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.

 

 

IHG Reveals A List Of Disa-Pointbreaks Valid Thru 31 July

Really not much to interest eco-travelers here. Or anyone for that matter.   Here’s a few that would be good for layovers before heading out to more interesting parts of the country.  Goa would be a nice place to hang out for a beach holiday though for India I much prefer Kerala.  Full Pointbreak list is here.

INDIA
HOLIDAY INN RESORT GOA

THAILAND
CROWNE PLAZA BANGKOK LUMPINI PARK

SOUTH AFRICA
CROWNE PLAZA JOHANNESBURG – THE ROSEBANK

COSTA RICA
CROWNE PLAZA SAN JOSE COROBICI
HOTEL INDIGO SAN JOSE FORUM COSTA RICA

PANAMA
HOLIDAY INN PANAMA CANAL

AUSTRALIA
HOLIDAY INN TOWNSVILLE

FIJI
HOLIDAY INN SUVA

Small town America seems to be the winner here as there are tons of hotels listed.  This could work well if you need to visit family in one of these towns.  Otherwise, this is a pretty boring list.

IHG is even having trouble selling points at a discount on Daily Getaways, lots of packages are going begging!

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For me, I will use up what remaining points I have but won’t be chasing any more.  I’d rather book indie and have more choices!

Are Hotel Points Even Worth It For Eco-Travelers?

The latest bad news is all over FlyerTalk and the travel blogosphere – Hilton is the latest hotel chain to devalue their points.  This isn’t a chain I paid much attention to, I only joined it for the US Grand Slam hits a few years ago.  Other chains were easier to earn points in and what I earned in Hilton came mostly from E-Rewards and Topguest (until my account and my husband’s got “Celested” last year).

So are hotel chains worth it?  It’s getting harder to earn points for leisure travelers with fewer promos on offer.  The only deals that are even worth it are the credit cards that give a free night or generous anniversary point bonus.  Eco-lodges where I can see wild birds is my #1 priority and they need to be booked either direct with the lodge or sometimes via online TA’s such as Expedia, Travelocity and Hotels.com which you may need to do to use a credit card.   You can’t get them with points, need cash!  True, we still need accommodation at gateway cities and hotel points can come in handy for that.

For non-eco-trips such as big cities or beach resorts hotels points are useful but Priceline and Hotwire could also be an option or Wotif for Aussies.   Fortunately for me, I still have a decent supply of points in Club Carlson and Priority Club and have a shiny new SPG Amex so we will be pretty well set for the next few years.

Moving forward, this is my strategy which will work better for people who can get USA credit cards and don’t have other issues such as travel for work and getting elite status.  I will still keep chasing airline miles but for accommodation, I can see a shifting of focus to cash-back cards and promos to help pay for eco-lodges in my future.

FIRST CHOICE PROGRAMS

1.  CLUB CARLSON – they have properties in some good areas for eco-tourists such as Panama, India, Puerto Rico and others.  We did last year’s promo for the Big Night Giveaway and my new Club Carlson visa gives a free award night with redemption of 2 or more nights and 25k annual bonus.

2.  PRIORITY CLUB – their best deal is the Pointbreaks but it’s luck of the draw if they will have one at a hotel you are planning to stay at and I am not the sort who will go somewhere JUST because there is a Pointbreak there.  The Chase Visa gives an annual free night and with my previously earned stash, we’re pretty well fixed.

3.  SPG – All points will come from either the SPG Amex or can be transferred in from my Aussie Amex.  This is a very flexible program because if you can’t find a hotel to spend your points on, you can always transfer them to an airline at 20,000 SPG = 25,000 airline miles.

POTENTIALLY USEFUL PROGRAMS

4.  CHOICE – good value in Europe, Australia is a bit pricey.  I have a good stash from last year’s Discover America program but not planning to chase more points here.  When they are gone, goodbye!

5.  WYNDHAM – just had a devaluation, I personally don’t find much value in their hotel rewards and you have to call to book international awards which is a pita.  This program is only useful if they have a good promo (can do phantom stays)  and then I would transfer the points to an airline for 8000 Wyndham = 3200 airline.

NOT PLANNING TO USE (UNLESS I CAN PRICELINE THEM)

6.  HYATT – nothing wrong with this program and they have great hotels, they are just more expensive for me than Club Carlson and Priority Club.  Business travelers seem to really love Hyatt so your needs may be different.  I did use some Chase Ultimate Rewards to book Hyatt Regency Maui for later this year because my main chains don’t serve Maui or in SPG’s case, they didn’t have cash &  points.

7.  MARRIOTT – nice hotels but just not good value for redemptions and hard to get points.

8.  HILTON – again, nice hotels but just not good value for redemptions and hard to get points

9.  BEST WESTERN – good coverage and reasonably priced for cash but points redemptions not good.  I’d stay at a BW but use a portal like UR, Hotels.com or similar and not bother accruing to the BW program.

Priority Club Dishes Up Some Disa-Pointbreaks

I had been up late last night (in my timezone) when reports of 5000 point hotels started trickling in on FlyerTalk.   Since I need 3 nights in Bali, I waited up to see what would transpire.   No luck for me, Bali was not included in the list finally released.  Although eco-travelers came out fairly unscathed with the recent award chart devaluations (big cities got hammered), most of us were expecting a halfway decent Pointbreaks list for Feb and March to make up for it; so there was disappointment all around.

