Updated: Jul 4, 2022
In discovering the perks and benefits that travel credit cards offer, the importance of loyalty programs came hand in hand. Some of the main advantages of travel credit cards are earning and maintaining points and miles.
Today’s post will give you more options to think about when traveling. In the old days, buying the cheapest plane ticket, regardless of quality, route, service, etc., was the only option. Now, times have changed drastically. Depending on your travel habits, the slightly more expensive flight with a frequent flyer program available can be the cheaper and much more rewarding option.
That will be what I’m challenging in today’s post. Are budget hotels and airlines worth sacrificing comfort, customer service, and benefits? Everyone, in the end, has to form their own opinion because we all value everything differently. Today’s post will show you my opinion and why I came to my conclusion.
Loyalty Programs through Travel Cards
The Amex Platinum gave me my first experience of elite status with hotel chains through its many perks: Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors. After this experience, I started to do a deep dive into what loyalty programs can do for you, and since then, I’ve held multiple high elite statuses.
Because my introduction to loyalty programs was three years ago (before travel cards and loyalty programs), we mainly used third-party sites for flights and hotels. Here’s a quick summary of our booking process four years ago.
Loyal to Booking.com
In a previous blog post, I stated that we only used Booking.com during our first years of traveling together for hotel stays. I wasn’t picky with where I stayed because I never had high expectations. I only looked for the cheapest option, closest to the location I wanted to be at or a place recommended to me by others.
Tash, on the other hand, consistently used Booking.com. ***https://www.packyourpoints.com/post/booking-com-is-our-go-to-for*** Tash convinced me that Booking.com is the best hotel portal to choose from compared to other budget third-party sites, and after one year of using it, I agreed!
Budget Hotels for the Short Term
I’m not here to tell you that staying in budget hotels is a waste of money because it’s not. I believe this to be true because staying in hotels less than twenty times a year will not earn you status. If you stay in hotels once every six months, booking with third-party budget sites is better.
For example, if you stay in a Marriott branded hotel nineteen times, you’ll have Silver Elite Bonvoy status. Silver Elite status gives you a 2 pm late check-out and free WiFi. In this situation, choosing a third-party budget site would be better because the benefits you receive for low elite status don’t compare to the discounts you’ll receive on the third-party sites.
Stay More, Save More
We became so intrigued by loyalty programs because of how often we stayed in hotels. Loyalty programs suit those who are loyal to that company. And in return, those loyal customers get premium benefits.
We’ve saved thousands because of our Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite status. Benefits like complimentary breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, room upgrades, free nights, and outstanding customer service!
One of our most recent stays in a Marriott property is the best example I can give of the magnitude Titanium Elite status has been for saving us money, time, and stress.
Here’s the story; we had a canceled flight during the night at Malpensa Milan Airport (MXP). The airline placed us in a hotel down the road from the airport. We arrived at the Sheraton MXP at 9 am, six hours earlier than check-in starts. Holding Titanium Elite status gives you late check-out but not early check-in. The check-in staff gave us the room after apologizing because we couldn’t get an upgraded room due to how early we arrived. He gave us the option to wait until noon for a suite, but we politely declined. He gave us complimentary breakfast for both mornings (doesn’t include breakfast arrival day) and late check-out at 6 pm instead of 4 pm, free of charge.
Breakfast at this Sheraton hotel costs $28, which the staff gifted us. Early check-in is between $10 - $30 per hour, and late check-out is $20 - $50 per hour. On the low end, this stay saved us $216 for simply having status with Marriott.
The savings you receive from the perks and benefits given to you is why hotel status is worth it. The benefits I listed above from one of our stays show how much potential loyalty programs have before adding the use of hotel points for award nights.
Cheapest Flight Available
Tash and I had the same process when it came to booking flights. We used third-party sites that gave the best deals. If possible, I’d always look for an exit row or premium economy but never cared about miles or loyalty with an airline.
Tash had the same routine for booking flights but accumulated miles with Eurowings through Miles&More. ***Eurowings blog post coming soon*** She didn’t gain enough miles to take advantage of them, but her head was in the right place well before mine.
We never gained miles with the same loyalty program because we looked for the best deal available, and the company didn’t matter.
Budget Airlines Worth It?
In the US, budget airlines give a 5% to 20% discount compared to the major airlines depending on where you’re flying (not many major cities have a price differential). The quality of budget airlines falls severely short compared to the major airlines, and they don’t offer better routes. Also, for every additional service, you’ll pay extra. The emergence of Basic Economy with the major airlines has made budget airlines in the US obsolete.
In Europe, you benefit from using good quality budget airlines for a quarter of the costs compared to the major airlines. These budget airlines make up for not having all the services the major airlines offer you by offering the best routes (especially nonstop) throughout Europe. And I must point out that there is no drop-off in quality, unlike the budget airlines compared to the major airlines in the US.
