Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stretch Your Travel Dollars

Travelistas know that even in an economic downturn or recession, you can still travel on the cheap. Generally, when traveling your biggest expenses are airfare and hotel accommodations. But with a little advance planning and loyalty programs, you can get free airline tickets, hotel stays and donate to charity. Companies know that customers enrolled in loyalty programs are more likely, in fact reportedly four times, more likely to return for repeat business. The programs are designed to encourage buying behavior, so why not take advantage? You can also trade points for merchandise and gift cards. After all, these value-added promotions are designed to say thank you and membership is free.

Here are my haute tips for traveling in style for less:

1. Pick one or two loyalty programs and commit to staying at one of those properties or flying with a particular airline every time you travel. When I travel to the big apple, I generally stay at the Hilton New York located in Midtown because it’s usually under $200 per night (w/breakfast for 2) and I get Hilton HHonors Points. Also, when selecting airlines, search for those offering more destinations to your favorite cities. The goal—collect miles faster for redemption!

2. Be smart and strategic when planning your hotel stays. I love Hyatt’s faster free night program. During the faster free night promotional period, with every two hotel stays, you earn one free night at any Hyatt property in the world. I earned two free nights just by switching hotels in Paris. I spent the first few days at the Hyatt Madeleine, a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Paris, before spending the weekend at the fabulous Park Hyatt Vendome. I switched back to the Hyatt Madeleine and spent my last night at the Hyatt Charles de Gaulle near the airport. I used my two free nights and a few gold passport points for three free nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, a few months later. I saved about $3,000.00 US! Can you say ooh la la?

If you want to stay at the Ritz Carlton, but can’t afford it. No problem! Marriott’s frequent stayer program allows members to redeem points for free nights at the Ritz! The only catch, you can’t earn points at Ritz-Carlton. I redeemed my points for a free night in Montego Bay, Jamaica for a girl’s getaway.

3. Be flexible and join other programs like car rentals to earn hotel points or airline miles. Avis and Budget rental car companies will also allow members to earn hotel rewards points through a program called goldpoints plus.

4. Use your reward for upgrades. Another way to save money is by purchasing an airline ticket or hotel room for less and using reward points or miles to upgrade to first class or a more spacious hotel room with more amenities.

5. Use your rewards for charity! The best way to help others is to give back. You can donate Marriott Rewards points to the Children’s Miracle Network. Your donations help the families of sick and injured children stay at Marriott Hotels located near hospitals where their children are being treated.

6. When planning to use points or miles for redemption, plan ahead. Many hotels only allow about 10% of their rooms to be reserved using reward points; therefore don’t wait until the last minute to book reservations.

While the economy is showing signs of a pending recovery, many companies are relaxing rules and allowing members to accrue rewards faster by doubling or tripling points. Private deals and special promotions are made available only to members of these programs... so sign up now! Visit to find out how to earn the most points on every trip. You can also get up to the minute loyalty program news at There’s never been a better time to show your loyalty than in a troubled economy so make the most of it!

Which loyalty programs do you like?
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