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a rambling introduction to hotel points

2012-06-19 - 8:43 a.m.

The Points Guy offered this question for the Sunday discussion: Sunday Reader Question: Which Is Better: Hotel Points or Free Nights From Hotels.com?

Well, in my experience, neither is "better." They're both second-choice. So here's what I said:

There's really no contest in my experience. Saving money today is better than points or discounts at some time in the remote future, especially if the saving money today does not commit you to a program. Too many of the miles/points chasers seem to find themselves in the chain hotel ghetto. Also, booking on the chain site just doesn't give you the same discount you get as when you show up at the actual site prepared to negotiate, at least not in America where chains are gathered together in spots off the interstate with plenty of their competitors nearby. If you can't get a better deal on the spot at Best Western, Choice etc. by looking sad or having some competitor's coupon pulled out of the state welcome center book, you haven't tried.

Hotels.com and Priceline are for places where you are not sure you would be able to negotiate -- foreign countries where you don't speak the language, some popular event causing the rooms to be booked in advance, etcetera. To my eye, it looks like people who play the hotel points game end up paying a lot more for their hotel rooms overall, and then they have to convince themselves that they would have otherwise paid $500 for a hotel room night in Tokyo. In other words, what the Wandering Aramean said. Nobody's paying $500 a night for hotel rooms unless they're on an expense account, so why kid yourself that you just saved $500? You saved what you would have really spent. In Tokyo, my four nights cost less than $400 all-in. And for two of those nights I had a huge suite with a great view.

If you've never paid $500 a night for a hotel room, you weren't about to pay $500 a night for a hotel room that time either. Students, middle class people on a budget, older people on a retirement pension...they all travel, and there are options for them that they can afford. Even students with no credit travel the world! I will continue to research points etc. but they are not the front line of my travel budget strategy.

Speaking of the hotel game, I did apply for the Priority Club credit card, which came yesterday. Supposedly, I earn 60,000 points the first time I use it, which will take up to 8 weeks to post. Then I'll have to try and see if it's worth more than one night in Kingman, Arizona, which is what put us off Priority Club in the first place.

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