hotels than Rocketmiles and cheaper options.  Using my referral link gets us both 250-1000 miles depending on what promo they are running.

ROCKETMILES – larger miles payouts but limited selection and sometimes hotels cost more so check carefully.  Good for United or Flying Blue miles.  Using my referral link gets us both a 1000 miles bonus.

HOTELS.COM – used if I would rather get 10 nights for one free night (value is average expenditure for the 10 paid nights).  For example if we have 5 nights at a $150 hotel, 3 nights at a $50 hotel and 2 nights at a $100 hotel the total we spent for the 10 nights is $1100.  The average for the 10 nights is $110 so that is the maximum value of my free night.  It’s best to get as close as possible to that maximum value as you don’t get any left over value.  If you choose a $125 hotel you pay the difference of $15.  If you choose a $95 hotel, you forfeit the balance of the free night value of $15.  You can always maximize by booking a larger/better room or a bed & breakfast rate.  Sometimes they have good 5x bonuses in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall or Shop with Chase as they call it now.  I haven’t seen a referral program for this company.

BOTTOM LINE

Having a good idea of where you want to travel in the next few years or even having a bucket list of ALL the places you want to go if you either get the miles or win the lottery helps you make wise choices in which hotel programs (if any) to participate in.

 

 

Why I Am Generally Happy With Our Lodging

Hotel reviews are a hot topic today in the blogosphere and I thought I would chime in as I tend to get off the beaten track more than most travel bloggers in the miles & points world.  It was a thread on FlyerTalk that started it, then bloggers Kathy (Will Run For Miles) and Brian (The Gate) respectively blogged about their thoughts.

(Disclosure) I have no credit card affiliate links though I do get invited to publicly offered “member get a member” promos where existing cardmembers are given incentives to refer their friends to a card they have and get bonus points.  Chase does this often and has one active now.  But these promos are hardly enough incentives to give hotels false positive reviews.

There are two reasons I generally give positive reviews.  Firstly, I do HEAPS of research before booking a hotel or eco-lodge.  I spend hours reading reviews and in the case of eco-lodges trying to find bird lists in the vicinity of the property.  I know what I like and take care to book accommodation that I am pretty confident I will like and I usually get it right.

Secondly, I have realistic expectations.  I don’t expect an eco-lodge in the middle of the rainforest to have wifi, room service or even a swimming pool.  I know there will be bugs; hell it’s a RAINFOREST!  I’m prepared to bring my own mosquito coils and use them if the lodge doesn’t have mosquito nets.  I know that most rainforest lodges are off the grid,  will be using a generator and will probably switch it off at some point in the night.  So yeah, no fan or AC either!  But in this case, I do expect the rooms to have good ventilation so they don’t become sweat boxes!

I rarely use chain hotels other than in gateway cities before and after a flight and they will be booked using points gained from credit card promos.  We stay in a lot of chain hotels near airports and I don’t expect these to be as posh as the Hyatt Vendome.  All we need is an airport shuttle, shower and wifi so I can catch up on what I missed while I was in the rainforest.

I guess having had 30 years of backpacker travel experience helps, you should see some of the places I stayed in during the 80’s & 90’s!  My perspective is different than someone who started out as a young adult in the miles and points game and has only experienced 4 & 5 star hotels.

My reviews are never influenced by any special blogger consideration, eco-lodges don’t do that.  I give my honest opinion and I do mention ways the property can improve if I happen to think of any – just in case the management happens to read it.

Wyndham Rewards – Best Uses for Eco-Travelers

WHICH HOTELS DO THEY HAVE?

Wyndham Rewards is the frequent guest program of several different hotel chains.

Wyndham Hotels

The largest presence is in the USA with over 6500 hotels.  This can come in handy if you are connecting to an overseas flights and want a budget hotel for the night near the airport.  The odds are great that Wyndham will have several hotels near most major airports with free shuttles.

They also have a number of hotels overseas, some of which are in countries that will attract eco-travelers and birders.  I have highlighted these in yellow.

Wyndham Overseas Hotels

HOW MANY POINTS DO YOU NEED?

It varies widely depending on the chain.  Hotels overseas tend to be more expensive than those in the USA.

Wyndham Awards

For example, LAX has several hotels all ranging between 14,000 to 16,000 redemption.

Wyndham LAX Awards

Same hotels if you pay cash/credit – notice that they are not expensive!  Not a good use of points!

Wyndham LAX $$$

Now let’s look at Brazil as an example.  Most people will use Sao Paulo as an entry or exit point for Brazil and I do recommend spending your last night here to make sure you don’t miss your connection home.  Linhares is prime birding country but there are better options to stay which I will be blogging about later.  The Parana property is near Curitiba which also has good birding in the area.

Wyndham Brazil

HOW DO YOU EARN POINTS?

1.  Stay at Wyndham chain hotels.

Wyndham T&Cs

Wyndham T&Cs

2.  Get the credit card.