Why Convertible Reward Points Are Better Than Airline Miles

airlines don't deserve loyalty

airlines don't deserve loyalty

In case you haven’t noticed, the U.S. airlines don’t care much about you as a customer. Even the people who fly so much that they are at the top elite level status don’t always get upgraded, so even they are grumbling about the lousy service, the cramped seats, and the bare-bones amenities on the big 3 legacy airlines.

Plus the airlines are hitting you with every fee that they can legally get away with. You can no longer assume even international flights will get you a free checked bag unless you are on a superior foreign airline or on Southwest. They intentionally make it hard for you to figure this out too in the booking process, then hide the rules, ones almost guaranteed to result in a “gotcha fee.” On American Airlines, for example, a flight to Panama includes a bag, but one to Costa Rica does not.  For El Salvador it depends on the time of year. For Mexico and Colombia it depends on what city you’re landing in. No joke.

Having the airline’s credit card won’t get you out of the fees either. If you pull it out on an international flight with a bag fee, the airline agent will shake their head and say, “No, that’s only for domestic flight bag fees.” Why does the destination matter? Because you don’t matter, that’s why.

Airline Loyalty Doesn’t Pay

The only way to strike back at this system is to forget loyalty and either go for the best fare (Allegiant and Southwest will actually treat you better than American these days anyway) or to fly for free whenever possible.

It used to be rewarding to fly with a single airline and rack up frequent flyer miles. But now you don’t earn many miles from actually flying. Here’s what I earned on a recent flight all the way to Central America and back via Houston—for flying thousands of actual miles.

hotel miles versus airline miles

Notice that Houston to Tampa is 635 miles in one direction, but a paltry 235 “miles” the other direction. Driving 235 miles from Tampa would not even get me to Atlanta, but now the “miles” are based on airline revenue and fare class, not distance, a change that has drastically weakened how much you can earn for your loyalty. So now most airline miles come through credit card spending, not flying, because it’s a simpler penny per mile or more for spending, not a complicated formula that’s great for the airlines but terrible for the customer.

This is why you’re far better off collecting points and miles that can be used across multiple programs. Some credit cards allow you to do this, such as the Amex Membership Rewards program and the Chase Sapphire/Venture program. For the former you transfer the points in chunks whenever you want, topping off your airline miles account to get to a specific mileage level or transferring large enough amounts to get your whole ticket. For the Chase program, you simply use the points’ value to book any ticket, without going through the airlines.

Bonwi points work the same way as the Chase ones during redemption. If you have 30,000 Bonwi Rewards points, you purchase a $299 ticket and have a buck to spare. No blackout dates, no restrictions. You also don’t get dinged for taxes and fees like you would redeeming airline miles since that’s part of the ticket price. (I recently paid $77 for my “free” ticket to Belize on Delta and American Air once wanted nearly $300 in taxes and fees for an even less free ticket that stopped for a layover in London. Instead I flew Singapore Air through another airport instead with United miles and paid $49 in fees.)

Bonwi rewards points Chicago

Here’s the advantage though: it’s not simply a point per dollar or maybe two points you could get from Chase. You could conceivably spend $200 per night on a hotel but get more than 10,000 Bonwi Rewards points for a two-night stay. It’s not uncommon to see a payback of 15 to 30%.

If you really want to play this game right, pay for that hotel stay with a premium Chase card on top. Then you’re double-dipping without giving loyalty to an airline that doesn’t earn it. You won’t earn a paltry amount of airline miles that are hard to cash in, but a hefty amount of reward miles that have real value for redemption. Just one vacation can pay for another weekend away.

Vote with your wallet—instead of nostalgic airline loyalty—and reap bigger rewards for more travel with Bonwi Rewards!

Contributor Tim Leffel is author of one of the leading books on living abroad and is also author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. See his regular rants on the Cheapest Destinations Blog

Can We Really Keep Up With All These Hotel Brands?

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

Quick – if you have 30,000 Starwood or Marriott points, at which of their brands can you probably stay one night for free?

If you have 50,000 points with IHG, what does that really mean for which hotels you can stay in as a reward?

What do you get if you have points with Wyndham, Choice, Carlson, or Hilton?

Well, that picture at the top of this post will give you a clue about how hard this is to answer. As hotel chains have merged, spun off, been acquired, and split up, it’s hard to keep up with who’s who. It’s hard to know one big hotel company is owned by the Chinese, while another is owned by the French. One big conglomerate is Spanish and the Four Seasons is majority-owned by Arabs. Do you know which of the ever-expanding brands you can get into with your loyalty points?

