We Travelled Well With Loyalty Status And Points
We had a very busy travel year in 2019. And travelling with loyalty points and status gave us some great travel experiences.
A lot of our travel in 2019 was road tripping, so we accumulated both hotel nights and car rental mileage. We made top tier status with Marriott Bonvoy and got Gold Plus President’s Circle status with Hertz.
But more time on the road meant we flew a little less this year. With several cross country trips, we managed to maintain our 35K Altitude status with Air Canada. Although with changes coming to the Aeroplan program, it is uncertain what the loyalty program will look like in 2020.
Most of the year we continued to accumulate loyalty status and points. But we loved when we could really splurge when we spent points! Or when we got great value when we redeemed points.
Every year we have learned a little more. This is an update on our experience travelling with loyalty points and status. And some tips to help you too!
Chasing Hotel Loyalty Status With Marriott Bonvoy
For hotels, this year we focused first on the accumulation of Marriott Bonvoy points. We started the year with Titanium Elite status (75 nights needed) and achieved Ambassador Elite status (100 nights plus a spending requirement) in the fall. The Ambassador status will take us through 2020.
We are interested to see what value the Ambassador status will provide. A personal Ambassador was assigned to us. But early bookings since we achieved this status did have any better upgrades! Watch for our update at the end of this year.
With 136 nights in hotels in 2019, we had a lot of opportunities to book accommodations with Marriott brands. And to see a lot of the things we love and hate about hotels! We tried 15 different Marriott brands over the year. And our stays ranged from your typical roadside stays to great luxury treats at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Montreal and pampering stays at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain outside of Tucson.
Travelling with loyalty points and status meant we focused on consolidating our travel choices.
Great Reward Travel With Marriott Loyalty Status
This year we used our Marriott Bonvoy points for some great splurge trips. We escaped the cold winter in Toronto with an amazing 16 day trip to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. The room cost was all covered by points. And for every 4 days we booked on points, we got the 5th night free. We just wished that the Marriott points program covered the resort fees as well!
We also chose to use points for a great stay in Vancouver in the spring. Again we used 4 night rewards for a 5 day stay. These longer stays offered the greatest way to get value from using our accumulated points.
Our credit card gave us one free night which we used towards our stay at the Courtyard in San Luis Obispo when we explored the Cambria coast in California. And when we hit Ambassador Elite status we earned another free night certificate which we are still holding onto.
It was a bit complicated to calculate the value of points. And to know when it was best to use points rather than cash for stays. But we used points on our fall visit to Ottawa on one night when the rates were much higher than the rest of our stay.
We certainly got some great hotel stays and redeemed at good value travelling with loyalty points and status
Other Hotel Loyalty Tiers Dropped
We had loyalty cards in all major hotel brands although most are not active accounts. In other years, we maintained top tier status in the IHG Rewards Program.
But we found the IHG reward program was less attractive than the Marriott program. So we focused on Marriott visits and let our IHG Rewards status slide. We used IHG hotels when there was no good Marriott option. Or sometimes for a treat!
We enjoyed the benefits of being an IHG Spire Ambassador member this year when we stayed in Intercontinental hotels. The Intercontinental Park Lane in London was a lovely place to finish our Nordic country cruise and explore the Hyde Park area. The Intercontinental Boston was our base for the festivities over the July 4th Independence Day holiday.
The balance in our IHG Rewards account has grown. We plan to use these points for a splurge in 2020.
We really wanted to add World of Hyatt status since we heard such good things about this loyalty program. But we were hugely disappointed when we could not get any kind of status match with Hyatt to start us on our way. We will have to see what 2020 brings for travelling with loyalty points and status in hotels.
Hotel Travel Perks For Loyalty Members
There were definitely some benefits to chasing travel points and loyalty. As we moved up in loyalty status, we accumulated more points with each travel spend. We got some basic benefits like enhanced internet service. And free breakfast and lounge access was a nice perk. Even if the service level in many concierge lounges deteriorated each year.
Early check-in and late check-out was a benefit we used a lot as we travelled. With Elite Marriott Bonvoy status, we were rewarded with some great suite upgrades on our travels. Welcome amenities have been fun and tasty. And occasionally service has blown us away.
We were sure we had many more world class service experiences travelling with loyalty points and status.
Car Rental Status Was Great For Road Trips
In 2019, we travelled more than 10,000 miles (16,000 km) by car. We did road trips along the California coast, around the Province of British Columbia in the spring and then through Utah and Arizona in the fall.
Our Marriott Bonvoy elite status gave us Gold Plus status with Hertz. And all of our road trip mileage bumped us to Gold Plus President’s Circle status. This gave us much better rental rates. And an automatic upgrade on all rentals. At some spots in the U.S., our status provided a check-in process that was fully automated and fast.
We don’t often rent cars when we travel. We love to travel by train in Europe when we can. For city trips, we use Uber. And many times we were happy as we navigated by public transit. But for this year of road trips, travelling with loyalty points and status let us enjoy some car rental benefits.
