We Definitely Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021
We were happy we built loyalty points and status in 2021. Some of the points and status came from extensions from our major travel brands (Marriott, IHG, Air Canada). Additional points were added with credit card spending. But we also did more travel than expected in 2021 and that sure added points!
Service levels were impacted during pandemic with both cost and staffing constraints. But we still found a lot of value and benefits from having loyalty status when we travelled.
2020 Was A Different Year
We started 2020 with a great cruise around South America and a full travel calendar. But then the Covid-19 pandemic hit while we cruised. In 2020, people stayed at home or travelled much less. To reflect this, most of the major travel brands extended loyalty status into 2021. It meant we retained our Ambassador Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, Spire Elite with IHG Rewards and 35K Aeroplan level with Air Canada Aeroplan. It was great that we did not lose ground for all the travel we did in 2019.
When things got a bit better in the summer and early fall, we went on several local trips in 2020. Some travels were day trips. But we also did a few short overnight stays when we felt we managed the risk. Generally we found that the hotels did a good job of following Covid policies and we felt safe.
We loved to have loyalty points and status for the little bit of extra treats we got when we travelled. But in 2020 with so much closed, it was hard to even get the bare minimum. Often the pools, gyms and spas were closed. For most stays, the restaurants were open for some level of service. And we got some great free breakfasts. Although we were surprised with a lovely amenity treat when we stayed in Kingston at the Delta Kingston Waterfront.
Even In 2020 We Earned And Used Points
In 2020, we only stayed at one IHG property. Most of our stays were with Marriott brands. Marriott Bonvoy ran a few promotions that we took advantage of. This added nights and points to our growing points balance. Since we had status extended with both Marriott and IHG, we really wanted to use our nights in 2020 to get status with other hotel brands.
Sadly Hyatt refused to do status matches. And we found so few Hyatt hotels for our local stays. So chasing Hyatt status was postponed until full travels resumed. We were tempted by offers from other brands. Fairmont Hotels had awesome specials for some of their iconic sights like Lake Louise and Quebec City. But that travel was still too far in the “travel local” year that was 2020.
A few times we found great deals and we used fewer points than normal for off-season luxury stays. Our weekend in Muskoka at the JW Marriott Lake Rosseau was only 40,000 per night compared to a regular rate between 50,000 to 70,000 points. We even found a great opportunity on our stay in Kingston and used two 40,000 free night certificates that we were worried might expire. Ultimately Marriott Bonvoy extended the expiry date on all free night certificates. But we were still happy with the value we got for our points.
Loyalty Program Status Was Again Extended In 2021
As we entered 2021, it looked like travel rebounded a bit. So we were delighted when travel program after program recognized the lack of travel in 2020 and provided both points and status to start the new year.
Our Ambassador Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy was extended into 2022. At the beginning of 2021, Bonvoy even provided quite generous “bonus” nights that started travellers on their way to earned status for 2021. When we added in the nights we earned from our American Express Bonvoy credit card, for us it meant we were more than halfway to re-qualifying for Ambassador Elite even with no travel!
The status for IHG Rewards was also extended into 2022. This gave us Spire Elite status even though we only had one night stay in 2020!
Our only airline status was held with Air Canada Aeroplan. We earned 35K status on our travels in 2019 and were happy that this status was carried over through 2022. Even though we only did one short flight late in 2021!
With some help from the travel loyalty programs, we were happy we built some loyalty points and status in 2021.
Points And Other Benefits From Credit Cards Helped
In Canada, we have much fewer options for hotel branded credit cards. But when we could not add points with travel, we made sure we optimized the points we got from the travel credit cards we had. Purchases were put on either our TD Aeroplan Infinite Visa for Air Canada Aeroplan points or on our American Express Bonvoy card for Marriott Bonvoy points. In both 2020 and 2021, the points we added to our Marriott Bonvoy account from our credit card were about 40% of the total points earned. With virtually no air travel in 2020 and 2021, almost 100% of the points added for Air Canada Aeroplan came from spend on our credit card.
The American Express Bonvoy card also had other benefits for travel. At the beginning of each year, the credit card gave us 15 nights towards the new year’s status nights. And on the anniversary of the card, we also got a free night certificate for a stay at 35,000 points. Great reasons to hold this credit card to help our travels. And the benefits outweighed the annual fee for this card.
The TD Aeroplan Infinite Visa offered some additional perks for travel. As credit card holders, our Air Canada miles never expired even if we did not fly. And they covered the cost of renewing our Nexus pass that allowed us easy travel to the U.S. and easier re-entry to Canada.
The travel credit cards we used provided other benefits matched by most other cards. But the travel specific perks made them an easy choice for our major spending. Sometimes it was just a matter of figuring out which credit card was better for what costs!
Why Were We Happy We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021?
For many of the years we travelled we paid little attention to brand loyalty. We picked hotels and flights with no strategy. When we finally decided to pick a few brands and join the loyalty programs, we found that loyalty status came quick and the benefits were very good for us.
