Most Loyalty Rewards Programs Are Really Only for Road Warriors

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

A recent travel trade article on airline and hotel reward loyalty rewards programs pointed out a clear trend: for most of us, these programs are getting worse. While the road warriors at the top elite levels are getting showered with perks – those who stay 75 nights a year out of 365 with Marriott for instance – the rest of us are getting less and less for our flights or hotels stays.

As U.S. airlines moved from a distance-based to revenue-based model, the only loyal members with something to gain were those who bought expensive business class tickets. Those at the top of the elite pyramid. Everyone else started finding that their 6,000-mile flight was earning them 1,000 “miles” now because it was based on ticket price. At that rate it can take 25 flights to earn even the lowest domestic ticket.

That model has already spread to one major hotel chain. Hyatt gave its loyalty program a new name, World of Hyatt, and promptly made it more difficult for all but the most frequent biz traveler guests. The new system awards 5 points per dollar instead of a set amount per stay, though you’ll need to spend at least 10 nights at Hyatt properties in a year to get to the lowest of three elite levels. The head of the program, who is now gone, made it clear in interviews announcing the change that the program was aimed at one tier of guests: the most loyal ones, those spending the most money each year.

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

As we’ve seen in the airline industry, this kind of program quickly leads to a two-tiered system. The highest elite level members get most of the freebies, get the best rooms, and earn the most points for every stay. The rest of us get stuck with what’s left, whether it’s a cramped middle seat or the smallest room with no view.

Like a well-trained magician performing a sleight of hand, the bad changes for consumers are usually buried within news of big “improvements” the loyalty rewards program will bring. With the hotel programs, they’re usually touting your ability to combine points and dollars (a dubious win at best) or buy merchandise with your hard-earned points.

The dirty little secret of the latter is that your points value plummets if you do a merchandise buy instead of cashing in points on a hotel. Here’s what Skift noted in their article:

While these new tools are a boon for airlines and hotel mileage programs, their value to consumers is still somewhat mixed. When United launched its pay-with-miles Wi-Fi service, Maphappy took a look at the value of the purchase in cash or in miles. Its conclusion? ‘The premium on paying in mileage was about 117 percent higher than the cash price,’ Maphappy found.

If you purchase a pair of headphones or get a Best Buy gift card, it can be even worse. Often these transactions can degrade the point value to a small fraction of what it was in hotel or airline value. Here’s what you’ll have to pay for a $30 item via IHG’s program:

$180 of rewards for $30 item

Where You Can Earn More and Not Lose Value

With Bonwi Rewards points, you have a lot of advantages over these programs from the airlines and hotels:

1) You can use your rewards on any hotel, not just one company. When you cash them in for a hotel, you can get 20%, 25%, or 30% return on your spend. With the average direct loyalty program you’re lucky to rise above 10%. (In other words, you have to spend $10,000 to get $1,000 in value–even if you do everything right.)

2) You don’t have to be loyal to one company. You can choose any hotel in any location at any price and earn Bonwi Rewards, even picking which one has the highest payoff to maximize your return. When it’s time to cash them in, you have just as many choices.

Bonwi points payoff
3 nights at either earns you a plane ticket or a night’s hotel stay.

3) Points earned on hotel stays can be redeemed for flights. Forget about blackout dates, restrictions, or the lack of seats at lower tiers. With your Bonwi points you can book on any airline at any time, based on a simple 1-cent per dollar redemption figure. If you have 30,000 points, you have $300 for a flight, and no, you won’t have to still pay for the taxes if they’re included in the fare, as you would with the U.S. airlines.

4) You aren’t penalized for choosing a rental car or gift cards. That 1-cent per mile redemption figure that’s so easy to understand applies to rental cars and gift card purchases too. You won’t see your rewards value decrease just because you made one spending choice rather than another. Your Bonwi points have a clear intrinsic value.

So book your next hotel stay with Bonwi and see how easy it is to be on Easy Street, instead of feeling like your loyalty is only getting you kicked to the curb.

Article by Tim Leffel, editor of the Cheapest Destinations Blog and author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.

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

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.

 

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.

How to Earn a Second Vacation From Your First Mexico Vacation

Marquis Los Cabos Resort

Marquis Los Cabos Resort

Imagine you travel to a Mexican beach destination like Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya for a long weekend holiday. Then after you’re done, you’ve earned enough credits to use for a free flight or hotel stay on your next vacation. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If you’re using Bonwi and paying attention to the point earnings, it’s a whole lot easier than winning a contest. It’s a sure thing in fact. It’s next to impossible to get a free flight or hotel room so easily with regular reward programs, but here you know in advance what you’re getting.

Los Cabos Hotel Points Paybacks

Let’s take a look at Los Cabos and see what you could get during a three-day weekend vacation in December.

Points back for Los Cabos Resorts

If you book either of the two all-inclusive resorts pictured there—Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach or Marquis Los Cabos—you would earn more than 31,000 points for your long weekend stay. What could you get for that number of points? A round-trip flight costing $310, a name brand gift certificate worth $310, or an even higher value many times by booking another hotel.

Hotel Point Paybacks in the Riviera Maya

I plugged in the same December dates for the Riviera Maya and look what you would earn from Grand Residences in Puerto Morelos or the brand new Andaz Mayakoba. You’d get more than 36K from one and 41K from the other.

hotel loyalty point rewards Riviera Maya

If you do the math, you’re basically getting a rebate of 20% or more on what you’re spending. That’s several times the amount you get from any traditional loyalty program.

Again that’s enough for a round-trip flight to many locations. Maybe even Cancun again! You just convert the points at a penny a mile so you don’t have to worry about blackout dates.

Or the payback would make for a huge Christmas present for someone by way of a gift card. The other option is to use it for more hotel stays. Let’s say you decided to go to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta next time on vacation. If you signed into Bonwi and checked what you could get for your points total, you’d see dozens of hotels where your point total would get you a free three-nights’ stay. You would have to go down a star level or two at the beach, but in some interior cities you wouldn’t even have to do that.

We’re using Mexico as an example because when it’s cold up north, a lot of people head that direction. You could just as easily use it for a ski vacation though, or to just stay cozy inside with your new surround-sound system you bought with your Best Buy gift card. We won’t judge–just enjoy!

Find great hotel deals and the highest rewards for Los Cabos and the Riviera Maya.