The Head-Spinning Hotel Brands Game

The problem isn’t that you aren’t aware of who’s who. The problem is that only the most dedicated lodging geek could possibly keep up. Ritz-Carlton wasn’t always part of Marriott. Kimpton wasn’t always part of Intercontinental Hotel Group. Fairmont wasn’t always part of Accor – home to Sofitel and Mercure. Motel 6 was part of that chain, then it wasn’t.

Then just when you think you have a brand pegged, it shifts again. Orient-Express Hotels become Belmond. Andaz is launched as a hipper Hyatt. The roadside motel chain Best Western starts launching nice beach resorts right on the sand. Radisson hotels are usually dated and second-tier in the USA, but it Asia if you put “Blu” on the end it might be the nicest property in town. In Stockholm I stayed at a Clarion and it looked like this:

Clarion Amaranten in Central Stockholm restaurant

The problem comes in when you’re limited to a specific set of brands by your hotel loyalty program. Looking at that Marriott list at the top, do you have any idea what you’ll end up with if you cash in points for Delta, Tribute, Protea, AC, or Moxy? If you have Hilton Honors points saved up, do you feel comfortable trading them for a stay with Canopy, Tapestry, or Tru?

Sure, it’s nice to be able to trade Wyndham Rewards points in for a free stay, but there may not be a Wyndham Grand where you’re headed. Your only choice may be Super8, Days Inn, or Howard Johnson’s.

Points for Any Hotel, Anytime, Anywhere

If you book your stay with Bonwi, you won’t have to worry about any of this. Your points build up with any hotel brands, so there’s no need to compromise and pick an inferior choice. You can choose the hotel that earns the most reward points or just choose the hotel – from any brand – that is closest to your meetings or convention. You will usually earn more points than you would have with the corporate program, but your choices of what to do with them aren’t limited. You can book an independent hotel not part of any chain and still earn points that are worth real money.

You can earn points from a Hilton stay that you then apply to a Holiday Inn Express. Points from a stay at an Econolodge can top off your point balance to get you into a Four Seasons. You can rack up points with a Banyan Tree resort in Asia and take your family to any all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean you’d like.  No restrictions, no redemption tiers, no reward chart to memorize. Just earn points, cash them in, get free stays.

See how it all works here.

The Hotel Zones of Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay beach resort

Tampa Bay’s airport is often filled with families and couples on a getaway trip to sun and fun in Florida. The area also gets a lot of overflow traffic from Orlando, with people heading to the beach after the overstimulation of theme parks and loud chain restaurants. Tampa Bay is a big, spread-out metro area though, so where should you stay?

The metro area includes a lot of different towns and neighborhoods, from some of the USA’s best white-sand beaches to urban locations filled with museums, cultural events, and conventions. Here’s a rundown on the options for when you’re feeling overwhelmed by 200+ lodging choices.

Clearwater Beach

Often voted one of America’s best beaches, this three-mile stretch of sand is pedestrian-friendly and kept in pristine condition. The water is warm and calm most of the year and the powdery white sand feels great between the toes. There are a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from here, with a family-friendly atmosphere.

Clearwater Beach hotel Opal Sands

Top Choices: Opal Sands (pictured above), Hyatt Clearwater Beach, Wyndham Grand Clearwater, Sandpearl Resort

St. Petersburg Beach Sirata Beach Resort hammock on St. Pete Beach, Florida in the Tampa Bay area

More spaced-out than Clearwater Beach, the white sands of St. Pete Beach never feel very crowded, even on holiday weekends. You could walk for an hour before having to turn around on this beach and smart zoning practices have meant that hotels are set well back from the tide lines when a hurricane blows through.

Top Choices: Don CeSar, Kimpton Hotel Zamora, Guy Harvey Outpost, Sirata Beach Resort (pictured here), Postcard Inn

Downtown St. Petersburg

With a wide, white-sand beach just a few miles away, why would you stay in downtown St. Pete? Ten years ago that would have been a hard question to answer, but now this is one of the most attractive urban areas in Florida, with lively nightlife and great cultural attractions. The Dali Museum is worth a visit by itself, but you also have a Chihuly Glass Works museum, a highly regarded fine arts museum, and multiple performance halls and music clubs.

Vinoy Hotel St. Petersburg, Florida

Top Choices: Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg (pictured above), The Birchwood, Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront

Find your perfect Tampa Bay hotel here. 