Budget airlines are great for those traveling with a small carry-on or less. When booking Basic Economy, tickets from Italy to Germany can be as low as 20€ roundtrip on a nonstop flight. Budget airlines charge you for every additional service unless you book above economy. Seat selection, carry-ons, suitcases, drinks, and snacks on board will be an additional charge.
Flying in the US doesn’t have a consistent price difference between budget and major airlines, only route-specific flights. More than likely, Basic Economy on a major airline will be the same price or up to 10% more expensive. For the drop in quality and the same routes, budget airlines in the US are not worth using in most situations, short or long term.
In Europe, there’s a significant difference in price and routes between budget and major airlines. Budget airlines offer great routes and much lower costs, and there’s not a significant drop in aircraft quality. Budget airlines are more than worth it when traveling abroad for the short and long term.
Saving Money with Status
Budget airlines in the US are usually not worth it to consistently fly on regardless of status with a loyalty program.
In Europe, choosing major airlines can sometimes make more sense than going with a lower-priced budget airline. Most major airlines are part of an Alliance Partner Programs, and most budget airlines are not. ***Alliance Partner Programs post coming soon*** Basically, alliance partner programs are a family of airlines that allow you to match your earned Frequent Flyer Elite status with every alliance partner in the program.
For example, holding United Airlines Premier Gold Status gives you Star Alliance Gold Status, including extra checked baggage, free seat selection, priority check-in, standby, baggage and boarding, lounge access, and Gold Track.
Why is this important? Eurowings, which I’ve previously mentioned as the best budget airline, is a “non alliance “ partner of the Star Alliance program through its relationship with Lufthansa Airlines. You’ll get these benefits on a budget airline and any other airline in the Star Alliance program.
Tash and I have saved tons with Air Italia (before the bankruptcy, now called ITA Airways with the SkyTeam alliance) because Tash holds the highest status with OneWorld Alliance through American Airlines Platinum Pro status. We’ve received extra checked baggage, free seat selection, priority check-in, standby, baggage and boarding, lounge access, and Fast Track in the past.
These benefits for a one roundtrip flight with Eurowings are worth $200 plus. The added benefits from status with alliance programs are why flying with major airlines can be more beneficial. Also, when you include award travel (flights with miles), you’ll have to consider how much you’ll be saving. The majority of the budget airlines in Europe don’t have a miles system.
Why are Loyalty Programs Important
Loyalty programs have many strengths for customers that consistently travel. In the long run, saving money is one of its many benefits. Depending on who you ask, one of the many benefits can be the critical factor that makes customers want to come back.
Our top benefit with loyalty programs is the customer service. When a company appreciates your loyalty, you’re excited to return to the property or fly with their airline. Excellent customer service saves you money, time, and stress because the staff will go out of their way to ensure everything goes well.
Thus far, Marriott Bonvoy has been number one overall when comparing both hotels and airlines. ***https://www.packyourpoints.com/post/the-road-to-marriott-bonvoy-elite-status***
Points and Miles Worth
You can’t explain loyalty programs’ importance without mentioning points and miles. You earn points and miles on each dollar spent with that loyalty program and partner companies. Points and miles create opportunities for free aspirational trips you usually wouldn’t take, upgrade options without using cash, and more flexibility with cancelations. Your money is extended with points and miles because they’re the loyalty program’s currency. You can keep your money in your bank account and use points and miles for your trips. ***https://www.packyourpoints.com/post/welcome-to-pack-your-points***
How to Gain
Gaining points and miles with loyalty programs is pretty straightforward. The most simple way to earn loyalty points and miles is to spend with that company as intended. The more money used with that loyalty program, the more points and miles you’ll earn.
Most loyalty programs have built-in ways to earn points and miles other than strictly booking flights or hotels. The company website will have portals for different forms of travel and online shopping that gain bonus points and miles.
The more complicated way of gaining points and miles is through travel credit cards associated with the loyalty program. Travel credit cards present unique opportunities to earn points at a higher rate. Spending with the chosen loyalty program will give a higher bonus of points per dollar spent. Travel cards have bonus categories for everyday life like groceries, gas, dining, and other forms of travel. Travel cards also keep your loyalty points and miles from expiring if you don’t plan to use your chosen company for an extended period. ***Loyalty Program Cards post will be linked here in the following days***
Best Ways to Use Points and Miles
If you only want to save money (by not spending cash), using points and miles for travel is an easy process. Understanding the best ways to use your loyalty points and miles is where everything becomes complicated. Trying to get the most CPP (cents per point) value for your points and miles for travel is when the process becomes difficult, but it is well worth it.
***only speaking about travel redemptions for points and miles***
Let’s start with the easy way to spend your points and miles. Every loyalty program has an easy process to redeem points award travel. I’ll use Marriott Bonvoy points as examples of redeeming points for award redemption within Marriott Bonvoy and transferring Bonvoy points out to transfer partners for award redemptions.
