How would it make you feel if every time you stayed in a hotel, you earned thousands of loyalty points that you could put toward anything you want? What if a two-night stay could earn you enough of those points for a one-night stay elsewhere, or 10,000 airline miles, or a retail gift card?
That’s the concept behind Bonwi.com, a relatively new hotel booking company that does more than find you a good rate. You can choose your hotel by the number of points you earn back, then reap some serious rewards after your stay. In my experience this service is a huge step up from what’s offered by the hotel chains themselves, agencies like Hotels.com, or similar RocketMiles.
To try the service out, I booked a two-night stay in Orlando for a business trip. I didn’t care all that much where I stayed, so first I looked downtown then expanded my search to maximize the rewards. I ended up at an Embassy Suites on International Drive, walking distance to dozens of restaurants and a movie theater. This being an Embassy Suites, I had a living room, a fridge, and a coffee maker, plus there’s a complimentary happy hour each evening with snacks, Bud beer, and brands of wine and liquor you’ve never heard of. Hey, that’s been the formula for decades now and it works.
That pool pictured at the top is an indoor/outdoor affair, there’s a good gym, and the breakfast buffet was quite good. (Not just stale processed food, but an omelet station and lots of fresh fruit.) The hotel was well-maintained and the staffers were friendly. I had to pay for parking, but not Wi-Fi, so no complaints.
CASHING IN POINTS WITH BONWI
I ended up spending $484 for two nights—a relative bargain in Orlando in March, during high season. For spending that amount, I received 11,398 points. Bonwi values these at a penny a mile. You can then take that value and apply it to several different categories.
1) You can top off your frequent flyer miles account: 10,000 points equals 10,000 miles. (A terrific deal since a few hotels stays could get you a free domestic round-trip ticket.)
2) You can get a gift card from the likes of Amazon, Apple, or Target,with 10,000 miles translating to a $100 gift certificate. (Book a few stays with Bonwi before Christmas and you could be set on gifts.)
3) You can apply the points to a car rental.
4) You can cash in your points to book another hotel through Bonwi. (You have more choices with this since there’s no minimum.)
I went for that last option. I’m going to a wedding in Williamsburg, Virginia in May and have an extra night in the area before departing from Richmond. Instead of crashing at an old college buddy’s house—my original plan—my wife and I are staying at a Four Points Sheraton by the airport. I had more than enough points to get this or several other hotels in the area.
Don’t ask me how Bonwi works out these great deals on the back end, but in this case I spent $484 and was able to book another hotel stay with the proceeds that was a $129 value. In financial terms, that’s a 27% return on my investment, in just a few weeks. Try getting that kind of return from any other loyalty program you can think of. The only situation I know of where you can do better is when you get a huge sign-up bonus from a loyalty credit card or get a free night at any IHG hotel when you pay your $49 annual fee. But with Bonwi you can do this over and over again, not just once.
IS THERE A CATCH?
It’s natural to be skeptical about a deal like this. At Hotels.com, for instance, you have to stay 10 times to earn a free night’s stay. Then you just get the average value of what you spent over those 10 stays. Expedia gives you just 2 points per dollar spent and then doesn’t dole them out on a 1:1 basis: you need 14,000 points to get a $100 gift certificate. (You spend $7,000 to get $100 back.) The closest comparison to Bonwi is Rocketmiles, which gives you airline points for booking through them. The payout is just a few thousand per stay though, plus you have to pick what you’ll do with the points at the time of booking. In the past the hotel prices at Rocketmiles were almost always higher than you’d find elsewhere, but since they got acquired by Priceline that part is getting better it seems. When I did a spot check for Orlando, only a few hotels were noticeably higher.
I haven’t found any of these drawbacks with Bonwi. Every time I’ve surfed around their site I’ve kept Trivago open as well to look at comparative prices. I rarely found one that was off by more than $10. In fact Bonwi gives a 110% refund on the difference if you find a cheaper price elsewhere after booking. Plus they’re definitely more generous with points. In my Orlando spot check I only found two hotels offering more than 4,000 points on Rocketmiles. On Bonwi I stopped counting after I hit 25 on page 5 of the search results.
There is one catch, but it’s a pretty common one: no elite status perks. I have status with Hilton because I have one of their credit cards, but that didn’t get me anything when checking into this Embassy Suites hotel and I didn’t earn any Hilton points. When I stay at the Four Points by Sheraton, I won’t earn any Starwood points. As a travel writer and not a traveling sales rep though, this is no big deal to me because I’m staying with different hotel chains all the time. I’d much rather get points that have real value from each transaction than to just get a few points per dollar that have to build up for ages with the hotel chain to be worth something. Business road warriors who can be loyal may feel differently.
You can also book car rentals through Bonwi, though in general the points returned aren’t as generous as the hotels. Still, you’re probably not getting much of anything back from that transaction now, so 1,500 easily redeemable points for a car rental is probably a step up.
See how it works here.
Article and photos by editor Tim Leffel. Bonwi has been an advertiser at Hotel Scoop, but had no input on the content of this article. As always, all opinions are our own.