Sand Key, Treasure Island, Indian Shores, and Redington Beaches

In between Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are a slew of similar-looking stretches of sand making up the barrier island chain separated by bridges from the mainland. It’s hard to tell when you’ve left one and entered another unless you’re paying close attention to the street signs. So if you’re just looking for a beach with a nice sunset, you’ll do fine on any of them.

Top Choices: Sheraton Sand Key, Marriott Suites Sand Key, Treasure Island Resort, Sunset Vistas, Thunderbird Beach Resort

Tampa Downtown

The actual city of Tampa is on the bay, not the Gulf, so it was the first area to be settled as a port city. It really thrived as “Cigar City” in the early 1900s as Cuban cigar rollers shared the Ybor City port area with immigrants from Spain, Italy, and other parts of the world. There are a few hotels in Ybor City, but most of the best ones are concentrated downtown, near the convention center. The top boutique hotel is in South Tampa though: Epicurean.

Top choices: Le Meridien Tampa (pictured below), Marriott Waterside, Westin Harbour Island

Le Meridien Hotel Tampa downtown

Tampa Airport and Causeway

If your business is near the airport and local office complexes rather than downtown.  There are clusters of hotels by the airport, a few near Kennedy and Westshore, and on the causeway that leads out to the beach areas. There are also a few budget and mid-range options (plus an Embassy Suites) near the Busch Gardens amusement park.

Top choices: Tampa Airport Marriott, Westshore Grand, Renaissance Tampa Plaza, Westin Tampa Bay, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

Find the best deals on Tampa Bay Hotels and earn valuable points back for every stay—at any hotel—with Bonwi.com. 

Five Fantastic Destination Spas In The Western United States

Finding complete relaxation sometimes requires escaping for a while to somewhere dedicated to making you feel new again. While hotels everywhere have spa programs, the western US is host to some of the nation’s top destination spas – resorts offering a full restorative experience including therapy, healthy cuisine, and wellness programs; often amid scenic views and perfect weather. We’ve selected this short list of destination spas in the western states based on their charm, amenities, quality, and the immersiveness of their programs.

Mii amo Spa At Enchantment Resort

Tucked away in the Coconino National Forest north of Phoenix, Arizona, Mii amo is a secluded destination spa perfect for finding your center. While Sedona’s red rock formations instill a sense of zen, Mii amo sits among them harmoniously, with an open and inviting architecture designed around its natural surroundings. The spa features massage techniques from around the globe and transformational activities including Native American inspired rituals and meditation. Hiking trails and a full calendar of fitness and wellness workshops keep your options rounded. Sessions are offered both outdoors and within Mii amo’s many scenic treatment rooms.

The Well Spa At Miramonte

Located in Southern California’s Palm Springs Desert community at the Miramonte Resort, The Well Spa is considered a favorite by locals and visitors alike. This charming Tuscan-inspired villa sits peacefully afoot the Santa Rosa Mountains, adorned with bougainvillea and cyprus , setting the perfect mood to unwind. The spa, covering 12,000 square feet (1.114 square meters), boasts three outdoor treatment spaces, saline pools, bench-water therapy, and a eucalyptus-infused steam room. Begin your spa experience by choosing a stone on which a word of intention is inscribed. This becomes a mantra for your journey to restoration. A few unique treatments offered by The Well Spa include their signature Sticks and Stones massage, a honey massage, a couples painting party using restorative muds.

Claremont Hotel Club & Spa

If you’d like to relax and visit the San Francisco Bay Area, think of the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa as your island in the city. This spa offers a robust menu of treatments and sweeping bay views within a lovingly restored resort dating back to 1915. Watch a sunset over San Francisco in the distance from open-bay windows during a eucalyptus bath therapy session. Customized hydrafacials, aromatherapy, and up to six styles of massage are among the spa therapy offerings. Unwind at your own pace while within minutes of an amazing food scene and northern California’s natural beauty. Feeling adventurous after relaxing? Work on your swing at the on-site tennis club, or take a day trip to San Francisco, coastal villages, or the nearby wine country.

Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa

The coastal village of La Jolla, just minutes north of San Diego, California, is home to this luxury hotel and spa modeled as a charming spanish-colonial villa. Estancia sits on 10 acres of immaculately-curated gardens high on the cliffs above Torrey Pines state beach. It’s award-winning spa features a Sea Stone Massage, eucalyptus steam room, and a meditation garden with overstuffed pillows. Bringing someone special with you? An intimate couple’s bungalow featuring a private deck and outdoor soaking tub for two catches ocean breezes all day.