Having status with a small number of travel brands did not mean we only travelled to places where we had loyalty status. But it meant we first checked for comparable options that added to our loyalty points. In 2021, we lost points and status with brands because we had no real way to keep adding points (e.g. Emirates Airlines). These stranded points were disappointing but inevitable when loyalty was spread across a lot of brands and travel was limited.
There were many benefits that having elite status provided. Some like free wifi really was not much of a unique perk. But others were appreciated on our travels in 2021.
Why do we like having great loyalty status? What benefits did we really enjoy?
1) Road Trips Built A Lot Of Hotel Points
We did a lot of road trip miles and nights away from home in 2021. Of the 110 nights away, we stayed in hotels for 76 nights. Each hotel night counted towards our status and added loyalty points based on the dollars spent. Most of those hotel nights were with Marriott Bonvoy. But we also stayed in IHG Rewards properties on our road trip to Eastern Canada.
When we went to Eastern Canada, we even added a new hotel program with Choice Privileges with a status match. There were several small towns we visited where the Choice Hotels option was the best.
On our long stay in British Columbia (BC) in the fall, we even joined a loyalty program for small boutique brands (The Guest Book) for our stay at the Old House Hotel on our stay in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. This program provided good discounts for other hotels or a cash refund for stays.
Having loyalty status helped us build more points. For all hotel reward programs, higher status gave us a higher multiplier for points earned with stays. It worked the same for airline miles earned with Air Canada Aeroplan. For example, if the points for a night stay were 1,000 we got 1,750 for our stays as a Marriott Ambassador Elite.
2) Great Vacations On Points
We tended to let our loyalty points at hotels grow and then splurged on a nice vacation. In the Marriott Bonvoy program, when you used points for travel, you only used points for 4 nights for a 5 night stay. This meant we often looked for 5 or 10 day stays to maximize this value. Our long stay at the Ritz Carlton in Grand Cayman was the perfect way to enjoy our accumulated points. IHG Rewards did not have this benefit for longer stays.
There were only two real drawbacks to using points for travel. Sometimes the rooms available for points were not ones we wanted and there was no cash or points ways to upgrade. And when we spent out points at resorts, the resort fee was a cash fee on top of the points used.
In 2021, we used no points for stays with either Marriott Bonvoy or IHG Rewards. For Marriott Bonvoy, we accumulated points during all of our travels in Canada in 2021. And never really found a stay on just points where we got great value, a wonderful room or booked a long enough stay. For IHG Rewards, we saved our points for an aspirational international resort stay. And that kind of travel was not possible in 2021.
With only one short flight in 2021, we continued to bank our Air Canada Aeroplan points and never splurged for a long flight.
We were not really happy as travel loyalty points just accumulated. Travel loyalty program changes never made the points worth more or easier to redeem. But we also did not want to waste the points.
3) We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021 For Awesome Suite Upgrades
The jury was often out about whether you really got good upgrades with hotel loyalty status. For us, we got some of the most amazing upgrades on our travels in 2021.
On our month long road trip to Eastern Canada, we enjoyed some amazing sweet suite upgrades. Our return visit to the Ritz Carlton Montreal reminded us why we loved being spoiled at the Ritz! We loved the large suite we had at the Delta hotel for a long stay in St John’s, Newfoundland. The customer service was unmatched when we were treated like royalty on our Delta hotel stay in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. And we had the most luxurious Delta suite for a short stop in Moncton, New Brunswick.
We were equally spoiled with hotel upgrades on our long road trip to Western Canada. We stopped in Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario on the way out and when we returned. On both visits we loved the lake view Delta Hotels Thunder Bay suite we were treated to. Road trip stops in both directions let us enjoy the short stop in Winnipeg in Manitoba at the Delta Hotel. And also a luxurious break in Regina, Saskatchewan at the elegant Hotel Saskatchewan.
Hotel room upgrades were definitely a key perk when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.
4) Flight Upgrades Too
Our Air Canada Aeroplan 35K status provided many benefits when travelling. We definitely loved priority boarding. Priority security clearance was less of an issue in Canada with our Nexus status but it helped when we travelled home. A larger baggage allowance would have been a major benefit. However, David’s past military service gave us the same enhanced baggage limits.
When we flew Business Class we got lounge access with the tickets. But access to the Maple Leaf lounges with our status was always welcome. We were even surprised at airports outside of Canada with access to some Air Canada partner lounges. Since we were always really early for our flights, we loved having a quieter place to relax.
Each year there were optional perks to select. Invariably we both picked eUpgrade certificates. Requesting an eUpgrade put us in a queue for potential upgrades on a selected flight. The number of eUpgrades needed for a flight depended on the fare category of the flight we booked. And in some cases, there was also an additional fee. But when an eUpgrade was successful, we paid much less than the cost to book the upgraded seat from the start.
On our one flight in 2021 to start our Caribbean cruise, our eUpgrade request was not successful for the flight to Miami. But we were very excited when the upgrade went through on the trip back to Toronto.
Flight upgrades were great when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.
