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This might sound like an anathema to some people, but I am going to say it anyway – I couldn’t care less about airline or hotel loyalty. Elite tiers that are somewhat easy to reach for a person that doesn’t travel much or spends a lot on travel, don’t provide many benefits, so I see this as a pointless pursuit. Let me elaborate why I feel this way.
I think a lot of travelers care too much about earning status with any one program. It’s much more difficult to earn elite status with airlines now than it was five years ago. For example, mid-tier hotel status (I am looking at you, Marriott Bonvoy) doesn’t mean much and doesn’t really give any perks anymore.
Hilton Honors might be the only exception. Even mid-tier members that have Gold status that (comes with a few different credit cards get the one benefit that is, in my opinion, worth having – a free breakfast.
I probably travel more than an average person but the only reason I have Gold status with any hotel program is because I have the Business Platinum Card from American Express . If I close this card, I’ll lose the status I have and I am absolutely fine with it.
Why I Won’t Pursue Hotel Elite Status
If you want to venture beyond major cities, you will find that many smaller towns and villages all over the world don’t have any American chain hotels. And if you were to worry about accumulating as many stays as possible at Hyatt or Marriott properties, you’ll miss out on seeing some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Here’s an example. A couple years ago my husband and I went to Italy and we stayed at Santa Margherita Ligure, a midsize Italian town not far from Genoa. This magical town makes a perfect base for exploring Portofino, Cinque Terre and other fine Italian towns and villages along the gorgeous Ligurian coast. The only chain hotel there is a Best Western, but there’s not a Hyatt, Marriott or Hilton in sight.
I didn’t use points on this trip and had I been concerned about earning elite credits on paid stays, I probably wouldn’t have gone there. I would’ve missed out on one of the best trips I’ve ever done!
Going to London? There are lots of chain hotels in London, but the more centrally located ones require a lot, and I mean A LOT, of hotel points. And it doesn’t matter if you go during off-peak times, the price in points is still pretty high. In such an expensive city, it’s not easy to acquire enough points for more than a couple of nights’ stay at a specific hotel chain.
Here’s how many Marriott Bonvoy points you’ll need to book just one night at a centrally located Marriott property.
When I travel to a place like London, I spend very little time at the hotel. I don’t care about big ballrooms, fancy, gyms or a beautiful lobby. I want a clean room, a comfortable bed and a quiet location. And this is exactly what many local independent hotels can offer tourists, and at a much more reasonable price too.
Of course, London is an expensive city and high hotel prices are to be expected. However, if you focus your efforts on acquiring transferable points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, you would have a lot more options for a great stay in London.
When I was writing this, I ran a sample search on Ultimate Rewards portal for four star hotels for the month of September. I limited my search to hotels with a guest ratings of very good or higher. As you can see, the price in points is a lot more reasonable than for any of the Marriott hotels above.
Of course, Ultimate Rewards points aren’t the same as Marriott points, and to get the best value out of them you’ll need to have Chase Sapphire Reserve as it allows you to get 1.5 cents per point. However, they are a lot easier to earn too, thanks to the many Ultimate Rewards earning cards that come with generous welcome bonuses and great bonus categories like Chase Ink Business Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve.
I am writing this from Japan, a notoriously expensive country. And guess what, I booked my Tokyo and Kyoto hotels through the Chase portal. I got the room type I wanted and my rate included breakfast. Many non-chain hotels often have breakfast included in the rate too. You don’t need to be an elite to enjoy a nice breakfast spread. The staff are treating us like royalty, greeting us by name so I definitely feel appreciated. No elite status needed! Plus, there are far more non-chain hotels than chains, so why limit yourself?
I was especially thrilled with our Kyoto hotel, The Thousand Kyoto. I love modern design and this hotel was really up my alley. We got a big room by Japanese standard, and the rate I booked included a fabulous breakfast. The hotel costs far less in cash and points than the very few chain hotels in the city.
If you are traveling with a family, finding rooms that can accommodate more than two people and won’t charge you extra could be problematic. However, if you have flexible currencies in your arsenal, you can easily book a suite or a family room to make sure your family has enough room to spread out.
Why I Don’t Pursue Airline Status
I feel the same way about airline status as I do about the hotel status. It’s very hard nowadays to earn airline status if you aren’t a “road warrior”, don’t fly a lot and don’t buy expensive last-minute fares. So why bother chasing airline loyalty at all?
Personally, I’d never take a longer flight or a flight with connections just to earn elite qualifying miles or meet elite qualifying spend. My time is worth something too. If I want more leg room, I can spend a little bit extra if I want to sit in economy plus, instead of hoping the airline will upgrade me.
If you have Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Platinum, you can access many airport lounges and airport restaurants, no elite status needed. Paying the annual fee on one of these premium cards that have lounge access is cheaper than having to buy more expensive tickets on a preferred airline.
Doing status runs, i.e. flying just for the sake of flying, not for the sake of actually seeing new places, is something I’d never do either. I travel so I can have new experiences and see new places, not to spend time at the airport, at airport lounges and on planes.
Because of where I live and the dominant airline at my home airport, I have to be (somewhat) loyal to United Airlines. I really value United miles because they get me where I need to go. However, I would never spend more just to fly on United and earn United miles. My goal is, simply, to save money (or miles) and find the most convenient flights.
Great fare sales pop up from time to time and you can piece together a great trip without worrying about any hotel or airline loyalty, like my recent amazing, and pretty frugal, trip to Florence. So, who cares which airline you fly if you can get to Italy for about $500?
Go Where You Want to Go – Be Strategic and Earn Miles and Points You Need
In the process of pursuing an elite status with one program travelers might lose time, money and an opportunity to explore places where their preferred airline doesn’t operate flights or their preferred program doesn’t have any hotel properties.
I don’t want to be a slave to points or to a particular chain or airline. When friends ask my advice, I tell them to figure out where they want to go, then think about how they can make it happen. My husband and I like to set travel goals for ourselves and then work on getting enough points and miles to get us there. I try not to let the tail wag the dog and have the miles and points dictate where I want to go.
Worrying about hotel and airline loyalty can make travelers miss on visiting some really amazing places. The approach I outlined above works best when you have a good amount of flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Of course, earning airline miles and hotel points has its value. What we need to remember though, is to not let them control us.
What’s your approach to airline and hotel loyalty? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, especially if you disagree with me.
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