Pointbreaks

The list finally went up after a few false starts and very few people had something to be happy about.  Here’s a few that may be of use:

Fiji Intercontinental – nice base to relax in between trips to outer islands and there are some bird species in the vicinity.

Auckland Airport – you’d pass through here enroute to Australia or the Pacific Islands so why not get a free night to rest up before the flight?

Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – useful if you are enroute to or from Kruger or Magoesbakloof.

Holiday Inn Sumare, Sao Paulo – inconvenient location but if you are taking a bus to the Pantanal and need an overnighter, it’s an option.

Crowne Plaza Maruma, Venezuela – with all the parrots in Venezuela, worth a look.

Crowne Plaza West Hanoi – people on FlyerTalk say it’s inconvenient to the city but it may have birding nearby so check it out.

Check out the whole Pointbreaks list.

Hotel Point Devaluations On Starwood And Priority Club – Should Eco-Tourists Care?

Well it all depends……………since you can’t book eco-lodges on points (though you can get pretty close).  I’m sure no one has missed the hubbub in the travel blogosphere and FlyerTalk.  The Priority Club devaluations were expected as they had been announced in advance.  The SPG devaluations on the popular cash and points rates were a surprise, although they at least gave notice that you can book the old rates until 5 March.  The most frustrating thing is that not all of their hotels offer C&P rates or they only put them up a few weeks in advance like the Maui properties.  Some people are liking the new option to use more SPG points to book upgraded rooms or suites.  Loyalty Traveler has an excellent analysis of the new rates.

So, do I as an eco-traveler care?  Not really.  Although we do plan to stop in Maui on the way home from Central America and were planning to use either SPG or Hyatt (via Ultimate Rewards) points; we may just Priceline it.  Otherwise, we only really use chain hotels in gateway cities such as Lima, Peru to rest up between an international flight and the domestic leg to the national park we are headed to.  SPG is a big part of my miles and points earning plan but I have better use for the transfers of points to airline miles and I prefer to use other programs such as Priority Club and Club Carlson for gateway hotels.  If they stopped giving the bonus 5000 miles with every block of 20,000 points sent to an airline such as AA, THEN I would be pretty upset!

Moving on to Priority Club…………..FlyerTalk had been speculating for days and in some cases, the devaluations were huge, but there were some bright spots.  Once again, Loyalty Traveler has an excellent blog about it.  Another hotel point specialist blogger, Loyalty Lobby has a great PDF with ALL the Priority Club properties on it which makes it very easy to see the potential gateway cities for our eco-adventures as well as his intended purpose of tracking the new point requirements.

We will be visiting Bali after 2 weeks of birding in West Papua in a couple months.  Nice little treat after hiking through rainforests and sleeping in small guesthouses!  Priority Club gaveth (HI Baruna went from 25k to 20k) and tooketh away (IC Bali went from 30k to 35k).  I still have my fingers crossed for a PointsBreak here when the list goes up probably next week.

Most Australian properties went up, bad news for birders and everyone else since the AUD is so strong right now, last thing anyone wants is something else to go up!   Gagudju Crocodile in Kakadu National Park which is one of the top eco-tourism destinatons in the world (and you can stay there on points!) went up from 15k to 20k – Ouch!  Alice Springs went down from 25k to 20k but it’s really just a jumping off point to better birding in the Outback.

HIX in Cuiaba, Brazil stayed the same.  This hotel can be useful as a jumping off point to the Pantanal but be mindful that Cuiaba is undergoing a lot of roadworks and it’s easy to get lost getting out of the city.  I got it last year on a Pointsbreak but regretted going so far from the main highway to the Pantanal.  I got lost and had to pay a local R$20 (about $10 USD or AUD) to escort us to the highway!   Also in Brazil and useful to eco-travelers is the Crowne Plaza Belem which went down from 25k to 20k.

The Pacific Islands fared a bit better.  The IC Fiji stayed the same at 30k, but the HI Suva went down from 20k to 15k and Suva is where you have to change planes on Air Pacific (soon to be Fiji Airways)  hops around the islands.  Over in Tahiti which I plan to visit in 2015 to see the Ultramarine Lorikeet in Ua Huka, the IC Papeete stayed the same at 30k but the much more pleasant IC in Moorea went down from 30k to 25k – hope it stays down!

If you are dreaming of Echo Parakeets in Mauritius, good news, the IC stayed the same.

I was happy to see CP Jerusalem go down from 25k to 20k as we plan to visit the Holy Land after the World Parrot Congress in Tenerife next year.  (More on that as the time approaches, but it’s every 4 years and I hoard miles for it).

Anyone want to see the endangered Puerto Rican Amazon?  The IC which is the closest to El Yunque Rainforest and an easy day trip stayed the same at 50k ( I would use a Chase free night for this one) but if you don’t mind a bit of a drive the HI Mayaguez is still only 15k.

It was also noted on Flyertalk that Wyndham has been quietly devaluing their hotel redemptions.  My answer is:  Who cares?  The best use of WR points is airline miles!

Has anyone else noticed any devaluations I missed that would be of interest to eco-tourists?

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!