Spa By The Sea

On the island of Kauai, imagine a massage right on the beach, the sound of waves, and a scent of cocoa butter. Literally a spa by the sea, Hawaii’s Waipouli Beach Resort features beach massages, body treatments making use of volcanic ash (an antioxidant), and body wraps with noni fruit, used for centuries by traditional healers throughout the Pacific Islands. When you’re not enjoying the sun, sand, and natural beauty of Kauai, a Japanese Soaking Tub, Vichy Shower room, and Chiropractic suite offer additional ways to relax at this tropical-destination spa.

Feeling like it’s time to hit your reset button? We all deserve some time for ourselves now and then. Putting time on the calendar to decompress might be the best thing you do for yourself this year, and a destination spa out west waits to welcome you.

 

With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, a little last-minute booking for some rest and relaxation on Bonwi.com could be the perfect gift. And make sure you check back every Tuesday for our latest edition of Travel Tip Tuesday!

Rewards Points Battle: PointsHound vs. Bonwi

earning loyalty points Las Vegas
earning loyalty points Las Vegas
Who has the higher points payoff in Las Vegas?

Who is going to get you to a free flight faster: PointsHound or Bonwi?

We say the best way to rack up rewards points fast is to use Bonwi for hotel bookings, but how much more do you really earn in practice? We’ve put services to the test before, showing you how much faster you could earn rewards compared to both an online travel agency like Hotels.com and a direct booking program with a hotel chain like IHG Group.

Now let’s look at another site focused on rewards: PointsHound.

How the PointsHound Program Works

For this program, you choose your city and dates for a hotel booking, then earn points based on which hotel you choose. Points are applied to one of 19 airline frequent flier programs, such as American, United, or Finnair. On most there is no maximum, but you have to play by the specific program’s rules, so the site says, “For example, United MileagePlus imposes a maximum of 100,000 Miles annual limit that can earned through PointsHound.” Since it says you can earn “up to 10,000 points per night,” we assume you’ll never see earnings higher than that either for individual nights.

All programs are not equal either. So you could possibly earn 6,000 miles on JetBlue for a booking, but maybe only 2,000 if you picked Eithad instead. The only way you’ll know is to start the process over. You eventually get rewarded for loyalty here: you earn a bump up in points after your 5th and 20th stays, though it doesn’t say by how much. The program covers more than 300,000 properties worldwide.

How the Bonwi Program Differs

With Bonwi you don’t have to choose an airline program ahead of time since your points can be applied to any flight on any airline, with no blackout dates, no restrictions. It’s a simple 1-cent redemption value.

If you want to use your points for something else, no problem. You can cash them in for hotel rooms (at a better than 1-cent value) or use them for rental cars or gift cards to top-brand retailers—without the devaluation you see with airline points used elsewhere.

There’s no cap on how many points you can earn per night (sometimes it can top 20,000 at luxury properties) and no cap on how many points you can earn per year.

Comparison of Points Earned

So how do the differences play out in the real world? We pulled up sample dates a month from now to see how many points we would earn in different programs. We randomly chose United as our airfare carrier on PointsHound since it’s part of the Star Alliance, with the best partners overall. We chose popular business travel cities that road warriors spend a lot of time in.

First up, we headed to Las Vegas, home to the largest hotels in the world and some of the biggest convention spaces. As luck would have it, the two top points earners in both programs were the same, so let’s start there. Here’s what you would get on PointsHound:

PointsHound earnings Las Vegas

Not a bad payoff. Thanks to a promotion, you would get 6,700 or 7,150 United miles total by booking one of these hotels at $180 to $199 per night before the dreaded “resort fee.”

Bonwi points earned Las Vegas

If you booked either of these properties with Bonwi, however, you’d earn several thousand more miles—without paying more. 11,090 at the Aria or 12,215 at Cosmopolitan.

What about if you go further down the list? Bonwi comes out ahead almost every time. You get 7,783 at The Palazzo compared to 5,850, or 8,047 at Rio instead of 4,850, or 3,488 at the Hard Rock instead of 2,400.

Vegas is a strange animal in many ways though, of course, so let’s head to Chicago and see how it looks there.

Here are the top two “Big Earn” listings for PointsHound, giving you 3,800 or 3,750 United miles for a two-night stay.

