A few days ago, I received a letter from the Choice hotel chain congratulating me for earning “gold elite” status in 2013. This means during 2014 I’ll receive “special benefits” associated with my preferred status. Benefits such as…
A 10 percent reward points bonus on hotel stays. An extended window of 50 (instead of 30) days for booking free hotel nights. An exclusive reservations number (although I always book online). An exclusive customer service number. I’ve found that latter benefit to be especially useful on the rare occasion that I have to bring “corporate” into resolving a dispute with local hotel management. (For that reason alone, I encourage even “no-so-frequent” travelers to join air/hotel/auto rewards programs because it gives you an edge with corporate should the need arise.)
The most useful benefit of my status is an unwritten, informal one: free room upgrades. I’ve booked a room at the very low “senior” rate and when I check in it’s not unusual for me to receive a nicer room because of my preferred status. If the hotel doesn’t already have a reservation for that better room, then it’s unlikely they will rent it that day to a “walk-in” and so they lose nothing by upgrading me while gaining some goodwill on my part.
Now enquiring minds are wondering how many nights I stayed at Choice hotels to achieve gold elite status. In 2013, I stayed… no nights at their hotels.
So how did I achieve my preferred status? I have a Choice Rewards credit card and earn points each time I use it. Unlike most other hotel cards which award one point for each dollar spent, the Choice card gives me two points for each dollar I spend (more if I charge a Choice hotel room to it). By charging certain large expenses to it (e.g., my home and auto insurance policies), I easily earned enough points for gold elite status.
Similarly, I earned a free ticket on Southwest airlines every year for something like 15 years even though I only flew twice a year. Most of my “flight” credits came from renting cars and staying at hotels participating in the program. For each car rental or hotel stay, I received half a flight credit. On “driving” vacations, we’d stay at a different hotel every day or two and rack up those credits. I also had a Southwest credit card and if charged participating hotels and car rentals to the card I received double points.
My Discover card offers five percent cash back in selected categories each quarter. But between early November and early January it was 10% cash back at about 50 specified stores. I had been looking for a new chest of drawers for about six months and used this opportunity to buy one on sale at 25% off before the 10% cash back. And free shipping, which was good since it weighs over 50 pounds.
May the rewards be with you!
Here are two stories that come to mind about the value of being in travel rewards program if the situation deteriorates.
One a trip to Savannah, I wanted to check in earlier than what the hotel allowed so I’d maximize my chances of a good room. I noticed the hotel marquee welcoming a statewide convention of teachers. The desk clerk would not allow me to check in early. I advised that if we went into town, we would not check in until about 6 PM. I had a “guaranteed” reservation but I was concerned about the hotel being sold out for the convention. The clerk assured me a room would be held since I had guaranteed the reservation.
Sure enough, when we returned around 6:00 PM, the new desk clerk told me the hotel was sold out and there were no rooms. I explained my earlier arrival and conversation with the other clerk. She apologized and said that the hotel would provide a room at another hotel without additional charge to me.
So I invoked Rule #1: deal with a manager since he has “authority.” I repeated the early arrival story to the manager. He apologized but also advised the hotel was sold out and offered to put us up at another hotel.
It was time for Rule#2: stand your ground and put your hand on your pistol. I calmly explained that (a) I had a guaranteed reservation which the hotel should not have given away; (b) if I wanted to stay at another hotel then I would have made the reservation there; and (c) I was a rewards program member and how is he going to explain if I call “corporate” and tell them that I am going to cancel my membership because of this poor treatment.
The manager replied that he would see what he could do and got into the hotel’s computer system. After about a minute, he advised that he could upgrade us to a “hold back” room. I thanked him. After he left, I asked the clerk what this “hold back” room was. She advised that many hotels always have one room they do not rent out in case there is a need for it, such as a sold out night and something happens in an occupied room which requires the occupants be moved.
After a trip to New Mexico, we flew into Orlando to spend a few days there. When I arrived at the car rental booth, I noticed a huge crowd milling about and heard some folks complaining about a long wait. Well, as a rewards program member, all my info was already in the system and as soon as I showed my identification they just hand me the keys to my car.
But the clerk advised that they were somewhat overbooked and were having delays getting cars to the rental lot from the return lot. I would have to wait about 30 minutes. I advised that my reservation requires a car be ready for me when I arrive; apparently, they had given my car to someone else. The clerk apologized and said I’d have to wait due to the unexpected crowd. I asked for a manager but was told he was on break.
So I called the rewards program customer service center and explained the situation. They asked me to hand the phone to the clerk. She said “yes” two or three times and then gave the phone back to me. The service center rep advised me that I was getting the next car and it was a free upgrade. As we were loading the car, some folks began complaining to the clerk that they had arrived before us so why were we getting the car and not them? The clerk replied that we were preferred customers and corporate had ordered her to give us the next car.
Membership has its priveleges….