Airline Status Gave Us Perks
With 3 trips to the west coast, one flight to Europe and a few other smaller trips, we managed to maintain our 35K Altitude status with Air Canada. There were some airline status benefits we loved. And some that meant nothing to us.
As ex-military, David gets a generous baggage allowance. And since I still have not managed to fix my over-packing issue, it was a good thing we didn’t pay for baggage. So free baggage loyalty benefits were less important to us. But this can save most people a lot of money.
I am an impatient traveller, so I love to have the priority check-in and boarding that comes with airline status. After all, I do need to get my carry on bag above my head!
Airline lounge access was at times a great perk. But too many of the lounges we visited were almost standing room only and the food was not worth the visit. And don’t get me started on my rant about airport lounge etiquette!
There was one advantage of paying for international business class with Air Canada from Toronto. The new Signature Lounge had limited access. It was a reminder of what lounges used to be like. Quiet, classy, good food and drink. And the service was great when we flew to Oslo to start our cruise of the Nordic countries.
This year we enjoyed a few perks of travelling with loyalty points and status on Air Canada.
We Even Managed To Use Some Air Canada Points This Year
We often struggled to find ways to use our Air Canada points. Availability of last minute seats was often scarce. And often we had to do at least one stop on points tickets. Flying from Toronto to Vancouver was a bit of a sweet spot to use Air Canada points. But this year we flew this route a few times and could never find the right points deal.
The other sweet spot we found to use Air Canada points was to do a two hop trip for the same points as one return flight. We flew from Toronto to Ottawa for Canada Day, then from Ottawa to Boston a week later for the July 4th festivities and then flew home to Toronto 10 days later. All of that for the same number of points as if we just flew Toronto to Ottawa return.
Aeroplan had some complex rules about how you can travel within a zone all on the same points ticket. When we did our California cruise for the holidays, we could have flown Toronto to Los Angeles to Vancouver and then home all for the price of one return points trip to Vancouver! But we delayed booking too long and the flight options were horrid when we were ready to use points. So we ended up paying for direct flights.
The one benefit of 35K Altitude status with Air Canada that we really loved this year was the eUpgrade credits. On several flights, we booked premium economy seats and used eUpgrade credits to fly business class. A great perk that saved us a lot of money!
Changes are coming to the Aeroplan program when Air Canada takes it over in 2020. At this point, there are many uncertainties about what the new program will look like. So we are glad we enjoyed using our loyalty points and status on Air Canada this year.
Earning A Major Loyalty Perk For Cruising
In 2019, we cruised for 39 days with Oceania Cruises. The summer cruise along the Norway fjords and then up through the Nordic countries added 2 cruises to our total. And then our cruise along the California coast at the end of the year took us to 16 cruises in total.
We will cruise around South America as our first trip of 2020. This will take us to the big milestone of 20 cruises with Oceania Cruises. We get Platinum status at 20 cruises and for that 20th cruise, we get a “free” 14 day cruise. I won’t tell you how much we have paid to Oceania Cruises to get this “free” cruise. But it is a loyalty reward that we fully intend to enjoy!
We looked at a few cruise options for our 20th cruise during our travels for 2020. This will be our “free” cruise! We are sure this will be something to remember.
Increasing loyalty status with Oceania Cruises provided benefits even before the free cruise. Internet access, champagne welcome gifts and free gratuities were always welcome. This year we even got free spa treatments. But we are very happy to hit a major milestone in 2020.
Loyalty Program Status Was Great … but …
There are certainly some downsides to consolidating your travel purchase decisions to maximize travel points and loyalty.
Sometimes we compromised on locations we stayed – both cities and spots within a city. There were times when we knew we could have stayed or rented a car cheaper on some trips if we went off-brand. And we missed some local boutique experiences staying in chain hotels.
“Free” was not always free. With Marriott, we still had to pay things like resort fees with a free room. At luxury resorts, this was a non-trivial amount over a long stay. With Air Canada, we got the basic cost of the flight free. But we still paid taxes and fees. This added up quickly.
Loyalty benefits for Marriott were not provided universally across the different brands. And sometimes it varied within a brand. We needed a chart to even figure out which brands provided free breakfast. The welcome points also varied be brand. And even though the higher loyalty levels should have ensured a suite upgrade if available, there seemed to be many ways for individual hotels to avoid the best upgrades.
We still think the benefits of travelling with loyalty points and status outweigh the negatives. But it was sometimes a frustrating experience to try to maximize getting that value out!
Tips For Maximizing Your Loyalty Benefits
There are many ways to maximize your loyalty points. And whole blog sites that focus on this. But there are a few that worked well for us.
1) Get Branded Credit Cards
In Canada, we have a very limited number of credit cards that are linked to hotel loyalty programs. We are delighted to have an American Express Bonvoy credit card. And this year we also got a business card that provided some better benefits. As a result, we earned more Marriott Bonvoy points on our credit card than through hotel stays. Our credit card also provided a fixed number of hotel night credits which helped to achieve loyalty status.
Luckily in Canada, there are a large number of credit cards to earn Aeroplan points for Air Canada. But these points are not qualifying so don’t count towards airline status.
