Peter sends in the following question regarding hotel loyalty:
I’ve never been able to rationalize earning points or attaining status in hotel programs given what priceline can get you; of course, I’m talking about the leisure traveler who doesn’t need to stay right across the street from the convention center or doesn’t need an amenity that a particular hotel offers. Just to throw a few data points out there, I have gotten the London marriot park lane for 100 pounds a/i, the regular rate was around 225 pounds and I have also gotten a Newjersey Hyatt for $42 a/I, regular rate was $112. That said, what does loyalty get you?….room upgrades, amenity kit, breakfast, lounge access, and internet. To me, all that isn’t worth paying double and sometimes triple the price. I’ll pay the $10 – 20 if I need internet, I could do without lounge access; as far as breakfast is concerned, I’d rather sample the local fare at a café than pay the $20 eggs and bacon at the hotel. So then there’s the room upgrade. Sure, its nice, but I’m already getting a comfy bed with a good bathroom at a nice hotel. Its not like I’m jumping from economy class to business or first where I’m getting a lie flat bed, decent food, and premium alcohol. Not to mention how much more expensive the gap is between economy and business that the only practical way to be in the premium cabin is to use miles or upgrades. But maybe you see things in a different light. Is it just the convenience of having status, getting to the hotel and being upgraded and treated like royalty as opposed to sweating it out on priceline? Given my two hotel examples above, I can’t justify doing anything else but pricelining hotels. Thanks in advance for your input.
This is a great question, and one I struggled with for the past couple of years, but I think I’ve finally found the answer. There’s no doubt that Priceline is tough to beat for the occasional leisure traveler, and possibly even the frequent leisure traveler. And if you can’t understand why people would do mileage runs, you probably won’t understand my reasoning here either, because you actually have to enjoy the hunt and often the time it takes to attain status to fully get the “value” out of it.
This might surprise some, but I think in general you’re right, you’re better off using Priceline for your hotel stays. It’s hard to beat the price. Yet, as a guy very much focused on “the numbers,” I haven’t used a third party booking site for a hotel even once this year. Why? Because I stick to the right programs.
For someone that has a good mix of international and domestic travel, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re typically not going to get enough value out of Hilton, Marriott, or Starwood, if you’re just focused on cost.
Hilton has a limited number of promotions, and even with their second quarter promotion you’d only earn one free night at any hotel after every four stays. In addition to that, points earning opportunities are somewhat meager, and elite benefits aren’t that great either. At Hampton Inn hotels, you’re not getting a whole lot as an elite, since internet, parking, and breakfast is typically already free. At the high end international properties, you’re just getting lounge access.
It’s much of the same for Marriott. While they’re a great chain and their elite members are typically quite happy, you’re not getting all that much value out of the program as a leisure traveler. They just don’t have promotions that make a compelling enough case to be loyal to them as opposed to using Priceline, especially given their high elite qualification tiers.
Starwood is right on the border of being worthwhile for someone looking to minimize their costs, given the “cash and points” redemptions they have. They also typically have pretty good promotions, like their current promotion, whereby you get one free night for every three stays you make. Make three stays at Four Points domestically, and you get a free stay at a hotel in an expensive international city. Their elite benefits are pretty good, though they come mostly in the form of suite upgrades, which isn’t worth the world for someone looking to minimize costs.
Then there are the hotel chains that actually might be worth being loyal to as a full-on leisure traveler. Priority Club has a nice mix of hotels, and it’s very easy to get Platinum status with them, though that’s not worth the world. Most importantly to me, it’s very, very easy to rack up a lot of points. For a one-night Holiday Inn stay last year, for example, I earned 20,000 points. While that’s not really typical, the points earning opportunities are very, very good, and the redemption opportunities are great as well. Make sure to see this FlyerTalk thread for all the promotions Priority Club has. They also have the Friends & Family rate, whereby you can get something like 40% off the best flexible rate. Typically that will get you somewhat close to Priceline levels at many hotels.
But for the leisure traveler, the place I really see value is Hyatt’s Gold Passport program. Diamond status takes 25 stays or 50 nights, and the benefits are excellent, including free internet, a few confirmed suite upgrades, and a hot buffet breakfast or club lounge access on all stays. This can be a real money saver. But that alone doesn’t make it worth the premium.
The real value comes from their amazing promotions. For example, the “Big Welcome Back” promotion just wrapped up, which was insanely profitable for me. Through it, Hyatt offered one free night for every two stays. In many (most?) US cities, there are Hyatt Place hotels for around $60-70/night. Throw in some Costco certificates to get 20% off, and you’re looking at about $60/night all-in. That means a free night is “costing” you $120.
That free night can in turn be used in cities like Sydney, Tokyo, or Paris, where hotels would run you quite a bit more. Best of all, you still get all elite benefits if you have status, so as a Diamond you’d get free internet, lounge access or free breakfast, etc. I’d say that’s worth quite a bit.
As if that’s not enough, Hyatt has had some equally nice offers to sweeten the deal even more. They offered 5,500 American Airlines miles per stay for five stays, and offer 2,500 United miles per stay for United elites through next January.
Now this free nights promotion doesn’t run all year, but we just finished an earning period of about three months, and rumor has it that the promotion will be back in August for another four months. So that’s seven months out of the year where you can earn nights at a very low rate, and I’d say in this case, it’s a substantially better deal than Priceline.
As I pointed out earlier, this isn’t for everyone. You actually have to enjoy the game for this to be profitable. “Mattress running” is work as well, though you can minimize the negative impact by just “mattress running” when you’re somewhere you need to stay anyway. So if you need to stay in a smaller US city, instead of using Priceline, book a Hyatt Place. You could earn quite a few miles, plus half a free night, plus the Diamond amenity bonus (if you were a Diamond). Or if you need to make a trip anyway, consider hotel hopping. If you’re staying in San Francisco, for example, hop between the three Hyatt properties.
So what’s the moral of the story? You’re not doing anything wrong by using Priceline. As a leisure traveler you’re definitely not “missing out” or being blind by using it. But if you like five star hotels at bargain basement prices while getting some of the best rooms and amenities available, promotions like the ones Hyatt has are unbeatable. I’m pretty sure on a cost per stay basis for my vacations this summer, I’m doing better than anyone could have done using Priceline.