Award Redemption within Marriott Bonvoy
Select your location, dates, and number of guests (like any standard booking).
Before clicking “Find Hotels”, select “Use Points / Awards. After selecting, now select “Find Hotels” to continue.
***Below the “Use Points / Awards” tab, you’ll find your available points and awards/certificates, including Free Night Certificates (FNC) and Suite Night Awards (SNA).***
Select the hotel of your choosing. *** You’ll see the available awards stays by the hotels showing the required points.***
*** There’s an option at the top of the page to select “Prices Including Taxes and Show Available Properties Only” you should always select both.***
***Under the points required for each property, you’ll see the original cost of the property. That’s how you determine the CPP value of your points (price •/• points = A X 100 = CPP VALUE).***
Select the room and rate you prefer
You’ll have the option of full points redemption or “Cash & Points Redemption”.
After selecting your chosen room and rate, you’ll be brought to the final confirmation page.
Before checking out, you’ll have a summary of your points redemption, and if you have any available, you get the option to redeem your FNC.
You can select “Redeem Free Night” and proceed if you have one. If not, read over your details and confirm your payment.
Congratulations, you’ve booked your first award redemption stay! Most hotel redemptions are that easy. Hilton is more of a hassle to redeem their Free Weekend Night (FWN) because you have to call in to redeem it.
As you see, redeeming loyalty program points and miles within that program is a straightforward process. The process becomes more complicated when you transfer points from one loyalty program to another.
Points redemption within the program takes five steps, maybe six if you’re redeeming an FNC. Transferring Marriott Bonvoy points out to transfer partners takes a little more effort.
***transferring Bonvoy points to partners will be a lower value than using them with Marriott properties 90% of the time. Transfer bonuses, transferring Bonvoy points to airlines that don’t accept other points currency, or topping off miles with an airline are the only uses I suggest making this transfer.***
Transferring Marriott Bonvoy Points to Partners
Go to www.Marriott.com, log into your account and stroll down to the bottom of the home page. Select the “Marriott Bonvoy” tab. The tab will have a drop-down list, then select the “Redeem Points” tab.
You’ll scroll down to the “Optimize Your Points” section on the next page. You’ll select the “Transfer Points to Miles” tab in that section.
On the “Transfer Points to Miles” page, Marriott gives you all the information about their transfer partners and bonus opportunities when you transfer. Now, you’ll select “Transfer Points”.
On the “Transfer Points” page, you’ll see the Frequent Flyer Programs to select from and the section you’ll enter your Frequent Flyer Program. Under, you’ll see the conversion rate you’ll get when transferring Bonvoy points to Frequent Flyer miles before selecting. After you have filled out all the information, select “CONTINUE”.
The final step will be to “Verify Points to Miles”. Look over your information, make sure everything matches, then confirm your transfer by selecting “Convert”.
***before starting this process, you should make sure there is availability on the flight you’re choosing to redeem travel with.***
Congratulations, you’ve now completed your first transfer to a Marriott Bonvoy transfer partner!
Now, you’ll follow almost the same steps as we did for Marriott Bonvoy award nights with your chosen airline. It’s always a simple process when redeeming award flights within the same frequent flyer company. The complicated work happens before the transfer because you’ll have to make sure there is seat availability.
I hope today's post laid out the advantages and opportunities presented to you with loyalty programs. The purpose of today's post was not to persuade you to abandon your typical budget and spend more to earn status with a company.
Today's post showed you how changing who you choose to spend with can enhance your traveling experience while potentially saving hundreds to thousands.
The next step to enhance your traveling experience further would be using travel credit cards! In past blog posts, I’ve explained the many different ways to gain points and status with travel cards. ***https://www.packyourpoints.com/post/the-game-changers***
I have yet to explain how travel credit cards can work with loyalty programs! In the following days, I’ll have a blog post to explain how travel cards can take you even further with loyalty programs!
Until next time, before you pack your bags, don’t forget to PACK YOUR POINTS!
I am not a financial advisor and highly recommend doing your own homework about the credit card you want to apply for! All of the content on my website, page and channel are for entertainment purposes only.
If you’d like my opinion or help in forming an idea of what works, I’m here to help.
Here are REFERRAL LINKS to the credit cards mentioned in today’s post. By using them to apply, you’ll be supporting the website and channel because when approved, I’ll receive bonus points and miles as well!
*Be sure to check the public offer on the credit cards website to compare which is best for you!*
Schwab Platinum Card by Amex
Apply for an American Express Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you're approved! http://refer.amex.us/KENNEHImXb?xl=cp105f
Platinum Card by Amex
Apply for an American Express Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you're approved! http://refer.amex.us/NATASHkCtJ?XLINK=MYCP