If you live in the U.S., there are a vast number of cards for collecting points. And many ways to earn status levels with different brands. We are quite disappointed that we can’t find a way yet to get a U.S. credit card as Canadians.
When we last wrote about building loyalty points and status, many people outside of the U.S. wrote to us about similar issues with a lack of credit cards for reward points. But if you can find one, we know they make a big difference for travelling with loyalty points and status.
2) Watch For Promotions
We used to delete all brand promotional emails without reading. Now we watch for promotions for opportunities to earn additional points. Marriott Bonvoy promotions added about 40,000 points to our account. This was enough for a one night stay at a mid-range hotel. And another Bonvoy promotion added 12 nights which certainly helped us to get a higher loyalty status this year.
The one thing to watch for hotels is promotions based on nights versus stays. Nights are usually easier for us. Promotions based on stays often required us to change hotels in the same city to get another stay.
We earned almost 30,000 IHG bonus points. And used IHG promotions to earn Air Canada points at a 4x multiplier for IHG stays.
Air Canada promotions tended to not be helpful. They usually came out just after we booked our flights. And Air Canada only lets the promotions count for flights booked after we registered for a promotion.
Promotions are a great way to increase your travelling with loyalty points and status.
3) Use Your Points Wisely
There is a bit of art and science to using loyalty points. Explaining that is beyond the scope of this blog post.
We love to use our points for a luxury splurge. So we save them until a special trip comes up. We used credit card points to fly First Class with Emirates. And we used Marriott points for our Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman stay.
Marriott’s program gives you 5 nights for spending 4 reward nights and this was a great way to maximize our use of points. Air Canada’s multiple hops with points was another great use of points. We are sure that every loyalty program has one or more ways to get the best value from points.
It was generally a good idea to book reward travel as early as possible. Spots available for rewards were limited. And flight options were generally much better the earlier we booked. Although one year we found some great points options for last minute bookings.
Using your points wisely will mean more travelling with loyalty points and status.
4) Take Advantage of Partner Brand Status
Airline reward programs typically include a large number of brands. Air Canada is part of Star Alliance that includes 26 different airlines. Aeroplan status works for all of the Star Alliance partner airlines. And can include lounge access at different loyalty tiers. Check out the partners for your favourite airline.
We got elite status with Hertz through both our Marriott and IHG status levels. Car rental brands often have partnership agreements with airlines and hotels.
Marriott has a partnership agreement with Emirates. And with United Airlines. Make sure you know how your hotel elite status provides reward status with any partners.
Your elite status with one brand may mean travelling with loyalty points and status for other travel brands too!
5) Try To Get A Status Match
Throughout the year, brands may offer a chance to status match. So if you have elite status in one, they will give you elite status in their brand. To keep the new elite status, you typically need to complete a number of nights, stays, flights or dollar spend within a specified period.
In the past, we successfully maintained a status match. We did it right before we booked our hotels for a long trip. We met the initial requirements and maintained the new status on the one trip.
This year we heard that the Hilton rewards program did a status match. But we were not looking to add Hilton hotels at this time. We tried to get a Hyatt status match and were told they don’t do them.
Westjet is the second major airline in Canada. And this year they did a status match with Air Canada. We considered getting Westjet status. But knew that our flight needs in the period required would not meet the level for us to keep the Westjet status.
A status match opportunity may accelerate your path to travelling with loyalty points and status.
6) Get Points In Other Ways
Another strategy to grow your reward points is to consider consolidation where possible. Many of the reward programs let you transfer points between programs.
Marriott Bonvoy has a good program for transferring points to a long list of airlines. And you get bonus points when you do transfers in blocks. On top of this, Air Canada has periodic promotions where they provided an additional bonus on transferred points.
Transferring points generally allowed us to increase points accumulated. Although transferred points did not count towards elite status.
The other option is to buy points. Most of the times, the points you buy are more expensive than getting them in any other way. So this strategy usually is only good if you need a small amount to pay for a specific points purchase.
7) Pay Attention To Your Points Balance
When we first started to collect points and build loyalty status, we let the companies keep track of everything. But over time, we noticed that there were errors and omissions with what was posted to our accounts.
Our first reaction was to keep a list of points that needed to be posted. When that proved not to be enough, we created a spreadsheet to record the reward points. Unfortunately, it seemed that every fourth or fifth transaction had some kind of issue with either getting posted or being correct. So we spent a lot of time getting the points fixed.
Reward points, reward certificates for things like free nights and reward status generally all expired. It was important to keep track of the expiration dates and plan proactively. A spreadsheet is one idea. Or an app like AwardWallet might work.
We would hate to lose opportunities for travelling with loyalty points and status by letting our rewards expire.
Travelling With Loyalty Status And Points Made A Difference
We did a lot of travelling in 2019. And we optimized our travel spend to increase both our reward points and status.
Our growing reward balances let us splurge on some great travel destinations. Or find opportunities to use our reward points and receive great value.
Travelling with loyalty points and status does require a commitment to consolidating your travel brands. And sometimes there was a price for that. But we hope our tips will help you do it faster and smarter.
Did you have a successful year travelling with loyalty status and points? Are there other tips you can share about loyalty status and points?
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