I love taking advantage of incentives when I spend money. Those incentives come primarily from two sources: hotel points and credit card rewards. When I began planning this route, I looked at all my credit cards as well as all my hotel loyalty programs to find out what promotions were being offered.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
The first week of my route, Choice Hotels was offering a $50 gas card for every two stays. Four nights at Choice brands landed me $100 in gas cards, nearly cutting in half the cost of those rooms. Now, Wyndham is offering double points and Hilton Honors is offering double points on weekday stays and triple points on weekends. The HHonors promotion is enabling me to stay at higher end hotels over the next few weeks.
For example, this weekend I am spending three nights at a Hilton Garden Inn. I analyzed my options in a spreadsheet:
Reward Points Earned
How I Could Redeem Those Points
Approximate Value of Reward Points Under Best Circumstances
Net Total Cost of Stay
Net Total Cost per Night For Stay
Hilton Garden Inn
3 nights @ points + dollars (4,000+$35) Hampton Inn, normally $89/night; 1,694 points leftover
41% towards a free night at the lowest end Wyndham properties
Bottom line: I can spend $45/night for the crappiest hotel in the area, or $61/night for the nicest.
Credit Card Reward Points
Another way to reward myself is with the points I earn by using credit cards. Gone are those boring days when you could only expect 1% back. I carry a handwritten card in my wallet that lists the bonus categories for each of my credit cards. Some of these are seasonal bonuses. Right now my Discover and Chase cards are earning 5% back on gasoline, which is a huge benefit with all the driving I am doing. And, my Hilton Honors card gives extra points for gas, groceries and restaurants. During this route, I will easily earn $150 or more in rewards by using my credit cards to pay for everything.
One last way I am saving money is with my AAA discount. As I am driving a 2002 vehicle, it makes sense to take advantage of a AAA membership, but even more so because of the extra discount I receive at hotels, which is usually around 10% off the best available rate.
More About My Weekend in Myrtle Beach
The three nights are costing $282 + tax. Because I have reached Diamond Status with Hilton Honors, combined with the Triple Points Bonus, I will receive 11,780 points for that stay (2,820 base points, 1,410 Diamond Bonus Points, 1,410 “Points plus Points” preference, 5,640 Triple Points Bonus and 500 bonus points for booking online with my Hilton Honors American Express Card). BUT, it doesn't stop there. Since I am using my Hilton Honors American Express, I receive 6 points per dollar spent with Hilton, including taxes. My total stay, with taxes, is $318.66, so I will receive 1,914 HHonors points by using my AMEX. In total, I will receive 13,694 points on this one stay. The HIlton Garden Inn is ranked #5 of 226 hotels, with 94% of guests recommending it. It received a 4.5 out of 5 star rating and received Trip Advisor’s 2013 Certificate of Excellence.
What’s the alternative? On the low end, I could have booked a Days Inn for $47 per night. On Trip Advisor, only 15% of guests recommend the hotel, and it is ranked #199 out of 226 hotels in the area with a 2 out of 5 star rating. The most recent reviews are titled, “Disgusting”, “Holy”, “Worst Hotel Ever” and “Don’t Bother.” I would spend $141 plus tax for three nights.