Pointshound earnings Chicago

Now here are the top-earning listings for Bonwi. The difference is certainly not minor. You have to scroll to their second page of listings (#16 on) to get less than 10,000 points. You have to get to listing #65 in points order on Bonwi to finally get to a hotel offering what the #1 listing does on PointsHound.

Bonwi rewards points Chicago

Using Your Points

With PointsHound, the idea is that you are adding to your frequent flier balance at the program you use most, or you’re “topping off” an account to get to a desired level. You’re not expecting to use those miles right away. Good thing, because you wouldn’t have enough. You’ll need 12,500 miles even for the lowest tier one-way domestic ticket—if you can find availability.

If you booked the top two earner hotels in these examples, your four nights at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and the Waldorf-Astoria in Chicago got you 10,950 United miles for your $1,080 rooms rate (before taxes and added fees). That’s a pretty good payoff if you really needed those miles, but it’s not enough to do anything with yet.

On Bonwi, that same expenditure would have earned you 29,587 points. Not only do you have enough for a one-way domestic flight, you have enough for a round-trip one in many cases: any flight that’s $295 or less! Here’s what else you could get with those points:

– A Saturday night at the Marriott, Hyatt, or Sheraton in Anaheim, CA (take the kids to Disneyland)
– A $250 gift card to the Apple Store, Best Buy, or Amazon
– A rental car for five days

Not only does Bonwi come out way ahead on earnings, it also gives you more options on what to do with those earned points. Do a search for your next hotel here.

 

San Diego: What’s New In California’s Southernmost City?

Fallen Star

San Diego is well-known for its beaches, great weather, and not-so-great football team, the lowly Chargers.  But, the So-cal city offers much more than an appealing climate. From a famous haunted house to a massive park, San Diego has quite a few attractions that don’t have to do with beaches.

Overlooking the University of California, San Diego is Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” sculpture. The unusual work of art sits atop the seventh floor of UC San Diego’s Jacobs Hall in the shape of a home. There is even a rooftop garden that accompanies the Seoul National University graduate’s incredible sculpture!

The Whaley House in San Diego features the Whaley House Museum, the Verna House, the Whaley House Museum Shop, two false front store buildings, and the Derby-Pendleton House. The Whaley House Complex is famous for its historical architecture, as well as its haunted folklore. You can tour the complex and learn a thing or two about California history and folklore!

Balboa Park in San Diego, acres and acres to enjoy.
Balboa Park in San Diego: acres and acres to enjoy.

Massive Balboa Park in San Diego boasts about 1,200 acres of gardens, walking paths, museums, theaters, and the popular San Diego Zoo. You could spend an entire day at Balboa Park considering the fact that the venue covers multiple forms of entertainment and activities. And various shopping opportunities at the park will leave you with some great souvenirs!

When you’re in San Diego, also check out some of these cool restaurants:

On Washington Street in San Diego is Lucha Libres Tacos. The wrestling-themed taco stop features Mexican wrestling paraphernalia, great tacos, and Mexican wrestling films on the TV; a truly unique eatery!

Speaking of unique restaurants, have you heard of Pop Pie Co. in San Diego? The neighborhood hangout offers a variety of savory and sweet pies in a casual setting. Pop Pie Co. also serves coffee and various craft beers!

When you’re planning your trip to San Diego, consider staying in one of these San Diego hotels:

After a $12 million renovation, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego is ready to give guests a luxurious stay. Each room comes with flat screen TVs, laptop-compatible safes, work stations with wireless internet, plush robes, and more. And the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club, and a heated saltwater pool within a private garden will keep you active!

The Pendry San Diego, located on J Street in close proximity to Petco Park, the San Diego Convention Center, bars, beaches, and tons more. The hotel itself has six restaurants and bars offering cuisine from talented chefs and unique concepts, and rooms come with Bluetooth-enabled speakers, fully-stocked mini bar, complimentary wifi, and more!

Use Bonwi points on your next trip to San Diego and come home with points to use later for airfare or another hotel.

Top Winter Villages

Do you become active and engaged during winter months, or do you prefer to hibernate? Do you like to shop, be outdoors, or cuddle by a fire? The small-town lifestyle of American villages offer a way to relax and do whatever you like at a slower pace. After all, what is better than a getaway that leaves all the hustle and bustle behind? We’ve handpicked a few winter wonderlands that have something for everyone, so lean back as we take you through them.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Vail offers world-class skiing in a town that encompasses all the charm of a European alpine village. This city lives up to its reputation as a top entertainment and shopping destination. The slopes at Vail offer a wide range of terrain from kid-friendly to expert. Skiers with children love Vail because kids can attend a thorough ski school as they indulge on the resort’s diverse terrain. At day’s end, sip hot cocoa while walking the village’s cobblestone streets, perusing its wide selection of restaurants.

