It is odd to realize that a luxury hotel can be the means for budget travel, and therefore, sustainable travel for my husband and I. But strange as it sounds, we have found this to be the case.
For instance when we arrived in Venice a few weeks ago and needed a place to stay, (after a bit of internet time), we found ourselves at the Westin Venice, a five-star hotel just around the corner from St. Mark’s Plaza. We found ourselves here not because we have high standards for comfort and quality, but because we are cheap- too cheap to pay $20 a bed for a hostel when we could stay at the Westin for free.
Now, certainly hostels serve a unique purpose for lone travellers that is tough to find elsewhere. For instance, in a hostel you are sure to find other travelers and thus, some of the anxieties that can come along with lone-travel might be eased. It is tough to find such a community atmosphere elsewhere.
And yet, my husband and I will pick a hotel over a hostel every time. Our reasoning can be summed up in just two words: “Rewards programs.”
While this strategy may cost very little cash, it does cost quite a bit of research and strategy. In this article I’d like to start that research process by discussing what rewards programs are, how they work, and how they can end up stretching out your travel funds.
What are rewards programs and how do they work?
Chain hotels will often create a program that offers its customers an incentive for remaining loyal. (Thus, these rewards programs can also be called loyalty programs.)
Most often in the hotel industry these incentives are given in the form of hotel points. For every dollar you spend with the hotel, you receive a point (sometimes more and sometimes less depending on the situation) that you can put towards a free night witht he brand in the future.
These points may feel like they accumulate slowly, but there are a few ways to speed up that earning process through promotions. We won’t go into that now, but you can read more about the role promotions play in our strategy for full-time travel.
Really there are two basic ways to collect these hotel points.
1.) By being rewarded for your paid stays, as mentioned above (with or without a promotion to speed that earning along).
2.) By signing up for that hotel’s credit card. For example Starwood (the hotel chain associated with the Westin hotel mentioned before) offers a credit card with a 25,000 point bonus, achieved after spending a certain amount on the card within a certain amount of time.
If the mention of a required amount of spending between you and your bonus makes you nervous, there are tricks for that too. While it’s a bit complex to introduce in this article, you can read more about the tricks for reaching spend requirements here.
How do these rewards programs make it possible for a luxury hotel to be a cheaper option than a hostel?
The primary reason we’ve opted for hotels over hostels is because many luxury hotels are part of a chain, and as I mentioned above, many chain hotels offer you reward programs that open the door for spending something other than money- points.
A hostel has never decreased my nightly rate because I’m a return customer. When we go to a hostel, we pay per bed, perhaps we buy a locker too and perhaps we pay for internet on top of that. Then, when our stay is finished, we go on our way and that money is gone.
When we stay with a hotel that has a loyalty program, even if we are spending money, we’re buying more than our room for the night. We’re buying a small piece of another night.
The best way to make this work for your benefit is by paying for stays at the cheapest hotel the brand has to offer. For instance if we see a Holiday Inn for $50, we’ll stay there knowing that we’ll earn points that can be spent at the nicest hotels in IHG’s brand if we’d like. IHG is actually a wonderful example of this process because of a promotion they offer called “PointBreaks.” During this promotion IHG releases a list of hotels whose price in points will be discounted severely, including some very nice luxury hotels. (Read more about IHG’s PointBreaks promotion here.)
Luxury hotels like to grab up the best property they can find, often making them quite central to any kind of attraction you might be in town to see. And centrality will save you money. In the Venice example I mentioned above, our central location allowed us to avoid taking a daily bus into Venice.
On another occasion, we stayed at a five-star hotel in a prime location in Kowloon, HongKong. Thanks to our location, we were within walking distance of the evening light show.
While it takes a bit of a strategic approach, my husband and I have made this our primary strategy for long-term travel. Since beginning our pursuit of the nomadic life two and a half years ago, we’ve stayed at 74 four or five star hotels for free.
In my mind this statistic is not impressive because of the luxury but rather because of this: 74 free nights means 74 more days of exploring this beautiful planet.