Travel Strategies: Hotels Savings Part 1

One of the biggest expenses of traveling is accommodation costs.  Back in my youth, saving money was pretty simple — just find a youth hostel and get a bed in a shared dormitory.  I would still do this for sure, but now that I am traveling with Lisa, we definitely would rather share a room together instead of segregating ourselves to single sex dorms.  Cost wise, it usually isn’t that much more for us to share a room versus paying separately to stay in a dormitory.  Even better is when we discovered Couchsurfing, when the cost was zero and we often had our own room and a bed to share.  A few years ago we discovered Airbnb and had some great experiences using that platform.  Another option that we have had success is in using Priceline bidding and using Hotwire — doing some research usually allowed us to figure out which hotel we might get through those opaque hotel web sites.  However, over the past couple of years our biggest strategy of saving on hotel costs is by using the points offered by credit card sign-ups.  Case in point:  this Labor Day weekend we will be visiting San Francisco.  With a popular convention in town, rates at all properties are sky high.  Even using points would be pretty expensive.  Thankfully we still have three free-night certificates to use from our Ritz-Carlton credit card.  With an average rate of $436 per night, we are getting over $1300 in value from the credit card that we signed up for last year.  The only thing we had to do to get these certificates was spend $5,000 in three months, which wasn’t too difficult to do because we timed our credit card application to coincide with our annual payments for insurance premiums and other upcoming travel bookings.  All in all, using the points and perks offered by credit cards has been the best way for us to stay very cheaply in hotels.  Eventually one day we will run out of points, but tomorrow I’ll share another strategy that we have recently used to save money on regular online hotel bookings…

InterContinental Dubai Marina: The Perks of Membership

We checked out of our Hilton Garden Inn this morning to spend our final few days in a different area of the city, the Dubai Marina.  The marina is pretty far out there from the Hilton, so we chose to stay at the InterContinental Dubai Marina primarily because of its location and because we had some free nights to use at any IHG property.  Ah, the perks of membership!

Lisa and I both have the IHG Mastercard, which carries at $49 annual fee.  For this very low cost, we receive automatic Platinum Elite membership status, which allows us perks like upgrades when available, a welcome amenity (usually a bottle of water or some extra hotel points) and late check-out.  Perhaps the biggest benefit is the fact that every year we have the credit card, we receive a certificate that covers one free night at any IHG property in the world.  That means any Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites and the top end InterContinental.

Upon check-in we were recognized as Platinum Elite members and provided with an automatic upgrade from their regular room to a suite.  We are pretty simple travelers and we would have been happy for our regular room, but of course we’ll accept a free upgrade to a better room.  We can’t recall the last time we had a fancy room, so we didn’t know what to expect when we entered our home for our last few days here in Dubai…

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Our room has a doorbell! Upon entering, we come to the separate living area


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Half bath


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Bedroom with king

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Ensuite bathroom with huge rain shower head

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View from our balcony

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Dubai Marina

The rooms here typically go for between $250-$300, so we’ve definitely maximized our return on value, plus this location adjacent to the marina is beautiful. Bottom line is that the IHG Mastercard should be at the top of the list for anyone wanting a cheap and rewarding travel credit card.

Secret Savings: Flying Elephants at the Portland Airport

If I were to ever have another flight leaving the Portland airport after 9 p.m., in addition to enjoying the lounge access in the Alaska Airlines Board Room, I will also indulge in some cheap food at flying elephants Deli. After a certain time every evening, they discount a good portion of their hot and cold foods. I don’t quite know when this magic hour is comma but when I went there this past weekend it was already 8 o’clock. So I imagine either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. is when they will discount the food. And they do have a large and varied selection as you can see here. And sometimes, you will get lucky because the pastries and cookies will be half off as well. So naturally I had to get a peanut butter cookie for my flight!

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Flying Home: the Perks of the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card

We savored our last hours at the Hyatt Ziva and then took our scheduled shuttle van to the airport.  We arrived two hours before our scheduled flight, so we used the perks offered by our Ritz Carlton credit card to gain entry into the VIP Lounge Club, which was just steps away from our boarding gate.

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The lounge offers a menu of mixed cocktail drinks

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Plus sandwiches

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Hand salads

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The lounge features two levels. This upper level also has our service and food plus more rooms

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This room is for families or Recreation, with a pool table and a video game console to play on a TV

For our return flight, we still had $100 left over from the annual $300 travel credit that the Ritz Carlton credit card provides for baggage fees, lounge membership, upgrades and more.  We used $62 to upgrade our seats to the exit row for more leg room, then we spent about $30 to enjoy food from the menu and Lisa also purchased a glass of wine.  

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All told, our upgrades to first class on the flight down and to the exit row for our return flight were practically free using our credit card.  Plus having the VIP lounge to stretch out and have drinks and more food is such a great way to travel with less stress, we are certainly glad that we signed up for this credit card that offers so much.

Travel Strategies: IHG PointBreaks

As a member of IHG (International Hotels Group) and owners of their credit card, Lisa and I have about 100,000 points between us.  With redemptions for free overnight stays around 25k – 40k, that is good for about four free nights at the low end.  However, every quarter IHG releases their PointBreaks promotion where certain hotels in their portfolio are discounted to only 5,000 points per night.  So conceivably, we could stretch our 100k points into twenty free hotel stays.  Of course, the hotels are usually lower end properties in rural, far-off areas, and the availability is limited and runs out very quickly.  However, we have gotten lucky in the past and were able to use two 5,000 point nights on our recent trip to Savannah, saving us at least $200.  And we were also able to book the promotion in Eugene for two nights for the James Taylor concert, again saving us at least $200.  I write this post tonight because the next batch of IHG PointBreaks should be released sometime this week, for stays November 1st – January 31st.  Since Lisa and I have a week of winter break still open, plus some weekends, we are hopeful that we can find a property here in Oregon or Washington that we can take advantage of.  With the Holiday Inn brand, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites, there are a number of hotels that just might work and we’ll cross our fingers that we can score something good.  Updates later this week to follow!