Berkshires, Massachusetts

The Berkshires’ winter is what inspired the picturesque romantic white Christmas scenes we see around the holidays. New England is full of dreamy small towns with classic red barns, open roads, great food, and friendly people. Look anywhere for scenery that appears right out of a painting. Make sure to stop by the Blantyre Hotel to see the 110-foot decorated Christmas tree. You can rent rooms with a traditional fireplace and four-poster beds. Step outside into the sparkling snow and enjoy a sleigh ride.

Cannon Beach is located on the beautiful coast of northern Oregon. It’s a city that remains calm and quaint in spite of its relatively close proximity to its neighboring city of Portland. You can find arguably the best coffee in the United States around any corner. Cooler weather during winter months make prices favorable to visitors. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway with a view, Cannon Beach should be at the top of your list. A stay at the Blue Gull Inn will have you situated right near the famous Haystack Rock.

This desert oasis takes on a new feel in the winter. There’s something magical about seeing Arizona’s fiery-red mountain tops dusted in sparkly snow. Winter is the best season to save on hotels and avoid crowds. Driving through the canyons, catching a hot-air balloon ride, or gazing at the unobstructed night sky are just a few of the many relaxing things to do here. Are you looking to get away for some peace and quiet? Sedona, Arizona is waiting for you.

Located at the foot of California’s Sierra Mountains, this popular ski village hosts visitors from around the world for some of the best winter sports west of the Rockies. Mammoth Mountain overlooks Lake Tahoe with a view of the surrounding Sierra peaks. Last year Mammoth Mountain had the longest ski season in California’s history, 270 days, getting 51 feet of snowfall at the basecamp. The skiing is great for all skill levels. There are three amazing lodges we recommend: Main Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Eagle Lodge. Each are luxurious and cater to your every desire. Be sure to grab an après-ski beer at one of the village’s handful of micro-breweries.

Visit Bonwi.com to start planning your winter retreat. You’ll be packing your mittens and sharing hot chocolate by the fireside soon enough!

The 2017 List Of Best Natural Hot Springs In The United States

Hot springs have long been known to have therapeutic value thanks to the complex mineral compounds they contain and the tranquil landscapes that surround them. Natural thermal springs relax sore muscles, boost circulation, and soothe both mind and spirit. Below are our five favorite hot springs found throughout the United States.

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park was nicknamed “The American Spa” in 1832 when President Andrew Jackson designated the Hot Springs as the first federal reservation. The actual park is closed to swimmers, though you can take a dip in the historic Bathhouse Row where the warm water is pumped into several hotels and spas. For a truly local experience, visit Deluca’s for a slice of pizza that mixes spring water with the dough, then wash it down with a pint of beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery which also sources water from the springs for its brews.

Homestead Crater, Utah

This unique hot spring is hidden within a beehive-shaped crater that was formed by nature over a span of approximately 10,000 years. The hole at the top of the dome lets in sunlight and fresh air while the mineral water in the interior remains heated at a constant range of 90-96 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celsius). Visitors can go swimming, scuba dive, snorkel, enjoy a therapeutic soak, or take a paddleboard yoga class.

Long before Steamboat Springs was known for its world class skiing and luxury resorts, the 150 geothermal hot springs that dot the landscape were highly sought after and revered among Native Americans and pioneers. The best time to take a dip in the 104°F (40°C) degree mineral baths is in the middle of winter while snowflakes gently gather all around you. Resort spas in the area offer a wide variety of relaxation and therapeutic massages.

Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, California

The eastern side of Sierra Nevada is loaded with natural hot springs, with many hidden away and tricky to locate. Just south of a town called Mammoth Lakes is a vast maze of warm pools called Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. The springs here are free to use, ranging from 95-105°F (35-40°C), with striking views of the beautiful Sierra range.

Chena Hot Springs, Alaska

The Chena Hot Springs were discovered in 1905 by gold prospectors seeking to ease their sore, aching muscles brought on by malnutrition and grueling work. The springs are at the center of a 40-square-mile (103-square-kilometer) geothermal area that produces a steady stream of 165°F (74°C) water that must be cooled before anyone can soak in it. Chena Hot Springs is an amazing place to catch breathtaking, complimentary light shows from the Aurora Borealis.