5) Free Breakfasts Made Travelling Easier
We must admit that we hated searching for breakfast every day when we travel. Especially on long road trips where we were gone for months. So free breakfast was one the the travel loyalty perks that was great for us. It was certainly one of the reasons we preferred Marriott hotels over IHG ones for our travels in 2021.
In 2021, we found that the variety in the breakfast provided varied hugely by time of year, hotel brand and sometimes even at specific hotels in a brand. The pandemic definitely impacted the breakfast options. When we stayed at the Delta in Winnipeg on the way to Vancouver, only room service from a fixed menu was provided. And some of the restaurants had take out only. But we found nothing to complain about.
At several of the more luxury properties, we got great breakfast credits that allowed us to eat like kings. On a short stop in Thunder Bay in Ontario, the French toast for breakfast drew us back for a second stay. On our stay at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina, our free breakfast included the weekend brunch which we enjoyed in front of a roaring fire! When we had two great stays by False Creek in Vancouver at JW Le Parq, the breakfast was from a fixed menu. But we sure got a great spread!
Whether it was a take out breakfast or a sit down feast, we sure enjoyed free breakfast when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.
6) Occasionally Even Amenities Returned
One of the elite perks that disappeared during the pandemic was a welcome amenity. We understood that service did not operate at the same levels and in many hotels restaurant services were limited. So when we got a welcome amenity, we were always surprised and delighted!
Sometimes the welcome amenity went above and beyond. When we stayed in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, we got not only a tasty treat. But the team at the Delta Hotels Prince Edward Island created an amazing welcome book with personal recommendations for our stay from the staff!
A welcome amenity was a lovely gesture we appreciated when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.
7) Cruise Line Loyalty Status Offered A Real Treat
The other travel loyalty status we continued to build in 2021 was our status with Oceania Cruises. When we did our Caribbean Cruise at the end of 2021, it moved us to the Platinum level with the Oceania Club. The levels in the Oceania Club were built with cruise credits. Depending on the length of a cruise, we got a certain number of cruise credits. Platinum meant we had 20 cruise credits.
How much cruising was required for Platinum varied. A simple 7 day cruise earned one cruise credit. So in theory, Platinum level could be obtained with as few as 140 cruising nights. But the 53 day cruise we did from Athens to Cape Town only got us 3 cruise credits! Since we did a number of longer and more expensive cruises, those 20 cruise credits sure cost us a lot! In fact, we did 17 Oceania Cruises trips to reach the Platinum level and sailed for 281 days!
There were many benefits to the Platinum level. We particularly loved the free gratuities, onboard credits and spa treatment credits. But the great benefit we unlocked at Platinum level was a free cruise! We have not yet decided where we will go for our free cruise. But you know there are lots of great options with Oceania Cruises.
When we built loyalty points and status in 2021 with Oceania Cruises, we earned a really nice benefit.
What Is 2022 Looking Like?
With travel not yet fully bounced back in 2021, most of the major travel brands again extended status levels for another year through the end of 2022.
Marriott Bonvoy extended status through to February 2023. This would have been great, however, we achieved Ambassador Elite status on our travels in 2021. They also extended expiry dates on Free Night Certificates we earned with our American Express Bonvoy credit cards. This meant we did not have to scramble in December 2021 to use the 4 certificates we still had not used.
IHG has also extended loyalty status through to the end of 2022. So we will maintain our Spire Elite status on just a few stays in 2020 and 2021. If we finally get to plan a getaway at an IHG Intercontinental resort, we would certainly welcome this status.
Air Canada fell in line with most airline programs and extended status through 2022 as well. We look forward to getting new benefits in early 2022. Since we often used the eUpgrade certificates!
Choice Privileges status introduced a slight variation for 2022. Since we achieved Platinum Elite status by the end of 2021, all of our qualifying nights rolled over and counted toward 2022 status! And we kept our 2021 Elite status level through the end of 2022. This started us towards the next status level in 2022. A good benefit when we travel to smaller spots not well covered by Marriott or IHG.
With the exception of Marriott Bonvoy, even with our travels in 2021 we would have lost all of the loyalty status earned with so much travel in 2019. So loyalty status for 2022 will allow us to continue to enjoy the perks of loyalty status when we travel. But with no new travel booked for 2022, it remains to be seen how much new travel loyalty status will be earned in 2022.
We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021 In Many Places
We were delighted that travel brands recognized that travel was down and extended status more than once. In some cases they even provided a head start to status for the next year. When the pandemic settled down in Canada, we did a lot more travel than we expected in 2021. The vast majority of this travel was in long road trips. And this travel helped us build more loyalty points and status for hotel brands.
The Caribbean cruise we snuck into the end of 2021, provided a little benefit for airline points. But more importantly it gained us a great new loyalty status for cruising.
We were happy that we built loyalty points and status in 2021. And that we really enjoyed the benefits of travel brand status. We are not sponsored for our travel. So it was wonderful to be spoiled with loyalty status.
But as 2022 dawned, travel was again being impacted by the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. And we do not know how this will impact the ongoing pandemic and travel. Continuing to build points and status may not be sustainable without help again from the travel brands!
Have you built loyalty points and status in 2021? Any other insights you would add?
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