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Marriott Merger Opens Up Opportunities for Great Starwood Redemptions in Hawaii

Editor's Note: The redemption opportunity described below was removed by Marriott effective August 18, 2018 when they eliminated the hotel and air package redemptions.

If you are like me and most Starwood customers, you probably did not greet the Marriott acquisition with great pleasure.   While Starwood has great properties outside the US, Marriott is a pretty uncomfortable place to stay just about everywhere.  To boot, Starwood’s SPG rewards program has been the gold standard in loyalty programs since it was set up two decades ago.   Marriott has never measured up; I once stayed at the Hamburg Marriott for months and earned almost enough points for a half-night stay at a Courtyard. 

After the acquisition of Starwood was completed, Marriott immediately stepped in and guaranteed a conversion ratio of Starwood-to-Marriott points of 1-to-3, adopting a corporate recognition that Starwood points are three times as valuable as those from Marriott.

The generous exchange ratio does not necessarily mean that you should redeem with Marriott instead of at Starwood properties.  Starwood continues to extend great 5th night free benefits.  For example, I’ve stayed in Hawaii for 5 nights at the Sheraton Kona Resort for 40,000 points. 

Marriott, however, offers 7-night hotel and air package redemptions that now make redemptions there especially appealing.  I have just returned from a 7-night trip to Maui where I stayed at the Wailea Beach Resort for 120,000 Starwood points (360,000 Marriott points).  I also received 132,000 United points, which – in spite of United’s recent devaluation – can still get two roundtrips from the mainland in coach class or one way in business class.   The Wailea Beach Resort is a category 8 Marriott and an outstanding hotel (so good that it is dropping the Marriott name).  Depending on how you value United points, you can make an argument that this is basically a redemption at under 10,000 points a night. 

This same deal can also be done at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island and at the Kauai Beach Marriott in Kauai.  While those islands are both more interesting that Maui, I’d personally tend to stick with the Wailea Beach Resort for their new waterslide.

See the best cards for racking up travel rewards.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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Timeshares Are Wholly Inappropriate Investments for Anyone

I was in Maui, Hawaii last week and had an opportunity to pick up a few hotel program points by attending a 90-minute timeshare presentation.  Since I could use the hotel points for my next Hawaii trip, I scheduled the presentation for the middle of the day when it was too hot to stay outside.

It was my first timeshare presentation, and it will be my last.

As I began listening to the spiel, the first thing that I discovered is that major hotel chains have sales pitches refined to an art, especially when it comes to this product.  They put the strongest salespeople imaginable in front of you, and they deliver the strongest possible sales presentation.

Yet, no matter how strong the salespeople are, the reality is the reality. 

First, these places are not that nice.   The timeshares in Ka’anapali in Maui are not at all exclusive.  In fact, they aren’t even places where I would want to spend a single night; the hotels in Wailea are. 

Second, these programs are terribly structured, limiting your options and obligating you to vacation in a certain way and time and at a certain cost.

Third, you are buying into a point program, and one that isn’t very good.  Buying loyalty points very rarely makes sense and should never be done without a specific redemption in mind, and they can be devalued or rendered worthless very quickly. More importantly, you can get into a better point programs that generates better and more flexible rewards with your loyalty to Starwood/Marriott or Hyatt and by opening and by using the right credit cards

Fourth, you don’t even need to know how to run an Excel spreadsheet to realize that these are just terrible investments. 

At the end of my sales presentation, the salesman opened up and said that he would never recommend that someone with hotel status who can rack up a substantial amount of points with that chain each year should buy into this program.

Bottom line: Do not buy hotel timeshares. They are point programs.  Get the right credit cards and use them.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.

Five Signs You are Carried Away with the Airline and Hotel Point And Miles Game

You can earn tremendous value through opening and using credit cards that reward your patronage and your spend with airline miles and/or hotel points.    I personally have found that travel and rewards credit cards give me more value than any cash back card possibly could, and give me access to a form of travel that might otherwise be more “aspirational” than realistic, such as access to hotel suites and first-class lounges that I would not otherwise pay for.

But, there are clear signs to be on guard for that you have gotten carried away, and it is important to understand when you have crossed the line.  Here are some signs:

1. Staying in hotels that are a great distance geographically from where you want or need to be, just to get points or use nights of credit.  For most people, this simply doesn’t make sense, except in the very rare circumstance where you are a night or two short of obtaining premium status at the end of the year.  For the most part, staying in a hotel just for the purposes of earning or redeeming points will wind up being damaging to your vacation or make your business trip less productive.  This having been said, there are some places where the line is kind of hazy.  When I go to Maine in August, for example, it is very difficult to find a nice place to stay for less than $450 to $500 a night.  I have no problems staying at the Hyatt Place in Portland, a Hyatt category 3 hotel, for 12,000 points as there is plenty to do in and around Portland.   However, staying at the Sheraton at the airport in Bangor for 7,500 points in order to visit Acadia National Park is far less sensible.

2. Traveling circuitous and indirect routes to rack up points.   This practice used to be widespread among seasoned business travelers seeking to get premium status before year-end.  Now that all of the major airlines have moved over to a revenue based status system, it is less common.   It is silly to do it unless you are trying to get premium status.   It simply makes no sense to fly from LA to Tokyo through JFK and Heathrow to get airline points (unless you need to pick your passport up in New York).

3. Traveling circuitous routes to fly a specific airline or to qualify for a specific class of service.  The point of travel is to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently.  If the shortest travel time from New York to a small city in Eastern Europe is on Austrian Airlines, I will fly Austrian Airlines (which is perfectly fine with me anyway because it is a United and a Singapore partner).   Among the most stupid articles I have read on this issue is this one - traveling from Madrid to JFK through Moscow is madness, especially if you are doing it to “experience” Aeroflot and Sheremytyvo.

4. Getting overexcited by 2x or 3x point earning opportunities.  Getting 2x or 3x points on a credit card is just not a way quickly to run up points, unless you are prepared to spend gobs of money in one specific category.  Cardholders are more wise to focus on categories where they can get 5x or more points.  I personally use an Amex Platinum card for airline expenses and use a Chase Freedom card for the rotating quarterly spend category, but otherwise do not choose one card over another when making a purchase just to get 2x or 3x.

5. Allowing oneself to fall for those hawking point you don't want or need.   I was walking down the street in New York yesterday and saw a sign outside of Vitamin Shoppe saying that they were giving out bonus points to anyone who walked in the door that day.  For a moment, I briefly forgot that vitamins and supplements are a scam directed at people who don’t eat well or exercise properly.  That was when realized that I needed to write this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.