All Said
There are numerous benefits associated with bathing in natural hot springs. You can treat muscle aches, joint pains, clear up skin ailments, detoxify the body, relax the mind, and do all of those things while enjoying the beautiful venue of the surrounding area. Take a trip to any of these relaxing and tranquil hot springs and your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.

Reward Points Battle: IHG Rewards Club vs. Bonwi

IHG Hotel Willard Intercontinental in DC

IHG Hotel Willard Intercontinental in DC

We say that Bonwi gives you a better loyalty points payback than any hotel booking site out there, but what about individual hotel chains? Could you earn a free night faster by booking direct?

From our research, we haven’t found any program that allows you to get to a free stay faster. Let’s look at one of them in detail: the IHG Rewards program that includes 12 brands across 5,000 hotels and resorts.

How the IHG Rewards Program Works

In some ways the IHG Rewards Club is the best of the direct booking ones. They have the most properties to choose from in a whole lot of markets, the point earning levels are transparent, and most of the redemption levels are in the range of 10,000 to 35,000 points. (With Marriott, Hyatt, or Hilton you can easily be looking at twice that much.) Their brands range from good-value suite hotels to Holiday Inn Express to Intercontinental. When they finally consolidate their program with the Kimpton chain they bought, that will be another option for redemption.

To earn points, you stay at any of their properties. You earn 10 points per dollar at most of them for your stay, but 5 points per dollar at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. If you have their credit card you earn many more by paying with that and IHG frequently runs promotions that give you bonus miles. (It takes a while to hit elite status normally, but the credit card ups you to Platinum automatically.)

With 10 or 5 points per stay, that means you would earn 1,500 points for spending $150 for most of their properties, but 750 points at Staybridge or Candlewood. The lowest possible redemption is 5,000 in their “Points Breaks” promotions, but those are usually hotels that nobody is booking, in obscure locations. Think Gadsden, AL; Anderson, SC; or Silao in Mexico. The more common minimum is 10,000, for a Holiday Inn Express. So it would normally require at least $1,000 in spending at their properties before earning an award, or $2,000 if staying at the bottom category ones. At $100 a night that’s 10 or 20 nights. At $150 a night it’s 7 or 14 nights.

How the Bonwi Rewards Program Works

With Bonwi.com, it’s less simple on the earnings side, but that’s because the points you earn are variable. You will often earn far more than 1,500 points for a $150 room charge. You could earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since the payout is not an average of the price paid. Your points may be worth more in some markets than others, so you can cash in faster just by choosing a hotel requiring fewer points.

Comparison of Earnings in Two Markets

Let’s say you’ve got two business trips coming up in California. One is in San Francisco and one is in San Diego. How would your earnings differ between IHG and Bonwi?

Bonwi points back San Francisco

If you booked your San Francisco stay at the Holiday Inn Civic Center for two nights, you would pay $449 with tax either way. If you booked direct through the IHG site, that would translate to 4,490 points. If you booked it at Bonwi, you would earn 12,220 points.

A month later you need to spend two nights in San Diego. You pull up the IHG site and see the Crowne Plaza Hanalei is a pretty good deal at $166 per night before taxes. The total tab for two nights is $366. If you go ahead and book it through the IHG site, you will earn $366 X 10, or 3,666 points. If you book it through Bonwi instead, you will earn 10,289 points. Another big difference.

Bonwi vs. IHG points in San DIego

Cashing in Your Loyalty Points

Now that you’ve earned some points, what can you get if you take your kid to Orlando for a weekend getaway in March?

If you wanted to redeem what you’ve earned from these two stays, you wouldn’t have enough points with IHG Rewards. From those four nights, you only earned 8,156 points. Only a Points Break promotion would be available. Let’s assume you already had a couple thousand in the account though or you got past 10K with credit card spending.

From Bonwi you have a total of 22,509 points.

For weekends in March, with 10K IHG points from IHG, you’re going to come up empty. There is nothing available on a Friday or Saturday night in March for under 20,000 points, the amount that three of the four hotels below would require. The Holiday Inn Orlando Suites Waterpark hotel would require 35,000. So you would have to use their “points and cash” option and pay at least $70 on top of the 10,000 points.

