We Learned A Lot This Year About How To Increase Reward Points And Status
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Early in 2018, we confessed to being novices in the whole reward points and status game. But through 2018, we made a concerted effort to consolidate our brand choices. And we did a lot of travel in 2018! Through the year, we focused on building reward points and status. As a result, we managed to reach higher tier status levels this year. And to get definite benefits from this higher loyalty level. We wanted to share what we learned. And provide a few tips for achieving greater reward points and status.
Finally Got Airline Status
This year we made a real effort to book as much of our air travel as possible with Air Canada. Trips to Eastern Europe and then China provided the opportunity to book Business Class tickets. And get bonus miles for both seat class and the long distances travelled.
But this year we still had to deal with Aeroplan being separate from Air Canada’s Altitude Program. On Aeroplan, we only made Silver status. But with Air Canada we got 35K status. The Silver status really got us nothing of value.
But Air Canada 35K status provided us with benefits that we found valuable: preferred check-in, preferred boarding and lounge access. None of these privileges are really a benefit when we buy Business Class tickets. But we don’t fly Business Class when we fly south to the Caribbean, to Vancouver for the holidays or for short trips like to Washington for cherry blossom season.
Air Canada 35K status also provided free baggage. But this was less of a value for us since David gets free baggage as a retired military vet.
We are still accumulating Air Canada points. But it is still difficult to find flights to use the points on. And using points for Air Canada flights in Canada still meant we paid a lot of taxes and fees. We have figured that the best value for points is probably for trips to Vancouver to visit family. And to splurge on Business Class reward tickets. But on our last trip to Vancouver, there was a flight sale on. And the economy cash price was too good to pass up.
Our focus on getting greater reward points and status certainly worked for Air Canada in 2018.
Maintained IHG Ambassador Spire Elite Status
We love the IHG Rewards program for one major reason. They really know how to reward you for luxury stays. Status is earned for nights or for dollars spent. Since we travelled so much in luxury hotels, we maintained our Spire Elite status again this year through dollars spent. We really wish that our other loyalty programs rewarded the lifetime value we bring.
For us, the only real benefit we get from Spire Elite is the bonus points we get (100%). But we purchased the top-up to Ambassador status again this year. Ambassador status gave us one free weekend night that we used in Miami before our cruise to Cuba. The only thing to remember is that the rate for the other weekend night is at a higher “Ambassador Weekend Rate”. But still a good rate when averaged over two nights. And we were a bit disappointed that we did not get any spend credit for the purchased weekend night.
The other Ambassador benefit is a guaranteed upgrade at only InterContinental Hotels. In past years, we have had awesome suite upgrades in Bali and in Portugal. This made the Ambassador status really worth it. This past year, we found that the upgrades were generally only one level upgrade. It made us very careful about what room level we paid for if we really wanted a nice room upgrade.
Our focus on getting greater reward points and status certainly ensured we maintained our IHG Rewards status.
Added Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Status In 2018
The Marriott Bonvoy program was new for us this year. Note: For simplicity, all references to the Marriott program will reflect post merger of SPG and Marriott. And renaming the program to Bonvoy.
We got a status match and completed the challenge that got us Titanium Marriott Bonvoy status part way through our trip to Central Europe. We were excited to find that our Titanium status would be good until early 2020. This gave us all the Titanium benefits through 2019. But through 2019, we are focusing on retaining Titanium status for 2020 by building nights stayed.
Titanium status gives us great benefits that are of value to us. The point bonus is 75%. Free lounge access or breakfast is a great option for us. And the upgrades have generally been very good. We definitely loved our sweet suite upgrade at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal.
It was wonderful that there are so many brands in the Marriott Bonvoy program. There are options at every level from basic through to ultra luxury. For most of our travel, we never had a problem finding a good Marriott Bonvoy hotel. And we travelled for 185 nights in 2018!
But the variability in the benefits actually received at the Titanium status level varied so much between brands. And even for specific hotels within a brand. And as noted above, we really wish that Marriott Bonvoy would recognize dollars spent to get status. Click here to learn more about the program.
A dedicated focus on getting greater reward points and status helped us get Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status. And the high points that we accumulated will pay huge benefits for our travel in 2019. Many of the Marriott Bonvoy hotels will have higher points needed after March 2019. We were excited to book our 2 week vacation at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman all on points at the old rate.
We Continue To Have Loyalty Status Cruising With Oceania Cruises
Our cruising travel in 2018 was spread over three different brands. We continued to travel with Oceania Cruises. We have enough cruise credits with Oceania that we now get benefits that make it worth returning. Free gratuities and on-ship cruise credits help to reduce the out-of-pocket costs on top of the cruise fare. There are some discounted fares too.
But the Oceania loyalty program makes the least sense to us. We earned cruise credits based on nights sailed in tiers. And there was no difference based on dollars spent (i.e. cabin class booked). This means that you can get a cruise credit for taking a 7 day cruise in the cheapest cabin in the ship booked with a great sale price. Or you can get that same single cruise credit for sailing for 20 nights (the first tier is at 21 nights) in the most expensive cabin on the ship. You can hit the same high status levels with Oceania by spending little. Or a small fortune!
But even with this hurdle, we managed to make Silver status. Our cruise to the Baltic, Iceland and Greenland in the summer will add 2 cruise credits. And in 2020 we are sailing around South America for more than 50 days for another 3 cruise credits. This will take us to Gold status. Which gets us a free 14 day cruise! Certainly a great loyalty bonus. Although, we could have reached this level by spending far less money than we did.
We are slowly getting greater reward points and status with Oceania Cruises. But in 2020, we will see the big reward for our loyalty.
Added Cruising Loyalty To Two New Brands
This year we tried two new cruise companies. It was partially to try something different. But mostly because they had unique offerings to destinations we wanted. We booked our trip to China with Viking Cruises. It was a very unique experience with only 6 of the 23 days being cruising. As a first time Viking cruiser, we didn’t even get to go to the loyalty party and get a free drink.
We booked a cruise around Japan with Windstar Cruises. Windstar was the only one cruising in Japan when we visited after our trip to China. Before we committed to Windstar Cruises, we booked an easy Caribbean trip with Windstar to test them out. Two cruises got us free internet on the second cruise. And a free drink at the second loyalty party. We have not really explored what it will take to get loyalty status with Viking or Windstar. Or what benefits will come with loyalty status.
The next cruise brand on our travel wish list is the Ritz-Carlton Yacht. They set sail for the first time in 2020. And we are planning to try them out! We just wished we could use our Marriott Bonvoy points and earn points for those sailings. It would certainly be great to explore Titanium status benefits on the yacht. But so far, this yacht program is totally separate from the hotel program.
Spreading our cruising travel over multiple brands has not helped us get greater reward points and status. But we enjoyed the chance to try new brands. It was great to have an option when Oceania Cruises either did not do the same trip for the timing we wanted. Or was not in that area when we wanted to go.
Things We Learned To Get More Points And Status
We learned a lot in 2018 about getting greater reward points and status. The numbers were crunched at the end of the year to see how we did with the Marriott Bonvoy program. We wanted to understand the impact when we got points both from stays and through credit card spends. It was interesting data to look at.
When we looked at what we learned in 2018, we felt there were some tips we could share on how to get greater reward points and status. But we know we still have a lot to learn.
Tip 1) Get The Credit Cards
Unfortunately, specific hotel brand credit cards are really limited in Canada. Most of the travel cards are either tied to airline programs or are general travel points cards (like our TD First Class Travel Infinite Visa credit card). But if you live in the U.S. there are many more good options.
We got the SPG American Express card in 2018. The points earned on Marriott Bonvoy purchases are almost twice what you earn on other purchases. Even after these points were devalued this year after the SPG and Marriott merger.
You also can get up to Gold status with spends on this card. We were excited to learn that in 2019 you get the 15 nights credited to your Marriott Bonvoy account. Which is much better to help us get to Titanium status.
This year we put the vast majority of my spending on our SPG American Express card. So when we looked at how we earned points in 2018, we found that 50% of our points came from this American Express Credit Card, which was pretty nifty.
I was happy to learn that this card will continue to be offered in Canada. It was a great way to get greater reward points and status.
Tip 2) Buy Points
We have also taken advantage of opportunities to buy points. The general advice is to buy points for something specific. But we chose to buy points when they were on a great offer. In 2018, buying points represented about 25% of our total points in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
We bought IHG points when there was a 100% bonus. This bonus was offered at least twice in 2018.
And the best deal we found was at 35% bonus for Marriott Bonvoy points. But both David and I could buy points. And then transfer them back to one account. Only one account is used to accumulate and spend points. We are watching the new Marriott Bonvoy program to see if they offer any kind of points purchase incentives in 2019.
We have also toyed with the idea of using our Marriott Bonvoy points to transfer to Air Canada. There is a bonus offered by Marriott when you transfer for airline points. And at least twice in 2018, Air Canada offered an additional 35% bonus for transferred points. It was really tempting. But as noted about, I am still a bit leery about our ability to use Air Canada points. So we have not accumulated Air Canada points without a specific trip in mind.
Be smart about buying points for greater reward points and status. Watch for when the bonus points are the highest. Look for deals for transferring your points between programs to consolidate your points. Or buy points for specific trips when it makes economical sense.
Tip 3) Watch For And Sign Up For Promotions
We get far too much email. We must admit, that most brand promotional materials generally get deleted without reading. But this year, we started to watch for special promotions from the brands we are focusing on getting greater reward points and status with.
In the past, the IHG Accelerate promotions have been great. We got points when we completed various kinds of stays and there was a completion bonus. But through 2018, these promotions got worse. The last one had no completion bonus and most of the stay targets we could not reasonably meet. But we did get 5000 points for one tweet to Twitter.
The Marriott Bonvoy promotions have generally not been anywhere near as generous as the IHG Accelerate promotions were. We got some points for social media sign up, a few smaller points for using the mobile app and some points for travelling in a certain period of time. These represented small incremental points that we never really chased.