IHG Rewards points in Orlando

For the same weekends in March with the 22,509 Bonwi points earned from four nights paid, you have lots of choices for a free night’s stay at IHG properties. These are just a few of them, including taxes:
– Holiday Inn Resort Orlando – Lake Buena Vista – 17,663
– Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites Waterpark – 20,273
– Holiday Inn Orlando SW – Celebration Area – 15,139
– Holiday Inn Express & Suites Orlando at Seaworld -20,412

If you want to use your points for something else, you’re much better off with Bonwi. With us you can use your points for any flight of $225 or less with those 22,509 points, or you can get two $100 gift cards from major retailers and still have some left over. The points are valued at a penny a mile. If you want to cash in for a reward card with IHG, you usually pay 20,000 points for just a $50 gift card. That’s one-fourth the value, on points that required more spending to start with.

So which program offers you a faster payoff? This one is a no-brainer.

Reward Points Battle: Hotels.com vs. Bonwi

Las Vegas hotel rewards

hotels.com rewards compared to Bonwi

If you use Bonwi to book your hotel stays, you’re probably going to earn a big reward payback much faster than with other services. How much faster? Let’s compare how long it would take to get a free hotel room night from Hotels.com compared to Bonwi.com.

We picked three cities in the USA and assumed you had a budget of less than $150 per night. Then we looked at how many nights you would have to book to get a free hotel stay in return.

How the Programs Work

With Hotels.com, the rules are easy to understand: stay 10 nights and get one free. “The value of your free night is the average price of the 10 nights you collect.” Once you have completed 10 hotel stays, you can book whatever hotel you want at any time with the credit based on the average stay amount.

With Bonwi.com, it’s less simple but that’s because the points you earn are variable. The upside is much greater. Instead of having to stay 10 nights to earn an award, you could earn a free stay after just two or three nights. See some real examples in this video.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since the payout is not an average of price paid. Your points may be worth more in some markets than others, so you can cash in faster just by choosing a hotel requiring fewer points.

What Would You Get From 10 Nights of Stays?

Let’s say you actually do stay 10 nights in hotels over the course of several months. To check out what would happen in a real case scenario, we looked at real booking options for December and January in three well-traveled cities: Las Vegas, Orlando, and New Orleans.

Las Vegas hotel rewards

If you booked three nights at the SLS Las Vegas, you would pay the same at either site: $391 for three nights with taxes, but really $488 once you factor in the rip-off $32 “resort fee” that really should be included in the rate. With Hotels.com you would earn 3 credits of your 10, or 30% of what you need for a free stay. With Bonwi you earn 9,641 points. That’s enough to actually book another hotel already in Las Vegas the following week: one night at Golden Nugget, Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand, or many others.

In other words, 30% of the way to a free night vs. 100% of the way there.

If we then book four nights in Orlando at Holiday Inn Express Sea World we’ll pay $304 total with taxes/fees and earn 9,321 Bonwi points. The Ramada Plaza Resort would be $341 for four nights and earn just a shade less.

At Hotels.com you would be four credits closer to your free night, but the average comes down because these hotels are cheaper than the one in Vegas: $74 or $101 per night. At Bonwi, once again you’ve earned enough to cash in for a free night in most cities, or you can combine the points with what you earned in Vegas  and be at close to 19K–enough for two nights somewhere or one night in a luxury hotel instead.

Then let’s say we have to go to New Orleans in January for a trade show. The official hotel is out of our $150 budget range, but either of the choices pictured below will do the trick. For each of them we earn more than 7,200 Bonwi points for our stay. At Hotels.com we pay the same amount and would have finally gotten to our 10 nights.

New Orleans hotel rewards

Yippee—we get a free night’s stay! But hold on: that free night is based on the average of what we have spent per night, which comes out to $102 if we picked  the Hotel Modern for this last stay and the Holiday Inn Express for Orlando. Their formula would be $341+$304+$378 divided by 10. You can now book a hotel with them that is listed for $102 or less.

With Bonwi, in contrast, we are up to 26,525 points earned from those same 10 nights. What can you get for that? Here are some ideas:

  • 3 nights at most Las Vegas off-strip hotels or at MGM Grand
  • One glorious night at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans (dollar value of $349)
  • Any plane ticket valued at $265 or less
  • A $250 gift certificate to Target, Best Buy, Amazon, or the Apple Store.

Your rebate value from Bonwi ranges from 25% to 35% depending on how you use the points. Your rebate value from Hotels.com is always 10% and you can only use it for hotels. With Bonwi you can use your points at any time. With Hotels.com they are useless until you have spent 10 nights in hotel rooms booked with them.

The winner in this rewards program battle between Hotels.com and Bonwi.com? Well, that depends on whether you prefer to earn a little or a lot.