But in early 2019 Marriott Bonvoy finally had a promotion that I was excited about. During a 2 month period, we get double nights for stays. This will be great to help us re-qualify for Titanium this year. Most of our road trip to California was in this period. And we are hoping our points stay at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman is also covered. The exact nights that get doubled are a bit unclear at this time.
Don’t delete all of your travel brand emails without looking at them. Sometimes there are great deals to be found. And remember that most of the bonus programs require you to register first. Bonus programs have been a good way for us to get greater reward points and status.
Tip 4) Transfer Points
Make sure you know what programs you can transfer points between. And when you transfer points, understand if these are “qualifying” points in the program. That is, do you just get points you can use. Or do these points also count towards status?
We have transferred points from David to my main Marriott Bonvoy account to accumulate in one spot. Several times we considered transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy to Air Canada. When we flew on TAP Portugal, we transferred all points back to Air Canada. All car rentals we do with Hertz, earned points on our Marriott Bonvoy program.
If you have to buy off-brand, try to see if you can make a choice the lets you transfer points back to one of the loyalty programs you are trying to maximize. It has helped us to get greater reward points and status.
Tip 5) Use Points Smartly
We have been hoarding our points. But the general wisdom is that this does not make sense. In general, your points will devalue over time. But it does make sense to save them for something special.
We used to collect points on our main TD First Class Travel Infinite Visa credit card. We kept our balance growing. Until a deal came along and we used our points for two First Class Emirates flights each.
Our SPG American Express card came with one free night. We used it on our California road trip when we did a non-luxury stop in St Luis Obispo. You must use the certificate for mid-priced rooms. Many people use these when they have one night stops.
The IHG Rewards Ambassador free night is a weekend night only at an Intercontinental Hotel. So we need to watch for and plan a weekend stay to use this. A stay at the Intercontinental in Miami is always a good option when we add days to our Caribbean cruising trips. We continue to accumulate our IHG Rewards points to use at a great resort property. We just have not found the right one yet.
As noted above, we are most excited that we almost emptied the points bank in our Marriott Bonvoy account to book two weeks to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. Using points with the Marriott Bonvoy program has the added bonus that you get 5 nights for the price of 4. Just make sure to book using points in 5 night increments.
We have tried to use our free night certificates strategically. And have saved our points for a splurge vacation or travel. But you could use your points to help keep the cost of your travel down and then travel more often. If you focus on accumulating greater reward points and status, you will have lots of options to spend them on travel.
Tip 6) Watch Points Expiry Dates And Don’t Leave Points Stranded
There are times when we cannot easily fly with Air Canada or one of the Star Alliance partners. In those cases, we have points spread across other airlines. And often these get stranded and expire.
When we travelled to SE Asia, we travelled with Cathay Pacific and got a large number of points. It really did not get us to any status level. But when we visited China this year, we needed to travel from Hong Kong to Tokyo. Using our points with a small cash top-up paid for that flight. It was a great way to clean out most of the Cathay Pacific points and not have them stranded.
We have a large number of points sitting in our Emirates account from our First Class flights home from Cape Town through Dubai. So far we have not found a good way to transfer out those points. So we are watching the expiration date. And hope to have a trip planned where Emirates is the best option to fly.
Before we focused on major brands for travel, we often booked our travel with Hotels.com . We were one hotel night away from a free night. But we missed the expiration date. And lost the accumulated nights.
Make sure you know when your points expire. And what you need to do to keep them alive. There are apps that can help you track expiration dates. Or you can build your own spreadsheet and calendar alerts. If you get greater reward points and status, it is sad to lose points when you could have used them to save on travel costs.
Tip 7) Follow The Experts
This post contains a bit about our experience with building greater reward points and status. We learned a lot this year through trial and error. We have also started to follow the blogs of people who specialize in the whole loyalty and points game. Check out the blogs for these web sites and follow them:
This is not an exhaustive list. Let me know if you have another favourite. The first two are both U.S. based. Many of their tips do not apply to us in Canada. But much of the advice or tips are worth checking out.
The last one is a Canadian site. It gives some helpful advice for Canada. But does not cover the breadth of advice that the other two do. If you live somewhere else, be sure to try to find a local expert on how to get greater reward points and status.
The last point is about staying up-to-date on these blogs. Especially when we are travelling, we often let blog reading slip. But many of the tips are time sensitive. We hate it when we miss a great tip that has expired.
Just A Few Tips For Greater Reward Points And Status
We travelled for almost 6 months in 2018. So it was a great year to really focus on building greater reward points and status. We will admit that we had a little tunnel vision. But there were times when we went off-brand to pick the right boutique hotel or to get a really good deal.
We got good status levels this year. And we accumulated a lot of points. In 2019 we have already made some point bookings that brought us great value.
But we are not experts and will continue to learn in 2019. And will come back with more tips for greater reward points and status to share.
Do you have tips for greater reward points and status to share? What do you wish to know more about?
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